The Not-So-Distant History Of Radio Jingles | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

The Not-So-Distant History Of Radio Jingles

Play associated audio

Many people of a certain generation might remember a jingle or two from one of their hometown radio stations.

"It was, to use the current terminology, the branding or the imaging of the radio station," jingle producer Jonathan Wolfert says.

Jingles helped to create a station's personality. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, New York's WABC, a 50,000-watt powerhouse heard up and down the East Coast, was the Top 40 gold standard.

"The jingles were the exclamation marks between records," says Dan Ingram, host of Afternoon Drive on WABC throughout the 1960s and '70s. "'The greatest station in the world, WABC!' — you know, whatever."

Ingram says his show would have sounded dull without the jingles.

"It was a tool," he says. "I could play with it in one way or another in between some of the other banality that was on — including me. I'd either sing along with it, or comment on it, or use it to make a comment. Whatever the jingle was, it had a purpose."

During their heyday, jingles were often as familiar as the Top 40 tunes themselves. Ken Deutsch is a former jingle producer, collector and self-described "jingle freak."

"When I'm in my car, like this morning on the way over here, I was listening to a CD of jingles," Deutsch says.

He's even written a two-volume history of radio jingles. Deutsch says that between 1960 and 1975 or so, a Top 40 station without jingles would have been unthinkable.

"When AM was very popular, usually in each market you had two Top 40 stations battling it out," he says. "Name any market and you can find the two stations. And they both, you know, played the same music. And they both had the same commercials. And they both had screaming Top 40 disc jockeys. And what separated them was the jingles."

You might think that jingles were produced in New York or Los Angeles. Some were. But the hub of the jingle industry was Dallas, thanks to two musicians in the 1950s.

"Tom Merriman and Bill Meeks," Deutsch says, "were staff musicians at radio stations at a time when radio stations had staff musicians. Tom Merriman was a great singer in his day — great baritone voice. Bill Meeks played saxophone very badly."

We don't know who was first, but they each — separately — came up with the idea of mass-producing jingles.

Vocalists would sometimes sing the call letters of their radio stations with their studio bands while announcers were changing shifts. Meeks and Merriman started pre-recording these types of jingles for stations around the world. Out-of-work composers, musicians and singers got wind that there was work in Dallas, and an industry took off.

Jingles in various forms remained important to almost all radio stations for decades. But by the 1990s, they started to sound old-fashioned. Wolfert still produces jingles at his company, JAM Creative Productions, but he says the business has changed.

"Going from a Beatles song to, you know, a Rolling Stones song with this big-band thing in the middle — that was okay then," Wolfert says. "But now it would be, kind of, 'What?' You know, it would be kind of strange, especially if you were putting it between a Beyonce song and a Taylor Swift song."

Although some stations still use the classic singing jingles, you're more likely to hear a kind of scaled-down jingle — without the singing — on today's radio. It's called a "sweeper."

Hip and smart as sweepers may be, those old jingles were just more fun.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


David Oyelowo On Acting, His Royal Roots And The One Role He Won't Take

The British-born Nigerian actor talks about playing an American veteran in Nightingale, the reasons he stays in character for weeks at a time and his aversion to playing "the black best friend."

Bugs: Not What's For Dinner — Until They're Tastier, Maybe

A U.K. researcher says the environmental argument for eating bugs isn't working on its own. She says chefs and policymakers must "make insect dishes appeal as food, not just a way to save the planet."

5 Things You Should Know About George Pataki

For most voters, the name George Pataki might not ring a bell. But he was the last Republican elected to major statewide office in New York in more than 20 years. And he's running for president.

Smartphones Are So Smart They Can Now Test Your Vision

In a new study, an easy-to-use app did just as good a job as the fancy machines in an eye doctor's office. That's a boon for people in low-income countries — and really for anyone with vision issues.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.