#890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

A sequel to #444:  “Can I Listen to This?”

RECORD STORE TALES #890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

Although it seems like dystopian fiction now, there was once a time when if you wanted to sample an album before you bought it, the best way was going to a store and asking to listen to it.

I imagine even today, people walk up to the counter at Ye Olde Record Store and ask to hear something before they buy it.  I am certain the demand is not like it once was.  We used to have six individual listening stations.  Granted, we were lucky if three or four worked at any given time, but when we first opened, we had six brand new players.  And they were busy.  On a Saturday, all six would be in use at once.  With a couple more people lined up waiting to jump in when one was vacated.

Here’s how it worked.  Pay attention, because some people just didn’t get it.

It’s actually pretty simple.  You just look around the store, grab a few CDs you want to listen to, and bring the cases to me to load them up.  All the discs were kept safely behind the counter.  All I had to do was load them up, and lay them out for you to hear.

All our players were five disc changers.  I would load up the first five of your selections, and lay down the cases on the counter.  “This is the order they are in the player.”  Then I would give them a quick run-through on the remote control.  Play, skip, stop, skip disc…I would ask them to ignore the rest of the buttons.

Annoying Thing #1:  People who don’t listen.

“Sir!  This player isn’t working.”

Because you ignored my instructions and hit the “program” button.  Now you’re in program mode.  Let’s get out of that, and just press play this time.

Annoying Thing #2:  People who help themselves.

There was nothing more startling than finding a customer behind the counter with you!  These people think the listening stations are like self-serve gas stations.  They’d go behind the counter and start looking for the CDs to load up themselves.  I’m really not sure what possesses people to think they can do that.  There’s a counter.  It has a front and a back.  We used to have a divider chain, but it ripped out years before.

Annoying Thing #3:  Using the remote to open the tray. 

You don’t need to open the tray.  You’re not helping by hitting the “open” button.  More than once, I was picking discs that were stored beneath the CD players.  I stood up, and “CRASH!”  Right into the now-open tray of a CD player.  Thanks for that.  I’ve definitely had them open up on me while I was walking past, too.

Annoying Thing #4:  Audiophiles.

Quoting a prior chapter:

“These headphones suck.  I can’t hear the nuances in the music.”  That was a real complaint.  Since there wasn’t much I could do about it, I explained that the listening stations were there just so you could hear a song and decide if you liked it or not.  Not much thought was given to hearing the nuances.  But this guy insisted he couldn’t tell if he liked a song without the “nuances”, so no sale was made.

Yes the headphones sucked, mostly from years of use.  Another issue is that all the headphones were run through a little tiny volume box that was custom made for us.  This volume control was the real problem.  Knobs went staticky, came right off… Maybe it wasn’t the audiophiles that were the problem, maybe it was the shitty volume knobs.

Annoying Thing #5:  Gross remote controls.

I think I cleaned those things every day.  I don’t know what people are walking around with on their hands, but those remotes got disgusting.  The listening stations were always solidly disinfected from headphones to remotes, but they somehow felt…gross to the touch.

Annoying Thing #6:  “Is there a way to plug in two headphones?  My friend wants to listen.”

No!  Stop asking!  Yes, it would be “cool” if we could do it.  The single-output volume boxes were bad enough.  Imagine putting two in there.

Annoying Thing #7:  Singers.

Yes, sometimes, people sang along.  It wasn’t frequent.  Other customers would turn and look.  Usually you’d just ignore it.  Only twice did I have to cut someone off for singing too loud.  Once was two girls singing “This shit is bananas!” along with Gwen Stefani.  Another was an angry kid who, quite frankly, was starting to scare me.

Annoying Thing #8:  Kids treated them like toys.  

Young kids get bored in music stores.  Trust me on this.  Some liked to climb on top of the stools, grab the remote control, and…you guessed it…open and close the trays.  They’d just mash their fingers on a remote and yell “HOW DOES THIS WOOOOORK?”

I wish I was making this stuff up, I really was.

Sometimes, mom or dad would ask me to put on a kids’ CD for them to listen to, to keep them occupied.  That I was happy to do.  As long as they didn’t play with the remotes, or God forbid, put them in their mouths.

Annoying Thing #9:  High maintenance listeners.

Sometimes you had to help people skip tracks.  You could even show them on the remote where the button is, and they’d still need help.  “Which disc am I listening to now?”  Well, it says disc 2 on the display, and I put the cases down here in order, so that would be Garth Brooks.  “Well it doesn’t sound like him!”  And that’s because you picked his Chris Gaines album.

Annoying Thing #10:  No limits.

You could come to the counter with 25 discs, and I had no choice but to let you listen to them all if you wanted to.  And you could take as much time doing so as you liked.  Some gentlemen (often fans of jazz or electronica or both, but always men) spent an entire morning glued to a listening station.  They only moved to go and look for more discs to listen to.

I won’t lie to you, listening station service was hard work when you have a guy like that in the store while you’re busy.  It takes time to retrieve all those CDs from behind the counter.  It takes time to file them back when you’re done.  And then I still have to re-file the cases out for display.  For you it’s one easy step — just pick the discs you want to listen to.  For me, it’s three steps.  Get the CD from its specific location, put the CD back when you’re done, and re-file the case.

Some customers thought they were being helpful by re-filing the cases for me.  All that did was create more difficulty, because now I had to look each one up in the computer to see where the CD itself is supposed to go.  And that wasn’t always easy.  You know, sometimes there are CDs out there with nothing to identify the artist or title.  At all.  And after serving the guy 25 discs, you’re not gonna remember what it was.

There are other miscellaneous things that used to bug me.  People who would treat you like a servant.  Working as a listening station jockey for an afternoon was a pretty thankless job.  Of course there are exceptions.  The exceptions aren’t the memories that stick in your head for 25 years!






  1. Yikes, I didn’t know that working at the listening station was such a difficult task, I’m sorry you had to go through that Mike. Not following instructions, I’d expect people to do that, but what up with them touching the remotes with dirty hands? That’s disgusting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah Lana, that’s what they paid us for…it wasn’t a glamorous job at the store. I got sick all the time, I always had a cold or something. We sanitized everything but our hands. We know better now!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. HMV had that set up here. They would have the CD’s already loaded in the player so u picked the 5 they had already in. They didn’t have that option that you did at your store..
    I never used those things as the discs they had loaded in were junk lol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If working in a record store is like Vietnam, then you were in the coast guard, and Mike was in the shit.

      You = Nick Nolte in Tropic Thunder.

      Mike = Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Or Willem Dafoe in Platoon.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember listening stations. The worst I remember was another customer. I was at a listening station at a big corporate shoppe in Montreal. I’d been there two minutes, hadn’t even finished a song, and I get a tap on the shoulder. Some young girl pointing at the machine and then herself. I smiled and politely waved her off, I’d just be a minute. She tapped again. I tapped my watch and gestured for patience. She tapped again. I stood up to my full height and glared down at her. She took off. Only to come back with an employee, who told me I had to get off the station. No amount of protestation that I hadn’t even been four minutes mattered. I left and I saw her grinning at me like the little shit she was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I’m a woman and I’m scared!”

      The ultimate way for a lady to get what she wants if she has no integrity. Makes all the guys revert to primitive apes that need to “protect woman.” Turns usually normal and cool guys into chauvinistic assholes. Not as effective on other women, but they’re sometimes still sympathetic. Sometimes other women will call them on it though, like when some girl who missed a final at my college started crying to the professor and she told the girl to “give her a break. I’m a woman too, I know that manipulative shit.” Priceless!

      I remember at a small get together once I wasn’t feeling very talkative and left to get some air. I was friends with this dude and his wife and they were hosting us, and I was never allowed back after that because one of the wife’s (female) friends said I gave off “serial killer vibes.” Because I was sitting there, quietly. That’s it. She also characterized my going for air as “storming off.” I guess the dude and his wife were trying to set us up (which I knew nothing of at the time), so really she just didn’t want to see me again. Got no problem with that, but pretending to be scared to get me banned from a friend’s house? That’s bullshit. At least it made me realize that dude wasn’t really my friend. Funny, he was such a laid back fella before that. Also found out later that him and his wife were swingers, and he was a necrophilia apologist (seriously)!


      1. Wow that’s quite a story. Quite a bit more than my adventure at a listening booth, which I wrote off as someone just wanting what I was doing in the moment, not having a few moment’s patience.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Two minutes? It was ten. That was the point, I wasn’t anywhere near done, she just wanted it and when bothering me didn’t work she went and got help. Of course the staffer wasn’t equipped to handle anything so that was that. I didn’t buy anything there after that.


  4. My only experience of this was at a Virgin Records store in London. There, they had no headphones but speakers in each booth so more than one could listen to it. Wasn’t bad but I’ve had more fun. But I know what jerks people can be.


  5. HMV and Virgin Megastores used to have listening stations with a pre-loaded CD. Usually a new release (chart stuff – which back in the mid to late 90’s over here would be considered fairly decent, I guess). I didn’t go near them personally (that was the height of some serious OCD stuff and there was no way I was wearing headphones that had been worn by a bunch of other folks), but they always seemed busy. I don’t think I’ve ever asked for an album to be put on before I bought it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pre-loaded sucks. And maybe you were OCD, but looking at things now, I think you were maybe justified in some things. I will tell you this — I have not been sick with a cold or flu in over a year, so there is something to hand washing and social distancing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tell me about it. One of the many benefits of not being stuck on a packed train or being in an office. For me anyway.

        It baffles me that people have to be told to wash their hands or cover their mouths when coughing!


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