How jukeboxes invented CHR radio

In 1933, an American engineer named Homer Capehart sold his Simplex automatic record changer mechanism to the Wurlitzer company, which was renowned for manufacturing… theatre organs !

In competition with with rival firms Seeburg and Rock-Ola, Wurlitzer began placing coin-operated jukeboxes in taverns, bars, malt-shops, drug stores and diners all over America. Typically costing just a nickel (5c) per play, jukeboxes proved an affordable and convenient alternative to buying records for the average worker, and they proved immensely popular – by 1939 there were 300,000 jukeboxes installed across America — Wurlitzer alone had sold over 100,000 machines by 1937 – and the number one selection… was Bing Crosby :-)

Jukeboxes were located in public spaces like bars and diners; they presented customers with a small selection of the latest recordings — typically between ten and thirty double-sided 78 rpm discs — and unlike radio, jukeboxes played only music. Listeners could hear their favourite selections over and over and jukeboxes also provided an inexpensive way to ‘preview’ new or unfamiliar recordings.

During World War II, Rock-Ola led the industry with the introduction of telephone-line music transmission systems, which proved very successful because kept the jukebox going at a time when non-essential manufacture was severley restricted because of wartime rationing, and the record industry was hit hard by the scarcity of shellac, which was obtained from South East Asia.

By the mid-1930s the jukebox boom had developed to a point where radio began paying close attention to which recordings were most popular with customers. The growing phenomenon of jukebox ‘hits’ undoubtedly influenced another key milestone in the evolution of the Top 40 — the premiere of the American popular music program Your Hit Parade on 20 April 1935. Billed as “an accurate, authentic tabulation of America’s taste in popular music”, it quickly became one of the most popular programs on network radio and ran until 1959; in later years it was made into a TV program which was ‘simulcast’ on NBC radio. Every Saturday night, Your Hit Parade presented the ten top songs of the week, saving the top three for the end of the show — the first version of what became the “Top 40 Countdown“. Although the show’s advertising agency were secretive about the methods used to determine the top songs, it is understood that that the statisticians used sheet music sales, jukebox data, requests to orchestra leaders and radio performances in order to determine the weekly playlist.

The American music magazine Billboard published its first music hit parade listing on 4 January 1936; its first “Music Popularity Chart” appeared on 20 July 1940. The phrase ‘hit parade’ was also used for programs that featured hit tunes, such as Your Hit Parade.

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