By Dick Starr
The author is president of Professional Programming in Miami.
In November 1947, Bill Meeks produced
his first radio station jingle for Gordon McLendon's KLIF in Dallas.
Since that time, radios' call letters have been big banded, electric
guitared, a capellaed, jazz-shuffled, Mooged. Sonovoxed, and
synthesized in every imaginable style and treatment.
And today, 25 years later, the jingle continues to play an important
part in the sound, the image and the ability of a station to sell
itself, along with its music and entertainment.
A jingle budget has become a fixed operating expense like the talent
payroll for many stations. Hundreds of programmers take time each
year to try out new jingles, making the pilgrimage to one of the big
jingle recording studios in Dallas, Los Angeles, Memphis or New
Quite often these trips in the "jingle jungle" are made too casually
and without adequate preparation, planning and projection. Here are
some things to think about the next time you're up for jingles.
When it comes to jingles, the biggest mistake most program directors
make is not knowing what they really need and/or want. As a result,
the program director is at the mercy of the jingle company, all too
often ending up with a package that is less than perfect for his
The key to a successful jingle session lies in thorough advance
preparation and planning. This planning can and should begin before
any negotiating occurs with a jingle company.
To begin, make a list of all possible situations where you plan to
program jingles on your station. Include basic identifiers and
workhorse cuts, staging cuts like weather, weekend, holiday, summer,
contest, deejay logos, and the like.
If your station buys jingles only once or twice a year, be sure your
list includes such considerations as a hardening or softening of a
day-part time period due to a change in the competitive situation.
There's nothing worse than really needing a soft sig four months
after you've produced a package full of up-tempo cookers.
From your original list, eliminate those items already covered by
any existing jingles which will continue to be used. This will give
a solid working list of the cuts needed, and will be a big help in
selecting a series package.
The next step is to decide what kind of musical treatment each
jingle should have. You may want a capella jingles for music sweeps
and band impact, or electronics for coming out of stop sets.
Taped jingles marry a station's programming together, but have to
the right pre-planned sound in order to accomplish their goal.
Chicago-sounding brass section with a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
vocal treatment to the super-sweet Johnny Mann group sound, or a
Neil Diamond/Carpenters low profile contemporary flavor, the entire
musical spectrum is open for consideration.
By matching a planned list with your decisions on musical treatment,
you are in a good position to begin shopping for jingles. The first
major consideration is whether to purchase "custom" or "series."
"Custom" offers absolute flexibility and freedom for creative
expression, at a considerably higher cost than a "series" purchase.
A "series" will usually be identified by a number or name. In a
"series" package, existing background tracks are utilized for a
number of stations (in non-competing markets) with vocal and
occasional instrumental changes providing the "customizing" for
A completely custom package might be out of line price-wise, but by
doing the initial planning as if going into a custom session, the
chances of coming out with a custom sound are greatly increased.
Don't overlook the possibility of mixing cuts from several
syndicated series if this will fill your needs better than a single
Judge the people representing the jingle company as much as you
judge the product. There have been many cases of fly-by-night jingle
peddlers who tour America playing a super fantastic demo tape,
showing cuts they've done for all the big stations, and anxious to
close a big deal in a big hurry.
Many times these wheeler-dealers can't deliver the product they
present, usually explaining the difference between the sound of your
jingles and their demo with something like, "It's your tape
machine," or "That was the New York special group and they cost an
Be wary of the jingle salesman who hypes his latest hot package
without any consideration of what you want to accomplish or the
individual problems of your station and market. Don't get talked
into overbuying. If you've done the preliminary planning, you won't
end up with 80 jingles when you only needed 20.
Jingle costs are generally fixed and vary little between markets of
comparable size. If you've received a price quote for a series and
feel it is too high, don't hesitate to compare prices with stations
in other markets who are using the same series. A reputable jingle
salesman will gladly provide a list of stations using his product.
The time to start writing lyrics is after you've settled on a jingle
company and closed your deal. Almost all companies will allow
complete re-lyricing of each jingle in a syndicated series. Avoid
the temptation to rewrite the lyrics just to prove you're hipper
than the jingle company. Too cute lyrics don't last long on the air,
and even worse, they're often hard for listeners to understand.
Jingles are commercials for a radio station. An eight-second jingle
lyric should be written as concisely as you would write an
eight-second commercial for a client.
By being right there when the mix takes place, a program director
can decide how hot, wet, and hard the jingles will sound. I am a
firm believer in the theory that you should never leave a session
without the final tape in your hands. The best of sessions can be
ruined by a poor mix-down.
When you finally have that good jingle master in your hands, don't
fail to follow through with the final step in getting the most out
of the jingles.
Be sure the entire air staff knows what the purpose of each jingle
is; how the jingles should be used; how they shouldn't be used; why
they sound the way they sound; and what you hope to accomplish in
terms of listener motivation and memorability.
A jingle clock is as important as a music or format sound hour clock
in getting maximum benefits out of jingles and production aids. Be
sure that your staff knows how to put all the pieces of your
particular programming puzzle together.
Properly programmed, jingles are a key ingredient in the sound of a
successful station. If music, personalities and news are the
building blocks of the station's sound, jingles can be the mortar.
Most jingle experts and audience psycho-researchers agree that if a
station has an established musical logo, they should stick with it.
A logo is like a person's signature and change for the sake of
change can be a very negative factor in the subliminal response
pattern of listeners.
A logo theme change is called for if a station is changing format,
call letters or something similar which is expected to completely
turn around the station's present audience.
Jingles are an integral part of programming, and it is most
important for every program director to witness firsthand the
recording of his station's jingles.
Not only will you learn a lot about jingle production, but you will
also save time and money and come home with a better product. Last
minute lyric changes and pronunciation/interpretation directions are
more easily communicated by being on hand for the jingle session. In
addition, your presence at the session can often result in extra or
bonus cuts and takes.
Another very important reason to be present for a jingle session is
to work with the mix-down engineer on the final mix for your
station. A transmitter that is excessively bassy can be helped by
compensation on the final jingle mix.