By Dave Foxx
The longer I do this column, the more I am convinced that there are no new ideas in radio production. It’s all just a re-hash of an idea somebody had 20 years ago. But, don’t misunderstand; this is a good thing, generally.
So allow me to back up for a moment and explain exactly that “branding” means the same thing it meant 150 years ago in the wild and wooly days of the gunslinger and bandito. Ranchers would burn their symbol into the side of cattle each spring so that when roundup time rolled around in the fall, everybody would know where each steer and heifer belonged. If a steer sported a double–X, everyone would know that animal belonged to the Foxx ranch. In radio, “branding” means making a song or contest instantly recognizable as belonging to your radio station.
A few years ago, I came up with a really cool way to brand music to our station. By mixing the raw jingle singers, in the appropriate tempo and key, into the intro of a song, it makes the song really belong to the station. We added a few voice tracks to the final piece and came up with what we called a “Power Jingle.” I spoke about it at an NAB forum in Seattle the next fall, and first thing you know everybody was doing it. Nowadays, even Reel World Jingles (oddly, in Seattle) offers a service to do that for stations all over the world on a monthly subscription basis.
Okay, I love the fact that I came up with that, but it wasn’t exactly original with me. It was a combination of ideas pioneered by WABC Radio back when it was Musicradio, some jingle companies and certain musicians back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
WABC used to cart up their songs with jingles so the jock would never EVER need to fire off a jingle and the song. (You remember carts, don’t you?) That way, the jock would never “accidentally” forget the jingle, and the right jingle (key, tempo, etc.) would always lead into a song. This became particularly important with keyed jingles.
Some bands (and jingle companies) would even produce what they called “Pop-tops” which featured either the original, or sound-alike singers and instrumentation, to re-sing a custom intro for a song. The last one I ever saw during that era was for Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City” done for Z100 by JAM way back in the day.
Now, understand the psychology of this. After hearing a song hundreds of times on your favorite station, when you later hear that song on ANOTHER station, in your head you expect to hear those call letters you’ve heard over and over again. The song has been branded to your station. Your jingles/calls get played in the heads of thousands of listeners’ heads, no matter where they’re listening.
Now, fast-forward to a few years ago when I’m explaining all this to my PD. Reel World didn’t have this service then, so we’d have to pay an outrageous price to get it done, unless we were lucky enough to find an artist who would do it, and that wouldn’t happen often enough to make the project worthwhile. But… to have our call letters embedded into a song’s intro! What a great way to brand the music. So, let’s get our jingle done in every key and broken apart so we could match tempo too. I put in the call to our jingle company and the “Power Jingle” was born.
These days we are less reliant on jingles, but as you can hear on this month’s RAP CD, I still make “Power Singles” every week on Z100. We’ve added drops from the artist to help them build the station’s rep even more. And once in a while, as you’ll hear near the middle and at the end of the montage, we DO manage to get home–grown pop-tops from time to time. 50 Cent did a special “Birthday” pop-top for us as we celebrated our 20th in August. Lucy Woodward was kind enough to belt one out while she was here one afternoon last spring, A Capella too! (By the way, the beginning of the montage is one of our current Top Of the Hour stagers, which play directly into a “Power Single” every hour. That’s why all the artist drops are there.)
What’s the message here? When you have a specific goal in mind, like branding, don’t be afraid to combine ideas you’ve heard or used before and claim them as yours. Your PD will think you’re brilliant and really make an effort to give you a raise… or something. I’m still trying to figure out how to use my $50 Princeton Ski Gift Certificate.