How to come up with the ideal jingle package 

18 April 2024 tbs.pm/80976

 

Cover of Radio Month

From Radio Month for March 1982

Last year Gavin McCoy, Radio 210’s senior presenter, was asked by his new managing director Tony Stoller to give some thought to commissioning a new 210 jingle package.

McCoy took the request seriously and started asking himself a lot of questions about station ident jingles – what is their real purpose, how should packages be constructed and how should they be used?

To clarify his thinking on the subject he first came up with a seven-point list of what he considered to be the main functions of the various elements of a jingle package. These were:

• to build and project a uniform image for the station in which the station name and station slogan take first and second priority – frequency announcements, he felt, were unnecessary because people were tuned in already;

• to effect a smooth transition between individual programming elements-commercial break, ident and music, for example;

• to focus attention on broadcast information – news, weather, traffic news and so on;

• to highlight station promotions of all kinds;

• to relate to seasons and times of day;

• to use them externally for presentations to non-listeners and potential sales customers;

• and to associate the station image with star personalities by use of “sing-overs” on existing jingle beds.

McCoy then went on to work out how he felt the different items should be used. The choice of out-of-break ident, he thought, should be dictated by the style and tempo of the preceding ad and following record for the smoothest transition. Attention-getters should be played once only, before the broadcast item, and should never need to be prefaced by the presenter’s spoken introduction.

Jingles should not be strung together; with the exception of attention-getters, they should be used only in a musical context and played at only one end of a break.

New jingles should not be referred to as such on the air and, as the most used items of programming, they should not be overplayed at the start of their two-year lifespan.

Finally, McCoy outlined the ideal contents of a jingle package, which should, he felt, consist of:

Gavin McCoy

210’s Gavin McCoy

• a station theme – a memorable tune placing the station name and slogan in the position of greatest musical prominence;

• instrumental beds and “doughnuts” – 30, 40 or 60-second beds with the station name sung at the start or finish – used for promotional messages of all kinds;

• mid-length “reinforcers”, 8-12 seconds in length, carrying the station slogan, time of day or season;

• 3-5 second “shotgun” stings, with just the station name or slogan, for fast transition back to music;

• transitionals to change music tempo from fast to slow or vice versa;

• acappellas (unaccompanied harmony vocals), either mixed out or recorded separately from but in the same style as other jingles;

• “unmade” beds – instrumental beds for instrumental or vocal overdub, either in house or by visiting artists;

• and, finally, attention-getters, 3-4 seconds long, identifying particular items of broadcast information.

With these points in mind, McCoy wrote a very detailed specification and sent it to a number of jingle producers. From the demos he received he singled out Sue Manning Music, Alfasound Tapetrix, Yamco Radio Productions and Standard Sound – in fact, the four principal ident jinglemakers in the UK.

Each company, says McCoy, approached the brief in a completely different way and all seemed to excel in their own areas – Sue Manning Music in the creative idea, Yamco in its enthusiasm for the project, Standard Sound in the professionalism of its presentation and Alfasound in its production technique.

McCoy had around £8,000 [£29,500 in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed] to spend and the quotations ranged from that figure up to £15,000 [£55,000]. In the end Alfasound got the job for “its value for money and because jingle-making is a science at which Steve England of Alfasound is immensely skilled”.

England – who used to be a presenter at Piccadilly Radio and has since made packages for stations such as Pennine, Piccadilly, Plymouth Sound, Severn Sound, Trent, Victory, DevonAir, the BBC’s Radio Clwyd and Radio Lancashire, and numerous overseas and hospital stations – subscribes to the school of thought which prefers to compose and produce the individual elements of packages separately, rather than to work to a central theme which musically sets the mood of the station and from which are mixed out, in varied forms, the individual components of the package.

A specially commissioned 90-second theme might sound marvellous, he says, but it seldom gets used -the real essence of a jingle is that it is easy for the presenter to play. McCoy adds that the thematic approach to jingles is not flexible enough. He believes that the best way to get flexibility is to concentrate on a style of singing. “The right male voice, for example, will lead into a wide range of contemporary music,” he says.

McCoy and England share an appreciation for the American style of jingle package. This was first heard in the UK on the pirate stations, then on Radio 1, where it is still used, and later on some of the first ILR stations, where American-made packages were subsequently banned by the IBA, which insisted they be re-recorded by British musicians.

Although the American approach to jingle-making is now changing rapidly, the underlying hallmark is a very precise multi-voiced block harmony sound backed by intense production. McCoy admits that were it not for the expense of producing such a package he would almost certainly have opted for one of the packages written by TM of Dallas, probably the most successful of US jingle specialists, whose scores are available through Standard Sound. In view of this, his choice of Alfasound is a natural one because, as England claims, Alfasound is the only company in the UK that can specialise in writing American-style packages.

 

Inside a studio

The Old Smithy in Worcester – sources of several ident packages

 

Standard Sound, launched by Standard Broadcasting and recently acquired by the Worcester-based Old Smithy Recording Studio, has produced packages for BFBS and Downtown Radio as well as a number of overseas stations. Under its new ownership it is working on packages for BRMB and the new Hereford/Worcester station Radio Wyvern. The association with TM continues and Standard Sound, together with The Old Smithy, now offers either TM-written packages or, as Old Smithy managing director Muff Murfin describes it, “customised English-style material”. (The Old Smithy has produced jingles in its own right for BRMB, Severn Sound, Radio 1, Radio 2 and ATV.)

Murfin describes the TM material as providing a faster approach and a much harder sell. It is also more expensive and therefore more suitable for “the upper end of the market”.

“The Americans,” he says, “have had so much more experience in the field and they regard jingles much more as a sales tool. I think a lot of British companies are frightened of them.”

Another user of American jingle packages, although under slightly different circumstances, is Radio 1. Executive producer Johnny Beerling is responsible for Radio 1’s packages, which he buys ready-made from the other big Dallas jingle outfit, Jam Creative Productions.

 

 

Beerling looks for jingles which his presenters can use with ease and spontaneity. They are free, by and large, to use them as they wish. Beerling notes that they are used less frequently now – by Mike Reid and Tommy Vance, for example – than they used to be by DJs like Tony Blackburn. It is difficult, he says, to reflect fast-changing popular music styles in the jingles and he inevitably finds himself looking for a compromise – “something that sticks out of the normal run of programmed music”.

Beerling defends this on two counts. First, he says, Radio 1 has been using this type of package for so long that the station has become identified with the Dallas sound. To change now would be to significantly alter the complexion of Radio 1’s sound.

Second, Jam packages are cheaper. Unlike ILR, the BBC has not felt compelled to reach agreement with the Musicians Union over the use of MU members in jingle recordings, which must be seen as a relatively small area of employment for musicians in overall BBC terms.

So Beerling is able to commission a package from Jam written and produced in Dallas, the rights to which can be bought outright for two years and are renewable at 10 per cent of the initial fee.

This, of course, is not a problem peculiar to Radio 1. Yamco’s Jeremy Rose believes that the successful package must be able to draw together all the different musical and programme material styles into a single image which presents the station in the way it wants its public to perceive it. The package should therefore be a sales tool for the station and a morale booster for the presenters.

Yamco’s most recent package – in a list which includes work for Downtown, Metro, 210, Swansea, Beacon, Forth, City, Capital and Orwell – is Radio Aire’s launch package. For this. Rose took on the role of consultant and provided Aire with demos from half a dozen companies, from which it selected Crocodile Music. Rose then worked with Crocodile composer Malcolm Ironton on the production of the package, which, says Ironton, was “very freshsounding, quite breathy and used a lot of acoustic instruments”.

 

 

Since Aire was a completely new station, it was possible to come up with something which Ironton believes was very different from the normal ident package, with a much softer sound.

Rose, who also works with composer Ray Davies, believes that the use of a central theme for the package is particularly attractive to new stations, which will use their own piece of music “quite a lot during the launch period”.

But the amount of mileage that can be got out of a theme is limited, Rose explains. Any package needing more than 10 or 15 “cuts” must resort to composing additional material to meet all the different programming contingencies.

The wide variety of programme elements in ILR and BBC local radio gives rise to the principal distinction between British and American jingle packages, he says. Most US stations programme only one style of music, so it is much easier to meet their jingle requirements from a single style. In the UK one has to create different styles for every cultural element in the programming mix.

Rose welcomes the development of a distinctly British style of jingle production which, he says, was pioneered by Sue Manning Music. He, himself, used the American approach in the early days of ILR, notably at Beacon Radio, whose launch package Gavin McCoy (who was then a Beacon presenter) praises as “the best package I’ve ever worked with; people were singing it in the streets from day one”. But Yamco’s work is now more closely customised and Rose believes that his packages complement those of Sue Manning in building up the British jingle package sound.

Sue Manning began her ident jingle operation with BRMB’s first package in 1974, before which she had been producing TV commercial jingles. She strongly believes in the thematic approach and offers what she believes to be a more sophisticated and certainly more closely customised service than is generally available in America.

She feels that American packages – mass-produced and geared for use by large numbers of stations with similar-sounding call signs which can easily be slotted into the gaps in the tracks – are inappropriate to the requirements of UK stations.

“In each of our packages.” she says, “all the jingles come from the same musical root. They are selling the station and its name to the listener and even if he hears the last note of a jingle he should recognise it. The key to the success of a jingle lies in the strength of the melody and the theme.”

Manning uses five writers: Mike Smith, Gideon Wagner, Rick Wentworth, Ed Welch, John Kongas and Geoff Leach. Her list of packages includes Capital, BRMB, Hallam, Mercia, Clyde, City, Swansea, Centre, BBC Radio Sheffield, Radio Leeds and Radio Carlisle.

John Leonard, music producer at BBC Radio Sheffield, went to Sue Manning for what he believes to be the first fully-professional package commissioned by a BBC local station. Mike Smith composed the package and it was recorded at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios (which meant a considerable saving for Sheffield).

“Mike heard all our programmes.” says Leonard, “and came up with a theme which could be adapted to a folk. rock, classical or jazz context, for example.” In a number of instances the sung station name was replaced by an instrumental rendering of the same melody – a common enough device but one that works only if the melody is really memorable.

Sheffield’s previous package had been arrangements of a locally written melody by a Sheffield brass band leader. “That package stood up very well,” says Leonard, “but we went to Sue Manning because we wanted to sound as professional as we feel we are.”

Manning feels that her packages are becoming more sophisticated every time. Some time ago she took some of her product to the United States. Although people seemed to like it, they tended to say that the jingles were too long and would make the listeners turn off. But recently she has heard that her Capital Radio jingles were used as a demo at a conference in Chicago and she suspects that the English style of jingle is beginning to have an impact in America.

But not all jingle packages are made by independent production companies. Radio Tees has for several years used its own station-produced package, created by commercial production manager Donald Cline. “It was conceived to communicate a distinctly local message, rather than those anonymous three-part harmonies that one so often associates with station jingles.” says Cline.

On the strength of its own package, Tees has recently produced a package for Radio Three (RTHK/Hong Kong), recorded, as were the Tees jingles, at Strawberry Studios in Manchester.

 


 

Of the newer ILR stations, Essex Radio produced its own launch jingle package, a remarkable work composed by David Arnold, the percussionist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who lives in Essex.

The package was produced by Essex’s programme controller, John Wellington, and was performed by the full, 120-strong RPO with group passages by some of the musicians from John Williams’ Sky and vocals by another local man, Paul da Vinci, who sang lead, falsetto vocals on the Rubettes’ first hit single, Sugar Baby Love.

The package centres on a main theme which has two musical strands, both memorable and capable of a wide range of stylistic interpretations. Essex’s managing director, Eddie Blackwell, is so pleased with the package that he has sent cassettes to a number of stations. new and old, suggesting that they might like to use variations on the Essex package or, alternatively, commission new packages from Arnold and his lyricist, David Weaver, whom he regards as a highly talented pair.

Reaction, he says, has been very positive. The package certainly seems to have taken an unusual approach and yet managed to fulfil the essential functions as adeptly as any more conventional package. The only criticism comes from Jeremy Rose, who suggests that, although the creative idea is excellent, had Essex employed a professional jingle-producer, it might have squeezed more mileage out of the basic product in terms of short cuts and mix-outs.

Whether a jingle package is performed by the RPO or a group of Dallas sessions singers, there is one criterion of overriding importance which Gavin McCoy identifies succinctly: “A jingle has got to have instant appeal. In fact, it’s got to be as popular as a hit record.”

 

 

You Say

1 response to this article

Steve Hereford 1 May 2024 at 8:40 am

The Essex Radio “1431 theme” you have embedded here wasn’t the station’s main theme that the text in the article alludes to. While a nice solid tune, this was solely used at closedown and was made and sung by Terry Davis, DJ at the station. The main theme was made by David Arnold (with Paul Hart) and performed by the RPO. Musically, it is genius and there were many shorter cuts that were used for the station’s identity such as news, sport etc. (and all the other jingles were derivatives of the same melodies etc.) be good to correct this…

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