It's A Jingle Out There
This article originally appeared in On Radio on May 5, 1995

Although some say industry is soft; new companies entering business with fresh approaches to station IDs

The radio jingle business, dominated by a handful of companies for the past 20 years, may be changing. Some industry observers say that program directors at many stations have been holding out for the next wave of station IDs. At least one aggressive newcomer claims that what worked 20 years ago won't work today and is busy shaking up the business to prove the point.

Most of the station IDs heard on radio stations are written, recorded and engineered by about a half-dozen Dallas-based companies. The industry, providing primarily five- to 10-second IDs on a custom or syndicated basis, grosses what is conservatively estimated to be up to $10 million annually. Some say the pie is not as big as it has been in the past, but that has not stopped another player from entering the business.

Dallas-based Century 21 Programming Inc., which reentered the station ID business earlier this year, has for the past several months been hiring employees from its competitors. Bob Shannon, formerly of TM Communications Inc., Dallas, is now vice president of Century 21's jingle division. Another vice president hired by the company is Ben Freedman, who left Buffalo, N.Y.-based PAMS Productions. Craig Turner, formerly a studio manager at Dallas-based JAM Creative Productions Inc., has also joined Century 21. "We kind of kicked them all a little below the belt," said Dave Scott, Century 21's president.

The company's new 30,000-square foot, state-of-the-art studio complex opened last June. According to Scott, acoustics alone at the new facility cost $260,000.

Century 21 started in 1972 as a jingle business, said Scott, then quickly changed to automation programming as the format caught on. The company's production libraries now serve more than 1,000 radio stations on a monthly basis, he said. Consultations with these stations determined that many were disappointed with available jingles and were looking for something new, he said, prompting the company to reenter the business.

"We think some of our competitors are shooting themselves in the foot, putting out the same old stuff," said Scott. "1 like '57 Chevys, but I don't want to drive one today."

Scott said he believes the best approach to jingles today may be to hire advertising writers, rather than radio jingle company writers. He also said that the jingle industry needs to be more responsive to today's varying formats, pointing to urban stations as an example: "Most companies try to tell black stations to buy white jingles."

The average custom ID at Century 21 runs $1,200 to $1,500 per cut, he said, which is then syndicated and made available to stations outside of the market at $250 to $350 per cut. Clients in Century 21's first few months of business have included Capital Cities/ABC, RKO and Bonneville, he said, mostly for AC, CHR and country formats.

"Century 21 is coming on strong, said Toby Arnold, president of Dallas-based competitor, Toby Arnold & Associates Inc. He said industry-wide however, the ID business is soft. "What I'm hearing right now [from program directors] is that there's nothing new or fresh."

Arnold, like many others in the jingle business, said that he is optimistic the jingle business will be on an upswing as new approaches are discovered. His company is diversified, he said, allowing for slow periods in the business.

At TM Communications Inc., the ID supplier is quick to point out that its business is primarily sales and production libraries, according to Dave Tyler, senior vice president. Providing jingles, he added, is important to the company's stance as a full-service supplier. "It's not our bread and butter," he said.

TM Communications has been in the jingle business more than 25 years, said Tyler. "As music styles change, jingles change," he said.

Arnold can also attest to the effect that changing times have on the ID business. When he entered the business with PAMS in l961, that company had a stronghold as the creator of the popular AM jingles of past decades. But the company lost its position when the advent of FM radio made way for a new sound and new competitors. Arnold's own company, which he started in 1973, found a niche in country IDs and continues to serve primarily country, AC and CHR. He said he offers eight to 10 packages to about 50 to 60 stations per year at $150 to $250 per cut.

A "soft" period may not necessarily be negative for the industry. During the 1970's, jingle demand slowed down as AOR formats became more popular, explained Dick Denham, general manager, ID/Library Division, Media General Broadcast Services Memphis. "I don't think it hurt the jingle business; I think it made it more creative," he said.

Media General serves between 800 and 1,000 stations each year, he said, with 11 AC packages, six AC/MOR packages, nine country packages and two easy listening packages. He said the company has been offering IDs for about 25 years, and that the business has historically gone through "kind of an ebb and flow."

Many program directors today are using announcers more and jingles less, said Jonathan Wolfert, president, JAM Creative Productions Inc. But the trend, which he said is an overreaction to heavy use of jingles about four years ago, is changing back again. "I think there's a pendulum that swings back and forth," he said. "After a while, common sense or the ratings will dictate."

JAM, exclusively in the ID business since 1974, is recognized by many in the industry as one of the most successful. The company deals with between 300 to 500 top-rate stations in a given year, said Wolfert, including such accounts as WHTZ(FM) New York

JAM creates packages for many formats, including one that it recently made for all-sports WFAN(AM) New York.

Future changes will come in the industry as program directors give jingle packagers more creative freedom, said Wolfert, adding that his successful campaigns for WHTZ have been created without much intervention from the station.

Media General's Denham indicated that innovation is often dictated by the market: as satellite broadcasting has grown, for example, his company has filled a need for five-and-10 second IDs that fit between transmission breaks.

The most successful players in the jingle business tend to be those that have found a new formula that works for a major station and then syndicate the package while it is still trendy, said Jim Long, chairman. FirstCom Broadcast Services Inc., Dallas. FirstCom is now supplying material for KIIS-AM-FM Los Angeles, and he said the package will probably extend to about 100 stations this year.

Current jingle trends are toward "high energy" in CHR formats and toward longer themes in AC formats, said Long, echoing other packagers. One of Long's recent packages includes "sound-alikes," featuring imitations of personalities like Michael Jackson singing the station's call letters. The concept, he said, developed when KIIS encouraged FirstCom to experiment.

But not all of the long-time jingle packagers agree that changes in offerings are needed. Otis Conner, who has been in the business for 20 years, said station IDs will most likely continue as they are without many surprises.

"I don't see any outlandish changes, and I think anybody who says that there will be has not been in the business very long," said Conner. He is president of Dallas-based The Otis Conner Companies Inc., a major player that offers about 15 packages to between 300 and 400 stations with such accounts as CBS News.

"The formulas are basically tried and true." said Conner. One of the few necessary changes in recent years has been technical, he said, noting that his company occupies a $2.5 million recording facility. If there are to be any creative changes in the ID business, he said, they will have to come from the stations themselves.

"We don't make changes in the business; the program directors change the business," Conner said. "We can only do what program directors want us to do."


For more information on PAMS jingles, go to the PAMS Website.
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