Back in the late 1950s, the jukebox manufacturer Seeburg produced a background music system for offices and retail establishments to provide some competition for Muzak. They invented a new vinyl record format and player to allow 40 hours of music to be played endlessly over the office PA system with no attention from the staff.
The systems were installed by jukebox operators all over the country (and presumably the civilized world). A new set of records came out every 3 months, so that the hapless listeners wouldn't have to murder anyone from hearing the same cheery song too many times. The records were owned by Seeburg and presumably destroyed after being returned to the factory (subject to a $1 fee per disk), so they are not exactly easy to find.
The initial player made by Seeburg looks like a microwave oven, complete with window. Instead of the food rotating slowly on the turntable, however, is a stack of twenty-five 9-inch microgroove records revolving at a leisurely 16.66 RPM. The player plays both sides of each record in the stack with a double-sided tonearm, then lifts the stack of records and starts over. The later version that I have, the BMC-1, is in a boring sheet-metal box with no window.
Naturally, Seeburg had to provide a source of records as well as the player. They created a company called Seeburg Music Library Inc., whose purpose was to provide recordings of the sort that would inspire workers to work harder and happier. Vocals are not present, but Top 40 hits and old standards are. Even the mellowest of mellow hits was re-recorded to a state of syrupy sweetness.
I have tried to locate the Seeburg company. They seem to have been bought by Williams, the pinball and video game maker. No trace remains. The system is mentioned in Joesph Lanza's wonderful book Elevator Music.
Since I have a pile of records and a couple working machines, I decided to install one in my office when we got a new phone system. It's playing now over the speakerphone.
There are Basic records, Mood records, Industrial records, and Christmas records. We listened to the 1969 Christmas set over Christmas, then switched to a set of Basic records from 1968 for post-holiday cheer.
If you'd like to listen to this music yourself, you may call me at the number below on weekdays between 10AM and 6PM MST. I'll put you on hold and you can listen until the hold timer bounces the call back to me after a minute.
--David Forbes Synergy Microsystems 3895 N. Business Center Dr. #100 Tucson, AZ 85705 520-690-1709
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