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Matthew:

How in God's name did the tune "Turkey in the Straw" become the perennial favorite for ice cream trucks?

-- Summertime Dreamer, La Mesa

Hey, make that Summertime Screamer. "Turkey in the Straw" has been the subject of more than one lawsuit around the country for its loud, intrusive, monotonous presence every afternoon. To be fair, "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin and "Pop Goes the Weasel" are equally ubiquitous, nationwide. What have we come to in this country, suing the Good Humor man.... Anyway, the elves flagged down an engineer with Magic Box in Jacksonville, Florida, who offered them some Monkey Bars left over from 1963 and the answer to your question.

Once upon a time, Beals Music Inc. was the only manufacturer of loudspeaker systems for ice-cream trucks. For many years, if you wanted one, you had to buy theirs. They started out with mechanical chimes, then graduated to a loudspeaker system using guitar pickups, then took to digitizing analog recordings of attractive tunes. Attractive and cheap. "Turkey in the Straw" et al. are in the public domain, so Beals didn't have to pay royalties every time a truck rolled down the street. Beals is now out of biz, replaced by two companies that make the "music boxes," as they're known in the trade, plus temperature control and safety systems. Magic Box offers about 60 different songs in the form of a digital chip and can customize your system if you'd like to broadcast dogs howling the Notre Dame fight song or your kid playing "Danke Schoen" on the accordion. But "Turkey/Pop/Entertainer" are still the best sellers. Tradition. Inertia. Cheapness. Standard output power used to be 16 watts, but Magic Box has reduced theirs to 8 watts to appease the irritated multitudes.

The man who started it all in 1920 was the original Good Humor man, ice-cream parlor owner Harry Burt of Youngstown, Ohio. He took the then-new Eskimo Pie, shoved a stick into it, and sent an employee out in a white suit and a white truck to hawk them on the street. He attached his son's sled bells to the truck to attract more attention. By the early '70s, G. Humor was out of the direct-distribution biz, and independent fleets took over the routes. "Turkey in the Straw" took over our brains.

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