December 4, 2018

Strange Archives: Attention K-Mart Shoppers

The internet has a collection of the truly obscure! The website Plaid Stallions, with a heavy focus on toys from the 1970's, featured a 1978 newspaper flyer for K-Mart including ads for toys of that era. However, because its the holiday season, memories of shopping at cheesy, American discount stores like K-Mart is also 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. It even contains special audio advertisements announcing the addition of a new K-Mart pharmacy from 1974 where shoppers could fill their prescriptions.

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 (before that, they were reel-to-reel tapes sent to each store location every month to keep the background music fresh). This was background music, or perhaps you could call it elevator music. Some have some recordings of musicians including the likes of Neil Diamond, for example. He saved the tapes from the trash during this period, and its built from his extensive, if odd collection, although others have since supplemented his recordings. One of these recordings date back to December 1974, evidenced by the continuous loop of Christmas music that was featured. Separately, there was also a Muzak Christmas music tape from another collection which was quite similar, except its missing the regular K-mart ads throughout. Another 1973 recording featured the company's advertising jingle used at the time about K-Mart being "your savings store". There are even some in the collection that came from vinyl recordings when the company still went by the name S.S. Kresge which date back to the 1960's. An October 1989 recording is possibly the type most people who shopped at K-Mart back in the day will remember. Most recordings are differentiated mainly by the introductory spot introducing the retailer to shoppers, as if the big red "K" and the aqua-blue "mart" wasn't enough of a tip for them to know exactly where they were.

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 for this rather unusual collection.

For a sample of what's contained in this collection (this one from 1973), listen to the embedded post below, or visit for the recording.

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