The jingles that WLS has aired since its inception as a contemporary music station in 1960 have always been a major part of the presentation of the station. The now-famous 5 note musical logo ("Double-you-ell-ess!) was a powerful selling tool that helped propel the station into super-stardom. That logo was played over and over, between songs and even in between commercials! The WLS Touchtone sounder used that logo and listeners were encouraged to "sing it and win." But how did it all start and who did all those memorable ditties? Former jingle producer and historian Ken R. Deutsch explains the early WLS jingles that were produced to kick off the new format...
the early days, WLS was running jingles created by Anita Kerr and her 4
person vocal group. The sound was soft, well-blended and distinctive. If
the voices sound familiar to you, it's because they were used on
countless Nashville recording sessions over the years. You've heard
Anita Kerr sing background vocals on hits like Big John (Jimmy Dean),
Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms) , Forever (by Pete Drake and his singing
guitar) and dozens of others.
At some point WLS approached [jingle company] PAMS of Dallas (or vice versa) and the goal was to make a jingle package that sounded like Anita Kerr's material. The same distinctive 5 note melody was used for the call letters ... and after a few auditions and false starts, a package was created which aired for a few years. Then PAMS kicked in Series 18 (Sonosational) which started WLS on a PAMS track which lasted through 1976. Here are some of the highlights of their PAMS jingle packages:
1962: Custom package (like Anita Kerr)
1963: Series 18 (Sonosational)
1966-1969: A capellas (male, mixed group, with and without guitar slides)
1968: WLS also purchased PAMS Series 34, which included some "Music Power" cuts. A few custom (non-syndicated) jingles were also recorded which never appear on any demos.
1970-71: A unique unnamed custom package referred to as "WLS Custom 71." Some of these cuts were ultra-short with vocals extending beyond the end of the band tracks. They used a 7-voice vocal group (4 guys, 3 girls) and were used by many rock and MOR stations of the day.
1971: Solid Rock - This package used a younger rock-oriented vocal group in the style of "Jesus Christ Superstar" which was popular at the time. The style was copied by the other jingle companies, but PAMS was very successful with this series.
1973: Solid Rock II - Like most sequels... not so hot. PAMS then cut a small, unmemorable "traditional" package for WLS. Also in 1973, Jodie Lyons, one of PAMS writers defected and started his own jingle company, bringing WLS with him as a client. This lasted one year. The jingles were widely considered to be not wonderful.
1974: Back to PAMS for another custom series. Also in 1974 and 1975, WLS aired some packages created by Sundance and Tanner (and their on-paper sister company, Thunder Productions) in Memphis, although the jingles were cut in Dallas with Dallas writers, musicians, singers and studios. This scheme lasted about a year.
1975: Another PAMS custom series... this one pretty hot. Mr. Boogie Check (John Records Landecker) was on board at this time and his cut appears in this series.
1976: The "Windy" custom series began to show touches of disco. PAMS was on the brink of collapse for many reasons, but these jingles weren't too bad.
1977: The "Modulators" - This was the last package PAMS did for WLS and one of the last that PAMS did overall before closing it's doors.
By this time Jon Wolfert, a former PAMS and TM employee, had begun his own company (JAM, started in 1974) and began picking up big clients such as WABC and soon WLS. PAMS continued to record experiments and custom jingles, but WLS chose to stay with JAM for many years to come. (With good reason... JAM jingles were, and are, excellent and are currently heard all over the world.)
The PAMS/WLS affiliation lasted about 15 years and brought many very unique and powerful IDs into the world."
Ken mentioned above, in addition to the PAMS material, WLS had
contracted out with other jingle companies, such as Pepper-Tanner
("Musicpeople" and "For The USA"), Thunder and
Sundance to supplement what they already had on the air.
When JAM Creative Productions began producing the jingles for WLS, some early ones came from WABC Musicradio packages. The first full custom package produced for WLS was "Class Action" in 1978. Class Action was a huge 29 cut package that was backed by a now-famous promo demo campaign featuring John Landecker. Jon Wolfert explains the Class Action story.
the years 1972 to 1978 the station had used jingles from a variety of
sources. In addition, there were WLS demo tapes in circulation from
companies whose jingles had never actually aired on the station. JAM was
proud to be the new sound of Musicradio WLS, and we wanted everyone to
know that our jingles really were on the air at The Big 89. In order to
insure credibility, we decided that the demo presentation should be
hosted by one of the WLS jocks. John Gehron, then program director of
the station, helped us convince evening personality John Records
Landecker to record something for us in the WLS production room.
I decided to fly to Chicago so that I could be there for the recording. As is usually the case, there wasn't much time to plan the demo before the session. So I brought a yellow legal pad with me on the plane. Sometime during that 2 hour flight I scribbled out the lines which became the script we used. Since Landecker was great at interacting with listeners on the phone during his "boogie check" segments, I figured we could have him do something similar on the demo.
When I arrived at the station with my handwritten pages I explained the concept to John, and told him that we'd add all the other voices later. But to give him something to react to, I sat in the studio with him and read the other people's lines. I gave him free license to ad lib around the script and make it sound like his show. Luckily, he did. Back in Dallas we edited Landecker's good takes together, and brought in voice-over talent (and former DJ) Brice Armstrong to play the part of the "straight man" announcer. We played him Landecker's lines and let him react to each one. Brice is a creative and funny guy, and he too ad libbed around the handwritten script."
Several others appeared on the demo, including John Gehron, Jan Jeffries (who would later work at WLS-FM) and WABC's Dan Ingram.
Above is the seven voice group during a JAM vocal session from the late 1970s. Jonathan Wolfert explains:
(left-to-right) are: Libba Weeks (3rd girl), Judy Parma (2nd girl),
Jackie Dickson (lead girl), Clark Womack (2nd tenor), Chris Kershaw
(lead tenor), Dan Alexander (baritone) and Jim Clancy (bass)
After Class Action, WLS packages by JAM included:
1978: Pro/Mod. Pro/Mod feature even more jingles from the Class Action sessions. It also aired on WABC New York.
1979: Dance To The Music. A disco tinged package that reflected the current pop-music scene.
1979: Music Jam. Another big-cut package which transitioned between the disco of the late 70's to the rock sound of the early 80's.
1980: Outstanding. Originally done for WLS, this package also went on to become synonymous with 102.7 KIIS-FM in Los Angeles.
1980: The Rock. This short package was used to resurrect "The Rock Of Chicago" slogan. It had a harder guitar driven sound with a younger vocal group.
1981: FM. Although the majority of these jingles were produced for WLS-FM 95, many of the cuts were used on WLS-AM as well. It also featured the younger sounding vocal group.
1981: AM. The second part of the series focused on imaging the station as "WLS AM 89" utilizing the regular vocal group.
1984: Hot KIIS! The package, was originally done for KIIS-FM, but featured nearly the same musical logo as WLS. These were recorded for both WLS-AM and WLS-FM.
1985: Fresh Kiss. Also done for KIIS, this was known informally as the "All The Hits" jingles for both WLS AM & FM.
1985: 25th Anniversary. Not an "official" package, several cuts from earlier packages were re-sung for the anniversary. Ken R Productions also put together several PAMS re-sings ("25 years of rock - on WLS") for the anniversary as well.
1987: Rockin' For America. This was the last full set of jingles that WLS had produced as a music station. They had a softer feel, but also included several "Beatle cuts" as well as two jingles that sang the slogan "classic rock." Rockin' For America also included two longer image songs, for TV commercial use.
the JAM era, many other custom jingles were done that are not listed
above, including Christmas and summertime cuts, jock jingles and a
capellas, "Big 89 Countdown," "American Top 40,"
"Summer Gold Weekend," "America's Music Station,"
"The History of WLS" jingles, and so on. Until recently, JAM
had done the most custom jingles for WLS, however that has recently been
surpassed by KOST-FM in Los Angeles.
After the switch to Talk, WLS commissioned a new set of jingles from JAM called "Talk Action" in 1990. In 1994, WLS-FM aired the "Get On Line" package Both featured the familiar WLS musical logo. WLS continues to air jingles today from many of their past JAM packages as lead-ins to talk bumper music.
© 1999-2015 Scott Childers and Munchkin Studios
|Photos courtesy of Anita Kerr, Jonathan Wolfert/JAM Creative Productions/PAMS, Ken R, Inc.|