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Beautiful music (sometimes abbreviated as BM, B/EZ or BM/EZ for beautiful music/easy listening) is a mostly instrumental music format that was prominent in Americanmarker radio from the 1960s through the 1980s. "Mood music", "easy listening", and the often derogatory "Muzak" and "elevator music" are other common terms for the format and the style of music that it featured. Beautiful music can also be regarded as a subset of the middle of the road radio format.


Beautiful music initially offered soft and unobtrusive instrumental selections on a very structured schedule with limited commercial interruptions. It often functioned as a free background music service for stores, with commercial breaks consisting only of announcements aimed at shoppers already in the stores. This practice was known as "storecasting" and was very common on the FM dial in the 1940s and 1950s.

Many of these FM stations usually simulcast their AM station and used a subcarrier (SCA), to transmit a hitch-hiker signal to a store receiver by subscription. The signal was usually a slow-moving audio tape of 'background music' or Muzak-type service, which was independent of the simulcast AM signal.

Some FM stations made more income from these music subscriptions than from their main programming. WITH-FM, in Baltimore, Marylandmarker (1950s & 1960s), had to keep its FM carrier on the air until 2 a.m. for restaurant subscribers, and could not sign-off the main FM carrier until that time and thus had to run a repeat of its previous day's evening concert on its main FM program line.

Growth as a radio format

In the early 1960s, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a standard for transmitting and receiving stereo signals on a single channel of the FM band. In addition to delivering stereo sound, FM broadcasting provided a clearer sound quality and better resistance to interference than AM, thus being the ideal vehicle for broadcasting the beautiful music format.

In 1963, Marlin Taylor created a custom-designed beautiful music format at Philadelphiamarker's WDVRmarker-FM, and within four months, WDVR became the #1 rated FM station in the Philadelphia market, becoming not only one of the first big successes in FM broadcasting but instrumental in establishing the viability of the FM band. WDVR was a resource for mature listeners who were driven away from AM radio at the time when WFIL and WIBG (and others) were going to rock and roll programming. WDVR's many large roadside billboards made the adult audience aware of the new station.

Other pioneers of the format

Another pioneer of the Beautiful Music format was KIXLmarker-FM in Dallas, Texasmarker, which operated at "104 on both dials" (1040 AM and 104.5 FM) during the 1950s and 1960s. Pronounced "Kixil" on the air, KIXL was well-known for seamlessly blending one song into another with the help of specially designed instrumental bridges. They were also known for a popular feature called "Think It Over", in which the smooth-voiced announcer softly intoned a proverb or a word of wisdom, followed by a short pause and the admonition, "Think it over."¹

Inspired by the success of KIXL, Gordon McLendon - best known for programming Top 40-formatted KLIF, the top-rated station in Dallas throughout the 1950s and 1960s - decided to start up a beautiful music station of his own in the San Franciscomarker market. He took over KROW-AM, licensed to nearby Oaklandmarker, and revamped it with a Beautiful Music format as KABL (pronouned "cable")¹.

Other pioneers of the format included WPAT-AM/FM in Paterson, New Jerseymarker, which served the New Yorkmarker market; WJBR-FM in Wilmington, Delawaremarker, whose signal reached Philadelphia (home of WDVR); and WQMR-AM/WGAY-FM, which served the Washington, D.Cmarker. metropolitan area; WLDMmarker and WOMCmarker in Detroit, Michiganmarker; WLRWmarker in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, the first stereo FM station in Champaign County and a storecaster for Eisner grocery stores ; KBMI-AM "The Beautiful Music Island" in Las Vegasmarker; and KUMU AM-FM in Honolulumarker.

Reel-to-reel tape

Others, such as Jim Schulke, devised a method of buying air time on FM stations in bulk and reselling the blocks to interested advertisers. Schulke formed Stereo Radio Productions (SRP) to help his stations get better ratings and pull in more agency advertising dollars. His stations used 600 ten-and-a-half-inch diameter reels of stereo reel-to-reel tape set on multiple machines so that 15 minute segments would play at a time, alternating from one player to another, allowing a varied programming format in which no half-hour was repeated within a two-week period. One of Schulke's stations using this "matched flow" concept was WDVR's chief competitor in the beautiful music format in Philadelphia, WWSH-FM.

Some group station owners created their own "in-house" format distribution system. Bonneville Broadcasting Systems serviced mostly Bonneville-owned stations, with easy listening music distributed first on reel-to-reel tape and compact disc, and later adopted satellite distribution, often under the slogan "Satellite Stereo" (as was used by Malrite Communications'. WEZO-FM in Rochester, New Yorkmarker, was one of the independent radio stations signed with Bonneville.)

Peters Productions in San Diego, California was active throughout the late 1960s through the early 1980s. At one time Peters Productions offered 7 different syndicated radio formats plus radio/television "station image" packages (custom jingle and integrated promotional graphics packages.) The most popular syndicated radio format was a beautiful music format on a library of 100 reel-to-reel tapes, with 6 new reels provided per month. It originated when founder Ed Peters was station manager of San Diego radio station KFMB-FM. The format aired on over 120 stations during its peak, and was known originally as "Music Only For A Woman." Later the name was changed to "Music Just For The Two of Us."

Several other tape syndicators offered easy listening music formats on reel-to-reel tape and other formats until the 1980s, when industry consolidation and a decline in listener appeal reduced the audience for the format.

Instrumental-vocal mix

Many beautiful music programmers constructed their own style of sets, incorporating some vocal songs, usually one to each 15-minute set. Most stations adopted a 70-80% instrumental - 20-30% vocal mix, a few offered 90% instrumentals, and a handful were entirely instrumental. Initially, the vocalists consisted of artists such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Patti Page, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Doris Day, and others. By the 1970s, softer songs by artists like The Carpenters, Anne Murray, John Denver, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, and others were added to the mix on many stations. Also, some of these stations even played soft songs by artists like Elvis Presley, Beatles, Billy Joel, and other rock-based artists. The main test for the vocals played was not the background of the artist but whether or not the song is extremely soft. All vocals on such stations had to be extremely soft. Therefore, on one hand a song like "She's Out Of My Life" by a non-core artist like Michael Jackson would be heard on some of these stations; similarly, "Crazy for You" by Madonna. On the other hand, even uptempo jazzier songs by standards artists, such as "Detour" by Patti Page, would not be heard on beautiful music stations except during specialty shows.

Also, during weekday morning drive times, most beautiful music stations increased the vocals to as much as 50 percent in order to accommodate a broader audience.

While these stations were mostly playing instrumentals, some had a couple of specialty programs that were vocal based such as a Big Band program on Saturday nights, a Frank Sinatra show sometime on the weekends, and maybe a program featuring Broadway showtunes.

Generally, the recordings heard on beautiful music stations were newly orchestrated arrangements of the songs of the day. These were available from the major record labels and performed by such artists as Andre Kostelanetz, Percy Faith, Mantovani, the 101 Strings, Billy Vaughn, The Living Strings, Frank Chacksfield, and many, many others. When the record companies cut back on releasing this material, syndicators of the format had custom recordings produced for them, performed by many different orchestras from around the world. These new custom recordings were usually instrumental versions of current or recent rock and roll or pop hit songs, a move that was thought would give the stations more mass appeal without selling out, but also disgusted some longtime listeners of the format. Some stations would also occasionally play earlier big band-era recordings from the 1940s and early 1950s.

Many beautiful music stations would air a few Christmas songs per hour beginning sometime around Thanksgiving, increasing their frequency as the month of December progressed. The stations' vocal content would typically increase to about 40 to 60 percent of the playlist during this period, as well. There would then be a special marathon of seasonal music on December 24 and December 25. After the 25th, most continued to play wall-to-wall Christmas music until the first of the year. This concept was later borrowed (and expanded upon) by Soft AC, Oldies, and even some country music and Hot AC stations. Today, the average wall-to-wall Christmas format begins on Thanksgiving ends at around midnight on the 26th of December.

The predominantly instrumental-vocal mix is still in use today, mainly by smooth jazz stations.

List of stations

Some of the most notable and highest-rated beautiful music stations, in addition to those already mentioned, included:

Many of the aforementioned stations were owned or programmed by Schulke or competing syndicators such as Bonneville and Century (Bonneville purchased Schulke in 1984). Ed Winton, a protege of Gordon McLendon, brought the format to Connie B. Gay's WGAY 1050 AM in Silver Spring, Marylandmarker changing AM to WQMR. Simulcasting on WGAY-FM (now WIHT) and WQMRmarker-AM (Washington, D.C.marker, and Silver Spring, Marylandmarker) Ed Winton, Bill Doty and Alan Campbell programmed a very successful independent beautiful music format beginning in the early 1960s and ending in the early 1990s. Early on, WQMR/WGAY described its format as "the music 'twixt pop and classical." Later, Bob Chandler, tutored by Winton, a leading exponent of the genre, was Operations Director. He organized repeated trips to Europe to make instrumental cover recordings of popular vocal music, which were then made available to beautiful music stations in other markets. Chandler's continued work to keep the format salient paid off, as WGAY reached number one 12+ in the Washington Arbitron ratings for the first time in 1984, at a time when the format as a whole was beginning to die off.

Declining years

As the format continued into the 1980s, more vocals were incorporated into each set, and the vocals played on beautiful music stations were more likely to be from softer-styled "top 40" artists such as Barbra Streisand, The Carpenters, Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Whitney Houston, Beatles, Elton John, and even by a few then-Hot AC-type artists, such as Madonna, than from "adult standards" artists like Dean Martin, Andy Williams and Doris Day. Over time, on many stations, the instrumentals were cut back to about half and then eliminated completely, making way for the "light adult contemporary" format.

By the end of the decade, the popularity of other formats, such as Top 40, album oriented rock, and classic rock began to dominate the FM dial. Other beautiful music stations kept playing instrumentals but dropping the Percy Faith- and Henry Mancini-type artists in favor of Smooth Jazz instrumentalists like Kenny G, Grover Washington, Jr., Chuck Mangione, and others, usually meeting with a large negative outcry from "traditional" beautiful music fans as a result and often resulting in decreased ratings (which would result in the station evolving to adult-contemporary or all-out smooth jazz, or dropping the format altogether). Advertisers were going after a younger audience, and some stations totally dropped the easy listening-based format and switched to whatever seemed more appropriate for the audiences that the advertisers were going after ranging from Top 40 to rock to country to even talk.

Peters Productions was the first beautiful music syndicator to sell out its library in the late 1980s to Broadcast Programming -- known in the industry as BPI—who snapped up several other syndicators within the next few years. (BPI is now part of Jones Radio Networks.) Bonneville sold its beautiful music related assets to Broadcast Programming in November 1993.

Some beautiful music stations did make a successful transition into adult contemporary formats, although often not without call letter changes to drop the identity of being a so-described "elevator music" station. The aforementioned WDVR in Philadelphia, which later changed its calls to WEAZ, became AC-formatted WBEBmarker-FM in the early 1990s and continues to this day as a highly rated station. Other examples include Chicago's WLAK-FM, which became WLIT, Charlotte'smarker WEZC and WRLX, which today are now, respectively, WKQC and WLYT, and Atlanta's WPCH which became WLTM (now WUBL-FM). Other stations continue with AC formats bearing the same calls as their beautiful music predecessors, including: KOST and KBIG in Los Angeles, WSB-FM in Atlanta, WTVR in Richmond, VAmarker, WSHH in Pittsburghmarker, WOOD-FM in Grand Rapids, Michigan, WDOK in Cleveland, WLIF in Baltimore, KMEZ in Dallas, KOSI in Denver, COmarker, WNICmarker in Detroit, and WJBR in Wilmington, DE, as well as, in Canada, CHFI-FMmarker and CJEZ-FM in Torontomarker, CITE-FM and CFQR-FM in Montrealmarker and CHQM-FMmarker in Vancouvermarker, B.C.marker (CFQR and CHQM went to their current AC formats by 1992).

One of the format's pioneering stations, WPAT and WPAT-FM in New York Citymarker, even evolved into an adult contemporary format at the end of 1992. Unfortunately, they continued to be perceived as easy listening, though they were more uptempo and played more current music product than cross-town WLTW. They even had a Top 30 AC countdown beginning in 1993. They became evem more of an uptempo AC station resembling then crosstown WMXV (Now Urban WWPR-FM) in 1994, but were eventually sold in 1996. WPAT-FM became a Spanish language soft hits station while WPAT 930 became a brokered station.

In Tampa, FLmarker, WDUV also lives on with a mixture of soft AC hits and oldies and with one or two instrumentals per hour (though the instrumentals are now more likely to be of the "smooth jazz" variety). WDUV ("The Dove") is also consistently the top-rated station overall in the Tampa Arbitron ratings, despite its move in 1999 from 103.5 to the weaker 105.5 frequency. WDUV now promotes itself as "easy favorites," as opposed to "easy listening" or "beautiful music"; sister station KRTR-AM in Honolulu, Hawaiimarker has a similar presentation, billing itself as "continuous relaxing easy favorites." WTRV in Grand Rapids, MI, and WSOS-FM in Jacksonville, FL are two more examples of stations utilizing the "easy favorites" approach.

WOEZmarker (88.3 FM) in Knoxville, TNmarker, which had been known as "EZ 88", featured a mix of beautiful music, standards and smooth jazz unique to its market. The station now plays a Contemporary Christian music format as "Life 88.3".

Beautiful music today

The beautiful music format did not die completely. Today's smooth jazz radio stations maintain the structure and style of the beautiful music format. And although today there are only a handful of true beautiful music stations still on the air, the format still lives on a few non-commercial radio stations, including WKTZ (90.9 FM) in Jacksonville, Florida, which is owned by Jones College and also streams its programming online. WKTZ plays many pop-standard selections and some big band material, as was common on many beautiful music stations during the 1960s and 1970s. Other non-commercial stations offering the beautiful music format include KLUX (89.5 FM) in Corpus Christi, TXmarker, KHOY (88.1 FM) in Laredo, TXmarker, KNCT-FMmarker (91.3 FM) in Killeen, TXmarker and WJMJ (88.9 FM) in Hartford, CTmarker. WREKmarker (91.1 FM, Atlanta) plays big band and cocktail jazz on Saturday evenings (6PM - 10PM), as a homage to the format and its roots.

Some commercial beautiful music stations do still exist as well, often in areas with large retiree populations, and are often very popular in the markets they serve, especially with older listeners. An annual influx of vacationers from colder climates has helped such stations as "Wave 101" WAVV (101.1 FM) Marco Islandmarker (Naplesmarker), FL.

WJIBmarker (AM 740) in Cambridge, Massachusettsmarker, owned by Bob Bittner, is notable as one of the few remaining beautiful music stations serving a major metropolitan area; in fact, it features the same calls and format as a former beautiful music FM in Bostonmarker (now WTKK-FM, 96.9). WJIB also includes a large amount of adult standards, traditional pop music and oldies material in its playlist. Bob Bittner also owns WJTO (730 AM) in Bath, MEmarker, serving the Portlandmarker market, which features a format similar to that of WJIB.

Other examples of commercial radio stations continuing to feature the beautiful music format include KAHMmarker (102.1 FM) in Prescott, AZmarker; WGCY (106.3 FM) in Gibson City, ILmarker; WMUU-FM (94.5 FM) in Greenville, SCmarker; WHLCmarker (104.5 FM) in Highlands, NCmarker; KNXR (97.5 FM) in Rochester, MNmarker; and CKOT-FM (101.3 FM, Easy 101) in Tillsonburg, ONmarker, Canadamarker. In Cubamarker, the national Radio Enciclopedia network features a mixture of beautiful music, classical and jazz, all of Cuban origin or recorded by Cuban performers; Radio Enciclopedia's signal at 530 kHz on the AM dial can be heard across much of the United States at night and is reportedly becoming a cult favorite among American listeners.

Jones Radio Networks supplied beautiful music to a few commercial stations; Dial Global took over their formats in 2008. The Music of Your Life format also features much "beautiful music" in its playlist, and Dial Global's America's Best Music satellite format also plays some "beautiful music" artists. Jones provided the traditional Easy Listening format from the libraries of the companies it bought out decades ago. The format Jones called "Ultra Easy Listening" was described this way: "This is the classic, cover instrumental based beautiful music format that made FM radio stations famous in the 1960’s and ‘70s. The environmental sound created by this format produces unparalleled time-spent-listening for mature audiences. It features custom instrumental recordings that stations can only get from Jones Radio Networks."

Beautiful instrumental music can also be found on Internet radio feeds such as Live365's (BEAUTIFUL instrumentals). Using Bonneville and SRP veterans, Sirius XM Radio programs a dedicated beautiful music channel for its satellite radio subscribers, and the Music Choice digital satellite service now has a permanent music channel devoted to the format. Muzak also provides several beautiful music channels which are described as "environmental" background music channels.

Contemporary beautiful music stations

Artists and music

See also


  1. Doug Quick, Area CHR Radio History, p. 2.
  2., Retrieved on 2008/05/20.

Further reading

Phil Stout & Schulke Radio Productions

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