ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There's no better way to hear your favorite done-me-wrong song then on scratchy vinyl coming out of an old jukebox. Those classic Seeburgs and Wurlitzers have mostly vanished from bars and restaurants. But there's one guy who makes a living keeping the last surviving jukeboxes whirring and clicking and dropping 45s. And as Allyson McCabe reports, these days he's got his hands full.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK")
BILL HALEY: (Singing) One, two, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock rock. Fix, six...
ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: Rock 'n' roll fans in the 1950s often listened to their favorite songs on machines with such names as Seeburg Select-O-Matic, Rock-Ola or Wurlitzer. At the height of their popularity, there were about 750,000 jukeboxes in malt shops and bars across the country. But as discos replaced diners, jukeboxes became rare collectibles. Perry Rosen is one of the country's last full-time jukebox repairmen.
PERRY ROSEN: Well, ever since I was a little kid, I always had an interest in jukeboxes. My head would always be looking through the cracks in the front door or through the dome glass, trying to see the mechanics of how the machine worked.
MCCABE: Rosen began fixing jukeboxes when he was 16. Four decades later, he's still at it. And he's still fascinated by their complexity.
ROSEN: With the electrical contacts, with the gears and also the levers and parts that transfer the record in and out, I would say there absolutely has to be over a thousand parts in a jukebox.
MCCABE: Rosen says business is booming. He says these old machines aren't just repositories for his customers' old 45 rpm singles, but also their memories.
ROSEN: Most of my customers have older machines from the '50s, '60s and '70s. And they're using it to play their collection of records that they had when - they grew up with when they were teenagers. They kind of try to recreate, you know, the days when they went to a candy store or went to a bar.
(SOUNDBITE OF JUKEBOX WHIRRING, MUSIC)
ROSEN: They remember the jukebox playing because there's always, like, a specific song where they met, you know, a girl or a guy and it kind of brings back memories.
MCCABE: But Rosen says he's seeing more and more old jukeboxes stocked with records that weren't pop hits.
ROSEN: And they've been putting in a lot of rare what they call garage music, which, you know, are 45s that lesser-known groups made up and kind of rare records. They weren't widely distributed. And they're used in jukeboxes in bars and houses. And I've been seeing more and more of that lately.
MCCABE: When Paul Vivari opened the Showtime Lounge in Washington, D.C., five years ago, he didn't want the standard digital entertainment system most bars and restaurants use. He wanted his bar to have a jukebox. And he wanted it stocked with the vintage soul and R&B songs he loves.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY")
BOBBY BLAND: (Singing) Ain't no love in the heart of the city. Ain't no love in the heart of the city.
PAUL VIVARI: When we first opened, a lot of - you know, the people who had been here a long time would come in here and were really into the jukebox, you know, remembered a lot of the songs, whereas, you know, the younger people don't really know a whole lot about a lot of the artists on there. They just like the way it sounds, you know, and would like to know more about it. It becomes kind of like a little educational device as well as entertainment.
MCCABE: The appeal may be reaching a tipping point beyond hipster bars and mom and pop pizza joints. Major retailers, including Pottery Barn and Bed Bath and Beyond, are offering new jukeboxes with built-in radios that also play CDs and stream music. And turntable giant Crosley is teaming up with the U.K.-based manufacturer Sound Leisure to release new full-size, Bluetooth-enabled models that also play vinyl. The initial production run has been modest, says Scott Bingaman, president of Crosley's exclusive U.S. distributor Deer Park.
SCOTT BINGAMAN: A few hundred were made.
MCCABE: But they're built by hand and individually numbered, and sell for about the same price as fully restored vintage models - that's about $13,000. So start saving your quarters. For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE ROCK 'N' ROLL")
JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS: (Singing) I saw him dancing there by the record machine. I knew he must've been about 17.
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