3M Background Music Days According to Pete

The Machines That Made it Possible

Created; October 23, 2023

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Here, I am starting a very small (and unofficial) chronicle of the Background Music Machines produced by 3M.
It's my intent to overview some of those machines for posterity, from the view of people who dealt with them. I'm one of those people, so you will be hearing from me, for now.

3M assigned a sequential internal numerical model number for each machine. Then, the marketing department of each manufacturing division assigned a sales name (often a number-name) to it for field use.
I will begin by listing some of them (the only one I know of in this case):

Model     Sales-Name or Number             Description

94 AG/BG        700 Contata             Background Music Machine

293AH        ???

I recently received an inquiry about this machine and it brought back many memories. I was a field tech at the time they were introduced and our sales department sold quite a few of them.
Googling "3M Background Music" will get you several pictures of them.
They were designed to compete with other background music suppliers of the time, that is between about 1965 and the early 1980's. Until that time, one had to buy background music over phone lines from "Muzak". That was about the only way to have background music (without commercials) in your establishment. without having to constantly tend to the system to change tapes or records.
For any young folks who might read this, there weren't any satelites floating around the earth back then, the internet as we know it in 2017, didn't exist, nor did the cellular phone system.

The "Contata" used a large 2-reel tape casette. I think it was about 8 inches square and about 1 1/2 inches thick.
Tape speed was about 1 1/2 IPS (Inches Per Second). Each casette contained about 8 hours of music. The customer had the choice of several different "Libraries". Music was coded in two tracks. The tape would run to one end, the reverse to play the music on the other track.
The customer bought and owned the machine, but only leased the tapes, if I remember correctly.

One thing that made it tough to service them was that the machine would, all too often, be placed in some out-of-the-way spot. In many eating establishments, for instance, they'd be placed on a high shelf in the kitchen. Think GREASE from the grill!!!
Within about a year of introduction, the machines developed several mechanical reliability issues. The Lab got to work on them and after about a year of coping with the problems in the field, came out with a set of about 7 fixes.
Once those changes had been installed, the machines worked quite well.

Here I place the contents of the recent inquiry that I mentioned above, because it pretty well captures that product's history in a nutshell:
"According to 3M any archived information on the Model 94 BG was divested in 1988. The Model 94 BG from the 3M Duplicating Systems Division is also known as the Cantata 700 Background Music System. It (AG and BG, I think) was produced from approximately 1964 to 1967. The MarkII Model 293AH was produced under "3M Sound Products" division."
Note by Pete: I had never heard of the "293AH".

Link to pictures of the 283AH
The last few images give you an idea of the complexity of the tape casette.

If you'd like to contribute an article about any one of these machines, please use the contact link at the top of this page to let me know.