My friend Glen has been collecting antiques for over 50 years. He’s been stumped several times by my guessing game website. So during my first visit to his home/museum, he couldn’t wait to give me a taste of my own patent medicine by asking me, “What is this?”
I was hesitant to say the obvious tabletop jukebox, but I did. Glen smiled and said, “Look closer.”
TALK HERE. I asked if it used some type of drive inn intercom system. Glen smiled and turned the music player to reveal: Shyvers Multiphone. A phone?!
Released in 1939, Kenneth C. Shyvers’ invention was an early version of a coin-operated restaurant jukebox that played music through telephone lines from a central music library in Seattle. A team of female disc jockeys managed all of the Multiphone user requests and put the records on manually.
Users could pick from up to 170 different selections as opposed to the average coin-op automatic phonographs of the time, which gave users only 24 choices at most. YES. I know 170 selections is a far cry from Spotify’s access to a million songs, but the Multiphone could’ve kept spreading nationwide. At it’s height, there were over 8,000 Multiphones playing in restaurants, cafes, and diners all along the West Coast. What happened?
The 45. Glen told me the upright jukeboxes, that could hold upwards of 100 songs, made the Multiphone obsolete.
The new format of 45 rpm records was released in 1949. Ken Shyvers pulled the Multiphone off the market ten years later.
I don’t consider his invention a failure, especially since the Shyvers Multiphone helped people take a break from their struggles during the Great Depression through listening to music. That said, enjoy.