This article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News on January 3, 1999

Jingles All The Way
Chances are you've heard a tune from this Dallas studio.

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 South 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."

IN SYNCH: JAM singers Abby Holmes (from right), Greg Clancy, Chris Kershaw and Dan Alexander record a radio jingle that will be used by DWLL Radio in the Philippines.

"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. lt'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 the time.

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 as "DX-ing."

"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 them."

The WABC jingles were created by Dallas-based-PAMS (Production Advertising Merchandising Services), one of only two or three major jingles studios at the time, Mr. Wolfert says.

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 school teacher.

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 John 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 after 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. 0r 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 KBFB-FM (97.9).

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 happy.

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."

The Voices of JAM

Probably no group of singers reaches as many ears around the world each day as the following seven people. The group has no name, but when it comes to jingles, no one does it better. Group members have been singing together since 1986, although many go back to the late '50s and early '60s, when companies such as PAMS and TM productions were helping make Dallas the center of the jingles universe.

Dan Alexander, 64, a Fort Worth native, sings baritone. After singing with various bands, he got into jingles in 1957 while attending Texas Christian University. He graduated in 1960 with a degree in marketing, but PAMS made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and he's been singing ever since. He also does some voice-over work and can be heard giving the prompts to MCI users.

Jim Clancy, 61, a Shreveport, La., native sings bass. He was recruited by PAMS owner Bill Meeks in 1959 while singing with a group in Dallas. Mr. Clancy earned a bachelor's degree in music from Centenary College of Louisiana and returned to jingles in 1966 after being wooed back to Dallas by Mr. Meeks. He is a founding member and music director of the Vocal Majority, a men's a cappella chorus, which has won an unmatched eight international championships.

Greg Clancy, 36, sings second tenor. A Shreveport, La., native, he grew up watching his father, Jim Clancy, sing jingles and decided early on that he had found his calling. He attended the University of North Texas for three years as a business major but quit when the seven-voice jingles group had a vacancy. Mr. Clancy passed his audition and has been with the group since. He also sings in the Vocal Majority chorus and is president of Pro Motion Music, which provides workout music to gyms and health centers.

Abby Holmes, 48, a Garland native, singes soprano and alto. She has been making a living as a singer since she was 19. She has no formal voice training but studied piano for years. At 13 she had a regional hit, "Sittin' In The Balcony." Chris Kershaw recruited her into the jingles business in 1971 after hearing her sing at Harper's Corner in what was then the Hilton Inn at Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway.

Chris Kershaw, 49, a Dallas native, works full time for JAM. He sings first tenor, plays keyboards and writes music. He got to know the owner at TM Productions while performing in a high school play in 1966. Mr. Kershaw worked at TM part time through high school and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in music theory and composition from Southern Methodist University. He was hired by PAMS in 1971. After PAMS went under, Mr. Kershaw free-lanced and started his own advertising music business before being hired by JAM in 1986 as senior vice president and creative director.

Judy Parma, 58, a Dallas native, also works full time for JAM. She sings soprano and alto and writes new lyrics for existing jingles. Ms. Parma was the organist at her church as a teenager and was introduced to the jingles business by some friends there. She soon found herself cutting classes at Hillcrest High School to sing jingles. Her avocation paid her way through Southern Methodist University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in piano. After years of free-lance singing with JAM and other companies, she was hired by JAM in 1985.

Kay Sharpe, 46, a Dallas native, sings soprano and alto. She majored in voice at Peabody College in Nashville. She sang a few jingles in Nashville before moving to Corpus Christi to sing top-40 and easy-listening songs in a club band. After about two years, she decided to switch to jingles full time, move to Dallas in 1976 and landed firmly in the free-lance jingles fold.


For more information on PAMS jingles, go to the PAMS Website.
Contact the Curator