by Don Elliot
Ask me about Bill Meeks and I’ll tell you about a Legend… genius musician, artist, friend, father, the greatest salesman in the world, and one hell of a radio guy. Bill passed away September 8, 1999.
With roots all the way back to Gordon McLendon, Bill was himself, a big part of modern radio history. Gordon relied on Bill for the jingles at all of his stations. Bill did all the Armed Forces jingles and commercials in the Kennedy days. Bill did a guitar course on an album with Ray Hurst, using a system of color-dots on your fingernails to match the music charts. Bill would show up at NAB conventions and show folks what Texas hospitality was all about in his hotel suites… jingles would be playing in the main room and his Sales Managers would be signing up stations in the other half of the suite. And the wine would flow.
Bill ran PAMS of Dallas for many years; through the ‘60s and ‘70s, his musical ID singing jingle packages were the Cadillac of the industry. He was inspired by Les Paul and Mary Ford’s use of the Ampex tape recorder where they would replay a take while singing along with it to the second machine. He then developed an Ampex 10-track. (Not a misprint). At a time when 4-tracks were a big deal, he had custom heads constructed to get ten tracks onto a tape. Bill often commented that this protected his work technically too because nobody else could play his masters.
Bill’s 7-voice blend stacked (doubled) twice gave a previously unattained rich vocal blend. His biggest trick was doing the instrumental in stereo and mixing the vocals dead center mono with a hot EQ for maximum punch and intelligibility. Using some innovative methods at the time, which have rarely been duplicated to this day except by John Wolfert, who carried on the tradition, Bill would separately mike the bass singer and mix him almost like an instrument. Names like Bill Simmons and Jim Clancy made those jingles take on a bottom end that made PAMS’ sound “bigger than a barn door,” as Bill used to say. How big? Clancy used to fill in for Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger on the Kellogg’s “Grrrrreat” commercials during a brief absence. The day I met Clancy, I didn’t quite understand his name and asked him to repeat it…. “Clancy?” I asked. “That’s right, Clancy,” he repeated, acting a little like he had a complex but not too irritated. And after about a two beat pause, he added, “Well, if you’re from Texas with a name like Clancy, you damn well BETTER sing BASS.”
At the other end of the musical scale, a talented lady he found named “Bright-Eyes Long-Knife” had the ability to match a trumpet note on C above high C. Bill would frequently stack her against a horn section with a “pa-pa-pa-pow” vocal—another Meeks “Signature that Sells with Sound” (his PAMS logo).
PAMS meant Promotion, Advertising, Music and Service. And service you got if you bought from PAMS. The industry leaders were his best clients. Who could forget the memorable logo he developed for WABC New York. “77-W-A-B-C” to the tune of “We’ll turn Manhattan…in to an aisle of joy?” The melody of the city was legitimately borrowed to the “tune” of around $25,000 annually just for the writer alone. And Rick Sklar was happy to pay it.
The best in the business “interned” as his Sales Managers. Jim West, Toby Arnold, Jim Long, all learned the ropes from Bill. John Wolfert of JAM Creative Services was Bill’s mixer and “main man.”
I’ll NEVER forget the day at KIIS-FM when I was Operations Manager there and Bill came to LA to sell then-GM Ed Boyd on a $40,000 jingle package I wanted to produce with him. I pleaded with Bill to take me along to the lunch where he’d get the order. He arranged it on the condition I’d be a fly on the wall and not offer any suggestions. Half way through the meal I excused myself to go to the men’s room and motioned to Bill from the sidelines that I wanted to talk to him away from the table. “Bill,” I said, “this lunch is great, but when are you gonna sell him the jingle package?” “I just did, son,” he replied, “I just did.” He was teaching me the art of the schmooze and building relationships, trust and ability to deliver to a client. It was the most valuable lesson I ever learned.
His innovative spirit was intuitive mixed with educated observation. He used to say to me, “Don, become a student of cycles.” He showed me the Spanish musical styles and how he integrated them into his music at an early time. Salsa, Meringue, the singing style even of an unknown named Basha influenced his writing. He called my attention to these trends and how they would flourish. He was always right. He used to tell me that someday there would be a radio format that would be a nonstop dance beat that would take the country by storm if anybody would have the balls to format it. (Remember disco?)
I used to tease him back and say, “Right, Bill, remember quad? And the next thing you’ll tell me is that big band will come back, too!” He lived to tease me right back.
When I was selling libraries at conventions, he’d say to me, “Never mind what the client’s first words are about the product; watch their feet while the music plays. If they say they hate it but their toes are tappin’, it’s just the price you gotta work on.”
I thought he was the most exciting and inspiring person I ever met for another reason too. We could carry on 3 or 4 conversations simultaneously without missing a beat, skipping around whenever the other subject would need a feed in our brainstorming. It was like living a trilogy but faster paced. The only other people I’ve ever met who could do this with me were also brilliant composer/musicians. He thrived on the great satisfaction that came from delivering successfully under tremendous pressure from a deadline.
His son, Dennis Meeks told me today on the way back from the funeral home that his dad was talking about me in his final moments about some of our joint music library projects. Dennis said, “some people work to live. Dad lived to work. He loved it.”
Bill made a lot of people very happy, entertained us and made us laugh. He probably didn’t realize at the time how much he really taught me as well. His feel and sense of production are the basis of most of what I know about the radio business.
Thanks, Bill, we’ll keep that beat going for you.