Gary James' Interview With Don Muller Of
If you said Don Muller was the "Jukebox Dealer To The Stars," you'd be correct. He's sold jukeboxes to Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Steve Martin, Dean Torrence, Dave Mason and Bill Bixby to name just a few. Before his jukebox days he was the program director and afternoon drive disc jockey using the name Don Daro at the number one radio station in Phoenix, Arizona, KMEO AM/FM radio station. We talked to Don Muller about the growing business of jukeboxes.
Q - So Don, I was watching Storage Wars awhile back and who walks in but Mary Padian. You didn't act surprised. Obviously the cameras followed her in.
A - I met her earlier of course.
Q - How does that work? She thought she had something jukebox related. Did one of the show's producers contact you to alert you she was coming in?
A - Well, they called me and said who they were and they have one of the personalities on the show had bought a storage locker and they wanted me to give them an appraisal of it. I said what is it and they said a jukebox and I said okay. They said they'd like to come in and talk to me. Before they came in I called them and said, "What kind of jukebox is it?" They told me it was a Seeburg. I said, "Okay, that's cool." So they came in and we talked. I figure I know Seeburgs pretty well. They figured where they're going to film and how we can do things. So we set up a little area in what actually is the record library. We set up just kind of a rolling table there so that the cameras could get around and everything. Then I guess I asked for the model number and they told me. I said that's not even a jukebox. That's just a remote selector for a jukebox. They said, "Oh, well, can we still come in?" I said, "Well, sure." So that was it. That morning the producer came in and the camera guys and the audio guys. They set up all their equipment. Then Mary came in and was introduced to me. We giggled a little bit and then she went out and they filmed her coming in.
Q - Has that increased your business? I guess you could say it's free advertising.
A - Yeah. That was part of it. They said they're happy to let people realize and know who these companies are that they go to, to get appraisals. I think they probably said the name of the company. We had made a banner up just for the show to hang on the wall, but they didn't hardly show the banner, just for a moment. But as for people calling and telling me they saw it, not that many.
Q - You don't charge for your appraisal, do you?
A - No. There's no money involved at all. I get a feature on a show and I get free advertising. Of course it's on our website now. It's good publicity. When people do call me and they've already been to the website and they've looked around and they've seen me with celebrities. I'm the only one that answers the phone and when I do they say, "Oh, is this Don?" (laughs) It's like, "I've reached a celebrity. I'm so thrilled!" (laughs) And I'm the janitor.
Q - Well now, the name of your business is Jukeboxes Unlimited. Is there really an unlimited supply of jukeboxes out there? I would think you've got to look long and hard to find jukeboxes you can refurbish.
A - Well, when we started forty-four years ago it was unlimited. The damn things were being thrown away. They were all over the place. I bought out like a hundred and one operator's old inventory in Arizona alone. That was in the first few years there. The amount of them available now is of course diminishing because of earthquakes and fires and floods and accidents. And then I guess another big part of it is a lot of them are going out of the country and they'll never come back. So, it raises the value of the things we have here. I know two companies that sell them in Holland. They have containers in Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors just sitting there. They go around and collect Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Coca-Cola machines, slot machines, antique cash registers, jukeboxes, penny scales. They take 'em over to Holland and mark 'em up a whole lot. When it comes to buying machines, from our point of view, from our angle, we are now slowly trying to get away from buying ones that need total restoration, ground up. You take it apart, strip paint, strip everything off and start all over again. That's getting impractical for us. I would rather find a machine that somebody, fifteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-five years ago and they chromed it then and now the chrome still looks pretty nice. That's a real, real big thing for us to have to take chrome off because it's pitted. A lot of stuff in California is pitted because of the salt in the air and crud in the air. To get a machine that has pits in it to me is $2,000 less than the same exact machine without pits. Taking it off, taking it down, having it done is extremely expensive and bringing it back, hopefully it's all here and they didn't lose a few pieces in the acid and then putting it back on, to me that's about two grand or more! So, I'm trying now to buy machines that are not bad and paying way more money, but then the turn around time is considerably quicker.
Q - Are these ships filled with jukeboxes selling them only in Holland? They're going all over Europe, aren't they?
A - Well, I don't know. There weren't that many machines going to these other countries. All jukeboxes for the most part were made in America. Everything had to be imported, exported, whatever, to the other countries. It was until Wurlitzer... they all had subsidiaries that tried to make the machines over there, but in reality everything came from America. So, I don't think there was anywhere near the jukeboxes within those countries. So, for Holland to be sitting with containers here, that must mean their small amount is being depleted. I haven't talked to those guys and asked them that question. You don't see me with containers sitting in Holland or anywhere in Europe. So, we've got jukeboxes and they want 'em.
Q - When the jukeboxes come in and you have to refurbish them, are you doing it with the idea that they'll have to play 45s or CDs? How do people want them?
A - When somebody comes to me, especially someone that says I want a jukebox. I've always wanted a jukebox. I have the money. I'm just going to get one. I'm 62 years old or I'm 71 years old or 59 years old and tell me about 'em. Then I asked 'em what they want. Are you looking for the looks? Does it matter? Do you want it 45 RPM? 78 RPM? Mono? Stereo? Then they come back and say, "Oh, I want it to play 45s." Okay. We don't try to take a machine that plays one thing and then convert it to play another thing. So if a person wants a 45 machine, well then that's what we want to do for them. But if they want a 45 machine that looks like an antique or is an antique, then we will, like a 1015 Wurlitzer, the Bubble model from 1946, we will actually take a 1946 Wurlitzer and put in different gears and change it to play 45s, whereas previously it was 78 RPM. We'll do that. That's about the only machine we'll do that kind of thing with. And maybe a Seeburg Trashcan that looks like a 1950s kitchen trashcan that you step on the pedal and the lid lifts up. Those also we can get gears for and change 'em. If they're going out of the country and they wanted a machine, either a Wurlitzer or a Seeburg trashcan, we also have to change the speed because there are fifty cycles in most parts of the world other than us and we're sixty cycles, so we have to change the gears and / or idler wheels to accommodate that and of course we have to put in transformers, step up or step down five hundred watt transformers when they're going overseas because they're running on 220 or 240 and we're 110.
Q - How do all these celebrities hear about your business? Is it referral? Word of mouth?
A - You know, it's a lot of that. Once you've done a really nice job and put a jukebox in a celebrity's home and your little card is inside the window, they have friends over. A jukebox is like a big magnet. You walk into a house and there might me a lot of things in there, but if there's a jukebox over in the corner, it draws people to it. They play it and say, "Wow! This is really cool!" They see where it came from. We've had our business card and stickers in video games in the Playboy Mansion probably since 1978. We've sold to a lot of celebrities. I remember getting a call, I can't remember the order, but it was like an interior decorator or possibly an accountant company and they called and said, "Are you the guy who sold Mick Slate his jukebox?" I said, "Yeah." "You sold Jeff Lynne his jukebox?" "Yeah." "You sold Mick Fleetwood his jukebox? Don Henley his jukebox?" I said, "Yeah. Who is this?" "You must be the guy 'cause Tom Petty's wife wants to buy him a jukebox." So, they could have the same accounting company or like I say, just have friends over. I'm waiting for a call from an interior decorator for Bruce Willis. They need something done in Malibu.
Q - On your website you mention a Rock star who wanted to go in business with you and buy a radio station. You never did say what this person's name was. Are you able to reveal that?
A - Sure. That was Joe Walsh. Eagles.
Q - But, it never happened.
A - It never happened and I don't even know why because Joe was so excited about it and we were really close. His manager at the time, or agent, somehow everything just stopped. I thought they're just going to go do it without me, but that never happened. It's a station that Joe said he could've bought with the money he made on a tour they were doing. It was $250,000. Pocket change. The station was bought by a Catholic organization in San Diego for $250,000 and two years later a radio station group, one of their long form programmer was a client of mine, said they had offered $42 million for it. So in two or three years, nothing had changed about it. If I had it, it had a CP, a construction permit from the F.C.C. to go 50,000 watts, which would have made it the third most powerful radio station in the entire state of California. So, right now it's nothing. It's a weak talk station. The people who bought it never really did anything with it to increase the power. So, it would've covered about 18 million people once the power was upped. But they never did anything with it. But another broadcasting company tried to buy it from them and they were turned down. $42 million at the time. That was probably six, seven, eight years ago.
Q - That means the value of the station has increased since then?
A - I assume.
Q - How would the purchase of that radio station affected your life? There wouldn't have been enough hours in the day for you, between the jukebox business and the radio station.
A - I would've sold the jukebox business or turned it over to my son.
Q - I take it there aren't many guys who are doing what you're doing in the U.S.?
A - I don't think so or know what they're doing. We get stuff that comes into us that was built by somebody else and we will have heard that company's name for a number of years and figure they're doing okay and they're gone now and we look in and we get a hold of it and we'd say oh, my God! He's got the wrong amplifier in here and they had to modify the speaker because they put in a permanent magnet speaker because they had a bad transformer. They've got the wrong thread screws in here. Look! They've got the left side on the right side and they had to modify to make 'em fit wrong. We're just blown away. My mechanic was at the jukebox show in Chicago recently and said there's this guy with a big name. Don't ever buy anything that comes from this guy. I was looking on line for a price of a certain model just to see what I should price mine at and one guy, the highest one, was asking $11,000 for the machine. He was really promoting big that it was built by this guy that my guy, who is one of the better mechanics in America, said it was junk. So, I don't know.