Published February 2006
The brightest yellow building on Evergreen Way in south Everett, well known as the home of The Lighting & Sound Store, is filled with an amazing collection of karaoke CDs, sound systems and lighting equipment used by bowling alleys, charity auctions, special events and even in homes.
Owner C.J. Fox dispatches vans with microphones, speakers and mixing boards to special events all over Snohomish County and ships karaoke music systems to bowling alleys across the country.
He provides giant sound systems for Evergreen State Fair music shows in Monroe and much smaller speakers, microphones and karaoke CDs for home audiences — people who want to practice singing before heading for a neighborhood bar or families who want to enjoy a home sing-along with a few discs from Fox’s $100,000 collection of thousands of karaoke CDs.
Once, Fox even set up loud-speakers along Colby Avenue — and fired 750 tons of confetti from rooftops — to help the city welcome home the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln in one of the biggest celebrations downtown Everett has staged in decades.
As for those bowling alleys, they helped Fox build his sound and lighting business into one of the most successful entertainment venues in the country.
“About 15 years ago, the owner of Tyee Lanes invited me to set up my lights and sound equipment at a bowling industry trade show. That was the year Brunswick kicked off the idea of “cosmic bowling” with spinning lights and karaoke music. Alley owners came out of that seminar all pumped up about it, and I had the only light and sound booth in the whole place. I took $72,000 in equipment orders from that show,” Fox said, grinning.
His business income soon grew from $500,000 a year to $2 million. Hundreds of bowling alleys installed his equipment and launched “cosmic” events for teens, seniors and every group in between, including Sunday night Christian rock and bowling nights. Today, out of 5,820 bowling alleys in the country, Fox works with more than 3,300 of them.
“We’ve had orders from every state in the U.S., and we’ve sent sound and lighting systems to the Philippines and just about every country in South America,” Fox said.
From one end of his store to the other, he displays a variety of sound systems and lights, microphones, sound mixers, karaoke music CDs and television monitors with song lyrics scrolling across the screens. Although he rents and sells sound and lighting equipment for everything from theater entertainment and stage bands to auctions and civic ceremonies, karaoke remains his favorite.
“Before the bowling alleys picked it up, I remember discovering karaoke in 1988 at the Evergreen State Fair,” said Fox, who was broadcasting live from the event when he was general manager of KRKO radio. “This Japanese fellow had a booth with a small karaoke machine and no one was even talking to him. No one knew what it was. He said his system was $10,000. A radio friend of mine and I bought a system, set it up at Don Diego’s Restaurant at Silver Lake and people loved it.”
So many people gathered around to see what it was and how it worked — and then started singing with the system — that the manager started booking Fox and his crew instead of a band, seven nights a week at $350 a night.
“In two-and-a-half weeks we paid for the system, so we bought another one. It grew from there,” Fox said.
He left the radio station in the early 1990s, opened a 2,000-square-foot business and thought he’d never be able to fill up all the space. Three months later, he had the place filled floor to ceiling with equipment. The karaoke wave was growing about 35 percent a year at that time, he said.
Since then, operating from larger quarters, he has provided sound equipment for rock bands at Marymoor Park, a Vietnam Memorial event at the park and 14 blocks with 90 speakers to provide the sound for the Cruise Colby rock music celebration in Everett. But he still sticks close to karaoke, including putting together local contests and a national karaoke event.
“Karaoke is around, stronger than ever,” Fox said. “It makes people feel good, singing with friends, family or just out in public. It’s a stress reliever.” The latest trend, he said, is singing at home.
“Home programs seem to be everywhere, using our library of CDs. That’s the new trend, for families and friends to rent equipment and music to enjoy at home. I’ve seen people who didn’t even want to do it. Then at 3 a.m. you still can’t get them off the mike. When people bring the equipment back, they’re so hoarse they can’t talk to us,” he said, laughing.
© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA