Monday, July 06, 2009

Music of your Ham

Albert W. Ham is responsible for many things. He wrote hundreds of jingles, a sin in itself. He was an A&R man at Columbia records. (He did a lot of mood music and schlock exotica) He wrote the song "I'd like to teach the world to sing" He owned Mayoham Music which syndicated his television news packages. He also is the creator of the satellite-fed Music of Your Life radio format. Egads man, have you no sense of decency?"

Al's life had ups and downs. Columbia fired him in 1959 after a gaffe where he was dubbing applause on a Tony Bennett record.. and he dubbed it in the wrong places! But this horror show began in 1978. It's been three decades and today they operate with about 50 affiliates which may not sound like many to you, but there are only about 350 stations left even vaguely in format these days.

Al started out I think rather innocently missing the music of the 1940s. In the 70s Big band music was on the wane, Glenn Miller, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Harry James, and even dixieland groups like Bob Crosby were all big on the air. In the 1970s they were really nowhere. Al though this might be an untapped market. He was right. He mixed big band and 50s pop vocals and it took off.

There are some claims to WAIT-AM in Chicago debuting the format. But in this case I side with Ham. In 1977 Al had a radio show on daytimer 1530 WDJC-AM in Bridgeport, CT. It was there he tested out all-big band programming. I can prove this because IN may of 1978 Billboard wrote him up a full-page article.The response was good enough locally that he looked around for an ally. He found. He crossed paths with Jim West formerly of the Artie Shaw orchestra presently of 830 WCRN-AM and together they convinced Bob Lappin at WMAS to try the new format. It went well-enough to begin syndication. They shipped reels around the country. The format was referred to as "Nostalgia." Billboard described it as "non-rock oldies" A term that's ironicly more accurate now.

The target demo was 50+ , the very definition of a hard sell but the format had a great TSL, an average of 3 hours spent listening. It was almost as good as the Beautiful Music format. Other networks launched compete ting programming. In 1990 he sold it to a company called "AM Only." AM Only got rid of the reels and put Al's programming on a satellite feed. WGCX-AM was their first test station. In 1990 Al gave the format a tweak to keep the format focused on 50 year olds. It's been 20 years.. his original target demo was now 70+.. he had to trip some of the older releases. But now with AM Only, and some strange arrangement with the staff of WGCX...there were getting to be a few too extra cooks in the kitchen. Suddenly, nobody was allowed to use the word "nostalgia" anymore.

They asked Chuck Southcott from KPRZ-AM in Los Anglees to rework the playlist. WinkMartindale came thru and fluffed the branding as well. By 1996 Jones Radio network was syndicating the format. Jones had their opinions too, they tweaked the playlist even further away from big band. Jones had reach btu they peaked out at around 110 affiliates. No matter what they did to the playlist.. their demo was dying off. The format struggles on today slowly chipping away at the big bands and adding more and more oldies. Al Ham died in 2001.