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!