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The pre-war model of the Multiphone, then called the "Music-Phone"

The Shyvers Multiphone, released in 1939 by Kenneth C. Shyvers, was an early model of a coin-operated phonograph (also known as a jukebox). It allowed patrons at restaurants, cafes and bars to play music at their table, and worked through telephone lines. The user inserted the necessary amount of coins, and was connected to a team of all-female disc jockeys in Seattle, who manually put on the selected song on a phonograph, playing the music through the telephone connection. At the height of the product's popularity, the 8,000 Multiphones were used in various establishments primarily on the west coast.

Kenneth C. Shyvers

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The post-war model of the Shyvers Multiphone [1]

Kenneth C. Shyvers, an inventor from Seattle, is best known for the creation of the Multiphone, an early version of a coin-operated restaurant jukebox that played music through telephone lines from a central music library. He developed the product with his wife Lois in 1939, gaining a patent for its coin control device one-year prior. It was not until 1946/47 that he patented the music box itself.

The product's design shows that Shyvers found inspiration from New York architecture, namely the Empire State Building. Although, the original Pre-War model of the music box (then called the "Music-Phone" more resembled a rocket ship. This design change might have been due to an increase in Shyvers' desire to show patriotism in the years after the war, or his ideas of what would appeal more to the costomers at the time.

Shyvers is also known for his work on early interactive gaming machines. In 1936, he and fellow inventor Lyn Durrant designed one of the first "score totalizers," an aspect of gaming technology that is still prevalent today.

History of the Coin-Operated Phonograph

The Multiphone played an important role in the evolution of the jukebox, an invention that grew to become a staple of its time and is still often used in cafes and restaurants to recreate the temporality of the mid 20th century. The first recorded coin operated phonograph was presented in 1889, in a public demonstration at the Palais Royal Restaurant in San Francisco on November 23, 1889. Louis T. Glass, the operator of this initial model, is credited as “the father of the concept.” Before delving into the phonograph world, Glass worked as a telegraph operator at Western Union, but then left the company with the advent of the telephone, investing in various telephone companies in Oakland and San Francisco. He eventually became the general manager of the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co. After his successful investments, he then partnered with businessman William S. Arnold to further develop the coin-operated phonograph. Though Glass is considered to be the "father" of the jukebox, he and Arnold only filed a patent for the "Coin Actuated Attachment for Phonographs," not a completely functional coin-operated phonograph in 1889. In Britain, Charles Adams-Randall, an electrician, filed a patent for the "Automatic Pariophone" in 1888. Despite this previous patent, Glass still receives the credit for the jukebox concept's inception. By 1891, the United States Patent Office had already registered 18 patents for phonograph coin control devices. Soon, Thomas Alva Edison gained business connections to the rising trend, and between 1900 and 1907 he released over 10 different models.

The cafes, restaurants and bars that started housing the coin-operated phonographs became known as “juke-joints.” This term (along with the term “juke box”) started in the South, and was brought up with the northern migration of African-American workers in the early 20th century. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that the terms were released of the stigma of being considered ‘black’ terms and gained spots in the official vocabulary.

The music boxes developed before 1900 each offered only one song selection, but soon models such as the “Gomber Multiplex” which could hold up to 12 songs, reached the market. In 1925/26, electrically recorded 78rpm records were released, solving amplification issues and changing the market.

In the late 1930s, the market for the jukebox grew as it acted a source entertainment to help the public escape the possibility of war and the effects of the great depression. Companies such as the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. and the J.P. Seeburg Corp. became some of the primary competitors in jukebox production, creating new models and finding fiscal success in the process.

Years later, in the 1960s/70s, audio/visual jukeboxes hit the market in France, known informally as "see-hear jukes." Models such as the 36-song "Scopitone ST-16" and the 28-song "Caravelle Tele-Box" found success in Paris and the surrounding suburbs, and acted as early examples of the music video. Several models were released in the United States, including the "Scopitone 450" and the "Cinebox," which was not very successful.

The all-female team of multiphone disc jockeys in downtown Seattle [2]

Development of Telephone Line Broadcasting Systems

The Multiphone separated itself form the competition through its use of telephone lines, which allowed for a much greater selection of songs through connecting the device to a central music library. This technology was not new however at the time. Before coin-operated music machine companies began to develop telephone line systems to be used with existing jukeboxes, telephone lines had already been used for similar purposes forty years earlier in France. Clement Agnes Ader invented the “Theatrophone” in 1881, which could broadcast and transmit sounds to 48 listeners at a time. In the invention's demonstration, it was able to broadcast the Opera de Paris to those 48 listeners in the nearby Palais de l‟Industrie through various telephone lines running through the sewer systems, making it the first public broadcast entertainment system. A few laters in 1895, the Universal Telephone Co. in London developed a British equivalent known as the “Electrophone.” Coin slots were produced for both the Theatrophone and Electrophone and were placed in salons, hotels, and restaurants throughout several big cities in Britain and France just like jukeboxes at the time. These two telephone line systems along with coin-operated phonographs allowed for the very idea of the multiphone to come into being.

A Centralized Music Library

Shyvers' 1947 patent for his music box design [3]

Riding off the success of the Theatrophone and Electrophone, several different music libraries were created on a similar infrastructure in many large European cities and capitals, utilizing telephone lines to broadcast music to several users from one central location. Most of the time, the central music library would often be in the basement of the salon in which it broadcasted to the public. These music libraries could be found in Copanhagen and France in the 1910s. Eventually, this concept was adapted in the United States, when Kenneth Shyver created his "Multiphone" system in 1939, which went on to be the most successful of these various telephone line-based music libraries.

Shyver's Multiphone separated itself from these previous music telephone line systems through its much greater selection. Users could pick from up to 170 different selections as opposed to the average coin-op automatic phonographs of the time, which could gave users only 24 choices at most. The system became popular throughout cafes and diners in cities in the Northwest including Shyver's home of Seattle. Many diners and cafes installed the Multiphone either at the bar or on individual booths for customer use.

The Multiphone then required two leased phone lines: one for the machine itself, which connected to the Shyver library in Seattle, and one for the speakers. At the central music library in Seattle, a team of female disc jockeys managed all of the Multiphone user requests and put the records on manually. Once the customer inserted payment, the two lights on the Multiphone would light up, indicating that the telephone line was connecting to the library to get a disc jockey's services. The customer would actually speak to the disc jockey through the small speaker found at the top of the Multiphone, telling her his or her request through the system. Each song was given a number, which was displayed on the Multiphone in a cylindrical case, which could be rotated to make room for all the possible selections.

Rise and Demise

The success of the Multiphone coincides with the success of the jukebox. In the 1930s, the United States was in the midst of major turmoil. The Great Depression brought about intense unemployment due to the failure of thousands of banks and the stock market crash. The people of America needed an escape from these hard times, and the jukebox was there to provide it for them. As Gert J. Almind writes in his history of jukeboxes, "With nothing but a nickel in ones pocket, some popular music, and a little light effect, one could dream away for a brief moment in the ordinary daily life, and the jukebox could or should expect better times as a cultural phenomenon" (33). The popularity of jukeboxes rose throughout the 1930s, and eventually became a sustainable industry in which manufacturers competed with each other due to a growing demand. Diners, bars, and saloons looked closely at different models and their production years when purchasing a jukebox for their business.

The jukebox and the Multiphone provided a communal listening experience. Just as we, in the 21st century, have our own versions of communal listening through sharing music on the Internet and with iPods, the people of the 1930s and 1940s had coin-operated music players. The Multiphone and jukeboxes created a new “social practice” of listening to the same music together as media scholar Jose van Dijck says in his article “Record and Hold: Popular Music between personal and Collective memory.” According to Dijck, a listener’s memory of music cannot be removed from the context in which it was experienced. For the people during the age of the Multiphone and jukeboxes, the conversations at bars and diners about selecting a song to play made a special place in listeners’ minds. More importantly, this very practice of going to a public place to listen to music is the effect of the technology’s power to create new rituals and thinking as media scholar, Marshall McLuhan discusses in his pivotal work, “The Medium Is The Message.” Regardless of what the jukebox or Multiphone is playing, McLuhan would argue that the fact that they are listening and using the machine is reconstructing the “scale and form of human association and action” (9). For people using Multiphones and jukeboxes during the height of their popularity, new associations of entertainment and social activities were created with the technology. For those people, it allowed them to at the time take a break from their struggles during the Great Depression through listening to music.

Though the Multiphone’s success did provide this type of communal experience just as much as jukeboxes, the jukebox eventually defeated the Multiphone as the preferred coin-operated music player. When the Multiphone was created, its ability to give listeners a choice of 170 titles was much greater than the jukeboxes that were available, but eventually new technologies were developed that allowed jukeboxes greater song capacity.

When 45rpm records were introduced in 1949, the Multiphone met its match. This new format brought a wave of jukeboxes that could hold upwards of 100 song selections without the use of telephone lines. In 1959, Shyvers accepted defeat and took the Multiphone off the market.

Sound Cloud-Based Streaming: A Modern Application

Today, the Internet has change the music industry irreversibly, record sales continue to decline and digital downloads are growing, but not at a high enough rate to satisfy many executives. Due to this shifting landscape of musical consumption, many alternative ways of purchasing have been proposed. One of these new purchasing methods, sound cloud-based streaming is very similar in concept to the Multiphone, Theatrophone and Electrophone's use of telephone lines to broadcast music from one centralized source. New sound cloud-based streaming is essentially the same idea, but wireless and obviously with much greater capacity. This new method would allow customers stream music on demand from a sound cloud onto a mobile device such as an iPhone, iPad, or Blackberrt, which would be enable them to tap a music library much larger than what can be stored on the device itself very similar to the way Multiphone users communicated with disc jockeys in the Shyvers music library in Seattle during the 1930s. Industry executives hope that this method will enable users to continue to purchase content, as they feared that consumers would slow down their purchasing due to the limitations that come with downloading music directly to a mobile device. Many different streaming services have been available for mobile devices such as Rhapsody, but most notably Apple was rumored to be creating a new cloud-based iTunes update this past summer, due to its acquisition of the music streaming website LaLa. Despite these rumors, the latest update of iTunes does not feature a new cloud based-streaming feature for mobile devices.


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