Sunday, March 18, 2012

In Praise of Songs

In Praise of Songs

If you are under 30 you probably do not recall that songs once were heard on EVERY radio station, but sadly, not now. Let me explain, I’m writing about radio station songs, or more precisely long jingles that sang the praises of the station!

A long long time ago, in a land far away (America) there was a ‘Hometown’ song*1 made by PAMS jingles of Dallas designed to celebrate the station’s location “Houston, that’s my home town”. Despite programmers initially saying they would not play it as it was ‘too long’, it proved so popular it was even issued on 45, (that’s vinyl, err disc, err not compact, plastic) sold 4000 copies in the first week and eventually dozens of stations bought the song, had it customized for their ‘hometown’, and sponsors paid for ‘pressing’ the discs in return for the name on the label !

Slightly less of a long time ago (1964) in a nearer land, Britain, when it and radio were both ‘great’, the ‘Hometown’ jingle had a London version recorded for the pirate ‘Big L 266’. That station also had one minute jingle that proclaimed it was ‘Wonderful’ in its best known ‘SonoWaltz’*2. This moody rhythmic instrumental was not actually sung over, but had the ethereal electronic voice ‘Sonovox’ *3 singing ‘Wun Der Ful Ray De Oo Lun Dun”.

Here I have to double interject. To achieve my (musical) mission I am adding some asterisked numbers so those under 30 know what on earth I’m raising my voice about, and can HEAR examples, just see the asterisked footnotes links. Now if you are confused, or lost attention and are playing with your new iPad, best stop here.

So, the station song was born in Britain in the 1960s, and should theoretically be celebrating one of its 50s birthday soon? Well not exactly, because although at one stage you could not avoid them, they are now an endangered species. This is strange as when I asked on Facebook and Twitter which ones people remembered, they did not only name songs from the 70s and 80s, they recalled the WHOLE lyric in their posts! Depending on your age and location, you may recall….

“You can turn on a friend, turn on the show” (Capital Radio London)
“Driving down the A1, on a weekend trip to Whitley Bay” (Metro Radio)
“The buzzer on the clock says it’s time to get up” (BBC Radio 2)
“And if you live in Rotherham, or on the River Don” (Radio Hallam)
“The quiet places, Newstead Abbey, the Vale of Belvoir, Newark Castle” (Radio Trent)
“Across the Downs to where the new cars are in gear” (Chiltern Radio)
 “Fly on the wings of progress to Hull, Birthplace of Amy Johnson” (Viking Radio Hull)
“We've got it all, from Oswestry to Hodnet Hall'” (BBC Radio Shropshire)
“Pour a coffee and we’ll spice it with a smile” (GEM-AM Great East Midlands)
“In Northumberland, Cleveland, Tyneside and…” (Great North Radio)
“Writing history, Merlin’s Wizzardry and Surfer’s having fun …” (Pirate FM) *4

.. and endless others , some of which even escaped me, such as:

“Radio Blackburn, the Lancashire sound on the air, And we'll take care to bring you the news and all of the views, of all of the people, of all of the people like you, on Radio Blackburn, Radio Blackburn, Radio Blackburn..”

Colin, a jingle collector of 38 years standing explained, “Custom songs were useful in opening and closing stations in the pre 24 hour days but are probably now viewed as something which gets in the way of the music or meaningful speech (sic) When ILR first began, most stations had a song. One of the worst was the BRMB song which extolled the virtues of BRMB being ‘the safe way to spend your day.”

I’d certainly nominate the 1974 BRMB song as THE worst ever, as it had lyrics that sounded like a public service advert and did not actually NAME the radio station.

So, in Britain both the BBC, locally and nationally, and ILR (Independent Local Radio - an ironic name now as 95% of it is NOT Independent OR even local!) both embraced the station song, in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

But suddenly…. the industry was ‘all out of love’ with the song, and d.i.v.o.r.c.e. swiftly followed, as radio programmers held on to their jobs by employing freelance consultants who dictated that stations either dropped ANY sung jingles, “it saves $$”, or, if they had them they were short instrumental ‘themes’ with ‘sonic logos’ and the only lyric was ONE phrase with the station name always at the end. I called these ‘Blingles’ in a recent blog.. .

The jingle lyric/ phrase most of these unimaginative stations use is ‘created’ by arranging some of these words in any order

‘Bigger’ ‘Today’s’ ‘Best’ ‘Hit’ ‘the’ ‘of’ and ‘Mix’….

So………. the radio station song is DEAD !

NO! Wait!

There is one, newish, ‘over the borders, up Scotland way’ on ‘Fife’s Kingdom FM” ! *5

So that’s it, the stations with big ratings, consultants, and 16-20 hours a day coming from London do not NEED to use station songs now. They are too dangerous to your output, get in the way, blah bla, cost too much, are old fashioned and would NEVER pull the ‘under 40s' commercial radio seek?


Well, actually..


Because one of the two highest-rated radio programmes in Great Britain has its own song!

“But surely they can’t play it very often, or except after midnight and it can’t be very long?”

No, it’s over 2 minutes long, it’s played every weekday at 7am, and even though the consultants and commercial radio people think there is no place for a song’ in today’s’ radio, it’s on a station none of them can equal ratings-wise, it’s the ‘Cheesy Song’*6 on the Radio 1 Chris Moyles show.

“But surely that song is a joke even down to its title ‘Cheesy song”?

Well no, they only call it that as it gives the deejay (who was 'weaned' on Radio 1 in the days of JAM jingles and still plays old ones) a chance to use a station song. HE at least appreciates it can garner a loyal listener following, be fun, (earn some great PRS income) get him talked about by having an endless variety of lyrics to reflect the week or events, and get the programme mentioned in Blogs by ‘radio pensioners’ like me.

Of course I could be wrong; one 40 year old friend with 20 years of radio experience asked "Why play a station song that sings about playing music, when you could actually be playing a record that you're promising to play?!”

I guess, because the songs rarely ever DID song about music, they sang about places in the radio station area, to tie the station to the local listeners, or, nationally told their listeners they were a ‘happy’ station, or were ‘company’.

I’d also quote a listener comment on YouTube about the ‘Cheesy song’;

 “when i was goin on to the air port last wednesday i herd this song and i thought wtf? and i ended up singin it all day”

And the ‘Cheesy song’ owes rather a lot to the LONGEST station song ever recorded, for ‘New York 97, WYNY’*7 by JAM jingles*8 of Dallas, Texas.

BBC local radio has been sent off to a jingle-less land, and just uses ‘voice indents’ now all made in .. London. But then again the BBC thinks their more senior local audience prefer all-speech breakfast shows featuring medical problems at 8.12am, even though they listened in their millions to the 'solid gold stations' in the 1990s.

But Radio 1 and Radio 2 could easily have a ‘write a new station song for us’ competition? I’m sure would have 1000s rushing to their ‘home studio’ on their computer.

And ILR could simply dig out those old songs from the GREAT days of radio. Oh, hang ON! NO. Trent can’t, it’s changed it name; BRMB can’t, Chiltern can’t, Piccadilly, Beacon..

So, here’s a challenge, is there ANYONE in commercial radio who is BRAVE enough, believes IN local radio enough, to create a NEW station song in 2012? Maybe use some ‘real’ instruments rather than the drum-synth sound they’ve all been buying for the last 10 years, because some jingle companies don’t know how to actually WRITE music?

If it ‘works’ for Chris Moyles, it could work for you. And please don’t tell me you can’t afford it, this old pensioner ‘radio man’, has just bought his OWN song*9, for my weekly show*10 on a local, internet station.

Well I’ve got to ‘keep up with the Moyles’s’ !

Len Groat

(Sincere thanks to the following for thoughts, ideas and audio! Norman Barrington, Simon Harrisson, Andrew Hewkin, Andy Lloyd, Chris Moyles, Richard Murdoch, Dave Nightingale, Colin Ridley, Christian Spooner, Andy Walters, Paul Woodley, JAM Creative Productions, PAMS Jingles, TM Jingles,  and anonymous others )

*1 (hear Duluth, Louisville, Winston-Salem !!)
*8 Radio ‘guru’ John Myer’s recently voted JAM’s ‘Breakthrough’ package the BEST ever made
*10 which also has a 1985 Trent song re-sung!

1 comment:

  1. I love the station song.

    An audio file with a great station song. It inspired the song that followed. GEM was a great station.