After Stern’s purchase of Seeburg, the first order of business
was to get everything needed out of the Seeburg building and
into Stern’s plant. Stern was doing business in the old
Chicago Coin plant, on Diversey Avenue on Chicago’s Near North
side. The new Seeburg division started up in an empty
factory building on the opposite side of the parking lot from
Stern’s plant. Both buildings probably dated from some
time in the 1920s or 1930s. The Stern building was a single
story, while the other was a fairly run-down, three-story building,
requiring partially-assembled jukeboxes to be trundled up and
down elevators to the various assembly stations. I don’t
recall anyone asking my opinion, but I think it would have made
more sense to move Stern’s operation into the much newer (built
in 1964-1965) and larger Seeburg building on Dayton Street,
rather than moving everything out of there and into Stern’s
buildings. Seeburg’s building had a complete painting
and plating department, and a punch-press department, which
had newer machines. Also, it had those automated (and
now properly working) elevators to move completed machines from
the assembly floors down to the blocking and packing floor,
then onto the shipping dock, and had a light, airy interior.
The Stern building (and even more so, the one across the parking
lot) were small and cramped, reminding me a little bit of a
dungeon. By the way, all three buildings were still there
when last I visited Chicago in 1996. An aluminum storm
window factory now occupies the former Stern building, the Seeburg
building on Dayton Street is a combination parking lot and furniture
store, and the ‘other (i.e., Sternburg) ’ Seeburg building appears
to be abandoned.
But I’m jumping ahead. I was elected to take a trip
down to the Dayton Street building to see if there was anything
there we could use in our also-new URL building, which was
an in-process renovation of a former carpet warehouse on
Chase Avenue in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The renovation
included a two-story internal office structure, used primarily
for engineering offices and labs. I had a chance to
walk around the Dayton Street offices and labs where I had
worked just a few short years before. They were abandoned,
desks cleaned out of personal items, any semblance of order
missing, with junk and papers discarded everywhere.
It was very depressing, walking around, remembering things
that had taken place here and there. I wanted to see
if there was any test equipment we could use. Unfortunately,
it had been several years since Seeburg had enough resources
to invest in anything as ‘unnecessary’ as new test equipment.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of stuff there, but
it was all pretty old, except for a few fairly new semiconductor
curve tracers. Everything else had probably been purchased
in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with certain pieces going back further.
Most of the equipment was in pretty good shape, thanks to
the effort constantly put in by the Test Equipment Engineering
group, whose responsibility it was to keep the gear running
and in calibration. Seeburg had a pretty complete
calibration lab, used to keep the line and engineering test
equipment in current calibration. Their model shop
was also extensively equipped, but again with nothing modern.
This too, extended to Incoming Inspection, which had a small
lab containing various measurement standards, etc.
Incoming Inspection also had a semiconductor test area,
stocked primarily with purpose-built testers, also maintained
by the Test Equipment Engineering group. Walking around
the production floor, I saw the big huge tester used for
testing the boards and completed black and gray boxes.
This machine was about six feet square by about seven feet
tall, and had to be kept running at all times so as to keep
its internal temperature and hence calibration current.
We used to call this thing the ‘Monster Tester’, due to
its size. It was a full-time job for a single engineer
to keep this thing running. I think this was helped
by the fact that the engineer had a tendency not to write
anything down, like the schematics for the thing, how it
worked, etc. I also had a chance to look at the old
toroid tester, which for some reason was not in the Incoming
Inspection area. Instead, it was just down the hall
from the Engineering offices in the old (original) building.
It was pretty large, too, which was probably the reason
why it was never moved when Incoming Inspection was set
up in the new building. It was strange to see this
machine not running, with the endless row of little toroids
marching up the ramp to the test station. This machine
was totally automated, having a vibration handler to route
the toroids up a circular ramp to the test station, where
each one was tested, then moved into the accept or reject
bin based on the test readings. The only thing the
operator had to do was to dump a package of toroids into
the feed hopper and take the good and bad ones out of bins
on the other end. The Test Equipment Engineering group
had also built a dozen or so field testers for the black
and gray boxes, which permitted the bench-top testing of
either box, without having to rip the guts out of a jukebox
or fill up your bench space with a mechanism and all that
cabling. There were several of these testers throughout
the building, and several more were sent out to the larger
Seeburg distributors to help their bench technicians diagnose
a problem in the boxes before sending them to us for repair.
How I wish I had grabbed one of those! I’m still looking
for one, so if you know of one for sale at a reasonable
price, please email me. Also in our former labs were
the prototypes of any of a number of projects, including
my all solid-state selection system, and the prototypes
for the black and gray box custom chips. Another missed
opportunity: how I wish I had had the foresight to grab
them and take them home with me. Also lying around
were a couple of heavily modified UDPU chassis, modified
to field test the custom pricing chip. A short production
run was set up to build about fifty to a hundred of these,
which were installed in LS2 jukeboxes and put out on location
in the Chicago area for test. I’m sure the prototype
of the ‘family jewels’, the Select-o-Matic mechanism, was
around there somewhere too, although I have never seen it.
How depressing to think that all this jukebox history probably
ended up in a dumpster and is now in a landfill somewhere
on Chicago’s Southwest side!
The old Engineering lab had a nice set of slate-topped
lab benches, which we could use, and a couple of curve
tracers. The slate tops were way too heavy, but
I made arrangements for the base cabinets and the curve
tracers to be shipped out to Elk Grove, leaving the
rest there for whoever wanted it. Several pieces
were obtained by other groups within Stern/URL, most
notably our internal Test Equipment Engineering group.
Originally, the lab bench cabinets were a murky gray
color, so we had them painted beige once they were shipped
out to our building. The slate tops were replaced
with a custom-made butcher-block patterned Formica top
over a particleboard base, which became the lab bench
for our large (we had a large and a small) lab in our
new building. Later, when Stern went out of business,
we bought these cabinets and bench top for use in the
consulting company which I helped to form when I left
Seeburg for the third time in 1982.
With the buyout out of the way, the next thing
to do was to set up a production line in the
Diversey Avenue building, buy inventory, establish
relationships with Seeburg distributors who
were not already Stern distributors, etc.
Several former Seeburg Engineers and Managers
were hired, including the Section Engineer and
Chief Engineer I had previously worked for.
The knowledge and experience brought over by
these folks went a long way towards jump-starting
Seeburg production. From the URL point
of view, our task was to start production on
the various PC boards making up the jukebox.
After board stuffing, wave solder, and test,
we would ship the completed boards to the Diversey
Avenue plant for assembly into the various chassis
prior to installation in a jukebox. URL
had a lot of automatic component insertion equipment,
used to minimize labor by having as few people
on the production line as possible. The
amplifier and MCU keyboard/display boards were
assembled by hand, but the balance of the boards
making up the SMC2 were built using automatic
Prior to going bankrupt, Seeburg had introduced
and built a few model SMC2 jukeboxes.
In terms of styling, the cabinet was identical
to the previous year’s SMC1. The graphics
panels were changed, as was the color of
the vertical columns on either side of the
machine, which housed the tweeters.
The graphics panels were now an alternating
‘chevron’ pattern of yellows, browns, and
oranges, while the vertical columns were
painted brown. The mirror and circle-of-dots
display in the ‘cupoleum’ cabinet structure
directly in front of the mechanism was changed
to include a rotating, mirrored ‘disco ball’,
which had a pair of small lights focused
on it. A small PC board mounted in
the Phono Control Center or PCC controlled
the spotlight and disco ball motor.
The motor and spotlight were only on while
power was applied to the mechanism.
The new president of the Seeburg Division
decided that this model needed a little
more ‘pizzazz’, especially since it
was the debut machine for the division.
The vertical columns were changed to
orange, and the disco ball/spotlight
combination was on any time power was
applied to the machine. This became
the Stern/Seeburg (or as some would
call it, the ‘Sternburg’) Phoenix.
Evidently, the orange color was more
in keeping with the Phoenix image –
out of the ashes, etc. Since this
machine came out in the fall, some of
us thought the color had more to do
with Halloween than anything else.
I must admit, however, that the Phoenix
was much more noticeable than the Seeburg
The Seeburg MCU3000
A few weeks after we started
building the CPU board for the
MCU, our president, production
manager, and me got together
to discuss problems we were
having on the production line
with this board. Seeburg
had been having this board built,
with a few small updates to
the design, for over a year
before we got into it.
Actually, Seeburg had a contract
manufacturer in a suburb of
Cleveland do the board assembly.
I believe this was done because
Seeburg had no automatic insertion
equipment and did not want to
invest in any. Manually
building this board would have
been expensive, since it had
a lot of fairly small components
on it, especially as compared
to what they were previously
building. Over the year
or so Seeburg had been shipping
SMC jukeboxes, several field
problems were found, requiring
changes to be made to the CPU
board. Inevitably, these
changes involved the addition
of components. But, the
board was of a fixed size, due
to the requirement that it fit
into the chassis designed for
it, which, in turn, had to fit
in the space allocated behind
the SMC control panel.
The board was already crowded,
so the only place to grow was
up. Some individual components
were replaced with two in series,
mounted in the same holes in
the PC board, but forming a
triangle above the board.
Other components were tacked
onto the leads of other parts;
certain chip pins were bent
upward and connected to other
circuitry using jumpers, etc.
The board fix resulting in the
most ‘aerial’ circuitry resulted
from a problem which could occur
each time the machine was turned
on. If the carriage was
in the ‘rest position’, parked
at the 179/279 end of the magazine
but not lined up with a record
when power was applied, the
turn-on ‘glitch’ might set one
or both of the ‘play’ registers
on the PCC interface board.
If this happened, the mechanism
would immediately trip and the
motor would turn on. Unfortunately,
chances are that the trip would
take place outside the magazine,
so no record would play and
there would be no trip at the
end of that record not playing.
The machine would just sit there,
with no audio, until someone
finally hit the reject button.
Turning the machine off and
on again would not help.
The reject button would have
to be pressed in order to get
it out of this mode. To
address the problem, circuitry
was added to the MCU board to
make sure that neither play
register would be set at power-up.
Finally, the original board
had never been laid out ‘on
The automatic insertion
equipment must be able to
precisely locate the mounting
holes on the PC board for
each component it is to
insert, so that the component
leads will push through
the holes and not strike
the board, resulting in
at best a bent lead and
at worst a broken insertion
head. To do this,
the board must be designed
so that all of the component
holes are located on a fixed
grid, whose coordinates
are generally about 0.050
inches apart. All
components must also be
aligned so that they are
either parallel to each
other or rotated by 90°,
and for axial components,
must lay down flat on the
passive components were
used wherever possible,
since they are the easiest
to manipulate by the machinery.
URL purchased the majority
of the components used in
a format called ‘tape &
reel’. The parts are
slung by their leads between
two rows of adhesive tape,
which was folded in half
to stick against itself,
with the component lead
in the fold. Think
of a very long ladder, with
the rails made of tape and
the rungs made of the components.
Thousands of identical components
were taped together in this
manner onto a real, with
each part a fixed distance
from the next along the
tape. Up to twenty
reels of components would
be mounted on a machine
called a Sequencer.
The sequencer runs a program
developed by one of the
production technicians to
cut components off of the
supply reels and place them
onto a new or insertion
reel, but in PC board order.
To maximize throughput and
minimize wear and tear on
the insertion machine, the
movements of the PC board
positioner are kept to a
on the size of the board
to be inserted, generally
two or four boards are clamped
into fixed positions on
the inserter table.
The table is then rapidly
moved under program control
to place a set of component
lead PC holes directly under
the inserter head.
The next component on the
insertion reel is then cut
off the reel, its leads
formed, and inserted into
the PC board. Next,
the leads on the back (solder)
side of the PC board are
crimped to keep the component
in place, and excess lead
length is cut off.
The positioning table is
then moved to the next component,
which is the one right next
to the component just inserted,
and the next component inserted,
etc. In order to correctly
insert the components, they
must then be in the order
that the positioning table
moves the PC board under
the insertion head.
This is why most PC boards
using axial-leaded components
have those parts placed
in rows with the same orientation,
to keep the position table
movement and insertion head
rotation to a minimum.
The sequencer is the machine
that puts the parts onto
the insertion reel in the
correct order. Integrated
circuits are installed in
a similar manner, but there
is no sequencer machine
used. Integrated circuits
are delivered in anti-static
plastic tubes, containing
from 10 to 30 identical
chips, depending on the
number of pins for each
chip. Each tube is
generally about 24 inches
long for DIP (Dual In-line
Package) chips, which is
all that was used at Stern/URL.
The chip inserter has a
row of tubes installed across
the top, and each chip is
then automatically removed
from its tube and installed
at the appropriate location
on the PC board. It
is the machine operator’s
responsibility to insure
that a new tube is installed
when one has been emptied,
that the tube contains only
the correct chips, that
the new tube is put into
the same hole as the old
one was removed from, and
that all chips in the tube
are in the correct orientation.
Otherwise, a chip could
be missing, installed in
the wrong place, or backwards.
Nowadays, many PC boards
use surface-mounted components
on both sides of the PC
these parts are significantly
smaller than the axial components
and DIPs used on the MCU
board. All surface-mount
components (including the
passive resistors, capacitors,
etc.) are delivered in tubes,
so the Sequencing machine
is no longer needed.
To be able to automatically
insert the MCU board,
it had to be redesigned
to put it on-grid.
But the other problem
had to be addressed,
too: there were more
parts than could be
easily placed on the
board and it could not
grow any larger.
We couldn’t put any
parts on the bottom
of the board, since
it would be wave-soldered.
Putting parts on the
bottom of the board
required a post-wave
manual operation, adding
to assembly cost.
Wave-soldering is an
operation that uses
a ‘standing wave’ of
Think of a wave-riding
machine at a water park.
Only here the wave is
molten solder, not water,
and the ‘surfboard’
is the MCU board, pulled
over the wave at a precise
height and speed by
a conveyor that grabs
just the edges of a
into which the board
is placed. The
pallet has a cutout
in it, which is just
a bit smaller than the
outside dimensions of
the board. It
is made of a material
which is resistant to
the heat, will not attract
the solder, and will
not cool down the wave.
If the board is too
low on the wave, it
floods with solder and
must be scrapped, along
with all the parts on
it. If it is too
high, it won’t be soldered.
If the conveyor is too
slow, the board and
parts will burn from
the heat. If too
fast, there will be
numerous cold solder
joints on the board
which must be touched
up by hand.
Add to this the
Stern had inherited
This chip is the
heart of the MCU,
functions of the
jukebox by virtue
of the program contained
is the program that
makes this chip
specific to a Seeburg
the program, and
it’s now a washing
or part of an electric
Inc, (the consulting
for the MCU design)
wrote the software.
Any connection between
Seeburg and Booz-Allen
was broken when
the bankruptcy occurred.
Also, there was
no development equipment
at Seeburg to permit
any software changes
to be made.
So there was no
way that the control
CPU or its software
was going to change.
Any changes I made
to the board had
to be 100% compatible
from a CPU and software
point of view.
I examined a schematic,
and identified chunks
of circuitry that
could be minimized.
The controller for
the vacuum fluorescent
etc.) used four
copies of a 24-pin
chip, which was
huge. I found
a 16-pin chip which
did the same thing,
and was significantly
thing, for that
is still available
while the original
is no longer made
board had no coin
One of the early
changes made was
to add a debounce
circuit for each
coin, which took
up a fair amount
I replaced all of
this with a chip
for switch debounce,
having six identical
copies in the same
change was to combine
all of the individual
input port buffer
chips into multiple
many of the discrete
resistors were replaced
with resistor network
resistors in a 16-pin
net result of all
this was a board
that was significantly
simpler to build,
and probably a bit
Another change I
made was to provide
write enable signal
to the CMOS RAM,
something that had
not been done in
the original design.
This should have
resulted in fewer
being entered, or
or record popularity
I did not have access
to a program listing
of the code (nor
have I since, even
many of the individuals
who actually were
involved in the
didn’t have a copy
of the Remote Translator
I may have been
able to reduce the
amount of circuitry
a bit further.
While doing research
for my book ‘Seeburg’s
Red Box and MCU
Systems’, I discovered
that I could have
eliminated at least
part in the Consolette
of the MCU.
This came as a result
of finally being
able to look at
a Remote Translator
Our PC board
draw the published
the PC board
This was a laborious
process in those
it was hand-drawn
on Mylar at
size using permanent
in the manual
a large foldout.
If you have
an SMC manual
printed by AMR
owned by Victory
Glass) the Stern/Seeburg
the one originally
drawn by our
PC board designer.
he had completed
I noticed that
he had incorrectly
inputs and outputs
of the multiplexer
chips we had
He had the ‘X’
with the ‘Y’
this was about
a week’s worth
of work, and
ink off the
Mylar to fix
it would have
shown up as
smudges in the
by adding arrows
‘X’ inputs and
the ‘Y’ inputs
That is why
arrows are present
in the outline
boxes for the
of the Seeburg
was in order.
of the Amusement
if I would
was a bit
so I went
if I had
I had a
lot of problems
all he taught
I was new
to the game.
it was sort
of a kick
in the face
He had all
We sat down
a talk about
he had no
at all with
so I named
it is to
set up the
how to build
I also put
him in charge
a free hand
to do whatever
I knew him
to be extremely
and he always
of the goings-on
in his group.
Unknown to me until the spring of 2003, there were other things going on at the Diversey Avenue plant, namely the production of the SMC1 Jr, also known by its model name, 100-79M, and sales name, DaVinci.
The 100-79M DaVinci
I had come across a sentence in Frank Adams’ “Seeburg Jukeboxes 1927 – 1989” that mentioned that the SMC1 Jr. jukebox resembled the 100-78D Celestia. I was familiar with the Celestia, since it used the Red box I designed. I was also aware of the fact that the MCU board had a jumper that could be set for 50 or 80 records, making it possible to build a 100-selection version of the SMC. But I had never seen or heard of one, even though I had frequent conversations with people in the Seeburg Division, and traveled down to the Diversey Avenue plant fairly often. I got a copy of the “Always Jukin’ Official Guide to Collectible Jukeboxes” back in 1996. In thumbing through this guide, I came across a photograph of a Discotheque version of the 1964 U100 Mustang (called the U100D); with a caption that stated it was a 1979 SMC1 Jr. I knew this to be incorrect, so I fired off a letter to Mike Baute of Always Jukin’, noting the error. My letter was printed in the following month’s issue of AJ. But this got my interest up. Could it be that Seeburg actually built an SMC1 Jr., without me knowing about it? Turns out, that is exactly what happened.
I’ve not been able to confirm this with any of the people who were there at the time, but here goes: A fair amount of inventory for the 100-78D/100-79M models must have been left over when Seeburg went bankrupt, and these parts were probably moved to the Diversey Avenue plant. While using entirely different control systems, the two models shared the vast majority of parts, even including most cabinet parts. The only difference between cabinets is the upper panel mounting the selector buttons, instruction window, and coin entry. This, and the fact that the 100-79M was apparently never displayed at any industry shows and evidently only had a German-language brochure printed (by Stern/Seeburg’s German distributor, Stella), is probably the root cause of the confusion. If you don’t look closely at that area of a photograph, it would be very easy to confuse the two, especially since the cabinet graphics are identical. It seems probable that Seeburg Engineering completed the preparations of this model for production prior to going bankrupt, since the changes are so minimal. Internally, the mechanism is a 100-selection version of the one used in the SMC series, sharing all parts except the base casting and the number of record separators in the magazine. The only other internal change between the 100-78D and 100-79M is the cabling, replacement of the control center PPC1 with a PCC3, the deletion of the Red box, and the installation of the CPA chassis on the front side of the amplifier shield.
Externally, the only difference between the two machines is that the selection control panel on the 100-78D is chrome-finished and mounts the DES100 selector, credit/1st
digit lamp display, coin entry, and a decorative lamp display using the same small lamps as were used in the FC1 Regency and follow-on models. This panel was replaced with a black-finished panel mounting the MCU keyboard/display, coin entry and an instruction window showing pricing, etc.
I believe Stern built maybe a hundred or so of these machines, just enough to exhaust whatever inventory was left over from Seeburg. Probably, they bought a few parts specific to this model (100-selction base casting, etc.) to balance inventory so that when they were done, there was just enough inventory left to support field replacements. It seems that the majority of these went to Europe, contributing to them being relatively unknown here in the U.S. But, I am aware of at least two machines here in the States, and one in Australia. See my article ‘Stalking the Elusive SMC1 Jr.’ elsewhere on this website for more info.
The Seeburg VMC
This project started with someone in management having the bright idea of replacing all the title strips with a video screen. That way, the styling wouldn’t be hampered by always having to make room for the title strips. Besides, we were a video company, making video games, and were working on a way to incorporate a video tube into a pinball machine, so why not do the same for the jukebox? Using a video screen also made it possible to include the location’s ‘special of the day’ or ‘Happy Birthday to Joe’ on a crawling line across the bottom, and put a couple of page’s worth of miscellaneous advertising or whatever on there, too. But what about the problem of entering all that title strip data? Asking the routeman to type in all this information was clearly out of the question. To address this, a hardware and software interface was developed to permit the use of an optical character reader, which would plug into a jack inside the machine. More about this later. For updating the location data, a cheap ‘Chiclets’-style (each key is about the size and shape of a Chiclets breath mint) keyboard was included in each machine.
We brought on a consultant to work on the selection system for the VMC, since we had no one available and it was considered to be a short-term effort. Once the design was complete, it was to be used for all future machines, so it did not seem to make sense to bring on a full-time engineer to work on the selection system. We did, however, bring on an engineer to design the amplifier.
One interesting thing that happened early on was a meeting held between the various Engineering and Production managers, the executives, and the consultant they had contracted with for the cabinet styling. I’m sure this sort of meeting had occurred prior to starting previous models, but I had never been involved in one, since I had never been high enough on the ‘food-chain’ before to be invited. Besides, this machine was to be a radical departure from the norm of jukebox design. The only thing it had in common with previous generations is that it still played 45 RPM records. The CD juke would not come out until 1986, this was 1981. One of the first decisions made was to use the 200-selection mechanism. I was told the reason for this was that the tooling for the 160-selection base casting was all worn out, and the decision was made not to invest any money in either replacing or repairing it. The tooling for the base casting is a custom-made mold, and is very expensive. But, this didn’t stop the follow-on Seeburg Phonograph Company (the company put together by ex-Seeburg sales manager Bob Blankenbeckler) from building the SMC3 once they bought the Seeburg Division from Stern a couple of years later. So I’m thinking that reason was thought up by someone who didn’t know any better, but didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know the reason. No 200-selection mechanisms had been built in several years (the last 200-selection machine built by Seeburg was the 201 of 1958), so that tooling was still in good shape. The best part of the meeting was that the stylist actually listened to what we had to say, and tried to accommodate us as much as he could. One point I really wanted to make was that in most locations, people are sitting down while listening to the jukebox. Therefore, the speakers should be mounted at approximately ear height for a person sitting down. That is exactly where they were on the final model.
This machine offered a few novel play features. By setting a DIP switch, the records could be played in repeat title/selection order, meaning that selections which were made only once would be temporarily skipped so that a selection entered more than once had preference for playing. In this case, the repeat selections would be played in scan order, not in decreasing order of number of times it was selected, followed by the single time selections, again in scan order. There was also a selectable bonus play feature in which if there were no selections made at the console for 20, 40, or 60 minutes, a selection would play to stimulate play. A remote control was offered, having four keys (reject, volume up/down, and ‘feature’). The ‘feature’ button could be programmed to insert free credits, play the most-selected record, play the 10 most-selected records, or mute the audio. You could select how the titles were listed: Alphabetically by title, alphabetically by artist, top ten, newest, etc.
Another design feature, which was (in my opinion) not so successful, was the ‘works in a drawer’. We had built the Berzerk video game using a pull-out vertical panel on which was mounted all of the PC boards making up the control system. This made it easy to get at everything from the front of the cabinet, and the entire drawer was quickly replaceable, if it came to that. This design feature came as a result of us getting together with our Field Engineers, and asking them what they would like to see in a new design, from a service point of view. Another thing they requested, and we complied with, was a PC silkscreen legend that would divide the boards up into rows (designated by letters) and columns (designated by numbers). This scheme was used on the schematics to identify the integrated circuits, so that the circuit identification for the chip immediately told you where it was on the board. We also tried to include as much trouble-shooting or set up information as possible directly on a board, such as labeling the function of certain switches, etc. For the VMC, the ‘works in a drawer’ concept was also used, but the drawer was horizontal, and located at the very bottom of the machine where it would tend to collect dirt and liquids, and be easily accessible to the critters living in the location. Also, the drawer was hard to get out and back in, and there were issues with the amplifier heatsink airflow and cable snagging.
Mounted directly above the electronics drawer was the mechanism compartment. The graphics panel in front of the mechanism had a pattern of vertical lines, and there was a small panel attached to the front of the mechanism carriage that had a similar pattern. When the carriage moved, there was an interference pattern set up between the two, so there was a bit of animation going on while the carriage scanned, intended attract attention to the machine. Directly above the mechanism compartment was the speaker area. The speakers were actually mounted in a separate, sealed compartment, and used speakers whose cones had a white ring. These were visible through the speaker grille, and were lit from below using a fluorescent lamp through a bluish diffuser. This same lamp provided the lighting for the moving mechanism carriage animation. Heavy bass notes made the woofers visibly move if the volume was high (which is how we always played it), giving another pleasing visual effect. The speaker design was a radical departure from Seeburg’s practice over previous models. Gone were the horn tweeters and 12-inch woofers, to be replaced by 10-inch woofers, 4-inch midrange and small tweeters mounted in the corners. Seeburg’s new Director of Engineering was directly responsible for the design of the speaker system, and I think he did an exceptional job. An engineer working for me did the amplifier design. He didn’t like the speaker enclosure design, since it did not isolate the woofers in separate enclosures. But even he had to agree that it sounded fantastic. This machine is, in my opinion, the best sounding jukebox ever built, regardless of manufacturer. This had as much to do with the amplifier design as the speaker enclosure.
The video monitor was mounted above the speaker enclosure, and positioned on the left side of the cabinet. Displayed on the monitor were the title strip equivalents, one title per line, with the whole screen showing four records worth of titles at the same time. Each title was displayed on an alternating background color, with the artist’s name in between A- and B-side selections. There was a record slot number associated with each title, but this was for the serviceman’s use since there was no numeric keyboard, just a wheel and push button. The customer would rotate the wheel, which would show up as a highlighted horizontal bar on the video screen. Highlighting consisted of changing the background to a different color with the text of the title in red. Scrolling the wheel past the top or bottom of the display would cause more titles to come onto the screen, with the ones at the opposite end disappearing. To make a selection, you would turn the wheel so that the title you wanted was highlighted, then press the selection button. Assuming you had sufficient credit (the VMC was a singles-only machine, Seeburg finally gave up on album play with the introduction of the SMC1 in 1978), the selection would blink, to indicate that you had successfully entered that selection. At the bottom of the screen was a scrolling ‘location message’, which was basically anything the location owner wanted to put up on the display, such as the daily blue plate special. This message was displayed in green text on a black background, to set it apart from the selections. The message scrolled from right to left, continuously repeating. If you moved the highlight bar down to this area and then pressed the selection button, a full screen of location-entered information would be displayed. Pressing the button again would get you to the second page of information, followed by a return to the original selection display. To the right of the video monitor were the coin entry, pricing window, and a small vacuum fluorescent audio power display, added at the request of management to enhance the animation effect. While the mechanism carriage was moving, the interference pattern set up by the graphics panel in front of the carriage and the cabinet panel caught the eye. But once the carriage stopped to pick up and play a record, this stopped. The audio power display then started moving, to attract the eye.
I think there were several conceptual problems with the video title strip idea. On a regular machine, all of the titles are right in front of you to see. You don’t have to continuously turn a wheel to see what’s available. On the later CD machines, you had to turn a page to see all of the selections, but you could get between pages quickly and you had an entire CD cover artwork to look at, not a boring list of titles. Second, many people first ignore the record title, searching instead for their favorite artist, which is easy to find due to the design of the old title strip. Not so with the VMC, the artist’s name is just another line of text, although you had the option to search for artists alphabetically. On an old machine, once you were familiar with the selections available, you would just punch in the number of your favorite selection, without having to do anything else. On the VMC, you would still have to scroll to that selection (and which way was it: up, or down?), before pushing the select button. Also, the last thing people want to do after having a few was to read the instructions to figure out how to make a selection. Nowadays, with memory being cheap, it would make sense to display small pictures of all the CD covers, and let the customer point to the one of interest, which would then expand to fill the screen, along with a list of all the selections available on that CD. (I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, more about this later.) Back in 1981/1982 when this machine was designed, memory was not nearly so cheap, and hard disc drives were expensive, limited in terms of capacity, and not terribly reliable.
All this title strip and artist information had to be saved somewhere, so that it would not be lost when the machine was turned off. We had been using CMOS RAMs for several years, not only in the MCU, but on the pinball and video CPU boards, and were concerned about the cost of a lot of this memory, along with the battery capacity and recharging issues. All pinball and most video games of this era used a rechargeable alkaline battery to keep the CMOS RAM information ‘alive’. Over time, these batteries leak, eating the circuit board traces and components below them. We didn’t know that at the time. The Intel salesman walked in one day, just as we were discussing how to store all this title strip data. Intel (yes, these are the same guys who make the CPU in most computers nowadays) had just introduced a new nonvolatile memory technology, which they called ‘EAROM’ (Electrically Alterable Read Only Memory). It was the forerunner of today’s flash memory, and required a special power supply and timing pulse to write the memory, but was nonvolatile enough for our purposes. An individual memory location could be rewritten 10,000 times before it would start to ‘forget’. We decided to use the part, and predicted that with the projected production rates of about 50-75 machines per day with 6 or 8 per machine, we would be a major user of the new part, similar to what actually happened with memory cores back in the 50s. Intel was preparing an advertising brochure for the part, and featured a photo of me standing in front of a VMC, expounding the virtues of their new part. I still have a copy, with a mustachioed me looking quite trim and serious. That was twenty-some years and about 40 pounds ago. I must admit that the part worked pretty well, and given the alternatives available at the time, was perfectly suited to the application.
We made the assumption that the location data would change much more often than the title strips would, perhaps daily. Therefore, this data was stored in CMOS RAM, along with the auditing data, record popularity, etc. But, how would all this information get into the machine? Mounted on the top shelf right behind the audio power display was a small ‘Chiclets-style’ keyboard. This keyboard was made by a manufacturer who is no longer in the business, and was typical of the cheaper keyboards available at the time. This keyboard was similar in style to the one used on the IBM PC Jr., for those who remember that fiasco. The keys were small rectangular buttons, the size of a Chiclets candy. Internally, the keyboard was made of two sheets of Mylar with conductive ink screened on one half, to make the connection pattern. Conductive ‘buttons’ were screened onto the other half, and then the buttons were embossed to raise them into a ‘dimple’ about ¼ inch in diameter. The sheet was then folded in half, and sealed. When you pressed a key, the dimple would deform, shorting together the two connections under it. The connections formed a matrix, and were brought out of the keyboard on a Mylar flexible tail, with the ink pattern forming a row of parallel connections. The tails had pin contacts staked onto them, which then plugged into a flat connector on the cable. Over time, the Mylar gets brittle, the ink tends to flake off, and the staked connection goes bad, making the connection intermittent. My guess is that most, if not all, of the remaining VMCs have this problem. After searching for months, I have not been able to find a direct replacement for this keyboard.
I believe Stern/Seeburg offered, as part of the standard machine, an auxiliary keyboard on a six foot cable, so that you could sit in front of the tube while typing, instead of having to crane your neck to the left to see it. This plugged into a special connector at the right side of the machine. A more sophisticated accessory was an optical character reader (OCR), made by a third party. This kit included a special holder into which you would insert a standard-sized title strip. You then moved the reader ‘wand’ over it in much the same manner as a credit card imprinter, and the title strip would automatically be read and entered into the system. There was a catch, however. The title strip had to be typed in a special character font in order to be read. I believe the kit contained an OCR font type ball for an IBM Selectric typewriter, so the operator could type the title strips himself. Stern/Seeburg tried to get the one-stops to supply title strips in this font, but I don’t know if they were ever successful.
The new machine was to have a companion Consolette offered with it. I know that at least one was built, a working prototype used for the brochure photos. To my knowledge, it was never put into production. We took the same approach as before with the black box, trying to have as much circuitry in common between the Consolette and the Console. The control PC board (called the JBC, for Juke Box Controller), housing the control microprocessor (a Zilog Z80), was common between the Consolette and Console. This is why this board is not rectangular in shape. It has two of the corners chopped off to fit the profile of the Consolette cabinet. This cabinet had a beveled top and bottom, with a small 7 inch black & white monitor in the vertical front section. The neck of the tube controlled the depth of the Consolette, which at about seven or eight inches took up a lot more booth space than the previous DEC series. This, and the fact that the VMC was not a terribly popular machine, may be the reason why the Consolette was never produced. Since the Consolette monitor was black & white, the JBC board only generated black & white video. Another board, called the Console Interface Board or CIB, added color video displayed in the main console. The titles and location data were displayed on the Consolette exactly like the console, just not in color. The JBC board also had some RAM, and enough program memory (PROM) to control the Consolette function, with a hard-wired input to tell the Z80 whether this board was in a console or Consolette. The Consolette communicated with the console using a standard serial communications scheme (RS-232, for those interested), so it also contained a chip to handle this communication. The title strip data was not duplicated on this board, so each time a customer scrolled the highlight bar off the top or bottom of the screen, the replacement title strip data was sent over the serial port. Since each Consolette had a video monitor built in which used the line voltage as a power source, it was powered from the line, and not the standard 24 Volts AC as had been used in every other Seeburg Consolette and Wallbox. There was a power transformer included serving to step down the line voltage for each required supply, and also to isolate the monitor ground connection from the line, since the monitor used one side of the line voltage as its common connection. To permit the Console to control Consolette power up/down, we added a special power control latch to the Consolette power supply board. The power transformer was controlled by an optically-isolated triac, controlled by the power control latch. A pair of wires was added to the Consolette cable, one to turn them on and the other to turn them off. Since each Consolette now had a power transformer, regulator heatsink, and monitor, there was some concern about heat buildup, which may also have affected the decision to produce the Consolette. Since they were in such close proximity, the power transformer had to be specially shielded so that its magnetic field did not affect the monitor.
The CIB contained most of the circuitry specific to the console, including the title strip EAROM and keyboard/OCR reader interface. The video and sync outputs of the JBC board were connected to this board, and processed through a RAM and a PROM to generate colors for the video monitor used on the console. There was also an interface to control the mechanism carriage and read the switches, and a printer/cassette interface used to record accounting data. Rather than using an up/down counter to track carriage position as was done on the SMC jukebox, the mechanism detent switch was used to generate a nonmaskable interrupt to the microprocessor each time the carriage passed a record. The position count was then maintained in software, and was updated each time the carriage reached either end of the magazine.
We tried to eliminate as much mechanism wiring as possible, and installed a total of four PC boards of three different types on the carriage. A single PC board was used to sense the fact that the carriage had reached each end of the magazine. This board mounted a pair of slotted optical interrupter modules, which functioned by passing a beam of infrared light across an air gap between an emitter and sensor. A pair of metal tabs, mounted at each end of the base casting, would slide into the air gap when the carriage reached the magazine end, interrupting the light beam indicating that the end of travel had been reached. If these tabs were misadjusted in height, they would rip the optical interrupter right off the PC board. We used a similar but smaller board to replace the detent-timing switch, which was now simply a tab connected to the spring steel actuator that had closed the switch on previous models. The main PC board contained three triacs and their associated optical isolators. We used the same three-wire motor as the SMC series, controlled by the same triac. The optical isolator used was different from the SMC, in that it was an optically isolated diac, which is a triac triggering device. The SMC simply used an optically-isolated transistor. The isolators were used to prevent potentially lethal line voltage from finding its way into the logic circuits. A similar triac and isolator were used for the trip solenoid. The other mechanism PC boards plugged into this board, and we tried to eliminate as many of the carriage switches as possible. Only a few remained, most notably the contacts which switched in an extra motor capacitor during scan and transfer to increase motor torque, and the pickup arm lead out groove magnetic reed switch. Other switches remaining from the SMC was 3M1, which is closed in scan, and 1M4, closed in play. A logic gate on the CIB board combined these signals to generate a signal which is active while the carriage is in the transfer cycle.
The amplifier was a completely new design. We hired a young engineer whose passion it was to design the word’s best audio amplifier, and I think he came very close to that ideal. As I said earlier, the combination of his amplifier design, the speaker selection and enclosure design combined to make this the best sounding jukebox ever produced, and certainly one of the most powerful. One of the main features of his design was a dual-monaural approach; there were two completely separate amplifiers (including, most significantly, the fact that there were two completely independent power supplies). It took him a while to convince me that this was worth the considerable added expense of an additional power transformer, power bridge rectifier and filter, but convince me he did. His argument was that the amplifier needed a lot of ‘head room’ to do a good job. If there is a lot of bass in one channel, it will tend to pull down the power supply voltage, since the output transistors for that channel will be heavily driving their speakers. This adversely affects the other channel if they share a common power supply. Most of the energy stored in the filter capacitors goes to the heavily driven channel, starving the other.
Our new amplifier designer was of the opinion that the old tube amplifiers sounded much better than the new-fangled transistor amplifiers. He was not so much a ‘purist’ that he advocated using tubes in the design, but wanted to use FETs (Field Effect Transistors) throughout the design. Power FETs at reasonable cost were still several years in the future, however. We compromised on an FET input stage for the preamp, followed by bipolar transistors for everything else. Another novel design feature was the use of DC coupling throughout the amplifier. There is not a single coupling capacitor to be found anywhere in the design. This makes for great bass response, but also great difficulty in troubleshooting, since a problem in any stage affects all other stages in the channel. A few other innovations (at least for Seeburg amplifiers) included: potentiometer-controlled (no switches) tone controls, a tone bypass switch which completely eliminates the tone controls from the circuit, an auxiliary audio input which was microprocessor-enabled, and digital volume control. The auxiliary input would be enabled for background music, etc., whenever there were no records being played. AGC was replaced by ‘audio peak control’, which functioned to lower the volume when high level peaks occur, while still preserving the dynamic range of the recording. There was also a switch to put the amplifier into monaural operation. This design eliminated the inductor between channels, which made the older amplifiers essentially monaural at low frequencies. Deletion of the inductor did not result in audio feedback, one of the original reasons for adding it to earlier designs. The digital volume control was implemented using an eight-bit up/down counter whose output fed the inputs of a multiplying DAC (Digital to Analog Converter), used to multiply the audio input by a DAC-controlled analog value. The rear-panel volume control (and accessory remote volume control) was replaced by a simple single-pole dual-throw switch, which was used to make the counter count up or down.
We did a lot of sound quality testing with the prototype machine. It was loaded with 100 of the latest records (since we were all in our twenties/thirties and from urban areas of the Midwest, rock predominated), which we would play full blast. An especially good test of the audio system was provided by Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’, which is pretty quiet for the first third or so of the record, and then kicks in with a thundering drum crescendo. If we didn’t bust a speaker, get audio feedback, or cause the pickup to skip a groove, we figured the machine was working well. Another good audio test was provided by Foreigner’s ‘Urgent’, also popular at the time.
On the eve of the industry standard A.M.O.A. (Amusement and Music Operators of America) show in that year (fall, 1981) Stern arranged for a special, by invitation only, showing of the VMC at Chicago’s famous Museum of Science and Industry. The special showing coincided (probably not coincidentally) with the Museum’s show of historical jukeboxes. It was a big cocktail party at which the virtues of the new machine were to be expounded by the Stern Sales guys. We were still working on the software when the show started, and I volunteered to take the latest version of the code down to the Museum, to be installed shortly before the show started. The Museum is on Chicago’s south side, right on the lakefront of Lake Michigan, while our office was in Elk Grove Village, one of Chicago’s northwest suburbs. The trip occurred during rush hour, and needless to say, I got caught in traffic. I made it with just minutes to spare, and swapped PROMs wearing my three-piece suit. We hadn’t had much of a chance to check the code before programming the PROMs, so it should go without saying that the machine would not work with the latest version of the code. Customer-entered selections did not work correctly with the older version, so I ended up putting the machine into constant play mode, where the machine picks up every selection in magazine order and plays it. Despite this, the show went well for us. The software guys spent some nights burning the midnight oil getting the last set of bugs out of their code.
This was followed in mid-January, 1982, by a pair of international shows, one held in Birmingham, England, and the other a few days later in Frankfurt, Germany. Since the shows were so close together, machines were shipped to each show rather than shipping them from the first show to the second. To insure that each machine would function properly at its show, the Seeburg Director of Engineering was sent to hand-hold the machine for England, while I was volunteered for the German machine. When I got to the office of Stern’s German distributor, I went to work immediately to make sure that the machine was working properly. It came right up, so I had little to do, figuring that I could take it easy for a couple before the show started. My German friends had other ideas. They sent me with one of their employees on a 200 km/hr flight down the Autobahn, to retrieve the show brochures from the printer, followed by endless hours of brochure stuffing. I must admit that flying down the Autobahn at close to the speed of light was a fun experience, but it did not make up for the drudgery of brochure stuffing. They did, however, make up for it by taking me out to a very fancy restaurant for my birthday, which just happened to occur mid way through my stay. Germany has many small wineries – so small that some restaurants buy the entire years’ production from some of them. I had a chance to sample (can you say over-indulge?) in a very good Reisling wine, available nowhere else in the world.
Since there were still a few days until the German show, I decided to attend the English show to see how things were going. I took a quick flight to London Heathrow, followed by a harrowing bus ride to Birmingham. I say harrowing because the railway workers were on strike, preventing me from taking the train, as I had planned. We got caught in one of England’s famous fogs, making it virtually impossible for the driver to see where he was going. A pair of interesting sights along the road were: the stoppage of all traffic for a sheep crossing, and driving by the Cantebury Cathedral, still (at that time, anyway) bombed out from World War II. We finally made it to Birmingham, and I got to see the show. I still remember walking around downtown Birmingham one night. It was the coldest night I have ever experienced. It was just slightly above freezing, but the high humidity went right through my coat, chilling me to the bone. I had dinner that night at the Birmingham Holiday Inn (supposedly one of the best places in town). At the next table was soon-to-be-famous recording star Adam Ant, being hounded by several teenaged female autograph seekers. I had no idea who the guy was until someone pointed him out, to which I replied, ‘who’? He had one or two top-40 hits in the next few years. So much for my brush with fame! The English show passed without incident, and I returned to Germany to do booth duty for that show. Since few booth visitors spoke English, I had little to do other than to see how loudly the show management would let me play the VMC. We returned to the U.S. shortly after the show ended.
Nineteen eight-two was the year the bottom fell out of the video games market. It had been going strong for several years, and Stern had done well, from the introduction of their first licensed game, Asto Invader, through a couple of internally-developed titles, Berzerk and Frenzy, and finishing up with a couple more licensed games, Scramble and Super Cobra. But things were slowing down significantly, since there were so many good titles out there; the various incarnations of Pac Man had flooded the market. Earlier games were still making decent money, so there was no overwhelming reason for the operators to buy new games. Our internally-designed videos were not doing well, the jukebox market was pretty flat, and the pinball division could not sell enough to support the entire corporation. So, management started cutting back. One of the first things they did was to close the Diversey Avenue pinball/video plant, and move as much as possible out to our building in Elk Grove Village. This meant my boss, the President of URL lost his office to his boss. This had a ripple-down effect: he took over my office, so the Director of Engineering for Games and I ended up sharing what used to be a conference room. But they weren’t willing to put up any walls, so the two of use tried to get a little ‘privacy’ by splitting the room with potted plants, and hanging a white board from the ceiling tiles using wires to split the room in two. Working conditions were eroding. Next came the layoffs. I was of the opinion that the way to address a slowdown in the marketplace was to diversify the product engineering effort to try to come up with as many different products as possible, and especially to try to get into some other (more successful) markets. This implied that the engineering group should be left alone. Indeed, it should be expanded. The way to reduce operating expenses was to eliminate unnecessary levels of management. Unfortunately, the approach that was taken was to keep the middle management and lay off a good percentage of the engineering group. I can’t say the handwriting was on the wall, since there was no wall. But certainly, the handwriting was on the white board.
Two other engineers and I decided it was time to move on, so we started our own company, Xtar Electronics, Inc. At the time, there was a tendency to name a startup company after the company its principals came from, such as Extel, whose founders came from Teletype Corp. We thought about calling ourselves Xstern, but that sounded too much like cistern, so we decided to go with Xtar. There is a German magazine by the name of Stern. In German, the word ‘stern’ means star. Somehow out of that we got the name Xtar. Xtar was started sometime in September of 1982.
So ended my involvement with Stern/Seeburg, except for some consulting work with Stern to complete a video game hardware system we were working on when I left. As we’ll see, this was not the end of my involvement with Seeburg. Stern remained in business for another couple of years, finally closing its doors sometime in 1984. At that time, a group of investors organized by ex-Seeburg head of sales Bob Blankenbeckler bought the Seeburg assets of Stern, forming the Seeburg Phonograph Company. They started business in 1984 in the Chicago suburb of Addison, IL. Click here
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