Every day, Wilson installs a new small fortune in some dark, smoke-filled room where people drink and play with pool cues. And, he hopes, cheerfully play lots of Bob Seger tunes. People do tend to make jukebox selections while holding a drink in one hand. Often, they already have several drinks inside themselves as well. Spills, smoke, cigarette burns, kicks, flying tackles--the life of a jukebox isn't easy. Every time Sound Entertainment employees visit a piece of company stock in the field, they take with them a roll of paper towels and some glass cleaner. The theory: If the machine looks new and well maintained, there's less likelihood that it'll be mistreated. "People do respect the equipment," Wilson says, somewhat hopefully. "Anyway, they're designed to go in bars." THE OLD-FASHIONED 45 jukebox is dead in the water, to hear Chris Wilson tell it. "They're headed for Third World countries, living rooms, rec rooms, basements," he says. "And in some cases, they'll become boat anchors."
To support his sales pitch, which he admits is aimed at bar owners who still cling to their trusty 45 machines, Wilson unfolds a ream of clippings from newspapers and music-trade magazines.
Teenagers no longer flock to the record store to grab the latest single release from their favorite artists. Cassettes and CDs are the overwhelming preference of people who buy music; as a contemporary format, the 45 is doing a vanishing act. "There's an entire generation of people who don't know what to do with that little adapter," says Wilson. Even in the jukebox-reproduction business--companies are manufacturing vintage-juke look-alikes--CDs are beginning to edge out 45s. Mitch Menaker runs Antiquities, Incorporated, a local jukebox dealer. "People who buy reproductions that play 45s either have an original 45 collection and want to play 'em," he says, "or they're people who, though not buying an original, still want the machine to look like the original."
Menaker says his shop sells three CD-equipped reproductions for every 45-playing jukebox. Antique Apparatus, a California-based manufacturer of repros (you've seen them in the Sharper Image catalogue and on the floor at Menaker's store) still builds both styles of jukebox. But Glenn Streeter, founder and boss at Antique Apparatus, says the compact-disc share of his business is 40 percent and rising. Neither Streeter nor Menaker is willing to write off the 45, however. They both point out that plenty of 45-playing jukeboxes are still in basements or in bars (though few of the mass-produced boxes made after the early Fifties will have much value as collectibles). And a giant market still exists for the records themselves, both for the original oldies and reissues. "The 45 market today for oldies has never really been stronger," says Menaker. "I can get you almost any 45 that's been cut in the last 35 or 40 years."
Says Streeter, "Maybe at some time in the very distant future there will be no more 45s, but there are approximately 300,000 jukeboxes out there now. . . . It's going to take them 25 years to replace that entire market. And some of those places won't replace their boxes. A little neighborhood corner bar, where the jukebox still might be working on dimes, they don't see any reason to replace their jukebox. It works fine. Why put in something that costs 50 cents a play or even takes a whole dollar? The market for 45s will last for years and years. Longer than we need to worry about it."
GRAVEYARD WORKERS from nearby industrial parks pack the Antlers on Baseline Road in Tempe each morning. A different crowd of thirsty people piles in every few hours throughout the day. Scott Jones, Antlers owner, has had his CD jukebox about four months, and he programs it with a sturdy selection of country music, some soft rock, some ZZ Top and Rod Stewart. "It's a good selection," he says. "There's no Frank Sinatra on there. You go with what the customer wants."
Asked if everybody at the Antlers is happy about the new juke, Jones passes the telephone to the guy next to him at the bar. "Oh yeah," says the anonymous lunchtime tippler. "I like this one better." Jones returns to the phone. "I'm doing probably $80 more a week for myself," he says. "I'm probably one of the better jukebox bars there is."
The glowing juke in the corner is no longer merely the dispenser of "Hound Dog," "Scotch and Soda," and "Take This Job and Shove It."