While the jukebox was king in the 1930s, hobbyists began to tinker with it in an attempt to link a movie projector with a jukebox so that it could play a musical film. Remember, TV wasn’t available yet, and at that time, there were limited opportunities for people to see live music performances.
In 1939, the Panoram, the most successful of the movie jukeboxes, was brought to market. The size of a small refrigerator, it had an 18-inch-by-22-inch screen at eye level. The “movies” shown on the device were known as soundies, and long before MTV, the music video was born. Three minutes in length, filmed in black and white, the soundie was the precursor to today’s music video and cost a dime to view. soundies were made to play exclusively on the Panoram (there were other players, but the Panoram dominated the market), and during the period of 1940 to 1946, more than 1,800 were produced. The Panoram sold for $1,000, while a “regular” jukebox cost less than half as much. Since it cost twice as much to play a soundie as a tune on a regular jukebox, Panorams were grossing $50 to $100 per week (or more) compared to $10 a week for the lowly jukebox.
The production quality of the soundies was poor. In order to turn them out in volume, the music was recorded first and then the performers were filmed while lip-syncing the vocals and fingering their instruments. Even with the low quality, soundies were a huge hit in an era before TV, and while they were a novelty, they represented a new form of entertainment that allowed thousands of people the opportunity to enjoy music while seeing performers that they would generally never have an opportunity to see, all for a dime.