Observing Jukeboxes

Physical Computing

When I was growing up, there was a Tex Mex joint in my neighborhood called Radio Mexico that was the best place ever. They had a pool table, a pinball machine and a jukebox. My dad would give me a chair to stand on (so I was tall enough to read the song titles) and let me choose whatever music I wanted.

Radio Mexico doesn’t exist anymore, so I decided to visit a few bars on the Lower East Side that reportedly had jukeboxes. My first stop was a bar called Hi Fi:

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My first thought was, “This layout is hideous!” There’s a pile of seemingly random artists in the middle of the screen, and the gray sidebars are drowning in text.

That said, all the information I’d want to have is available to me. It’s obvious how to search for artists (the cursor is controlled by a trackball below the screen). It’s nice to have the playlist available so I can look to see what’s currently playing, what’s up next, and how long it will be before my song will play (as indicated by the 22:30 in the bottom right corner). Scrolling through albums was also easy once you picked an artist:

The obvious advantage over an old school jukebox is how much more music is available. The first interaction I observed lasted over 10 minutes–there were two friends tag-teaming, searching for their favorite artists. They were enjoying themselves, but eventually it appeared to get tedious scrolling through all the artists (there are many, many artists):

Their conversation devolved into “They have it!” “No they don’t.” “They have to have it!” “They don’t.” Something else that may have contributed to the long interaction: before you buy a song, a popup appears asking you if you’re sure you want to buy the song. I saw them pull up and turn down a bunch of song choices. I guess the popup is nice to prevent accidental purchases, but it also seems kind of wimpy. Like, if you accidentally buy cheesey oreos at the vending machine, you just need to accept that your midday snack is cheesey oreos!

At any rate, the women were happy enough with the selection that they kept refreshing their playlist as the evening wore on. Other than the two women, there was one other guy who went up to the machine and left when he realized he didn’t have any money.

The other bar I visited was B Side:

As you can see, this is a fancy touchscreen jukebox. Oooo. Ahhh. Something that’s immediately off-putting about this device is that not only is it advertising for itself, it’s advertising for random third parties, of which Fanduel’s fantasy sports is just one. Another is scratch off lotto tickets:


Because the opening video made such a big deal about the top plays, I decided to navigate to the “Top Plays” playlist. The jukebox immediately froze. After about a minute, it restarted itself. To see if this was a fluke, I tried to navigate to the playlist later, but it froze yet again. The interaction wasn’t off to a good start. When the machine wasn’t freezing, here’s what it looked like:

This is more visually appealing than the last jukebox, but also a lot more unreliable. And why all the ads? One of the ads was for the Touchtunes mobile app, so I decided to download it and see if it would work. It took a while, but eventually I was able to control the music in the bar with my phone. This is me rocking out to “She’s a Rejecter” by Of Montreal:

The phone app was kind of fun. Because there’s no verification system to prove you’re in the bar when you’re using the app, if you have a grudge against a bartender you can force them to listen to shitty songs during their shift!

Another clever/slimy aspect of the Touchtunes interface is that you can pay more money to have your song jump to the head of the playlist. At B Side, this was no concern,  because no one in the bar had any interest in the jukebox. I was not able to observe any outside interactions with it.

This really made me miss Radio Mexico, and the Radio Mexico jukebox. Their selection might be considered “small” in the digital age, but it was an awesome selection. I loved watching the machine take the compact discs and set them on the player. I loved pressing my sticky little hands against the glass and watching my music play.


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