‘Sonic Logos’ and partnerships provide new branding opportunities for Boston’s WCRB

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Boston classical music station WCRB has leveraged a partnership with the Boston Conservatory to compose a new branding tool: a musical logo.

The station opened a contest for Conservatory students in the spring of 2014. Out of 18 entries, WCRB staff chose a 6-second sonic logo, or “sounder,” submitted by Paul Fake to be its new trademark sound. Fake, 27, lives in the Boston area and composes concert music.

“What you look for in a sounder is something that won’t become annoying or repetitive,” said WCRB Station Manager Tony Rudel, who initiated the project. He said Fake’s composition achieved that standard.

Fake said in an email that simplicity inspired his piece: “I think of it like a piece of bread. You can eat a piece of bread every day from now until the day you die and (probably) not get tired of it. It serves its purpose by satisfying your hunger and nothing more.”

Sounders allow radio stations to both look back at their roots and adapt to a competitive radio environment, according to Rudel. Networks like NBC have used sounders for decades for branding.

“The [station] plays a familiar jingle, and you instantly remember where your loyalties lie,” Fake said.

WCRB added variety by recording 114 different versions of the sounder with the Boston Conservatory’s orchestra and chamber performers, with many students contributing arrangements.  Styles include a full orchestral build-up, a solo piano, and spooky string vibratos for Halloween.

The station will use the sounders to transition between elements such as music, weather updates and hosts’ breaks. Arrangements fit every hour of the day — fast, brilliant sounds for drivetime, more subdued in evenings — but build on one identifiable sonic logo.

Thirty-five versions are in rotation now, and Rudel said he intends to keep fewer than 40 in rotation at a time. WCRB plans to release a version for listeners to download as a ringtone.

Rudel concluded, “The NBC [sounder] has been out for 90 years. If this one lasts 90 years, we’ve created something special.”

Watch a video WCRB that the Conservatory made about the sounder contest:

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Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story credited the video about the contest to WCRB. It was produced by the Conservatory.
  • altfactor@hotmail.com

    The NBC sounder featured in this article was used in the late 1970’s to introduce the network’s hourly radio newscasts, and the television network’s news bulletins that broke into regular programming.

    For instance, I recall hearing that sounder heralding a news bulletin while watching an NBC-TV affiliate on the afternoon of August 16th, 1977 and a few moments later, an NBC newsman (I think it was David Brinkley) came on the screen to announce that Elvis Presley had died.