Forget Heavy Metal! People Still Give a Hoot for the Kazoo

updated 10/15/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/15/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

They sound like a swarm of melodic mosquitoes. But workers at the world's only metal-kazoo factory earn more than a Bronx cheer when they blow their own horns. Operating out of a ramshackle house in Eden, N.Y., they sold about one million kazoos worldwide last year at 90ยข to $4 each. Crows Kazoo Company president Maurice Spectoroff, "What makes the kazoo American is that it's inexpensive and everybody can play it."

He's right. All kazoos, including the cigar-size "King" and six models shaped like musical instruments, produce music through a thin piece of plastic that vibrates when you hum into the tube. (To change the pitch, just hum a new note.) But because it takes 37 steps to make a trombone-shaped kazoo that retails for just $2.80, no other company has been able to turn a profit on metal kazoos. The Kazoo Company survives because it has virtually no overhead: The 27 cast-iron metal presses used to produce the instruments were bought before 1915, when the first metal kazoos were made on the same spot. Some models, including the liquor-bottle-shaped kazoos celebrating the end of Prohibition, are no longer produced. Looking just as it did in 1935, today's King kazoo has only one major rival: a plastic version made by the Hohner harmonica company.

Spectoroff, 64, an engineer by training and former opera radio-show host in Buffalo, worries about a recent sales slump. "The distribution is terrible," he complains. "I couldn't even tell you who sells them in New York City." Avid hummers, including Howard Cosell's wife, Mary, order direct. Spectoroff donates some kazoos to schools where the deaf are taught to speak by feeling vibrations, but he sells the most to thousands of senior-citizen kazoo groups. As for opera-buff Spectoroff, enough's enough. When he retires, he plans to take up the organ.

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