Thursday, December 17, 2009


Storecasting, hyphenated or otherwise is such an ugly word. Storecasting is the "broadcasts" beard only in retail spaces. It's descended from the Beautiful Music format and Muzak and all that bland, soulless, gutless, artless theme music of capitalism. It's music that's not for listening. it exists only to provide ambiance in commerce. TSL is nice, but in radio we want real listeners, listeners that can change the dial, but choose not to. I hesitate to mention storecasting in the context of radio because in many ways it's antithetical to the appeal of radio broadcasting. But sadly it is the bastard child of radio, so is should be acknowledged as the redheaded stepchild it is. Storecasting isn't new. I found a detailed reference to it in the June 1950 issue of Kiplingers that revaled it as a fully developed service over 5 decades ago. It gushes with enthusiasm over the service, but indicts it inadvertently in the same breath:
"It soothes the housewife while she eyes the bins and shelves, and relaxing her nerves it relaxes her purse strings. The technique is an old one. Storecasting is really a refinement of the old-time gaslight medicine shows, which always featured a bit of gaudy entertainment before the barker sprang the snake oil cures on the bemused customers."
The supposed "peak" shopping hour of 10-1 and 2-6 were targed by storecasting. The music was mild, and the ads demographically targeted at housewives. For the early FM stations it was a boon. It was 20 years before FM out-stepped AM. people just didn't own FM radios. But, broadcasting to a crowded store gained them a captive audience. I blame Stanley Jose Loff.
Stanley was the president of the Storecast Corporation of America. His first storcasting station was WEHS-FM in Chicago, then WSAM-FM in Saginaw, WJLB-FM in Detroit and WFFM-FM in Muskegon. Originally this was a SCA (Subsidiary Communications Authorization) service for FM radio. The station actually rented a subcarrier receiver to the retailer to cover the cost of the service. A inaudible tone was used to switch on and off the tuner so that shoppers would be spared from hearing disrupting jarring audio like talk or station identification. For some reason this really pissed off the FCC. More here.

The KMLA Broadcasting Corp. Vs. 20th Century Cigarette Vendors Corp. case blew up the whole issue. As part of a promotional campaign, 20th Century had given to some of its clients equipment which enabled them to receive KMLA's background music service without paying for it. KMLA sued. Remember, at this point broadcasts, all broadcasts were public domain. Anyone could listen. One cigarette vendor changed all that. The court held that KMLA's service was private, not public. the compared it to a point-to-point communication WHICH IT IS OBVIOUSLY NOT. While it was not KMLAs intent to broadcast it's storecast to the general public. the signal is not point-to-point, not all all. A lot of case law was built upon this which is just sad. More here.

In the wake of this case, the FCC decided that storecasting was not kosher. They disliked the tone-triggered system. They mandated that storecasting could continue but only through multiplexing. This was going on at the same time that Stereo FM was a hot topic. I think that the FCC chose this time to rule on store-casting because it narrowed the field in terms of which stereo systems might be implemented. No FM network or coalition would endorse a stereo system that prevented storecasting. Sneaky bastards.