Jingles All The Way
Chances are you've heard a tune from
this Dallas studio.
Somewhere in the Philippines, a radio
station is playing back-to-back classics. We know this because on a
recent afternoon, seven people gathered around microphones in a
tucked-away South Dallas recording studio and, at the behest of a
Filipino client, sang "Back-to-back CLASSICS!" about 18 times.
Next, it was "Relaxing back-to-back CLASSICS! Only on Mellow TOUCH!"
At this point, Jonathan Wolfert looked up from the studio board with
a barely perceptible grin, bemused by the station's odd moniker. "I
don't explain 'em," he said. "I just record 'em."
But that's being modest. Mr. Wolfert, president of JAM Creative
Productions Inc., has turned the creation of radio jingles into an
art form that some say is unequaled anywhere in the world. He writes
them, produces them, collects them and, oh yeah, he sells them, too.
The passion Mr. Wolfert brings to his work has helped Dallas
maintain its reputation as the nation's jingles capital, along with
other top studios such as TM Century and Thompson Creative.
And it has helped write one of those great American success stories
that always seem to begin with a childhood fixation on something,
"Essentially, I turned my hobby into my career," says Mr. Wolfert,
46, a soft-spoken man who looks much younger than his years. "And I
feel very, very fortunate, because I know how rare that is."
Joel Salkowitz, program director for JAM client "Magic 102" KTXQ-FM
(102.1), says JAM's jingles "pop really well on the radio."
Making good jingles is a true art form, Mr. Salkowitz says. "They're
supposed to fit the sound of the radio station without blending
seamlessly into it," he says. "And JAM does that very well. Jon is
an old radio junkie. He just knows what works in the mix on a radio
station. They do a great job designing stuff that fits, yet pops
just enough so you notice it."
JAM clients have included such radio giants as Casey Kasem and Dick
Clark. When David Letterman decided he wanted his own jingles to
play between jokes, he turned to JAM. The company has clients all
over the world, from Indonesia to Japan to Great Britain to Russia.
Perhaps this all sounds like overkill. After all, how hard could it
be to record a jingle?
But a lot of work goes into those short bursts of music -- enough to
keep Mr. Wolfert and his small staff humming year-round in JAM's
11-year-old, custom-built studio just below Interstate 30 in South
Putting a package of jingles together can sometimes take weeks, Mr.
Wolfert says. And that's why he installed a plaque outside the
studio doors bearing the Latin motto "Tempus Consumit Res Creare,"
or "It takes time to make things."
IN SYNCH: JAM singers Abby Holmes (from right), Greg Clancy, Chris
Kershaw and Dan Alexander record a radio jingle that will be used by
DWLL Radio in the Philippines.
"Every time we have a client come in, the first day when he gets
here, we show him that," Mr. Wolfert says. "We say, 'You may not
understand this now, but when you leave here, you will.' And they
always do. lt's because what is made is not a mass-produced item.
It's like every one is hand-carved, and so it takes a lot of time to
JAM's story begins in the early 1960s in Brooklyn and, later, Long
Island, where Mr. Wolfert grew up a fan of WABC, the nation's
leading Top 40 station at the time.
But more than the songs caught his ear. He'd already begun
concentrating on jingles when he made an important discovery: At
night, it's possible to listen to stations from. far away -- a
practice known in the radio industry as "DX-ing."
"And I heard stations with the same jingles as WABC," he says. "It
was kind of like the rush a scientist might get if he discovers life
on another planet. And then, it became a hobby to try to collect
The WABC jingles were created by Dallas-based-PAMS (Production
Advertising Merchandising Services), one of only two or three major
jingles studios at the time, Mr. Wolfert says.
Mr. Wolfert soon became a familiar presence at WABC, where program
director Rick Sklar was impressed by the youngster's serious
questions and interest in things other than autographs and free
Mr. Wolfert entered college as an engineering major at the
suggestion of his high-school counselor. But he never forgot
In the summer of 1970, Mr. Wolfert spent three days at PAMS -- at
his own expense. "When I left, they said, 'Stay in touch,' so I took
them literally, and I called them every month."
It paid off in 1971 when PAMS offered him a job as an editor. Mr.
Wolfert immediately withdrew from college at the start of his junior
year, left his girlfriend, Mary Lyn, behind and moved to Dallas.
"For me, PAMS was the big time," Mr. Wolfert says. "I knew more
about their product than a lot of them did. I didn't even ask what
they paid until I'd been here a few days."
A year later, Mary Lyn graduated from college, moved to Dallas and
was hired as an elementary school teacher.
A year after that, PAMS, began to fight the slow economy by
diversifying, but "it was a disaster," Mr. Wolfert says.
Soon, Mr. Wolfert and Mary Lyn, who had recently married, decided to
start their own company. (Mr. Wolfert says "JAM" stands for John And
Mary Lyn and was not meant to be confused with PAMS, despite some
accusations to the contrary.)
The company began in the couple's apartment. Mr. Wolfert handled the
artistic side; Ms. Wolfert took care of the books.
"You know, you hear about all these
corporations that have long-range plans and all this stuff," says
Ms. Wolfert, 48. "My concern was, 'Can we eat and pay the rent?' "
"In hindsight, it seems like a preposterous notion," Mr. Wolfert
says. "I mean, we were competing with companies with millions of
dollars. But my contention was, it didn't matter if we didn't have
spiffy offices. What mattered was, 'Are the jingles any good?' "
Turns out, they were. Soon, the BBC was knocking on the door. And in
October 1975, WABC came calling. Suddenly, JAM was on the map.
Ms. Wolfert says her husband understands jingles from the artistic
and technical sides, but he also knows what radio programmers are
"He can be the translator between the radio people and the music
people," she says.
And that's important. A recording session can become maddeningly
tedious for the uninitiated as seven vocalists sing "Good-time
oldies weekEND!" time after time.
But Mr. Wolfert loves the challenge of putting a lot into a small
package. And he now has two staff writers, Chris Kershaw and Judy
Parma, along with several free-lancers, to help him.
Stations provide JAM with the copy, and the writers tweak it and put
it to music. 0r sometimes lyrics are set to music JAM has already
Free-lance musicians lay down the tracks, and a seven-voice group
does the singing (although some jingles call for fewer singers, or
sometimes even a soloist). Mr. Kershaw and Ms. Parma sing in the
group, and the rest are free-lancers.
They've all been singing together since the youngest member joined
in 1986. Several have been singing jingles since the late '50s.
The five free-lancers sing at other leading Dallas-based jingles
studios, but the seven-voice group at JAM is unique.
When they open their mouths, what you hear is instantly
recognizable, a natural wonder that seems to have always existed.
It's the sound that has announced KVIL-FM (103.7) for years, along
with nearly every other station in town at one time or another.
Current clients include KLUV-AM (1190), KEOM-FM (88.5) and KBFB-FM
To actually see the sound being created is both thrilling and
jarring, kind of like learning that the wind you hear in the trees
is coming from a synthesizer.
The members are adept at sight-reading and often sing in foreign
languages. It's not unusual for a client to listen in over the
telephone during a session to ensure that the accents and
inflections are correct. At a recent session, Americo Gomez came to
JAM from Venezuela to have jingles cut for his station, Diamante
95.9. The group sang "Noticias Diamante! Con La Verdad!" as Mr.
Gomez and his son sat in the studio and critiqued the accents.
"There are other places we could have gone," Mr. Gomez says. "But
they don't have the same quality and professionalism."
Next up for the group was "Cozy 101" in Denver: "Your home for the
holidays...Cozy 101!"; "It's the 12 days of Christmas, and Cozy gave
to me, a gift from Cozy charities!"
Then came an ID for a British disc jockey, Adam Butler. But the
group had to give the "R" a softer treatment than they would for an
Meanwhile, Mr. Wolfert sat on the other side of the glass, fiddling
with knobs and switches, working the board like a blind man reading
At one point, the group had to shout, "More oldies!" To which Mr.
Wolfert wryly responded, "It's cool; but it scared me."
The jingles start out a little ragged at first, but in two or three
takes they sound perfect to amateur ears. Still, there are flaws
that at this point only Mr. Kershaw, who also serves as producer, or
Mr. Wolfert can hear. Usually it takes no more than 10 attempts to
make everyone happy.
Then the jingles have to be mixed, a process that can take up to a
week, depending on the size of the package.
Jim Clancy, who sings bass in the group, says Mr. Wolfert is "an
absolute genius, and I don't use that word loosely. He has an
incredibly analytical mind. He loves what he does, and he just has a
way of getting a perfect balance."
Bill Curtis, program director at KVIL, says Mr. Wolfert "has a true
personal passion and commitment to what he does. It is not a factory
mentality. He eats it, he sleeps it, he breathes it."
Mr. Wolfert says his goal was never to run a company; he just wanted
to make great jingles. Now he not only has spiffy offices, but
jingles groupies coming around to watch and learn, just as he once
did at PAMS.
He appreciates what he calls "the complete closure of the loop": "I
did a term paper on Voice of America in the eighth grade, and now we
do jingles for them," he says. "That's pretty cool."
Voices of JAM
Probably no group of
singers reaches as many ears around the world each day
as the following seven people. The group has no name,
but when it comes to jingles, no one does it better.
Group members have been singing together since 1986,
although many go back to the late '50s and early '60s,
when companies such as PAMS and TM productions were
helping make Dallas the center of the jingles universe.
Dan Alexander, 64, a Fort Worth native, sings
baritone. After singing with various bands, he got into
jingles in 1957 while attending Texas Christian
University. He graduated in 1960 with a degree in
marketing, but PAMS made him an offer he couldn't
refuse, and he's been singing ever since. He also does
some voice-over work and can be heard giving the prompts
to MCI users.
Jim Clancy, 61, a Shreveport, La., native sings
bass. He was recruited by PAMS owner Bill Meeks in 1959
while singing with a group in Dallas. Mr. Clancy earned
a bachelor's degree in music from Centenary College of
Louisiana and returned to jingles in 1966 after being
wooed back to Dallas by Mr. Meeks. He is a founding
member and music director of the Vocal Majority, a men's
a cappella chorus, which has won an unmatched eight
Greg Clancy, 36, sings second tenor. A
Shreveport, La., native, he grew up watching his father,
Jim Clancy, sing jingles and decided early on that he
had found his calling. He attended the University of
North Texas for three years as a business major but quit
when the seven-voice jingles group had a vacancy. Mr.
Clancy passed his audition and has been with the group
since. He also sings in the Vocal Majority chorus and is
president of Pro Motion Music, which provides workout
music to gyms and health centers.
Abby Holmes, 48, a Garland native, singes soprano
and alto. She has been making a living as a singer since
she was 19. She has no formal voice training but studied
piano for years. At 13 she had a regional hit, "Sittin'
In The Balcony." Chris Kershaw recruited her into the
jingles business in 1971 after hearing her sing at
Harper's Corner in what was then the Hilton Inn at
Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway.
Chris Kershaw, 49, a Dallas native, works full
time for JAM. He sings first tenor, plays keyboards and
writes music. He got to know the owner at TM Productions
while performing in a high school play in 1966. Mr.
Kershaw worked at TM part time through high school and
went on to earn a bachelor's degree in music theory and
composition from Southern Methodist University. He was
hired by PAMS in 1971. After PAMS went under, Mr.
Kershaw free-lanced and started his own advertising
music business before being hired by JAM in 1986 as
senior vice president and creative director.
Judy Parma, 58, a Dallas native, also works full
time for JAM. She sings soprano and alto and writes new
lyrics for existing jingles. Ms. Parma was the organist
at her church as a teenager and was introduced to the
jingles business by some friends there. She soon found
herself cutting classes at Hillcrest High School to sing
jingles. Her avocation paid her way through Southern
Methodist University, where she earned a bachelor's
degree in piano. After years of free-lance singing with
JAM and other companies, she was hired by JAM in 1985.
Kay Sharpe, 46, a Dallas native, sings soprano
and alto. She majored in voice at Peabody College in
Nashville. She sang a few jingles in Nashville before
moving to Corpus Christi to sing top-40 and
easy-listening songs in a club band. After about two
years, she decided to switch to jingles full time, move
to Dallas in 1976 and landed firmly in the free-lance