Invented by Ken Shyvers, the same guy who invented pinball machines, the Shyvers Multiphone is about 20 inches tall with a 7.5 inch square base and was typically placed on diner counters, tables at drive-ins and bars. But the real hoot (tapping into my Jazz Age slang here) is how this thing actually functioned. Notice the words “talk here” engraved above the track menu…
The all-female team of multiphone disc jockeys in downtown Seattle via Dead Media Archive
Operating over telephone lines mostly in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, Washington, this team of all-female disc jockeys would manually play the requested song on a phonograph, playing the music through the telephone connection. And out came the music through the little speakers. How about that! Doesn’t it remind you of when you would play your favourite new tracks over the phone to your friends?Multiphones had a record range of 170 whereas jukeboxes of the time only had a record range of 20-48. Each song on the Shyver was given a number, displayed on the menu encased in the cylindrical case, which could be rotated to make room for all the possible selections.
When the 5 cents (some later models ask for 10 cents) was inserted, the two lights on the Multiphone would light up, indicating the telephone line was connecting to the library. This is when the customer would actually speak to the disc jockey through the small speaker at the top. I wonder if they made any small talk during the request process!
At the height of the Shyver Multiphone’s popularity, up to 8,000 models were used in establishments primarily on the west coast of the United States. However, telephonic music technology was not an entirely new concept…
Costing 50 centimes for five minutes of listening, including news programs at regular intervals, Victor Hugo described his first experience of théâtrophone as “pleasant”.
Foreshadowing today’s popular music streaming services such as Spotify, the Theatrophone service also offered subscription tickets at a reduced rate to attract regular subscribers, even at home. Marcel Proust was a keen subscriber to the service.
In 1895, Britain introduced the coin-operated “Electrophone” to its salons, hotels and restaurants across several cities. It was these early European telephone line systems combined with the popularity of the nickel-in-the-slot phonographs introduced in 1890, that paved the way for Shyver’s Multiphone…
It was around the same time that “jukebox” actually first came into colloquial use in the United States, around 1940. The term originates from the “Juke Joints” of Jim Crow’s deep South, where these informal dancing, drinking and gambling establishments (rarely more than ramshackle huts) were primarily operated by African Americans so they could have somewhere to socialise since they were barred from most white entertainment establishments. The word “juke” derives from the Creole word joog or jug: rowdy, disorderly or wicked. When African American workers and former slaves migrated north in the early 20th century, they brought the term with them the term, and the cafes, restaurants and bars that started housing coin-operated phonographs became known as “juke-joints.” By the 1930s, the stigma of juke being considered a ‘black’ term was lost and “jukeboxes” became part of general society’s official vocabulary.
As for Shyver’s Multiphone jukebox? When newer technologies allowing jukeboxes to host a larger music library, the Multiphone met its match. The 45 rpm records brought forth a new jukebox that could hold more than 100 songs, without the disc jockey ladies waiting at the other end of the line. By 1959, the lines went dead and Shyver had taken his Multiphone off the market.
If you’re interested in owning a piece of this fascinating music history, the rare machines occasionally pop up on eBay and there are currently two up for sale on the online marketplace with a base offer of $1,999. You can also watch a guy take one apart on Youtube (video quality not great).
One of the models on offer on eBay was found at an estate sale and was kept in a box since the 1970s. Of course with Shyver’s disc jockeys out of commission, it’s only for display, but wouldn’t she make a mighty fine display at that. A true music history collector’s item.
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(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥
(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥
Rockolla Wurlitzer Bubbler Jukeboxes - helped put Shyver's off the market