By Del Williams
Rock-Ola’s modern jukeboxes feature the old-school styling and craftsmanship of the mid-century-era, while boasting the best in touch screen and digital sound technology.
The jukebox is synonymous with rock and roll. When the musical genre was first born back in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, some of the earliest rock records were played on classic jukeboxes in American burger joints and cafes across the nation.
For modern rock enthusiasts and music collectors, jukeboxes still reign supreme and are in high demand, as they serve as nostalgic reminders of the rock genre’s purest days. When it comes to jukebox manufacturing here in the United States, there’s only one company that’s making modern jukeboxes in the same tradition as the originals from the mid-20th century: The Rock-Ola Manufacturing Company.
Rock-Ola’s all-original, hand-finished, nostalgic jukeboxes are designed to look exactly like the classic style jukeboxes one would’ve found in diners back in the ‘40s and ‘50s—they’re assembled by hand, feature exotic woods for the cabinets and they’re built to stand the test of time. However, Rock-Ola’s jukeboxes also boast top-of-the-line touch screens and sound equipment, as well as the ability to play mp3 files and CDs, which means that these jukeboxes feature the best of the past and present: the craftsmanship and quality of mid-century jukeboxes blended with the modern convenience of a 21st century digital sound system.
“It reminds them of the good old days of real rock and roll music,” says Glenn Streeter, owner of Rock-Ola, about the appeal of jukeboxes. Rock-Ola’s jukeboxes feature exteriors that are nearly identical to mid-century jukeboxes.
The cabinets, for instance, feature real chromed-metal trim and cut-glass side mirrors. They’re made from walnut on the outside, and the front doors feature real African Movinga Satinwood veneer.
“We produce jukebox cabinets like they were done in the 1940s,” Streeter says. Streeter’s personal motto when it comes to manufacturing (“Quality is always in style”) heavily influences the production of Rock-Ola’s jukeboxes, and the company does its utmost to not skip any corners.
“We do all of our finishing in house,” says Streeter. “All of the detail work is done by hand—even the final details on the doors are painted with tiny paintbrushes.” Rock-Ola’s goal is to produce a jukebox that can last—mid-century jukeboxes were designed to age gracefully, so Rock-Ola works hard to make sure that quality is always a priority.
However, while the jukeboxes themselves feature classic style, they’re outfitted with the best in music technology. All of the models feature a powerful Peavey 2,000-watt amplifier. “You could run an auditorium with one of these jukeboxes,” Streeter adds.
The models can feature either a mechanism that plays and hold up to 100 CDs, or they can feature a modern touch screen and music hard drive system that’s powered by Rock-Ola’s exclusive Qsonix software. The digital system can hold up to 13,000 CDs’ worth of music, and it can be played remotely on an iPad or mobile device, hooked up to wi-fi and it can even download songs from other remote sources. There are also plans to start manufacturing vinyl-playing jukeboxes in the near future, as well.
“It’s the best quality nostalgic style with the latest technology,” says Streeter about Rock-Ola’s jukeboxes. The company’s products have popped up all around the world, as Rock-Ola has clients in Moscow, Dubai, the Philippines and India. Rock-Ola has also manufactured jukeboxes for restaurant clients such as Fat Burger, Johnny Rockets and Texas Roadhouse.
Rock-Ola has nearly a century’s worth of experience with jukebox manufacturing. David Rockola originally founded Rock-Ola Manufacturing Co. in 1927 and he made jukeboxes longer than anyone in history. Streeter, who has been making Classic jukeboxes for over 30 years, considers Rockola to have been one of the most influential American manufacturers of jukeboxes. “He was one of the most prolific guys in the industry,” says Streeter. He also notes that Rockola was extremely fascinated with all aspects of the coin-operated industry, and that aside from jukeboxes (the company made their first jukebox in 1934), he also made parking meters, gumball, pinball and slot machines too.
“It all started as a hobby,” says Streeter about his first foray into the jukebox industry. In 1977, Streeter built on his love for vintage technology and started the Antique Apparatus Company in his garage, specializing in restoring and selling antique radios. Eventually, the company began to refine its specializations, and Streeter started restoring jukeboxes—some of the restored systems even ended up on television shows. “One of my restorations ended up on “Cheers” and now resides in the Smithsonian Museum with other TV archives,” says Streeter.
Finding parts for the jukeboxes began to become a little bit of a challenge, so he started manufacturing spare parts on his own. One thing led to another, and he decided to start manufacturing nostalgic-style jukeboxes—with wooden, hand-finished exteriors—but with all new sound systems. “I made the first successful nostalgic jukebox in the early ‘80s,” says Streeter.
In the early 1990s, Streeter had the opportunity to expand the scope of his business, and he purchased the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Company in 1992. When Streeter purchased Rock-Ola, he moved the entire operation in 28 semi-trucks to his new factory in Torrance, Calif., where it still operates today.
Rock-Ola is always working to stay relevant and keep in touch with what rock and roll enthusiasts and collectors are craving in modern jukebox technology. The company’s latest effort involves creating special Elvis Presley-inspired jukeboxes. These “Elvis Presley 60th Anniversary of Rock n’ Roll 1954-2014” jukeboxes come in two distinct finishes: either a piano-black or piano-white finish with a gold-colored metal trim and base. The jukeboxes are limited-edition items, as only 99 of each color variety were made.
Each jukebox features a distinct, guitar-shaped magnet CD holder with an Elvis signature. Rock-Ola created these jukeboxes as homage to the heyday of rock and roll, as well as part of an effort to pay tribute to an entertainment icon that revolutionized 20th century music.
Streeter has a true passion for jukeboxes—in his opinion, they transport listeners to that era when rock and roll was first born. Their design is classic and timeless, he notes, and because his jukeboxes are so well made, they can be passed down to other family members and remain relevant. “These jukeboxes are something you can give to your grandchildren when you’re finished with it,” he says.
For more information, contact Rock-Ola at (310) 328-1306; visit http://www.rock-ola.com; or write to Rock-Ola Manufacturing at 2335 208th St., Torrance, CA 90501.
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California. He writes about health, business, technology, and educational issues, and has an M.A. in English from C.S.U. Dominguez Hills.