Coin-Op Telephone Line Music

When some of the American manufacturers of coin-op music equipment started to develop and produce telephone music line systems in the 1940s as a counterpart to the real jukeboxes on location in the big cities, it was certainly not a new invention. Way back in the 1890s several coin-op systems had been operated with success in France, and of course also other countries in Europe. The famous French inventor Clément Agnès Ader (1841-1925) demonstrated 'the musical telephone' on the 9th August, 1881, at the l'Exposition Internationale d'Electricité in Paris. Clément Agnès Ader called the invention, the Théâtrophone, an amalgam of the two Greek words theatron and phonè meaning théâtre (theatre) and voix (voice), and at the time 48 listeners could hear the transmitted sounds from the Opera de Paris via lines laid through the sewers to the Palais de l'Industrie, where the demonstration took place. The commercial company, Compagnie du Théâtrophone, to operate the telephone music line systems was established in Paris in 1890, and that was in fact the first public broadcast entertainment system. The coin-op version was priced at 50 Centimes for 2 1/2 minutes and 1 Franc for 5 minutes listening time, and the Théâtrophone was soon followed in 1895 by the Electrophone, which was a mainly British equivalent to the French 'mother system' and operated by the Universal Telephone Company in London. The Electrophone is mentioned, by the way, in the short story entitled "The Assyrian Rejuvenator" by Clifford Ashdown (pseudonym of Richard Austin Freeman, 1862-1943): "...Although the restaurant had been crowded some time before he arrived, Mr. Romney Pringle had secured his favourite seat opposite the feminine print after Gainsborough, and in the intervals of feeding listened to a selection from Mascagni through a convenient Electrophone, price sixpence in the slot...". The short story by Clifford Ashdown was published in 1902 by Ward Lock in London, and it is one of only a few documentations in literature of the coin-op telephone line systems. Concerning the Théâtrophone it is interesting also to note the very nice poster "Le Théâtrophone" designed by the French artist Jules Chéret (1836-1932) in 1896. It was one of a series of posters called "Les Maitre de l'Affiches" made by Jules Chéret, and today it is recognized as one of the real classic advertising posters of the era.

Following the success of the Théâtrophone and Electrophone systems, which had spread to salons, hotels, and restaurants, in most big cities in Britain and France, like for example the Salon Jacquet 315 rue Aristide Briand in Le Havre that had its own token made, several interesting music libraries were established in the European capitals and big cities. They were in fact based on the same principle as the telephone line systems, but they differed a little, as the phone or ordering units were only connected to a central library often located in the basement beneath the salon open to the public. Such libraries were the true forerunners of the American telephone line music systems of the 1940s. People just had to learn about the music libraries for the concept to expand.

The music libraries all over Europe were established in the same manner as the Pathéphone and Odeon salons in Copenhagen. The music libraries were counterparts to the semi-automatic phonographts of the era offering none or very few selections, and Gotfred Schmedes (1873-1951) opened the first Pathéphone Salon formed after a French model in the centre of Copenhagen in 1912. In the salon one could sit in a comfortable armchair and listen to Pathé records from an operators room in the basement. In the beginning the operator(s) could play 12 records simultaneously, and the sound was led to the patron through a system of tubes. The Pathé records were special, as most collectors know, because they were played from the centre towards the edge with a rounded needle (safir), and also because they were phono-cut, which means that the safir/needle went up and down (hill-and-dale) and not sideways like on a normal needle-cut record (all other records made according to Emile Berliner's patent of 1888). The Pathé records had in Europe been accepted as very durable records for coin operated salon gramophones, mostly of French origin. To be able to listen to the records in the Pathéphone Salon the patron had to insert a token that he had bought at the entrance. Next to each armchair there was a set of tubes for communication with the operator in the basement and of course a coin-slot. In 1913, however, the equipment in the basement was replaced by normal gramophones for needle-cut HMV records, and there were now about 500 different records to select from in the library. When the equipment in the basement was replaced the name of the salon changed as well, and the new name was Gramophon Concert Salon. Nearby in the centre of Copenhagen a new competitor called the Odeon Koncertsal was established early in 1913. The term Odeon (Odeum) is Greek and means public building for musical performances. The Odeon records were of German origin, and competed in that way with the His Master's Voice records only a few blocks away. The Odeon Koncertsal was registered until around 1918, and the Gramophon Concert Salon was registered until the year 1923. After that both salons were forgotten by most people, and today only very few know the salons ever existed. An interesting aspect is, however, that Pathéphone salons had been established in several big cities in America long before the first one came to Copenhagen. The first salons were of course established in France, and the diameter of the token to be inserted in the slots in Copenhagen was 20 1/4 mm, equal to 3/4 of a French inch (10 Centimes coin), so one might assume that the original equipment was imported direct from France without further changes. Another French manufacturer of coin-op phonographs, Henri Liorét (1848-1938), had been able to deliver slots for various coin diameters around 1901, so it would have been possible to have coin-slots for Danish coinage. The token to be used in the coin-slots in the Odeon Koncertsal had a diameter of 25 mm. The only reason why the music libraries or salons with coin-slot concept could be established was of course that it was still impossible, or at least not common, that ordinary, working people would buy gramophones and records. Another reason was the lack of selection in the semi or fully automatic phonographs, and the lack of amplification of acoustic sound from most of the coin-op phonographs or salon gramophones operated in bars, cafés, and arcades.

Much later, in the late 1930s, other kinds of music libraries saw the light of day in America. Barry Ulanov wrote in an article in the "American Mercury" in October, 1940, that a system of jukes were connected to central studios by phone lines, and that they gave customers a choice from thousands of numbers instead of a measly dozen or two. Also Walter Hurd wrote in the "Billboard" trade magazine that telephone music systems received considerable attention and enjoyed widespread newspaper publicity near the end of 1940. The most important and successful of these libraries was established by Kenneth Carl Shyvers (1899-1976) in Seattle, Washington, and his wife Eloise (Ella Louise, 1895-1982). The Multiphone system allowed a total selection of 170 titles, whereas a normal coin-op automatic phonograph played only 20 or 24 selections. The Multiphone system came to be installed in cafés or diners along the bar or in each booth, and the system required two leased telephone lines, one for the Multiphone and another for the speakers on the wall. Kenneth C. Shyvers design patented several wall box cabinets for his system. Although the Multiphone units had been in business during the war years, the three known designs were all filed for patent in 1946/47. The first two versions were filed for patent on the 8th February, 1946, and the last design, which is best known to collectors today, was filed for patent on the 30th April, 1947. It is interesting that the second of the first two designs (Serial No. 126,381) used the top section of a Packard Butler type remote control designed years before, in 1940, by Edward E. Collison and Paul U. Lannerd. The wired music system played on Nickels and later on Dimes, and the Shyvers' Multiphone systems worked until the late 1950s in several cities in Washington, like Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. The system could, however, not compete with the new, modern type of coin-op phonographs, jukeboxes, with selection of up to 200 tunes on 45rpm records.

Another very interesting type of music library system invented and manufactured in Washington was the Telo-Music invented by Audry R. Kinney in Mount Vernon. Audry Ralph Kinney was an able inventor, and around 1939/40, in his prime and as a Rock-Ola distributor, he developed both central units for bars and cafés and remote controls for telephone line music. The inventions by Audry R. (Bud) Kinney including a complete 10-turntable central operator's unit are believed to be the forerunners, or maybe even the basis, of the Rock-Ola Mystic Music 3701 Master and 3708 Super phonographs with up to 250 selections introduced in 1940/41 connected also in some cases with the Mystic-Music 3801 booth or bar boxes. The Mystic-Music 3701 Master normally had 20 selections but during busy hours the location owner could switch on the Mystic-Music system increasing the selections to 250. The later version of the 3701 Master could be seen in a 'leading role' in the musical film entitled "Swing Hostess" of 1944 starring Iris Adrian among others. The Mystic Music models had, which is well described by Russell Ofria Jr. in his articles published in the "Nickel-A-Tune" magazine in 1982, a certain influence on the design of the Rock-Ola 1501 Dial-A-Tune remote selectors introduced late in 1940. It is also quite interesting that the model used in the musical film of 1944, and pictured on a very nice lobbycard, had the Rock-Ola microphone on top, but the name Jennings written across the front glass. It seems that the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation bought most rights to patents for the system known today as the Mystic Music, most probably also the patents filed by Audry R. Kinney in Mount Vernon, Washington. The connection between Kinney and the Rock-Ola company needs further research. In 1942 a new series of Mystic Music equipment was introduced, the Rock-Ola 3709 Location Tone Column, which was a floor standing unit, like the Spectravox 1801 and 1802 units, but with no phonograph mechanism in it. The 3709 Location Tone Column is well described in the above mentioned articles by Russell Ofria Jr., and the seven feet tall model must have been impressive to most patrons. The model had a motor driven colour dome projecting a colour-show onto the ceiling, and also a front glass panel with an animated fountain scene on it. The Mystic Music system, which included a central station serving up to thirty locations, was continued by the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation through the war years, but abandoned after the war. In the year 1946 only normal type phonographs were marketed with the Rock-Ola name on them.

One of the serious competitors to the Rock-Ola Mystic Music system in 1940 was the AMI Central Operating System, the COS, also known today as wall mounted Singing Towers cabinets. The system worked for years, operated by an affiliation of AMI, Singing Towers Inc., 3007 Washington Boulevard in Chicago, and the cabinets were all rather well designed by Lloyd J. Andres. The first design was filed for patent on the 13th April, 1939, and the following four designs were filed on the 19th and 21st February, 1940. A wonderful example of such a wall mounted Singing Towers can be found on page 78-79 in the book entitled "Coin-Ops On Location" published by Richard M. Bueschel and Eric D. Hatchell in 1993. That one, however, is rather interesting, because the cabinet is a combination of two designs, the patent D:119,574 filed on the13th April, 1939, and the patent D:121,179 filed on the 19th February, 1940. The AMI COS cabinets only contained the microphone and the speaker(s), and the unit was connected to a hide-away unit with 40 selections, two mechanisms with each 20 selections. In addition the location owner also had the choice of switching on the Central Operating System, just like the Rock-Ola Mystic Music system could be switched on during busy hours, and thereby increasing the number of selections to 200 from the COS. The systems were well designed, because the normal phonograph (with hide-away unit) could still work and provide music even if the central system failed. Automatic Musical Instruments Company, AMI, also introduced a version with smaller wall mounted units. The 10 selection Mighty Midget Wall Box was designed by Lloyd J. Andres and filed for patent on the 28th May, 1938, and first used as a normal remote controller with speaker. Later, following the big, impressive wall mounted Singing Towers cabinets, the same wall box was used with a microphone instead of the speaker, and of course with auxiliary speakers connected. It seems that also the Senior Remote Controller, which had been design patented in October, 1936, by Lloyd J. Andres, and also first introduced in 1936, was used for some time in the forties connected to the COS like the Mighty Midget Wall Box. The microphone had been put into the top of the cabinet where the original design for the Senior Remote Controller had a clock pictured.

Today it is interesting to note, that also The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company had a workable TLMS, Telephone Line Music System, designed by La Mar E. Hayslett and Francis M. Schmidt and filed for patent on the 3rd September, 1940, but it seems the company never did market the system. The mighty Wurlitzer company must have had serious reasons not to compete with Rock-Ola and AMI in this field, but there is no record today of such reasons. It is known that Rodney Pantages Inc., Hollywood, entered the market with a nice Maestro Your-Choice-By-Voice system in the autumn 1940, and later also made cabinets for the system offering a program of not less than 2,000 selections that looked a little like the Filben Mirro-cle Music units, an amalgamation of the two words mirror and miracle. Other important competitors on the market were Personal Music Corporation of Newark, New Jersey, and Telo-Tune (Communication Equipment and Engineering Company) in Chicago, Illinois, which should not be confused with Telo-Music and the inventor Audry R. Kinney mentioned above. Personal Music Corporation entered the market in 1940/41 with the first Penny-A-Tune unit based on patents by Frank J. Hoke (filed 1929) and William S. Farrell (filed 1941), but the company was relatively inactive for a few years during the war until it started up again in May, 1945, with new equipment and control units called Phonette Penny Serenade and Phonette Melody Lane. The Telo-Tune company in Chicago, however, was active at the end of the war, and the firm mainly used control units named Teletone Musicale designed by George Phelps. George Phelps' design for the Musicale unit was filed for patent on the 15th March, 1946. Further, the Solotone units made by Solotone Corp. in Los Angeles should be mentioned here. The Solotone remotes and the library system was developed, designed, and also patented by Forrest E. Wilson and Scott E. Allen on the 26th January, 1949. Several small, local companies also tried to get a foothold on the market, but none of them were really successful, and very few are even remembered today by name.

It was well put by Russell Ofria Jr. in his articles published in the "Nickel-A-Tune" magazines 1982/83, that no one could say for sure what all of the reasons were for the extinction of the Telephone Line Music Systems, but it seems that the systems were mainly forced out by ever increasing expenses like increasing rates for the use of the special phone lines, and special fees, licenses and taxes imposed on them by governmental agencies. Haven't we all heard that before? The Telephone Line Music Systems were an interesting but short-lived feature in the history of the jukebox concept, and they deserve to be remembered in the future.

Gert J. Almind