Ben Fong-Torres: Where Have All the Jingles Gone?


San Francisco Radio Waves

by Ben Fong-Torres, Radio Editor, San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, June 8, 2014
  • Ron Hummel, 64, has been producing radio promotions, from jingles through the "imaging" of today, for decades. Photo: Ben Fong-Torres
    Ron Hummel, 64, has been producing radio promotions, from jingles through the “imaging” of today, for decades. Photo: Ben Fong-Torres 

They are the slickly produced, sound-effected, echo-voiced reminders of what station you’re tuned into and what it’s all about – “98.1 Kiss FM – The Bay’s Old School.” “Wild 94.9, the Bay’s No. 1 hit music station!” “KMEL: The Bay’s No. 1 for R&B and hip-hop!” “Hot 105.7: The Bay Area’s new No. 1 for hip-hop and R&B.” “Live 105: The Bay Area’s alternative.” “KFOG: It’s different here.”

As different as they may not sound, these messages serve important purposes: to promote DJ shows, contests, station-produced concerts and, of course, the stations themselves. They are, essentially, commercials for the station, and they are known as “audio imaging and contesting elements,” or sweepers, according to Ron Hummel.

He should know. He’s been producing them for almost 40 years, dating back to the Top 40 KFRC and, since 1996, at “KISS” (KISQ) and, more recently, KOSF (103.7). The oldies station just began calling itself “Big 103.7,” and, as production/imaging director, had to come up with about 500 new sweepers in a week, subbing “Big 103.7” for – yep – “The Bay’s 103.7.”

In his studio in the Clear Channel radio mall on Townsend Street, Hummel does his work on Pro Tools audio editing software, which gives him as many as 150 tracks to play with. That’s a long, long way from the days of splicing reel-to-reel tapes with razor blades.

Hummel, 64, attended Clayton Valley High School in Concord. The school had its own radio station, and Hummel was hooked – but not to on-air work. A fan of KFRC, he said, “I was always fascinated by producers who had the ability to make an ordinary event sound bigger than life.” Also, he said, “It takes a certain personality to be on the air, and I didn’t feel I had it.”

When he began at KFRC in 1972, imaging was achieved through jingles, used before and after almost every record, announcing weather, sports and traffic. Jingles, Hummel says, are still around (although not on “Kiss,” and only sparingly on KOSF). “But it gets tiring, hearing the same jingle over and over.”

As stations compete by playing longer music sets and reducing DJ chatter, sweepers are played between songs, “to remind people what they’re listening to.”



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