For Jukebox Salesman, Collecting Records Isn't Just A Job: It's A Hobby, Too Jukeboxes Unlimited owner Don Muller has been selling machines since '71, and he's sold them to the likes of Steve Martin and Mick Fleetwood. But his collection of over 400,000 records isn't for sale.
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For Jukebox Salesman, Collecting Records Isn't Just A Job: It's A Hobby, Too

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For Jukebox Salesman, Collecting Records Isn't Just A Job: It's A Hobby, Too

For Jukebox Salesman, Collecting Records Isn't Just A Job: It's A Hobby, Too

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Don Muller has a collection of jukeboxes in his house that's so big, he doesn't even know how many he has. He's owned a company called Jukeboxes Unlimited since 1971. He's watched the business undergo a lot of changes, and somehow he's managed to weather them. We sent Carla Javier to his house/office just north of Los Angeles to check it out.

DON MULLER: Thirty-seven.

CARLA JAVIER, BYLINE: Don Muller has an add-on to his house that's tightly packed with jukeboxes under plastic covers. We start counting there, then we walk to the porch.

MULLER: Forty-three.

JAVIER: You've never counted them?

MULLER: I've never done this - walk around and count them 'cause it changes every day. Forty-four, 45, 46. So there's 46 here.

JAVIER: There are 15 more in his living room, and in the foyer...

MULLER: Yeah, what did this come out to be? What did we have here?

JAVIER: Sixty-two.

MULLER: We had 62? Plus - what was this?

JAVIER: Forty.

That's 40 in the store, add 500 square feet of jukeboxes in storage...

MULLER: So I've been telling people we have over 100. Now I know it's even way more than that.

JAVIER: He'll gut most of these jukeboxes, fix them up, salvage some parts and resell them to customers as close as Southern California and as far away as Australia. Some he rents, and some he'll keep for himself; like his favorite, the 1948 Seeburg M100A.

MULLER: This machine is 100 percent original, every single aspect of it - the original cartridge, the original needle and original old 78 rpm records. And this is Frankie Lymon and "Goody Goody."

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANKIE LYMON SONG, "GOODY GOODY")

JAVIER: Back when he started in 1971, there were a lot of guys like him in the jukebox business. And in the crowded Los Angeles scene, he set himself apart by selling to the stars. He has these books and albums he keeps at home filled with copies of checks and notes from famous folks like Steve Martin, Mick Fleetwood.

MULLER: I could pull up to the Playboy Mansion gates, the camera would come down shine on my license plate, and the gate would open.

JAVIER: I did ask Playboy, and a spokesperson confirmed Don Muller used to come in and repair a jukebox owned by Hugh Hefner. Don Muller is 72 now. And over the years, many of his competitors around the country have gone away. It's gotten less glamorous, but he keeps busy through his online store.

MULLER: And I get so many emails. I get them from all over the world, and it's the same thing. It's, like, can you tell me what gear goes with this gear? And, you know, for me to just get back to them and say, what jukebox are you even talking about, I don't have time.

JAVIER: I go with him on a trip to visit someone trying to sell a jukebox.

MULLER: Let's get the AC running here.

JAVIER: Her name is Aline DeGroote, and she lives in Anaheim.

MULLER: All right, so let's put in this lady's address

JAVIER: She promised to give him some records if he can take this jukebox off her hands. Now, I've seen his garage. He must have hundreds of thousands of records in there. So while we're in the car, I ask him why does he need more records.

MULLER: I don't collect records. I amass records. Like, I don't even know what we're getting today. I'm sure I already have 20 copies of everything that she's got, but it's an addiction.

JAVIER: We get to DeGroote's house, and there's the jukebox - a Rowe AMI JEL200A. It's from the early '60s, and she's had some trouble selling it.

ALINE DEGROOTE: I remember when I first tried to sell the jukebox, people are like, well, yeah, what does it play, CDs?

JAVIER: Her dad died five years ago. He kept the jukebox in the pool room, and she grew up listening to it. But now it's broken, and she's selling it to Muller for 75 bucks, cash.

DEGROOTE: I want it to go to someone's who's going to appreciate it for what it is. It's a jukebox that plays old music.

JAVIER: She's also throwing in about 2,000 records. Don Muller's pretty excited about that.

MULLER: This is like Christmas.

JAVIER: He sorts through them, putting them in banana boxes he brought himself. Banana boxes aren't an inside record collector thing. They're a Don Muller thing. He gets them from the grocery store.

MULLER: Well, 45s - a packed banana box is 400 records - 400 45s in a banana box. Some good stuff.

JAVIER: And even after 44 years in the business, he still gets excited when he sees an old favorite.

MULLER: (Humming).

JAVIER: What song were you guys just humming?

DEGROOTE: I don't even know the name of it.

MULLER: The Fleetwoods and "Come Softly."

DEGROOTE: That's it, "Come Softly."

MULLER: (Humming).

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLEETWOODS SONG, "COME SOFTLY TO ME")

JAVIER: Muller could make decent money if he sold his collection of over 400,000 records. But he says he doesn't plan to, unless someone comes along offering a lot of money because those records they're not for his business. They're for his collection, and eventually he'll give them to his son. For NPR News, I'm Carla Javier.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SOFTLY TO ME")

THE FLEETWOODS: (Singing) Come softly, darling. Come to me. Stay. You're my obsession forever.

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