BILL MEEKS PULSE MAKER INTERVIEW
This article originally appeared in the Pulse of Broadcasting in 1987
Bill Meeks, then president of PAMS, sat down for an interview in 1987 with a now-defunct publication called "The Pulse Of Broadcasting."
In reading through the material in
preparation for posting it here on JingleSamplers.com, I see many
factual errors in Mr. Meeks’ recollections. These may have been
inadvertent, they may have been deliberate. But in any case, I
advise you to take what the late Mr. Meeks said with a grain of
salt. Or the whole shaker.
Radio Jingles' Beginnings As A Venture
Q: Radio jingles have become so much a part of our industry that it's hard to imagine radio without them. As identifiers for products and radio stations alike, there's little contesting that a catchy melody can increase brand name or call-letter recall. Few formats have escaped an onslaught of jingles at some time in their evolution. Whether we're running jingles this week, it's almost inevitable at some point in our careers we've played jingles and will again - and if we've ever been regularly on the air - have at least one jingle squirreled away with our name on it. Bill Meeks was there when it all started. You were probably one of the first jingle people ever, weren't you?
A: Yes. I remember that prior to my ever doing anything, there was a jingle out there called I'm Chiquita Banana, but other than that, I don't think there were any commercial jingles. As far as radio station IDs, I was doing them in 1947.
Q: Those 1947 jingles, were those for Gordon McLendon?
A: Yes, and the first jingles I did for him were for KLIF/Dallas.
Q: Where did you cut those and under what circumstances?
A: It was in the basement of KLIF - in Cliff Towers in Oak Cliff.
Q: Why jingles? Whose idea was it?
A: Actually, we needed some reason to go in and out of the studio. I had a live band and we needed some ways to get on the radio, so I did some short songs about the station. Then Gordon and I got together and at that time KLIF couldn't afford advertising, so we talked about the fact that it would be like pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but at least everyone would know which station they were listening to when they tuned us in.
Q: Where they long songs or short in that first batch?
A: They were rather long. One of them went, "No worn-out old-time movies, no picture tubes to fail…" and I don't remember where they went after that. There was another that went "For music, news, pops and blues it's KLIF…" Most of them were little songs lasting 15 or 20 seconds.
Q: Do you think that's a failing of our industry now, that all of our jingles are stabs and not little memorable songs people can hum and really remember as positioning statements?
A: Yes, I call those motifs. In other words, the jingles stations use today are "motific," they're not melodic. It's not the sort of thing you'd hum or whistle. I don't think it hurts anything to run little short jingles, and they do provide identification, but I think it's awfully good to have singing jingles that tell the story of who and what you are and what the benefits are that you offer to your audience.
Q: You founded PAMS, Inc. of Dallas.
A: Oh yes.
Q: What year was that?
A: In 1951.
Q: At that time PAMS' four letters stood for what?
A: Production And Merchandising Service. Actually it started off as Production And Merchandising Sales but we changed Sales to Service.
Q: So many people take credit for things, let's set the record straight. Did you have partners in PAMS when you started it, or was it just you?
A: No partners, it was just me.
Q: And you just started selling these jingles because they worked on Gordon McLendon's station?
A: Actually, I started with a small advertising agency and I had Ward Drug Stores and a few other local accounts, and I'd do jingles for these retail type of accounts. Then at a later point, I did the jingles for radio stations, and I did them for maybe 10 or 11 stations, and in case, the ratings for those stations went up dramatically. That made me! From then on, life was much easier.
Q: And the radio stations started coming to you at that point?
A: Oh, let's face it. I still had to do some selling.
Q: Was it, in fact, hard to market the concept at first?
A: Very much, so until the rating successes validated what I was doing. If I do say so, I had courage of my convictions.
Q: Unless I'm wrong, you also created the idea of logos, and the concept of laying down a basic set of orchestral tracks leaving just a rhythm track where the station logo could be custom-plugged in for economy. Did you create the idea of logos?
A: Yes, I did. In 1951 we were doing beds. In fact, there were three of us called before the Musicians Union in about 1956, and they tried to kick us out of the Musicians Union because we had pre-recorded all the musical beds. When we first got started, I got in a conversation with the local president of the local chapter of the The American Federation of Musicians, and we called the then National Union President, James C. Petrillo, and Petrillo said for them to leave us alone and let us work with the union local as we'd already agreed. All of a sudden, at a later date, everybody screamed because we had pre-recorded beds.
Q: Do you still record radio station jingles today, Bill?
A: Some. We've spent a lot of time and effort in producing for television recently, so we haven't had the time and attention to spend on radio.
Q: There are jingles all around you. Huge companies churning out product in droves, and small companies with their product. As the guy who had the original dream, what do you think of how that dream is being carried out today?
A: Oh gosh, you don't want me to say anything like that (laughs). To me, the inventiveness is not there. They keep running along in an evolutionary rather that revolutionary type of philosophy. They're not doing or creating anything that, to me, is very new.
Q: Is there anything new that can be done with jingles?
A: Oh, sure. Music is a creative medium. About three years ago I did some radio jingles I thought were very, very new and innovative, for example. We took them out and one package sold extremely well, but they were so expensive to do that we really couldn't do them affordably. We had maybe 20 or 25 stations signed up to do what we had started, then we could do the jingles that we'd planned.
Q: As you know, in Buffalo, New York, a fellow named Ben Freedman has bought a great many of the old PAMS beds and markets the old PAMS jingles as well as some new packages under the name PAMS. In your opinion, is he the legitimate heir to PAMS?
A: I really don't think so. What I really think is they're trying to capitalize on a good company. They may be trying to do a good job, but what has happened is I think the integrity of the charts and the integrity of the entire thing is suspect. I don't know too much about them, I never really looked into it. I just know they capitalized on the name itself and that's about it.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a pioneer and realize you're a part of our industry's history? A very important part?
A: Listen, I've got too much courage and not enough money.
Q: PAMS went broke, didn't it? Why?
A: PAMS never really did literally declare bankruptcy. What happened was I sold the company to some people, whose sole thought was not to pay me, and they didn't. I lost my building, I lost everything, and I had to personally declare bankruptcy because of it.
Q: Was the jingle business a profitable business for PAMS?
A: It was up until about that point when I sold the company. At that point it was not as profitable as it had been.
A: Well, the AM stations that had, until that point, been the main customers and buyers of PAMS jingles were no longer the big factors in the marketplace. Where we had 100 to 200 radio stations buying from us every week, they were no longer the big factor. FM was beginning to come along and FM stations had not really discovered what they could do with jingles or why, that sort of thing, and the industry was not ready for jingles at that particular point in its evolution.
Q: What makes a jingle work? What are the elements of a good jingle?
A: To me, the first thing you must have is some inventiveness. You need good melodies. If you go through the country you'll still hear melodies I came up with many, many years ago. I think of melodies like the one I did for KRLA in Los Angeles that they are still using. I created the 93/KHJ melody - although we didn't do it for KHJ originally - we did for KSTN up in Stockton, California, originally. Bill Drake was there, and he later bought it for a station in San Diego and subsequently, as he continued to be successful, they hired him for KHJ and the other RKO stations.
Q: Your son Dennis Meeks sold your jingles for PAMS, right?
A: Yes, he did. He was one of my salesmen. You can also include in that list Jim West, Toby Arnold and several others.
Q: Do you miss doing radio jingles?
A: Truly, I don't care how I do music, whether there's a video picture with it or what. In my first jingles, I used to say I tried to create a picture with the music. Now we're doing music that works with the picture. We've done songs and IDs for many TV stations and a music library, heavily on the air in Texas and California and synching the audio and the video to it, if I do say so, some very innovative things. It's a challenge.
Q: Do you think jingles are burning out as a means of identifying a radio stations? Or are they still an effective way to identify a radio station?
A: There are always new ways to do radio. As an example, take AM radio. There's not a reason in the world why someone shouldn't start an AM network and do videos with it - link the AM stations up with television and that way you could still have your stereo, or you could have your video, you could still have mobility - and you could have everything. I think, frankly, this will happen, too.
Q: That's a great idea - MTV on radio and television! Bill, how old are you?
A: I'm 66.
Q: Do you ever see yourself retiring?
A: I like what I do. You must remember, I played on the radio station in 1936, and I guess I would have gotten out of this long ago if I didn't like it.
Q: What instrument do you play?
A: I'm a saxophone player, but I mainly write now. I don't play the musical instruments anymore, but I still play some piano - not very well - and I like to do some arranging and writing.
Q: Do you sing?
A: The worst!
Q: Did you ever sing on jingles?
A: Oh, oh course. I sang on the very first KLIF jingle, and I've sung chorus from time to time, but basically, when I sing a part, it's only to try to show someone what I'm really after.
Q: Did you go out and recruit the old PAMS singers? And from where?
A: Yes. I found some in nightclubs. Actually one of my early groups - I think my second session, was the Vaughan Monroe "Moonmaids" and we had gone to music school together, so when they came off the road, I asked them to be my singers, and that was one group. Then I was listening to a high tenor singer one day, and I heard him on a jingle in Kansas City and chased him down until I found him and brought him to Dallas. His name was Marvin Shaw. Then I heard Bob Piper and knew his wife, and I brought Bob and Carol Piper in from California to do arranging and singing. Trella Hart I heard in a nightclub. Jim Clancy came over - he and his father - he auditioned here. I guaranteed him money to go to work for me whether he sang or didn't sing. I thought he was just excellent. Then the Indian girl with that great falsetto, Gleni Rutherford whose Indian name was Bright Eye, Long Eye.
Q: And you hired Jodie Lyons?
A: Yes, Jodie was an ex-student of North Texas, and he was a very exciting writer for PAMS.
Q: What was the story with Tom Merriman? Did you hire him?
A: Tom was hired by my brother Charlie. Tom came to Dallas to work on the old Liberty Minstrels for Gordon McLendon, the job I gave up when Gordon McLendon's sales had fallen so drastically that he asked me to go back into sales and find someone else to lead the band and act as musical director. Stations had in-house performers in those days. So I hired my brother, Charlie, as Musical Director and he brought Tom Merriman along. So they handled the music at that point for The Liberty Minstrels and KLIF.
Q: What was Futursonic Jingles?
A: That was Jim Wells, Chester McCowan and Jack Alexander; all three had worked for me. And they saw all this business we were doing - and at that point we were really doing quite well - and they thought they would start a competing firm and did - and it went bankrupt. Some of their work was very inventive, though. Jim Wells was very clever. He had been a writer for me, too.
Q: Wasn't one of them killed in a light place crash during that time?
A: That was Jack Alexander.
Q: What about CRC - Commercial Recording Company - since we're doing jingles history.
A: CRC was Tom Merriman, basically. Then when CRC went under, as I understand it Tom Merriman and Jim long bought some of the tracks and started again under the name of TM.
Q: What about Stars International - the Richard H. Ullman Company with the Formatic jingles?
A: Wow, you're going way back. I think Ullman was Sales Manager for WKBW out of Buffalo and started up. I remember them - I just barely remember their jingles.
Q: Then there was a company called "Quality Jingles" out of Keene, Texas that was anything but quality - they ended with a "doo-wahh." The big low-budget company, though was "The Jingle Mill".
A: Yes, and they eventually went down the tubes. I remember they were out of New York, and a man came in to me and wanted me to do his jingles. He was quite successful in selling, particularly to retailers. At that point, I really didn't want to do it. I thought I had to have a little more quality in what I was doing than what he wanted to go for.
Q: What about Gwinsound?
A: Gwin was a drummer - Tommy Gwin. Tommy split off and started his own company, and was really financed by Gaston Johnston who had sold jingles for me and we'd worked a deal where he would go in and generate trade time with my jingles, then he'd use the trade time to advertise his products, and he sold East of the Mississippi, while my people sold West of the Mississippi. But my company did all of the writing and arranging and creative - that sort of thing - and his company did the sales work. Then one year he owed me some money and I just didn't want to go on with the business relationship, so he hired Tommy Gwin to do some jingles that were close to the style of PAMS Series 27 and 28.
Q: What was the greatest achievement you can think of in your career?
A: You know, when you have an idea and you can see it through to make sure it works, and then it is successful, that is a very, very rewarding situation. When I came out with Series 14 at PAMS, a lot of other jingle people had entered the field at that point and everyone was lowering their price. That's when I did the first multiple-sound and it cost me a lot of money. There were no echo chambers at that point and I wanted the big ambient sound of the room, and so I recorded in theatres and churches, and I hired people like Alvino Rey and the greatest drummer and brass players and everything to come to Dallas, and we recorded these backgrounds. They were very exciting then, and some of those backgrounds you still hear. If I do say so, they were really very unusual and good. That was the very first time we ever did multiple recording, and we did that with the vocal parts. I'll never forget, my salesman sold the package in El Paso for $3,000 and he said, "It's OK, though, because you don't have to do the multiple sound on the vocal." And I told him, "We're going to do it right, and you're going to go back out on the road, and if sell another one for under $3,500, you're fired." Well, it was very, very difficult to get people to pay that much money for jingles when they'd been paying maybe $1,000 for a package. When we were really inundated with orders because it was a better product, that was a very rewarding situation.
Bill, thanks for sharing The PULSE of PAMS, Bill Meeks and radio's jingle heritage.
Related Story: Jingle Pioneer Bill Meeks Dies
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