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posted: 9/17/2012 5:30 AM

Drive-in's big metal speakers aren't going away

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Though the Cascade Drive-In Theater in West Chicago may be undergoing a switch from film to digital projection, there's still some old technology that is staying put: the in-car speakers.

Scattered about the drive-in's lot, the nostalgic relics are rare today, even among remaining drive-ins.

Cascade, like most outdoor theaters, plays audio of movies on a low radio frequency, but in the summertime, it's common to see many patrons outside their cars in lawn chairs, within earshot of the speakers on nearby poles at every car stall.

Most theaters don't have the speakers because they're so expensive to maintain, said Jeff Kohlberg, Cascade's owner.

Theater projectionist Jon Morgan estimates he repairs about 25 speakers a week -- rain water often gets inside the cast aluminum case and damages the inside parts -- let alone some that get yanked off windows when car drivers forget to put them back on the nearby poles.

Luckily, Cascade is able to order parts from a Kansas City company that specializes in equipment for drive-ins.

The theater is also lucky that the company that built the movie screen -- said to be the largest outdoor or indoor one in the state -- is still in business. That's because for the first time that anyone can remember, it's in need of repair. Two 20-foot metal panels on the left side were knocked off during the July 1 storm that whipped through West Chicago, when winds reached 100 mph.

But some old equipment is best left unrepaired. Dozens of old in-car heaters sit in a garage under the big screen. Those went out of style, Morgan says, because of frequent electrical problems.

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