The Father of Beautiful Music Tells His Story

A look inside a new book by Marlin Taylor
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You may not know Marlin Taylor’s name, but you know his work.

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Taylor is one of the radio industry’s Greatest Generation, the men and women who built the stations and formats after World War II.

Taylor has been called “the Father of Beautiful Music” because of his groundbreaking work creating and marketing the format.

Taylor’s new book, “Radio…My Love, My Passion,” is not only his personal story, it is a behind the scenes account of the birth and proliferation of the radio format known as beautiful music, good music, easy listening music and even elevator music. Whatever you call it, Taylor is an architect who changed the face of radio programming. He brought enjoyment to millions of listeners worldwide.

“Radio…My Love, My Passion” was released in March and published by Mascot Books. Taylor’s book is an essential addition to any radio fan’s library and is a must-have for scholars.

HELP WANTED: FM PD

Taylor gets the story started by talking about his childhood in suburban Philadelphia. We learn about his first job in radio, followed by his stint in the U.S. Army. Taylor invented his first radio format while he was stationed in Thule, Greenland.

In early 1961, Taylor was in his final months of duty at Fort Meade, Md., near the nation’s capital. He was about to get married and needed to find work.

In a career-changing moment, Taylor describes seeing a listing in Broadcasting magazine for a new FM station that was being granted for Bethesda, Md., and applied to be its program director. The station was the legendary WHFS – the call letters stood for “Washington’s High-Fidelity Station.”

The FCC had recently authorized FM stereo transmissions. Taylor’s job was to find stereo recordings in classical music and other genres that showcased the stereo effect. WHFS signed on in November 1961.

In “Radio…My Love, My Passion,” Taylor describes how he built the music library. He was in constant contact with record labels such as Columbia, London and RCA Victor. He urged them to release more stereo LPs.

In February 1963, Taylor became aware of a new FM station being planned for Philadelphia, his hometown. David Kurtz owned the FCC construction permit for what became WDVR. Kurtz hired Taylor as station manager and to program the station.

WDVR was being built on a shoestring budget. Readers will learn how Taylor met Jerry Lee, who was hired to be the sales manager for WDVR. The station signed on May 13, 1963. The entire operation occupied four rooms.

In the book, Taylor talks about the elements and criteria for the beautiful music format. He intuitively knew the importance of making a good first impression. He built beautiful music the way an architect might plan a structure – every part of the format had to be impeccable. Taylor put these skills to good use in coming years.

Programmers will love reading about the “science” of beautiful music. Taylor’s format was based on instrumental versions of popular songs. He tells about constructing quarter-hour sets of music, often arranging songs by mood and tempo.

BECOMING LIVE AND LOCAL

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, caused a major change in the presentation of beautiful music.

Up to that point, every voice heard on WDVR was prerecorded. When the shots rang out in Dallas, WDVR was caught with no way to report the story easily. From that point on, Taylor insisted on having live, local announcers whenever possible. This human touch became another signature of his format.

Then readers are taken on Taylor’s rise to the top of the business. In 1966, he was hired by T. Mitchell Hastings to program The Concert Network: WBCN in Boston and WHCN in Hartford, Conn. There are several priceless anecdotes about the eccentric owner.

Taylor tells of building WJIB in Boston. Then he moved to WRFM in New York. On WRFM the beautiful music format struck gold. By the fall of 1970, according to the Arbitron ratings, WRFM was the number two station in the nation’s largest market. Taylor was on a roll.

WRFM’s owner Bonneville International Corporation loved Taylor’s beautiful music format. They decided to syndicate it nationwide. Beautiful music went international when stations in Canada and Australia signed on.

But Taylor’s good fortune changed in the late 1980s. Changes in lifestyle and music meant changes in priorities for radio ad buyers.

They wanted to reach younger demographics. Beautiful music stations began switching to adult contemporary and soft rock formats. These changes became a wave, and the market for beautiful music vanished quickly.

Taylor left the company in 1988, and Bonneville sold the programming syndication division in 1993.

Taylor describes being out of work, a new experience for him. One night he prayed, “God, please grant me the opportunity to have one more grand gig in this industry that I love before I am too old and feeble physically and mentally to handle the challenge.”

The clouds began to part in the fall off 1998, when Taylor met Lee Abrams, the head of new satellite radio broadcaster XM Radio. XM was still in its pre-launch phase. Taylor pitched an easy listening format to Abrams.

In November 2000, Taylor got a call from Dave Logan, Abrams’ lieutenant at XM. Logan wanted to offer him a job programming a 1940s Big Band channel. This wasn’t Taylor’s first choice, but he took the job anyway.

Soon Taylor felt reborn, and his creative juices began to flow again. He built the Big Band channel based on his experience: “The Forties and More... On Track Number Four!” The channel became a hit for XM. Other format projects followed at XM and SiriusXM.

Taylor retired from the company in 2015.

“Radio…My Love, My Passion” is filled with radio history and anecdotes. You will recognize many of the people who played roles in Taylor’s career.

He has done a wonderful job assembling the facts and touching on events that matter. When you finish reading “Radio…My Love, My Passion,” you will feel like you know Taylor as a visionary who changed radio programming forever.

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