History of Muzak Part 1 William B. Benton Invents Muzak

About the history of the instrumental miracle that is Muzak or watered down music, William B Benton turns failing company into a horrible success.


Irving Wexler, a Miami, Fla., MUZAK man, once said: "I have MUZAK in every room of my home. Twenty-four hours a day. We sleep with it on, watch TV with it on. I never allow it to be turned off because I know that music has a therapeutic effect." Others have drawn the same conclusion: Prisons and grand jury rooms, reptile houses and large department stores, beauty parlors and dentists' offices all have found MUZAK to be beneficial in some respect.

What began in 1934 as a service intended to provide--sans commercials and static--recorded medleys via telephone lines to just restaurants, the homes of the wealthy, and apartment complexes turned into a device over the years by which management could increase workers' productivity, stores and restaurants could increase consumption, and offices could reduce the amount of errors their employees made. Three factors seem to have forced this change: studies done in the late 1930s on ergonomic research (ergonomics is the study of the use of engineering methods to humanize work areas); W. W. II and its call for quick and efficient production; and the adman genius of William B. Benton.

Benton, who would later become a U.S. senator, acquired the failing MUZAK Co. in 1941 for about $100,000 and put it to work in the wartime factories playing Sousa marches and the like. The experiment worked, and a more sophisticated type of programming proved to be successful in the postwar years as well. Benton managed to turn the failing company into a moneymaking business during his years as owner, and he turned a tidy profit on his investment when he sold it to the Wrather organization in 1957.

Today, MUZAK, Inc., now a property of Teleprompter, in turn a subsidiary of ITT, has conquered the world. Eighty million people a day hear MUZAK. In the U.S., MUZAK was heard in President Nixon's Washington White House and his Key Biscayne White House. MUZAK is heard in the Pentagon. MUZAK is heard in General Motors, Texaco, Procter and Gamble, the Bronx Zoo, Bank of America, F. W. Woolworth, the Houston Astrodome, Laurel Race Track. Elsewhere in the world, MUZAK is heard in the insurance firm Lloyd's of London, in a 39-story high-rise cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, in dozens of organizations in Tokyo, in Helsinki, in Brussels, in Manila, in Madrid, in Mexico City. MUZAK is heard in Outer Space--Neil Armstrong had it piped in to him before he set foot on the moon. MUZAK earns $400 million annually.

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