Yesterday, I wrote about how I loved radio station jingles when I was growing up. Composing that piece, my mind flashed back to the late 1970s when I heard an interesting variation on regular jingles that I’ve never heard anywhere else.
I was in college on Long Island at the time, and although I spent many hours in and around the school’s radio station, it had an eclectic format where jingles would have sounded completely out of place. When I was in my dorm room, when I wasn’t listening to my own music collection, I usually tuned to the album-oriented-rock stations whose signal we could pick up (and later got my first commercial radio job at one of them, WRCN/Riverhead).
But when I was in the car, I would still listen to AM top 40 stations, including the legendary MusicRadio 77 WABC out of Manhattan and a well-run outfit from across the Long Island Sound, WICC/Bridgeport. One day in 1978, WICC started playing Carly Simon’s “You Belong To Me,” but instead of the jock talking up the intro to right before the vocal started, I heard Simon’s voice singing lyrics about WICC, which led perfectly into the usual first line of her song.
I was flabbergasted. Was it possible that a station in a small town in Connecticut had some sort of connection to Simon, and she had agreed to record a special version of her song for them? That seemed highly unlikely. Might the record company have put her in a studio to do custom versions for stations around the country? Also not likely, considering how many Top 40 stations there were across America and that, even if they’d tried it, the effort would have been made only for the biggest markets, which surely wouldn’t include Bridgeport.
Before the song was over, I decided this wasn’t what it appeared to be. It had to be someone doing a vocal impression of Carly Simon as part of a new kind of jingle package. After all, jingle companies customize their work for stations every day. So while Simon herself wouldn’t sit in a studio and do individual versions for different broadcasters, a talented mimic could be hired to do exactly that, and for a lot less money. That week, I listened to WICC as often as I could and heard that, as I suspected, it had customized intros for other hits, recorded to sound exactly like each song’s singer espousing the virtues of listening to WICC.
What was so cool about this was that, unlike other jingles that could be played for years in between all sorts of songs, this custom piece of production only worked with one hit, and could only be used for as long as that song remained in the Top 40 (or a while longer if the station moved it into “recurrent” rotation). In other words, jingles with built-in planned obsolescence!
After a few months, that package disappeared from WICC — probably as those hits faded from the charts and the station would have had to pay for new jingles for the new songs that were now in the Top 40 — so I never heard them, or anything like them, ever again.
Unfortunately, I never knew who was responsible for that jingle package. If anyone in the industry can provide some of the back story, I’d love to hear it and give credit where it’s due.