When JAM Ruled the British Airwaves: Part One, BBC Radio One

How JAM Creative Productions revolutionised the sound of Britain’s favourite radio stations

In 1976, a recently formed radio jingle production company landed one of radio’s most formidable accounts. It was the jingles package for the BBC’s most popular national stations: Radio 1 and Radio 2. The company, little known in the UK prior to landing their prestigious contract, was JAM Creative Productions. For the next twenty-one years, the Dallas-based production company would produce a most distinctive set of jingles that defined the image of both radio stations.

JAM Creative Productions was formed in 1974. The name is derived from husband and wife co-founders Jon and Mary Lyn Wolfert (J for ‘Jon’, A for ‘and’, and of course M for ‘Mary’). Their first studio was in their apartment. Then they moved to offices scattered around Dallas. Today, they work from a custom-built complex with offices and two studios. There is also a direct link with another jingle producers, PAMS. This was where Jon Wolfert first cut his teeth in 1971.

More than anything, their BBC account was JAM’s biggest breakthrough. Where the Beeb had an advantage over its Independent Local Radio rivals was the ability to go in-house, or choose an overseas company instead of a British one. Prior to the 1990 Broadcasting Act, ILR licensees could only choose jingles from British contractors. For example, Alfasound Tapetrix (formed by Steve England and Alan Fawkes, who would also have a working relationship with JAM). Also Sue Manning Music, Cath Baxter Music, and Muff Murfin International.

Though the PAMS jingles may have sounded good on Wonderful Radio 1, they were starting to get dated. The introduction of JAM’s jingle package was a breath of fresh air, though their early work had some PAMS influences. Gradually, that waned as the JAM sound made itself known more by the time its 1978 package was released. By 1980, they felt at home with Egton House as much as Dallas.

As JAM Creative Productions insist on updating jingles to suit contemporary music trends, they almost act as a time capsule. Even in 2016, some of the mid 1980s to early 1990s jingles still sound distinctive today.

“The New Top Forty, on Radio One…”

1976:

The 1976 package is a transitional one. It eased listeners into the new JAM jingles without creating too much of a culture shock, compared with the PAMS jingles before then. The hallmarks of a JAM product are evident then: a dominant brass section, drums and melody.

1978:

Their 1978 package was necessitated by frequency changes. Prior to late-1978, Radio 1 was on 247m Medium Wave. With the sound quality less than impressive on that frequency, it was given two new frequencies. On Medium Wave (Radio 2 had first dibs on FM), 275m and 285m (or 1089kHz and 1053kHz respectively – as Talk Sport’s frequencies).

Prior to the 01 September 1988, Radio 1 shared the FM signal with Radio 2 for a smattering of programmes. This was enacted in 1974 as an economy measure. On the other hand, listeners accustomed to Terry Wogan and Desmond Carrington could hear the UK Top Forty in glorious FM.

1980:

You could say that Radio 1’s 1980 package was the sign of a station coming of age. The jingles were more inclusive with disco and black music being influential to their production. Compared with the 1976 version, the news sting has more gravitas with greater sustain on the percussion.

“England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales… National Radio One”

1984:

One of the brickbats of having “the Best Sound in Britain” was being in the public eye all the time. Its AM frequency started to nark a few listeners. Some could say that complacency set in, as some listeners turned to the ILR stations (which had the clearer FM signals since 1973). For jingle enthusiasts, this stymied the clarity of JAM’s jingles.

The 1984 package was created with eventual FM broadcasts in mind. Another factor, thanks to improved technology, was the use of sampled idents. For example, ‘the best sound in Britain’ opening with a snatch of Wham’s Bad Boys. Likewise with the Electric Light Orchestra’s Rock and Roll is King for introducing its rock programming.

Personally, JAM’s 1984 package were the first Radio 1 jingles I remembered first hand. On odd occasions, I would be awake early enough to listen to the fag end of Piccadilly Radio’s Nightbeat. Sometimes, the startup routine of Radio 1 at about 5.30am.

1987:

Ah, 1987: probably the year when Radio 1 was at the height of its powers. Much to the ire of Conservatives who wanted to privatise the station, and ILR stations who were losing money. The latter, much publicised, applied to BRMB’s troubles (the more lucrative Piccadilly Radio of Greater Manchester Independent Radio attempted to take over Birmingham’s ILR station).

We still listened to Our Tune on Simon Bates’ programme. Yours truly couldn’t wait for Bruno Brookes’ UK Top Forty (“the chart… that counts… Great Britain’s Top 40”).

On a personal level, I listened to Radio One most often in the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Whether it was cool or stale didn’t faze me in the slightest. I listened to a lot of radio stations at the time: Piccadilly Radio and BBC Radio Manchester as well as “National Radio One”. Sometimes, I would trawl the bands for other local stations: at Chez Vall, I was able to get good FM signals for Red Rose, Radio City, and Signal Radio. How I wish I recorded the stations for their jingles.

1992:

Thanks to the improvements in sound quality with an FM only service, the glorious JAM sound came into their own. It is hardly surprising why JAM’s packages from 1984 to 1992 are forever etched in my memory. Prior to 1990, the JAM sound was fairly unique. Independent Local Radio stations had to use home-produced jingle companies.

Then came the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Soon, the commercial stations had the benefit of JAM Creative Production’s works. The second Key 103 jingles package, from 1990 being one example. As well as their BBC contracts, JAM also cooperated with Ashton-on-Mersey-based jingle composers, Alfasound. They formed part of a distribution chain, with some jingles even being Alfasound/JAM co-productions.

The Radio One packages for the start of this decade retained the classic JAM sound, though with more technology at their disposal. It was a better reflection of the music in 1990 than that of 1980.

“Changes are being made here that go against my principles…”

There was also a degree of pomposity which irked Matthew Bannister, Johnny Beerling’s successor. Bannister claimed the station lost its youthfulness. Instead of sounding rebellious, it sounded like an establishment voice to some critics. The radio version of BBC One, attracting a mainstream audience. Which is no bad thing if you live in a rural area devoid of commercial radio stations.

JAM’s jingles, pre-Bannister, reflected how Radio One outgrew its original, youthful premise. It became a national institution. Its public service ethos set it apart from first and second generation ILR stations. “The station for the nation” couldn’t have been a much truer phrase. Especially if, for example, you live an ILR desert like Derbyshire or the Western Isles.

Post-Bannister, the last JAM package was more ballsy. Contemporary, fresh, a good package. Being as few people listen to radio stations on the strength of their jingles package, JAM’s swansong was missed by a greater number of listeners. The post-Bannister Radio One saw a dramatic fall in listening hours, with “The UK’s Number One Station” becoming BBC Radio Two.

Part Two: a look at today’s ‘Station of the Nation’

For our second and final part of our look at JAM Creative Productions’ jingles packages for the BBC, we shall reflect upon the jingles for Radio Two. Plus, we shall be looking at the person who could rightfully be JAM’s third man, Johnny Beerling.

S.V., 03 November 2016.

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