In the first installment of You Deserve a Jingle Today!, we discussed how commercial jingles were developed for radio in the late 1920s.
They flourished through the 70s, but then gradually were replaced by either short sound bites of music or by existing songs by pop stars. But there is another kind of music jingle that I love…maybe even more. It’s the radio station ID jingle.
Where do radio jingles come from?
The short answer is Dallas, Texas.
Let me elaborate:
The first commercial radio station was KDKA in Pittsburgh, which started in 1920, and is still going strong. Within 3 years there were already 500 licensed radio stations in the US. In 1930 40% of the population had radios. By 1934 that had risen to 60%. In the 30s and 40s, radio was a primary form of entertainment and information for most families.
Now, let’s talk about Bill Meeks.
Back in 1947 he worked as a musician at Dallas radio station KLIF. (Radio, even local stations, featured a lot of live music back in those days.)
Bill realized that some of their listeners couldn’t identify which station they typically listened to. Bill wrote the station’s first set of jingles to promote their own call letters. The jingles were popular, and so was KLIF. Word spread, and eventually Bill’s jingle production services became more important than his band leading.
In 1951 he created PAMS (Production Advertising Merchandising Services) to produce jingles for radio stations around the country (and around the world). To be sure, radio stations had aired self-promoting jingles for many years before 1947, but Bill was the first to successfully syndicate jingles to multiple stations on a large scale.
Those peppy jingles featured tons of brass, xylophone, slide guitar glissandos, energetic vocals and occasional use of sonovox, a weird way to project a voice through other instruments (kind of like the talk box used by Bon Jovi on Livin’ on a Prayer or by Peter Frampton on his Frampton Comes Alive! album).
PAMS was absolutely the jingle king for radio stations through the 1960s and early 70s.
When Casey Kasem started his American Top 40 show in 1970, his sounders and number announcements were produced by PAMS. But, by the early 70s, a combination of increasing competition and changing trends in jingles saw PAMS fortunes quickly diminishing.
Here’s a PAMS produced jingle for Radio London. This is from their 9th series of jingles, around 1958.
Here’s a WING Dayton, Ohio, jingle from PAMS 18th series, around 1961. This features the sonovox front and center.
A montage of several different stations’ jingles from PAMS series 31, produced in 1966.
Here’s one of PAMS first jingles for American Top 40 in 1970.
In 1974, a former PAMS employee and his wife started a new company in Dallas called JAM Productions.
It quickly grew in popularity and has been the top jingle company since the 1980s. When American Top 40 updated their jingles in the late 70s/early 80s they had JAM produce the replacements. There were other significant jingle companies, too, such as TM Studios, also in Dallas, which still exists today.
Here’s a couple of (very brief) jingles JAM productions made for American Top 40 around the late 70s/early 80s:
JAM Productions AT40 Jingle with American Top 40 a Capella JAM
AT40 “Number 15” a Capella JAM
We’ll get to some more JAM jingles in a minute. Now I want to spend a little bit of time discussing one of my favorite companies, the Heller Corporation, started by Hugh Heller who had been working in radio on the west coast during the 1960s.
He produced some good jingles in the mid 60s, but he struck gold when he teamed up with musician Dick Hamilton in the late 60s. To my ear, Dick wrote some of the best jingles of all time. He had lyrics with just the right combination of humor and non-sequiturs, and fantastic music writing.
Plus, being based in Los Angeles, Heller and Hamilton were able to use world class musicians like the Wrecking Crew and the Johnny Mann singers for jingles that just sounded slicker and more sophisticated than your average jingles. Some of the songs barely advertised the station…they just created an image or a mood for the city.
Admittedly, I’m biased, because I grew up hearing the Heller jingles produced by Dick Hamilton in the Indianapolis area on 1070 WIBC. Here are a few favorites:
First an odd, short one from KXLS in Oklahoma from the early 1980s:
My home station growing up was WIBC in Indianapolis. This is perhaps its most iconic and sweet jingle:
The singer is Dick Hamilton’s step-daughter at a pretty young age in the early 1970s. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this one!
Musically, this may be my favorite jingle ever:
It’s for Shreveport, Louisiana’s KEEL 710 AM. Probably produced in the early 1970s.
Dick Hamilton was a very early owner of the Moog synthesizer, and he’s getting his money’s worth here. I am unashamed to admit that I love this song.
Why do I like jingles so much?
The short answer is that they make me happy.
Jingles are usually outrageously upbeat. And they’re designed to be ear-worms. They have just a few seconds to hook you, so the best jingles are super-concentrated hooks. A lot of them feature amazing vocal work with tight harmonies that probably aren’t appreciated for how much talent they require.
Plus, they are not “cool”…they are ridiculously over the top with enthusiasm, as they try way too hard to ‘sell’ their station to me. Frankly, they sound kind of silly. So I kind of like them ironically.
But they also remind me of days gone by, when terrestrial radio was a much more significant part of people’s lives.
These station ID jingles aren’t gone. Even talk radio stations use them to some extent. I haven’t even mentioned television IDs, but they have been and continue to be used by TV stations. In the previous installment of You Deserve a Jingle Today!, I talked about how most commercial jingles in the modern era are very short. In some ways, they don’t sound too much different in length and style to tv and radio station ID jingles today. I can’t explain why, but I’m glad music is still used in these small parts of our lives.
In the 1970s my dad worked for a (now defunct) midwestern fast food chain called Burger Chef. He brought home a couple of 7” records which contained different versions of Burger Chef radio ads. They were prized possessions!
Now I could play records and occasionally play a bona fide Burger Chef commercial in between songs just like a real DJ! You could hardly have gotten me a better gift at that age.
Nowadays I have another resource: Thousands of radio and TV jingles have been uploaded to YouTube.
A casual hobby of mine for the past 10 years or so has been to download jingles that I personally remember, or others that I just like, parse them into mp3s, and then load them into my iTunes/Apple Music library. (Everybody does this, right?) That way when I play my music library on shuffle, random station IDs frequently find their way in between songs.
My kids assure me that this is bizarre, and of course, I am totally ok with that.
I know I’m not the only one that appreciates jingles.
I loved a gag that David Letterman ran with for a short time back in 1986. He ordered a custom set of jingles from Jam Productions and they would punctuate transition points in the show.
I would so love to have a set of jingles like that at my job that could be played over our intercom system during shift changes or before briefings. (I’m not sure everyone I work with would love that.)
Let’s sample a few more random jingles, shall we?
Here’s the CBS news radio “sounder” that was used from 1967 through the 80s. It was arguably Dick Hamilton’s most famous composition for Heller’s Jingle company.
While we’re talking CBS, I really like CBS’s brief little musical signature that they are using right now:
While we’re talking TV network sounders, how about this musical signature that PBS closed its Children’s shows with during the 1970s and 80s?
WABC was a hugely influential top 40 station in New York back in the day that was a big customer of PAMS jingles. Here’s one from what sound s like the early 1960s.
Somewhere I found a collection of jingles for a ‘beautiful music’ station in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The jingles are totally mellow. Good for curing insomnia. But I love the emphatic announcement at the end: South Dakota!
I recorded this jingle around 1990 while at Purdue University. The jingle sounded a good 20 years old at the time. It was my most listened to music file of the year a couple years ago.
How’s about a few more Dick Hamilton jingles from the Heller corporation?
First, a brief station ID (that was taken from a much longer jingle) for WDEE in Detroit in the early 1970s.
Here’s a little jingle from WBAL in Baltimore:
Dick Hamilton produced a series of nice jingles in the early 1970s for WMAL in Washington DC. Here’s a sample:
I’ll finish up with a few more from my beloved childhood WIBC:
First, here’s a sequel to the Lolipops jingle I presented above. I like this one even better, musically.
Here’s a meta jingle. The singers are lamenting that jingles aren’t what they used to be.
And last, but not least, the WIBC News pre-roll, which I probably heard a thousand times in my childhood. To a young kid it was almost a little scary. But it’s part of my DNA.