Uncovering the Lost Tapes of Kmart Elevator Music

Kmart Elevator Music

The Internet Archive can be a wonderful place. It’s a place where you can find a plethora of useful information, but you can also find some of the incredibly odd things that most people never thought to hang onto. Fortunately, we have people like Mark Davis, who was a Kmart employee in the late 80s/early ’90s and hung onto an extensive collection of pre-recorded cassettes issued to the stores by corporate.

Here’s the backstory from Mark himself:

OK, I have to admit this is a strange collection. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I worked for Kmart 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. Anyways, I saved these tapes from the trash during this period and this video shows you my extensive, odd collection.

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.

The monthly tapes are very, very, worn and rippled. 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.

Finally, one tape in the collection was from the Kmart 30th anniversary celebration on 3/1/92. This was a special day at the store where employees spent all night setting up for special promotions and extra excitement. It was a real fun day, the store was packed wall to wall, and I recall that the stores were asked to play the music at a much higher volume. The tape contains oldies and all sorts of fun facts from 1962. This may have been one of the last days where Kmart was in their heyday – really!

One last thing for you techies, the stores built in the early 1970s (such as Naperville, IL Ogden Mall Kmart #3066, Harwood Heights, IL #3503, and Bridgeview, IL #4381) originally had Altec-Lansing amplifiers with high-quality speakers throughout the store. When you applied a higher-quality sounding source, the audio was extremely good. Later stores had cheaper speakers and eventually, the amps were switched out with different ones usually lacking bass and treble controls.

If your interest is piqued, you can have a listen to any or all of them over in Mark’s “Attention Kmart Shoppers” archive.

(Thanks to Guen for the tip!)

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