December 4, 2018

Strange Archives: Attention K-Mart Shoppers


The internet has a collection of the truly obscure! However, because its the holiday season, memories of shopping at cheesy, American discount stores is no doubt something for which many people are familiar.

Notably, the Internet Archive is assembling a massive digital collection of miscellaneous things, some quite impressive, such as the emulator library of video games and home video game consoles as well as handheld devices which I've addressed in prior posts, including one about Speak & Spell and other items, for example. There are also video clips from different sources, and a large audio collection. Due to copyright issues, audio can be more challenging, but sometimes the work is already done by others, in this case the once-giant discount retailer K-Mart Corporation.

Shoppers of K-Mart may recall the retailer's in-store audio background music which was periodically interrupted by K-Mart product commercials which were usually introduced with the phrase "Attention K-Mart Shoppers".  A collection entitled "Attention K-Mart Shoppers" is one such collection.

As the archivist Mark Davis admits, this is a somewhat strange collection. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, he worked for K-mart behind the service desk and the store played specific pre-recorded cassettes issued by corporate. This was background music, or perhaps you could call it elevator music. Some have some recordings of musicians including Neil Diamond, for example. Anyway, he saved the tapes from the trash during this period, and its his extensive, if odd collection. Some of these recordings date back to the mid-1970's.

Until around 1992, the cassettes were rotated monthly. Then, they were replaced weekly. Finally sometime around 1993, satellite programming was introduced which eliminated the need for these tapes altogether. The older tapes contain canned elevator music with instrumental renditions of songs. Then, the songs became completely mainstream around 1991. All of them have advertisements every few songs.

He notes that the monthly tapes were very, very, worn and rippled at the time they were converted to MP3 files. He says that's because they ran for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on auto-reverse. If you do the math, assuming that each tape is 30 minutes per side, that's over 800 passes over a tape head each month.

Still, for anyone interested in this peculiar collection of background music that played in K-Mart stores during that era, this collection might be worth listening to.

Visit the full "Attention K-Mart Shoppers" collection at https://archive.org/details/attentionkmartshoppers for this rather unusual collection.

For a sample of what's contained in this collection (this one from October 1989), listen to the embedded post below, or visit https://archive.org/details/KmartOctober1989 for the recording.

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