This thing called Beauty Part 3: BM/EZ is far from dead…thanks to Kill Bill, hits of their own, Sirius XM and Music Choice

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Previous Pieces:

Part One

Part Two

In part two of in my series of pieces on Beauty, I focused on the career of radio broadcaster Marlin R. Taylor and his push for beauty through the Beautiful Music/Easy Listening (BM/EZ) radio format which was a very popular format for over three decades in America, from the 1960’s until the 1980’s. I have stated the Greater Generation and the Silent Generation that came after them were the biggest fans of this simplified beauty in music, but the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers who grew up on rock and roll more than their peers did (although the later Silent Gens were in their tweens and teens when the rock era was young), were not into it a much.

It is not because they rejected the beauty of BM/EZ, but rather they loathed the ideal of their favorite songs being covered by the Hall of Strings that BM/EZ radio leaded on. In the prerock pop era, covers were not a big deal and you could have one song hit the top 40 several different times at the same time. You can have one version of a certain song done by someone like Dinah Shore and another from rising star Frank Sinatra just to use as an example. When Rock and Roll came around, the simultaneous covers became less common as its audience clingned on to one version. When a cover version was recorded, their was a waiting period of time…let us say six years plus before someone attempted a cover…especially if it had Hit potential. It seemed to me to be a unwritten rule. Their are exceptions. Diane Warren’s song “How Do I Live,” was done by two different women and then it was sold to different music formats. Both were successful.

Most of the time however, the original recording and/or the recording that became THE hit record (like “Lotta Love” which was written and originally recorded by Neil Young but popularized by the the late Nicolette Larson) was preferred by the rock audience. A BM/EZ cover of their favorite songs was really repulsive towards the boomers and Xers. The kids might hate the strings and other sections of the orchestra playing something like Love Me Tender or Can’t Help Falling In Love, but their parents and grandparents LOVED IT! They loved the beauty behind and how its accessible than some complex piece (or so they say) from the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Dvořák, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Vivaldi, Wagner…you get the ideal.

Now BM/EZ radio did have a handful of hits that were truly their own. This in spite of more cuts focused on instrumental covers. Among the biggest songs and pieces that were popular with their audience include The Lonely Shepard as done in a collaboration by Romanian pan flutist Zamfir and German BM/EZ band arranger/conductor/composer James Last. Their version also made it into the first “Kill Bill” movie that was released in 2003. Another popular piece of music that BM/EZ owned was Ballade pour Adeline (Ballad for Adeline) popularized originally by French pianist Richard Clayderman. When BM/EZ embraced vocals they played Roger Whittaker’s version of the song Wind Beneath My Wings long before Bette Midler covered it and becoming the pop music smash (and a popular dedication request on Casey Kasem’s pop music countdowns…Shadoe Stevens AT40 era too). ABBA might have be known for just Dancing Queen in the States but BM/EZ fans might know them for the songs I Have A Dream and Fernando. Greek singer Nana Mouskouri did very well with her take on the song Cu-cu rru-cu-cu Paloma. Even Neil Diamond’s America was eaten up by the BM/EZ audience with a sound that might be pressing the luck of the format.

Now their were a handful of BM/EZ stations that were able to successful transition out of the format. The most notably stations that have kept their heritage and are still with us in the 21st Century (with one exception but quite important) were KOST (pronounced Coast) and its former rival now sister station KBIG (known today as 104.3 My FM) in Lost Angeles (both owned by iHeart Media). WEAZ-FM (the former WDVR) later WBEB (aka B101.1) in Philadelphia, KFOG and KOIT in San Francisco (the former would enjoy a near 37 year run as a FM Rock station and is now Sports talker KNBR-FM, while KOIT later went Adult Contemporary), KODA (known today as Sunny 99.1) in Houston, WLYF (promoted as Life and later Lite FM) in Miami, WSB-FM (known today as B98.5) in Atlanta, WLIF in Baltimore, WDOK (known today as Star 102) and WQAL (known toady as Q104) in Cleveland (both are now owned by Entercom Communications), KQXT (known today as Q101.9) in San Antonio, KOSI in Denver, and FM100.3 (aka the original KSL-FM now KSFI) in Salt Lake City. One other station of note is WDUV in Tampa Bay in spite of a frequency change and managing to be the last BM/EZ station standing when its competitors bowed out (and even had better ratings than WDUV). WDUV eventually went to a Soft AC format, but the station has been successful at going for an older audience while adjusting its playlist with the times.

Taylor was planning to retire in 1987 but took advantage of being involved in a syndicated radio program called “Special Of The Week” which was geared towards BM/EZ stations. Years later, Taylor was hired by Sirius XM’s Lee Abrams and Dave Logan as a format programmer…but not to program his baby…at least not yet. Rather Abrams and Logan hired Taylor to program a 1940’s based classic hits station. Taylor growing up in that era knew enough of it to accept the challenge of his superiors. In 2002 Abrams finally started a BM/EZ channel (originally called Sunny but was later changed to Escape) on Sirius XM due to strong subscriber demand. Abrams whose background was in Progressive/Album-Oriented Rock radio did not know how to program such a station, thus giving that responsibility to Taylor as he continued to program the 40’s channel and later a third channel focused on Southern Gospel music. On a side note Music Choice which is own by most of the cable companies in America has long offered a Easy Listening channel, even though Taylor himself was never involved in programming it.

To the present day Sunny/Escape is among the most listened to channels on the Sirius XM service and apparently with no decline. In fact when Sirius XM was planning to end Escape their was an upswell of listeners demanding they reconsider and threatened to pull their subscription…and they did just that when the company did pull the format and the fans made their threats into an actual action. Around this time Taylor was no longer evolved with Escape but still was an advocate for its fans.  Eventually Sirius XM buckled and brought back the Escape format. That respected audience might love Frank Sinatra, Bing, Nat, Sir Duke and Doris Day. Maybe JUST MAYBE they could appreciate a Yanni, Kitaro, George Winston, Andreas Vollenweider, or a David Arkenstone? How about trying out Al Jarreau, Peter White, George Benson, and Sade? If not their is always John Coltrane, Charlie Parker (aka The Bird), Thelonious Monk and someone named Wynton Marsalis to carry on their styles of music to this day?

The Answer loud and clear is NO! They want that blasted hall of strings and other elements in the orchestra playing covers of popular music in the format’s prime…even if they like the Jazz (“real” and smooth), 1940’s pop music or just a touch of New Age. Why? I think you and I know why, and maybe they had the right ideal. It was all about accessible beauty and that was the greater good over originality and the hit record.

BM/EZ might be blasphemous but did we trade Beauty for something that certain commentators are calling porn? I will be talking about the recent Super Bowl halftime show as I conclude my series on Beauty.

Please visit my Facebook Page DNM’s World, in which this article first appeared.  Marlin R. Taylor’s book “Radio My Love, My Passion” is available at Amazon.com and at marlintaylor.com.

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