Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Radio is Broken

Radio Radio

Recently, Mark Davis who worked for Kmart from the late 1980s to the early '1990s, uploaded over 60 hours of pre-recorded music sent in from the corporate office on cassette tapes. Kmart radio (KMRT) featured an MOR format designed to comfort customers as they browsed through the store's array of discounted goods. It's mostly muzak interspersed with soft rock songs from that era and in-store announcements. Nonetheless, it's a fascinating find for radio heads such as myself. A veritable time capsule of sorts. Mark Davis, for no apparent reason, had the foresight to save over 56 tapes from the trash heap. Years later, Davis converted them into digital files and posted them at Internet Archives where they were met with far more fanfare than he could ever have imagined. https://archive.org/details/attentionkmartshoppers

Canned music in stores is nothing new, it's been around forever. Walmart has come full circle with in-store music. Originally (like everyone else) they went with canned music. In the early 1990s Walmart Radio was created as a reliable means of broadcasting important information directly into stores. It evolved to include a morning show hosted by consummate radio pro Terry Berry, the original Walmart Radio legend. However staying true to its policy of “constantly changing things to keep those fuckers on their toes” In 2009 Walmart ditched Walmart Radio instructing stores to play cds' instead. (Terry Berry was long gone at this point) This led to lazy store managers looping the same music over and over.... usually Celine Dion, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or some other inoffensive white bread schmucks. The complaints from associates (most customers are blissfully unaware of the overhead music) came hot and heavy.

This even led to a puppet character named Willie Sellmore (Will He Sell More?) joking to Walmart head honchos at the annual shareholders meeting in Bentonville that “One of my fellow associates recently developed a serious eye-tic from hearing Céline Dion’s greatest hits on loop in our stores.” Ever eager to appease a workforce perpetually threatening to organize a union. Walmart reinstated Walmart Radio. A nationwide talent search to find two associates to serve as morning radio hosts was announced with over 500 cheesy videos submitted from across the country and the two men (sorry ladies, you were shut out) deemed the least offensive of the bunch were selected to become the new voices of Wallyworld. The lucky fuckers were Bo Woloszyn an innocuous bald white guy from Meadville, Pa. and Antonio Williams, an African-American co-manager from Frisco, Tx.

Antonio is inoffensive, not totally lacking in talent and believe it or not when he's in the groove, he spins some killer tunes. Bo plays the straight man, makes announcements and comes off as bland as mashed taters without salt or pepper. The nadir of the Morning show comes when Bo & Antonio muster up a shitload of phony cheeriness and lead the Walmart morning cheer, which in stores, usually follows the reading of daily sales numbers. “Give me a W-A-L-M-A-R-T,” with the rest of the people in the room shouting back the same letter. It's pure cornball, inspired by a trip Sam and Helen Walton made to a filthy tennis ball factory in South Korea. Between the L and the M...... Bo musters up all the personality he can find and yells “Give me a squiggly!” at which point I'm sure Antonio does a butt wiggle. So Help me, Sam. It's corny as hell... but the faithful eat it up.

The entire charade ends with an emphatic chant of “Who's Walmart is this?” to which the now frothing associates yell back “My Walmart!” They should just hand out amphetamine pills at the start of every shift. Wash them down with those Little Hugs fruit drinks that Walmart sells by the millions. Not all stores do the cheer anymore, mainly because it scares the shit out of customers. All in all, Walmart radio isn't that bad. It's a carefully formatted station that mixes Contemporary Hit radio with the that old format warhorse, Good Time Oldies.... sprinkled with just enough country music hits to keep the redneck associates happy. No actual commercials are played, just Walmart ads and friendly reminders designed to keep associates productive and focused. Walmart has licensed tons of music since the days of Walmart Music, so the playlist varies more than that of your average “Hot mix” station. Plenty of hit songs, lots of Beatles, Stones, classic rock, classic oldies and what have you.

Do you have any idea how surreal it is to hear “Sold in a market down in New Orleans, Scarred old slaver know he's doin' alright, Hear him whip the women just around midnight” played overhead in a Walmart at 3a.m.? It gives me the whammy. I still say that the song selections are meant to carry a subliminal message. The Beatles “Don't Let Me Down” plays at crunch time, just as associates are struggling to complete their daily tasks. “When Will I Be Loved” kicks in just after that (I've been cheated, been mistreated) Paul Revere's “Hungry” comes on right before the lunch break and The Guess Who's “No Time” just as the lunch hour comes to a close. Invariably associates will call in with requests for “Proud Mary” ..... “Workin' for the man ev'ry night and day and I never lost one minute of sleepin' worryin' 'bout the way things might have been” or “Working in a Coalmine”.... “Five o'clock in the mornin' I'm already up and gone Lord, I'm so tired How long can this go on?”

The second time I heard Larry from Vernon, store # 3229 in the Great state of Texas call in to request “Neon Moon” It dawned on me that dedications are pre-recorded and carefully screened. During Terry Berry's days, associates abused the request line by sending out mean spirited shout outs.... “Splish Splash” for that associate with a body odor problem. Weird Al's “Eat It” for that grossly obese assistant manager. Oh! that's classic. Walmart Radio's daily broadcast is pre-recorded. I suppose that Bo and Antonio's show is live, though it's hard to tell. Either way, Bo and Antonio broadcast to a captive audience that radio advertising salesmen would die for. (5,000 stores and clubs, 1.5 million associates) Sweet Jesus on the cross, that's just in the U.S. No terrestrial radio station broadcasting today can even come close to matching those numbers.

Hello!... this is Eager Beaver from ghetto Walmart, store #831, Albuquerque N.M. And I'd like to request I Wanna Fuck you Like an Animal..... err!, Closer by Nine Inch Nails and dedicate it to that shorty in Meats & Dairy, she's the spicy Tapatio meatball of my dreams..... Hello? Oh, they cut me off. I wonder why they cut me off?..... Hello?, they keep cutting me off, someone answers but they keep cutting me off ..... Hello?