In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher
A short radio promo airing on WORT-FM of late begins with a tense classical score and a husky, almost conspiratorial voice, sounds that immediately make you feel like you’re in a dark room appointed with velvet curtains and heirloom crystal glassware. If you watched a lot of TV in the 1990s, your reptile brain immediately calls up any number of high-strung ads for jewelry, fragrances, and cars with leather interiors—the ones that tried really hard to slather on the elegance with exactly this kind of music (exactly this piece of music, which we’ll get to in a second) and sometimes with shadowy black-and-white visuals. Somewhere in there, you realize that this is a promo spot about donating your old car to support the non-profit radio station, and it all adds up to a very funny and pitch-perfect 35 seconds.
“Because she deserved the very best, you gave her what Car & Drivermagazine called the finest luxury sedan of the new millennium,” Peter Haney, host of WORT’s Tuesday morning classical show Back Porch Serenade, intones at the beginning of the spot. “Eighteen years later, you both need it gone.”
Haney came up with the spot after having a pavlovian moment of his own, he explained to me this week. He found a used CD collection of composer Karl Jenkins’ music at a Friends of the UW Library Book sale, and bought it thinking he might be able to play some of the tracks on his show. When he played the CD, he immediately recognized a piece called “Palladio,” which he says was “burned into my and everybody else’s brain in the 90s” via a series of ridiculous DeBeers diamond commercials.
“The diamond commercial was all about snob appeal,” Haney says. “In a way, diamonds are kind of a scam, right? DeBeers profited from apartheid in South Africa and did a lot even before that to convince the public in the US and other parts of the world that diamonds were necessary for engagement rings and that they symbolized permanence.” And what could be less permanent, more transient, than the “rusting chariot” Haney describes in the promo spot?
As with any good parody, what really makes the difference here is an affectionate attention to detail. My favorite faux touch of class in Haney’s spot is the unctuous reference to Car & Driver. “The ads for luxury cars, I’ve never even seen a copy of Car & Driver magazine, but they mention the magazine as if it were some kind of exalted thing,” Haney says.
The promo spots on WORT tend to be pretty straightforward—shout-outs for events the station is sponsoring, appeals for donations, teasers for the station’s original news and music programs. Aaron Scholz, WORT’s promo production coordinator and a longtime Madison musician, thinks the spots have a lot of potential for creativity.
“I’ve tried to elevate the promos to a higher level of sophistication and Peter knocked it out of the park,” Scholz says.
Since our last email newsletter:
Seven Tone Madison writers reflected on their 2018 filmgoing experiences in Madison.
Drone outfit Spiral Joy Band captures a bittersweet Madison moment on its latest release.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Coney Island Studios announces a new local show-poster project. The Point reflects on the boomer nostalgia of last year’s Madison Reunion. Ex Hex announces an April 11 show at the High Noon Saloon. Asumaya will perform live at the Wisconsin Public Television studios on January 15. New music from Klack, Decarabia, and Drug Spider.