Jingles all the way
Chances are you've heard a tune or two from this Dallas studio
By Al Brumley / The Dallas Morning News
Somewhere in the Philippines,
a radio station is playing back-to-back classics.
We know this because on a
recent afternoon, seven people gathered around microphones in
a tucked-away South Dallas recording studio and, at the behest
of a Filipino client, sang "Back-to-back CLASSICS!"
about 18 times.
Next, it was "Relaxing
back-to-back CLASSICS! - Only on Mellow TOUCH!"
At this point, Jonathan Wolfert
looked up from the studio board with a barely perceptible grin,
bemused by the station's odd moniker. "I don't explain 'em,"
he said. "I just record 'em."
But that's being modest. Mr.
Wolfert, president of JAM Creative Productions Inc., has turned
the creation of radio jingles into an art form that some say
is unequaled anywhere in the world. He writes them, produces
them, collects them and, oh yeah, he sells them, too.
The passion Mr. Wolfert brings
to his work has helped Dallas maintain its reputation as the
nation's jingles capital, along with other top studios such as
TM Century and Thompson Creative.
And it has helped write one
of those great American success stories that always seem to begin
with a childhood fixation on something, well, different.
"Essentially, I turned
my hobby into my career," says Mr. Wolfert, 46, a soft-spoken
man who looks much younger than his years. "And I feel very,
very fortunate, because I know how rare that is."
Joel Salkowitz, program director
for JAM client "Magic 102" KTXQ-FM (102.1), says JAM's
jingles "pop really well on the radio."
Making good jingles is a true
art form, Mr. Salkowitz says. "They're supposed to fit the
sound of the radio station without blending seamlessly into it,"
he says. "And JAM does that very well. Jon is an old radio
junkie. He just knows what works in the mix on a radio station.
They do a great job designing stuff that fits, yet pops just
enough so you notice it."
JAM clients have included
such radio giants as Casey Kasem and Dick Clark. When David Letterman
decided he wanted his own jingles to play between jokes, he turned
to JAM. The company has clients all over the world, from Indonesia
to Japan to Great Britain to Russia.
Perhaps this all sounds like
overkill. After all, how hard could it be to record a jingle?
But a lot of work goes into
those short bursts of music - enough to keep Mr. Wolfert and
his small staff humming year-round in JAM's 11-year-old, custom-built
studio just below Interstate 30 in Dallas.
Putting a package of jingles
together can sometimes take weeks, Mr. Wolfert says. And that's
why he installed a plaque outside the studio doors bearing the
Latin motto "Tempus Consumit Res Creare," or "It
takes time to make things."
"Every time we have a
client come in, the first day when he gets here, we show him
that," Mr. Wolfert says. "We say, 'You may not understand
this now, but when you leave here, you will.' And they always
do. It's because what is made is not a mass-produced item. It's
like every one is hand-carved, and so it takes a lot of time
to do that."
JAM's story begins in the
early 1960s in Brooklyn and, later, Long Island, where Mr. Wolfert
grew up a fan of WABC, the nation's leading Top 40 station at
But more than the songs caught
his ear. He'd already begun concentrating on jingles when he
made an important discovery: At night, it's possible to listen
to stations from far away - a practice known in the radio industry
"And I heard stations
with the same jingles as WABC," he says. "It was kind
of like the rush a scientist might get if he discovers life on
another planet. And then, it became a hobby to try to collect
The WABC jingles were created
by Dallas-based PAMS (Production Advertising Merchandising Service),
one of only two or three major jingles studios at the time, Mr.
Mr. Wolfert soon became a
familiar presence at WABC, where program director Rick Sklar
was impressed by the youngster's serious questions and interest
in things other than autographs and free albums.
Mr. Wolfert entered college
as an engineering major at the suggestion of his high-school
counselor. But he never forgot jingles.
In the summer of 1970, Mr.
Wolfert spent three days at PAMS - at his own expense. "When
I left, they said, 'Stay in touch,' so I took them literally,
and I called them every month."
It paid off in 1971 when PAMS
offered him a job as an editor. Mr. Wolfert immediately withdrew
from college at the start of his junior year, left his girlfriend,
Mary Lyn, behind and moved to Dallas.
"For me, PAMS was the
big time," Mr. Wolfert says. "I knew more about their
product than a lot of them did. I didn't even ask what they paid
until I'd been here a few days."
A year later, Mary Lyn graduated
from college, moved to Dallas and was hired as an elementary
A year after that, PAMS began
to fight the slow economy by diversifying, but "it was a
disaster," Mr. Wolfert says.
Soon, Mr. Wolfert and Mary
Lyn, who had recently married, decided to start their own company.
(Mr. Wolfert says "JAM" stands for Jon And Mary Lyn
and was not meant to be confused with PAMS, despite some accusations
to the contrary.)
The company began in the couple's
apartment. Mr. Wolfert handled the artistic side; Ms. Wolfert
took care of the books.
"You know, you hear about
all these corporations that have long-range plans and all this
stuff," says Ms. Wolfert, 48. "My concern was, 'Can
we eat and pay the rent?' "
"In hindsight, it seems
like a preposterous notion," Mr. Wolfert says. "I mean,
we were competing with companies with millions of dollars. But
my contention was, it didn't matter if we didn't have spiffy
offices. What mattered was, 'Are the jingles any good?' "
Turns out, they were. Soon,
the BBC was knocking on the door. And in October 1975, WABC came
calling. Suddenly, JAM was on the map.
Ms. Wolfert says her husband
understands jingles from the artistic and technical sides, but
he also knows what radio programmers are looking for.
"He can be the translator
between the radio people and the music people," she says.
And that's important. A recording
session can become maddeningly tedious for the uninitiated as
seven vocalists sing "Good-time oldies weekEND!" time
But Mr. Wolfert loves the
challenge of putting a lot into a small package. And he now has
two staff writers, Chris Kershaw and Judy Parma, along with several
free-lancers, to help him.
Stations provide JAM with
the copy, and the writers tweak it and put it to music. Or sometimes
lyrics are set to music JAM has already recorded.
Free-lance musicians lay down
the tracks, and a seven-voice group does the singing (although
some jingles call for fewer singers, or sometimes even a soloist).
Mr. Kershaw and Ms. Parma sing in the group, and the rest are
free-lancers. They've all been singing together since the youngest
member joined in 1986. Several have been singing jingles since
the late '50s.
The five free-lancers sing
at other leading Dallas-based jingles studios, but the seven-voice
group at JAM is unique.
When they open their mouths,
what you hear is instantly recognizable, a natural wonder that
seems to have always existed. It's the sound that has announced
KVIL-FM (103.7) for years, along with nearly every other station
in town at one time or another. Current clients include KLUV-AM
(1190), KEOM-FM (88.5) and KTXQ (102.1).
To actually see the sound
being created is both thrilling and jarring, kind of like learning
that the wind you hear in the trees is coming from a synthesizer.
The members are adept at sight-reading
and often sing in foreign languages. It's not unusual for a client
to listen in over the telephone during a session to ensure that
the accents and inflections are correct.
At a recent session, Americo
Gomez came to JAM from Venezuela to have jingles cut for his
station, Diamante 95.9. The group sang "Noticias Diamante!
Con La Verdad!" as Mr. Gomez and his son sat in the studio
and critiqued the accents.
"There are other places
we could have gone," Mr. Gomez says. "But they don't
have the same quality and professionalism."
Next up for the group was
"Cozy 101" in Denver: "Your home for the holidays
. . . Cozy 101!"; "It's the 12 days of Christmas, and
Cozy gave to me, a gift from Cozy charities!"
Then came an ID for a British
disc jockey, Adam Butler. But the group had to give the "R"
a softer treatment than they would for an American DJ.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wolfert sat
on the other side of the glass, fiddling with knobs and switches,
working the board like a blind man reading Braille.
At one point, the group had
to shout, "More oldies!" To which Mr. Wolfert wryly
responded, "It's cool, but it scared me."
The jingles start out a little
ragged at first, but in two or three takes they sound perfect
to amateur ears. Still, there are flaws that at this point only
Mr. Kershaw, who also serves as producer, or Mr. Wolfert can
hear. Usually it takes no more than 10 attempts to make everyone
Then the jingles have to be
mixed, a process that can take up to a week, depending on the
size of the package.
Jim Clancy, who sings bass
in the group, says Mr. Wolfert is "an absolute genius, and
I don't use that word loosely. He has an incredibly analytical
mind. He loves what he does, and he just has a way of getting
a perfect balance."
Bill Curtis, program director
at KVIL, says Mr. Wolfert "has a true personal passion and
commitment to what he does. It is not a factory mentality. He
eats it, he sleeps it, he breathes it."
Mr. Wolfert says his goal
was never to run a company; he just wanted to make great jingles.
Now he not only has spiffy offices, but jingles groupies coming
around to watch and learn, just as he once did at PAMS.
He appreciates what he calls
"the complete closure of the loop": "I did a term
paper on Voice of America in the eighth grade, and now we do
jingles for them," he says. "That's pretty cool."
Reprinted with permission of
The Dallas Morning News.