Although listeners consume radio subconsciously, jingles seem to be noticed on-air. But do radio stations in a given market sound distinctive enough today?
A really fun session of the Radio Festival 2011 was the one about jingles! I was excited about this part of the program. I’ve been to many radio conferences where it’s all about sales, marketing, and DAB. So it was very refreshing to be among radio anoraks, as they call this species in England. (I’m probably part of the same family.)
“Jingles get stuck in the head
and give you an identity that no-one else has”
Imaging is gut feeling
Station sound is a significant part of on-air promotion and radio branding, but usually not so researched than the music we play. Jingles and imaging are still a matter of gut feeling for most PDs. What happens when we test a jingle package with a focus group? What’s the sound course of flagship BBC Radio 2, and can a heritage station change its logo melody and get away with it? All of this in a minute – but first we’re going back in time on the sound of the nation. (Yes, I am a radio anorak.)
UK radio jingle history
British radio legend Tony Blackburn (photo) played the first legal jingle on the UK airwaves in September 1967, when he jumped on board of BBC Radio 1. This was the establishment’s answer to offshore stations like Radio Caroline and Wonderful Radio London, better known as Big L. Radio jingles evolved from music by big bands and orchestras to top-notch productions by studios in the USA and Europe. Here’s a bit of audio:
Chris Moyles about jingles
The Chris Moyles Show is using a lot of jingles. In a video, Moyles says: “People sing them. Jingles get stuck in the head and give you an identity that no-one else has. You can make them sound like the song you play. Or in our case, the records that BBC Radio 2 plays…” (as they’re deliberately produced the old school way). “In every feature we do, we try to incorporate a jingle. It makes it come alive. Jingles for a radio station are like the artist signature on the bottom of a painting”, he quotes former Z100 PD Steve Kingston.
“I can’t imagine Radio 2 having sweepers like:
crash, bang, bchhhh… Terry Wogan”
60-piece orchestra jingle session
One of the most distinctive jingles of The Chris Moyles Show is the Cheesy Song show opener. It was recorded at Abbey Road with 60 musicians. Producer Sandy Beech remembers: “I stood inside Studio 1 and the orchestra did a run-through. I literally bursted into tears; I never heard anything like it. And I went back in the control room and said to one of the best engineers: as good as you are, you can’t record that sound, can you? He said: ‘no, you’ll never ever record it the way it is’. It was immense.”
Impact of sonic logos
Some radio brands don’t use jingles and sonic logos, because they want to distinguish themselves from jingle-stations, or because they’re just more into sweepers and power intros to build forward momentum. BBC Radio 1 morning jock Chris Moyles believes in using a memorable logo melody which can be combined with station voice inserts. He recalls how KISS in the UK has been using musical logos in their station imaging in the past:
Distinctive shows, one station
BBC station sound producer Chris Reay says that sung jingles are still the way for them.” I can’t imagine Radio 2 having sweepers like: crash, bang, bchhhh… Terry Wogan” (imitating a punchy station voice). He adds that the programming is very diverse. “We don’t want Jo Whiley to sound like Terry Wogan. That distinctiveness is what we celebrate on Radio 2, while trying to keep the overall station sound.”
Radio jingle focus group
Can listeners tell one jingle from another, and do they really care? Real Radio invited P1 listeners in Glasgow for a jingle focus group! “They were lured with free pizza… so we are not claiming this is fully scientific”, session host Simon Hirst (morning jock of Capital FM Yorkshire) says rightly. But listeners do have an opinion about jingles and imaging on the radio, if they’re being asked. Here’s a bit from the focus group discussion video (subtitles, anyone? :-)).
Hertitage brand logo melody
Jingle producer Sandy Beech knows that testing radio imaging is like testing new music – difficult. But he would do research before making a drastic change to a heritage station’s logo. “It’s worth seeing whether that’s going to have an effect on the audience.” He thinks a logo change would be “strange” for BBC Radio 2 listeners, while adding that “people do get used to change and sometimes it can be a good thing.”
Radio imaging making waves
According to Chris Reay (photo), BBC Radio 2 listeners definitely respond to the station’s imaging. The Chris Evans Breakfast Show proves that jingles can really become a part of people’s lives. Listeners write emails to the breakfast team about the show opener: “It starts their day or teaches their kids the days of the week.” Here’s a montage of BBC Radio 2 jingles through the years, produced by several different jingle companies:
Special jingles create attention
A school in Scotland even requested a copy of the Chris Evans jingles for one of their pupils, who is autistic but loves the jingles so much that he sings them. “It helps him with his communication. I did a little custom version for them.” Chris Reay says that the response to special jingles is incredible. “The generic things for news and music are the furniture, but those personal jingles that a presenter wants, really get a reaction.”
From Edinburgh to Southampton,
I hear Katy Perry telling me it’s ‘her’ station”
Australian vs. British sound
Jingles are not popular everywhere – in Australia, for example, sung station IDs are less common. Chris Thorpe is production director of dmg Radio, operator of the Nova FM network. He explains in a video that Australian radio is used to speech based imaging. Apart from station and slogan, a sweeper includes aircheck clips from the morning and afternoon drivetime show. In general,“there are more similarities than differences worldwide”, says Thorpe, who considers the UK to be “one of the world leaders” in this field.
UK stations sound alike
Music 4 creative director Sandy Beech (photo) hears that all over the United Kingdom radio stations have high production values. “My only concern is: the differences between them are so subtle. Listening in the car while driving from Edinburgh to Southampton, almost every voice; every sweeper; every liner sounds the same, and I hear Katy Perry telling me it’s ‘her’ station a few hundred times.”
Absolute & JACK are distinctive
Beech thinks that radio people are so focused on creating a great on-air product, that they don’t always (have to time to) open themselves for feedback. In his opinion, producers are sometimes “too close to the page” and could “step back a little bit” to perceive the station in a different way. The panel agrees that brands like Absolute Radio and JACK fm do a good job here. Their sound is different from the average commercial radio format, also in terms of station imaging.
Live radio jingle production
Session producer Chris Stevens (photo), head of production and deputy program director of GMG Radio, thought of a fun imaging contest: a Jingle Ball game. Someone in the audience could win his personal jock cut. Matthew Hennity was the lucky winner and his jingle was being recorded and mixed while the panel discussion was running. Given the production time of 30 minutes for this resing, the result was pretty cool. It sounds like this:
All-time favorite jingle package
There was room to ask a few questions. Mine was: What’s your favorite jingle package of all time?
- Sandy Beech, with friendly wit: “Well, I love the new PURE Jingles package! There’s some excellent work there” (I had mentioned that I work there, so that was kind of him :-))
- Simon Hirst, after thinking for a while: “If I have to choose, I’d say the BBC Radio 1 1984 package… or Breakthrough, from JAM. I’m torn!”
- Dennis Clark: “Jingles Are Part Of The Radio Brand”
- Production (related articles)
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