Detroit Free Press
Updated 1:09 PM EST Dec 15, 2019
Want to experience the sound of Kmart’s glory days?
Dozens of tapes from the iconic retailer’s in-store audio system that were saved from the trash decades ago can now be heard online for free.
The tapes span from the 1970s through 1992 and contain hours of background music and easy-listening tunes interspersed with store announcements and advertisements for brands that were popular among Kmart shoppers, such as Jordache jeans, Pony shoes and Gemini electronics.
The tapes were pre-recorded and shipped to Kmart stores across the country by Kmart, then based in Troy. Tapes from the early 1990s opened with a musical jingle from “KMRT,” a fictional Kmart radio station.
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“High-tech doesn’t have to be expensive, just ask Martha Stewart, our entertainment and lifestyle consultant,” the announcer says in a tape labeled October 1989. “She recommends trying our Gemini cable, VCR and telephone accessories, available in a wide assortment of styles. Gemini — just another of the great names that’s at home with Martha Stewart and you.”
Most of the tapes posted online are from a now-closed Kmart in Naperville, Ill., but were presumably played nationwide. They were saved by store employee Mark Davis, who worked there from 1989 to 1993. and is now 44 years old.
His collection included a tape that was played for just a single day — March 1, 1992 — to mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the first Kmart in Garden City.
He said he began keeping the store’s used tapes once he learned that they would otherwise be thrown away. His collection stops in fall 1992, when the Naperville Kmart started pipping in its in-store music via satellite.
Davis digitalized the 56 tapes in his collection several years ago, and in 2015 posted them online to the Internet Archive website under the headline Attention K-Mart Shoppers. So far, no one has raised legal issues about the tapes.
Someone from MTV noticed the rare trove of Kmart music, and news of Davis’ audio preservation effort was picked up in 2015 by national outlets, including NPR and Buzzfeed.
“This was a special day at the store where employees spent all night setting up for special promotions and extra excitement,” Davis wrote for the tape’s introduction, referring to his Naperville store. “It was a real fun day, the store was packed wall to wall, and I recall that the (nationwide) stores were asked to play the music at a much higher volume.”
Davis was soon contacted by a Florida man, Tom Schwarzrock, who owned several older reel-to-reel tapes of Kmart’s in-store audio and music from the 1970s and 1980s, including voice spots announcing Kmart’s new pharmacy departments. Those tapes from a Minneapolis Kmart were added to the collection posted online.
The oldest reel-to-reel tape is from 1973 and was sent from “Special Recordings Inc.” with the address 3020 E.Grand Blvd. in Detroit. That tape opens with the most enthusiastic jingle in the entire online collection: “Kmart is your savings store, where your dollar buys you more. They give your dreams a helping hand, at Kmart stores they understand.”
Davis said he hasn’t received any feedback — positive or negative — from Kmart or Sears Holdings about the tapes.
“I think it’s really positive for them because it takes you back to a different time,” said Davis, who lives in Aurora, Ill, and worked for Kmart as a manager until 1999.
The Kmart tapes also were source material for an album released this spring by a Texas-based electronic music artist. The album, titled “Attention Kmart Choppers,” features extensively remixed background music and announcements from the tapes and has earned high praise for creativity in online reviews. The “choppers” in the album title is a likely reference to how the word “shoppers” now sounds when played from a scratchy tape.
Highlights from the trove of Kmart in-store tapes:
“The best to you, from Kmart radio. K-M-R-T” — July 1992
“Can you believe, prescriptions filled at Kmart prices?” — Kmart 1970s pharmacy spots
“You can’t do better than Kmart when it comes to outfitting your toddler or infant.” — January 1992
“This camera does it all … It loads the film, winds it ahead after each picture, and rewinds it at the end of the roll. And it has a built-in flash! Just $59.97 for the Minolta K Freedom Camera.” — May 1992
”Shoes from names like Pony, Jordache, Nautilus, Spalding, McGregor and more.” —1992
“Don’t forget to use our convenient layaway” — October 1989
“Kmart is your savings store, where your dollar buys you more. They give your dreams a helping hand, at Kmart stores they understand.” — 1973
“Kmart is more than any store you have known before. Kmart means you get quality. It’s friendly and warm and service does not take long — one visit and you will agree. Kmart is all the things a great store should be. Quality at discount prices, satisfaction always you’ll see.” — December 1974