Logo 300 resized

Pop Culture! Orchestras, Organs, & Disco: Music in the Rink

Early Rink Music

Americans in the late nineteenth century who skated at a roller rink danced to the music of brass bands or small orchestras. Composers wrote compositions especially for the enjoyment of roller skaters. By the turn of the century, however, rink operators turned increasingly to the mechanical band organ, a less expensive option that still produced high quality music. Mechanical band organs, which operated from compressed air and used music rolls much like player pianos, provided a practical, efficient, and economical alternative to musicians.

The Era of Organ

Beginning in the 1930s, rink owners started employing musicians once more at their rinks as organists. Organ music quickly grew to dominate rinks, with many organists receiving celebrity status in roller skating circles. While many organists became celebrities with roller skaters, two types of organs grew in popularity with rink owners: the Wurlitzer and the Hammond Electric. The grandfather of organs, the Wurlitzer had the ability to duplicate an entire brass band, and thus became popular during the 1930s and 1940s. Rinks across the United States, from the Arena Gardens in Detroit, Michigan, to the Oaks Rink in Portland, Oregon, owned Wurlitzer pipe organs. The Hammond Electric Organ, due to its small size, flexibility in tone, and ease of care compared to a pipe organ such as the Wurlitzer, grew increasingly popular during the 1940s and 1950s. In addition, various key board instruments could be added to the Hammond to increase it musically, bringing it closer to a pipe organ’s sound.

The Disco Decade

Even those rink owners who resisted abandoning the organ in favor of DJs during the late 1960s gave in to the new trend which dominated by the mid 1970s: disco. Skate magazine referred to disco as no longer a fad but a trend in the music world, and advised rink owners to participate by converting their rinks to roller disco rinks. By the late 1970s, a thousand rink owners replaced their organs with disco sound systems, and all new rinks were built with them. A disco sound system consisted of at least four speakers, one in each corner of the rink, and a console which allowed a DJ to mix records. The console consisted of a mixer, turntable, tape decks, and a dynamic range expander, and a sound enhancement device that restored the original sound to the music compressed on a record. By switching to a disco sound system, patronage to rinks increased, with many rinks owners’ investments in the new system paid for in a matter of weeks.

“Trying to run a roller rink without music would be about as successful as operating a restaurant without food,” a 1926 rink owner’s guide stated. Indeed, sine the beginnings of roller rinks, operators regarded music as an essential component to running a successful rink. While originally supplied by musicians r even small orchestras, by the early twentieth century rink owners opted for less expensive mechanical music. The mechanical organs, which operated much like player pianos, soon gave way to using musicians once more to play a large pipe or electric organ. Organ music became nearly synonymous with rinks and roller skating beginning in the 1930s and extending through until the early 1970s. The 1970s, however, brought a whole new sound to the roller rink: disco. Riding on the popularity of new music, thousands of rinks across the United States replaced their organs with disco sound system and speakers.

Today's Music

All you need for today's sound system is an audio mixer, some professional speakers, perhaps some subwoofers, a microphone, a source of music.

National Museum of Roller Skating Audio Tour - Museum Proper
  1. The First Roller Skates
  2. Patented Roller Skates
  3. The Father of the Modern Roller Skating
  4. Rinking
  5. The "Newest" Craze
  6. The Disco Era
  7. Pop Culture! Skating in Lines: Roller Skating and Comics
  8. Pop Culture! Orchestras, Organs, & Disco: Music in the Rink
  9. Pop Culture! Movies: Roller Skating Across the Silver Screen
  10. Competition: The History of Hockey on Wheels
  11. Competition - Speed Skating
  12. Competition - Dance Skating
  13. Competition - Figure Skating
  14. Competition - Derby
  15. C. W. Lowe's Tent Rink
  16. When Skating Goes to War
  17. Skating for Others
  18. Roller Skating Car Hops
  19. Jam Skating
  20. Extravaganza on Wheels: The Skating Vanities
  21. Vaudeville