New ones, old ones, he tends them all

JUKEBOX SYMPHONY

February 17, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

Ed Schroen just wanted a better way to index his 45 rpm records. Little did he know his passion for organization would result in a roomful of jukeboxes.

Mr. Schroen, a Forest Hill resident and owner of Coin-Op Enterprises, also buys, sells and services new and antique jukeboxes.

He calls his jukebox business Memory Lane, and operates it out of a Forest Hill showroom on Ady Road.

But Mr. Schroen's jukeboxes aren't all typical metal and glass boxes that carry a few Elvis and Sinatra tunes. Some of his new models are sophisticated music makers that feature compact disks, lasers and computer chips instead of 45s, needles and tone arms.

A new jukebox can be programmed to do a multitude of musical tasks -- wake you at a certain time; play "Twist and Shout" precisely at 5 p.m.; softly croon to your sweetheart when the lights go down.

A CD jukebox with 100 disks can hold and play as many as 3,000 individual songs, compared with a jukebox with 100 singles that will play only 200 tunes.

"That's a lot of music," Mr. Schroen said. "You could listen to that all week, 24 hours a day and not hear the same song twice."

Two hundred selections isn't bad either. But for pure sound, Mr. Schroen believes, the CD jukebox far surpasses its predecessor.

The new technology is so advanced, Mr. Schroen predicts the 45 boxes, even those made recently, will be collectors' items in a matter of months.

What remains the same in the new jukeboxes is the beauty of the old models. The computerized components, tweeters and woofers of a new box made by Antique Apparatus of Torrance, Calif., are contained in a chrome, polished birch and glowing glass housing similar to an old Wurlitzer made in the 1940s.

These devices don't come cheap. The new, full-size 45 rpm jukebox, with its decorative floating bubbles, lights, chrome, birch and components, costs $5,000. A CD box just like it costs about $6,000.

But you could easily spend that much and more for multiple components of a music system that aren't as much fun to look at. And they won't load and unload 100 CDs or records for you.

"It's a good piece of money to put out," Mr. Schroen admits. "But it's an investment that gives you a lifetime of enjoyment. If you tire of it, you change the music."

While early, elaborately styled jukeboxes look very similar to antique reproductions being made now, the stripped down boxes of the 1950s and '60s weren't made as much for visual appeal. They owe their evolution to the easily distracted, quick tempered typical teen-ager, who didn't care much how a box looked, just how many songs it could play.

Manufacturers responded to teen agers' need for speed first by increasing the number of records a jukebox would play from 10 to 100. Then they found a way to make the machine play both sides of the record.

Next they took a hint from jukebox owners who complained that the delicate glass fronts of their new 1954 Selectomatics were within perfect kicking range of impatient kids whose nickels got stuck. In 1955, Selectomatic released a jukebox with a less lovely but very sturdy metal grate at its base.

Still more evidence that jukeboxes and teen-agers were made for one another. "Juke" comes from a West African word meaning "disorderly," according to Webster's New World Dictionary.

These days, Mr. Schroen's typical customers span all age groups and buy jukeboxes for their homes.

"I don't think music really knows an age limit," he said. "The music varies, but there's music for everyone."

Many customers prefer to select their own music, although Mr. Schroen often chooses tunes for them. He deals mostly in "oldies" from the 1950s to the '80s. Customers who want rap in the box probably have to add it themselves since he doesn't have any rap artists in his music library.

Some customers want to program the box themselves, even though it isn't a simple process. Mr. Schroen said the sophisticated jukebox components come with 2-inch-thick operation manuals. Most customers prefer to leave the technical stuff to him.

"All they need to do is plug it in and enjoy the box. Instant music," he said.

He sells full-size, light-up jukeboxes, counter top models, wall boxes and bar boxes. And if you have a desire to put an AMI '46 "Mother of Plastic," or a RockOla '47 "Magic-Glo" jukebox in your collection, chances are Mr. Schroen could find one for you.

If Mr. Schroen has a favorite jukebox in his showroom he won't say what it is. "Jukeboxes are kind of like pets," he said. "Each one has its own character. I find pleasure in each one. But you can become a jukeaholic. You can only spend so much time with them," before they start to consume too much time.

For now, at least, selling juke boxes to other people is enough.

"I didn't intend to work from here," he said as he observed his small showroom. Mr. Schroen opened a retail store at Festival in Bel Air in 1990, but had to close it a year later. He said sales were sidetracked by the Persian Gulf war and the recession. "I'm thankful I didn't go bankrupt. I got out while I could."

Now he's selling an occasional box and servicing them, which isn't required often, he said. But he still intends to start another store, maybe several, eventually.

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