The changing sound of radio jingles

How radio jingles used to be played, a Nab jingle cart and jingle machine made by Sonifex.

The bits in-between the music

Listening to the radio as a teenager I quickly realised I enjoyed the jingles as much as the music. Using a cassette recorder I’d do my best to do a mixtape – not of the hits, but the jingles!

Living near London I grew up listening to Radio Caroline, LBC, Capital Radio, Radio London, and Luxembourg among others.

Over the years the style of jingles has changed in tandem with the music stations play. Today you’re as likely to hear jingles that feature a voice over mixed with imaging elements as you are a fully sung production.

As you can tell I really enjoy radio jingles, so – in no particular order – here is my little homage to jingles down the ages. Its a mixed bag of favourites old and new. Notice the Radio One jingles from the 60s (Pams) and today.

Jingle history

The story of radio jingles can be traced back to North America in the 1950s, Dallas to be precise.

For a few decades Pams ruled the world with its high quality sung jingles featuring close harmonies that seem to have a resonating base that gave the jingles some real beef. Often they’d be backed by what sounded like a full orchestra.

These jingles were huge productions, and the team at Pams knocked them out of the park week-in, week-out. Boy they sounded great (and still do).

Starting out as an ad agency in 1951, Pams moved into making radio commercials, but as radio became more popular so its work grew. The firm morphed into a jingle production powerhouse – probably the most successful jingle firm in the world (for a while).

Pams developed a package of generic jingles that were sold to stations across the US and beyond – customers even included BBC’s Radio One. And the backing tracks it produced would be re-sung for different stations. In the US, you could drive from one city to another, hear the same backing tracks but different words.

It seemed that by the early 1970s you couldn’t turn on a radio anywhere without hearing a Pams jingle.

However, as the 1970s progressed, so station owners started looking for something fresh – to set them apart from the competition – and that seems to have caught Pams napping.  It ceased trading in 1978.

But its legacy was not lost. In 1990 the firm’s library was bought by Jams (founded in 1974), which still makes  jingles today – including re-sings of some Pams’ classics.

VO with imaging

Probably due to cost, and speed of production, the popularity of using a voice over artist or DJ to say the phrases, along with an engineer to treat the vocal with effects and mix it with imaging elements has grown in popularity.

While fully sung jingles sound great, so too do imaging-led jingles that can be short, punchy and deliver real impact.

And the great thing is, almost anyone can make these jingles at home with minimal gear. And perhaps that’s something for future post…

But no matter whether jingles are sung, spoken, have a music backing track or use imaging, their purpose hasn’t changed. We still use them to tell people who they are listening to for increased recognition, and if they build loyalty toward the station then so much the better.

And if you are really keen to find out more about Pams see the Pams History  and to hear even more jingles pop over to jinglemad.com.