Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation has an 80-year tradition as a leader in jukeboxes and is a legacy in nostalgic American design and engineering. In today’s manufacturing environment, which all too frequently puts cost-of-goods and profit margins before durability and excellence, Rock-Ola is a company that remains defiantly loyal to its reputation as a creator of high-end, high quality jukeboxes. Where all others use plastic metal trim and regular speakers, Rock-Ola uses walnut oak, real chrome and Peavey sound system. A maverick concern in a corporate world dominated by greed, downsizing and outsourcing, Rock-Ola is a company that still builds them like they used to.
Founded in 1927 by David Cullen Rockola, the company started out making other coin-operated products, such as penny scales and pinball machines, until it found its niche in 1935 with the introduction of its first jukebox model, a 12-record, 78-rpm “Multi-Selector” jukebox, which at the time, 15 years prior to the invention of the 33 1/3 rpm long-plying phonograph record, was not only a revolution of modern mechanics, but the only way to listen to multiple artists and albums without manually changing discs. Two years later, the “Multi-Selector” would make history when David C. Rockola delivered one to the deck of the Queen Mary for her maiden voyage out of New York Harbor, prompting the headline, “The Queen Will Have Music Wherever She Goes!”
During World War II, Rock-Ola halted jukebox production to support the war effort. Faithfully serving the U.S. in its fight to stop Nazi Germany, Rock-Ola retooled to produce M-1 carbine rifles for the U.S. Army.
After the war, 78-rpm records gave way to 45s, a new, improved vinyl format that used narrower grooves, intended to be played by a smaller stylus. Quick to adapt to the latest trends in technology, in 1954 Rock-Ola rolled out their new Comet 1438 jukebox, their first 45 rpm jukebox with an unprecedented 120 record loading capacity. This was over a quarter century before the introduction of the compact disc, and 10 years prior to the invention of the audio cassette.
Rock-Ola also kept its eye on timely, aesthetic design trends, as evident by the company’s 1950s Tempo jukebox series, which was adorned with distinctive chrome ornaments inspired by American automotive styling of the day. In 1958, Rock-Ola introduced the first wall-mounted jukebox, Model 1464, with the ability to hold and play 100 different 45-rpm record selections.
Over the course of the next three decades, Rock-Ola produced a plethora of new models, all unique in design, adding the lineage of what are undoubtedly the most important contributions to jukebox history from any U.S company. The 418 Rhapsody II of 1964, for instance, was the last of the era with the mechanism visible through the glass. After that came a slew of models with the Mecho-Matic mechanism. Rock-Ola’s jukebox models of the seventies were most known for their cabinet details and their psychedelic color decors.
In 1984, Glenn Streeter, founder of Antique Apparatus Company, a company that started out selling antique radios and tubes and evolved into restoring classic jukeboxes and manufacturing parts, launched the production of “Gazelle” jukeboxes and started a new revolution in the jukebox industry with the first successful “Nostalgic” model jukebox, featuring a 200-recod selection 45-rpm mechanism. Streeter bought Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation in 1992 and moved production to the current factory in Los Angeles, California. David C. Rockola passed away the following year at age 96, forever remembered as a patriarch of the industry that literally echoes his name.
Antique Apparatus and Rock-Ola eventually merged into one corporation in 1995 and celebrated the 60th anniversary of Rock-Ola’s very first jukebox with the introduction of the “Anniversary Legend” model.
Rock-Ola charged through the nineties with technological innovations hand over fist, transitioning smoothly into the computer age. In 1996, Rock-Ola revolutionized the jukebox industry with the incorporation of SyberSonic Electronics in their designs. These jukeboxes’ three main components—a computer, a keyboard and an amplifier—are linked with simple phone cords, replacing most of the previously necessary circuit boards and 80 cables. Two years later, Rock-Ola introduced “Get Connected,” a two-way modem allowing for remote service, operation, or re-configuration from a desk-top computer.
Moving into the network age, Rock-Ola proved its adaptability once again when it introduced E-Rock, its first broadband-enabled, digital-downloading jukebox. E-Rock debuted at the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA) show in 2003 and featured a 19-inch touch screen and instant access to a 140,000 song library. Play Meter Magazine presented Rock-Ola’s E-Rock with the coveted “Jukebox of the Year” award for its 2005 E-Rock jukebox.
Rock-Ola is responsible for other digital jukebox innovations, including the E-Bubbler, the world’s first broadband-enabled, commercial digital-downloading nostalgic jukebox with a 15-inch LCD touch screen, the Wall Rock, a sleek, digital-downloading wall box with a 900 watt Peavey amplifier and a 15-inch LCD touch screen, and the 1950s, diner counter top style Wallette, the smallest digital-downloading jukebox in the world with 900 watts of digital audio power, a 12-inch LCD touch screen.
Rock-Ola could surely increase profits by simplifying production, but the company remains defiantly committed to protecting their reputation as the high-end, hand crafted jukebox leader. So while the multi-selector, record changing devices have given way to computers, software and the latest networking technology, the company still builds their bubbler cabinets from the finest woodwork and genuine chrome trim accents.
And it doesn’t stop there. Today’s Rock-Ola jukeboxes can be purchased with an onboard iPod docking station, and the ability to upload as many as 2800 audio CDs. Using a software interface on a touchscreen monitor, these high-tech jukes let you drag and drop selections, create and store playlists and search your collection by album, artist, genre and track.