RUSH: Mark in Memphis came back. Great to have you, sir, on the EIB Network. Hello.
CALLER: I would like to know how you picked your theme song.
RUSH: Oh. Okay. I would be happy to tell you, but I need to ask you a question first: Why are you interested in that?
CALLER: Well, I just left work a few minutes ago and turned the program on and it was right as the song was coming on, and I recognized it — I always have; I’ve listened to you for several years — and it just occurred to me: “I wonder how he decided on that particular song, and does he own the rights to it?”
RUSH: Well, we pay, we pay a license fee every year for it to EMI, which is a licensee. Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sings the song, and there’s an interesting story, back story about that. But the way I chose the tune, I gotta go back to Sacramento in 1984. In October 1984, when I started what became the EIB Network at KFBK Sacramento, I was told that because of program requirements I had to open each hour with a theme song. Now, I had been a disc jockey, I had worked at news stations; I had never, ever used a theme song. The last person that ever used a theme song on radio was Arthur Godfrey.
They just didn’t exist. There was no such thing as a theme song, but I learned it was a staple of talk radio. It was just something that the programming gurus wanted. (interruption) Oh, yeah, I liked Arthur Godfrey. In fact when I was younger I couldn’t say “Arthur.” I called him “Odfrey Godfrey,” but… No, it was my brother! It was David who had called him “Odfrey Godfrey.” I could always pronounce Arthur. My brother called him “Odfrey Godfrey.” At any rate, they told me, “You need a theme song.” So, okay, so I tried a bunch of different things. I tried some songs by Men At Work. That didn’t quite do it for me.
By chance, I happened to be listening to music and by heard My City Was Gone by The Pretenders. Now, at the time… Now, this is October of 1984. Back then, it was the height of controversy to say the word “condom” on the air. You may not believe that, but as recently as 1984 saying the word “condom” was controversial. (It didn’t take much to rile people up.) My audience in Sacramento was a very devoted, conservative, sophisticated bunch; and I was told, “You might want to pick a classical theme as an opening like William Buckley used on Firing Line.” I said, “No, that’s not me. I’m not gonna phony this up.”
So what I decided I would do is I would pick something that, if people were to learn the lyrics, they would be the antithesis of what they thought I was. My City Was Gone is a song by Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders in which she bashes real estate developers. You know, I’m big time conservative; I support real estate development. Here I’m choosing as a theme song a song that rips them to shreds, but I didn’t really pick it for the lyrics because I don’t play the lyrics. I picked it simply because it had an unmistakable, totally recognizable bass line, and it was so unexpected.
It was the last thing that this highly sophisticated, conservative audience in Sacramento would ever associate with a conservative program. So it was part of being unpredictable, part of doing the unexpected, and the fact that I just happened to like it. All those three went into the decision. Now, when I came to New York and started the program nationally, that changed a lot of things. Like EMI and Chrissie Hynde had never heard of me in Sacramento and they had no idea I was using it, but when it shows up on 500 or 600 radio stations and I’m playing more than10 or 15 seconds of it (which is more than fair usage), then they want a piece.
But in my case they didn’t want a piece; they didn’t want me to use it. So EMI got hold of us and said, “You can’t use it anymore! We will accept no amount of money. There’s nothing you can pay us. You just gotta cease and desist,” and the regular listeners of this program will remember that we went through a two or three week period here with different theme songs. We had to dump it. Then one day Chrissie Hynde appeared with Scott Shannon on the morning show at WPLJ, which was our FM counterpart to WABC in New York. She appeared there as a guest and Scott Shannon told her what had happened.
She was no fan of mine. You know, Chrissie is a big feminist and animal rights wacko and all that, but she had no clue that the song had been denied usage and she’s telling Scott Shannon that her parents love my show. So in the end, we played tape of that ’cause the EMI people had told us that Chrissie wanted no part of me using the song. Well, here she is saying she didn’t care. She told Scott Shannon of PLJ that she didn’t care and her parents were fans so we got that tape, that audio; we played it for the EMI people, and the song came back to the program. We pay an annual fee — which is fair, proper — for usage.
It’s been that way for… Gosh, this has to be 15 years ago when all this happened. But, like everything else to do with this program, there was not part of a grand strategy. It wasn’t part of a long, well-conceived marketing plan that had various steps that had to be implemented at various times. It was all just spontaneously put together based on the fact that I was able (for the first time in my broadcast career) to do a radio program the way I wanted to do it, the way I thought would work without being told I can’t do that or shouldn’t do that or whatever. It’s just it’s all worked. So I’m just one who followed my instinct at every step of the way.
No research has ever put together one minute of this program. Oh, there’s research in the program. They tell me what it is, and I laugh at it, accept it, reject it, what have you. But I’m never guided by it. There’s all kinds of research we do. Well, we don’t do it. Others do, and they share it with us. I mean, we’re a test tube for a whole lot of stuff that’s gone on in the broadcast business. Buckley used the Brandenburg Concerto by Bach. Buckley loved Bach. Well, it wasn’t me. I like Bach, I like classical music, but it wasn’t me. During this period of time, I think we did try classical music. We tried various theme songs. We made a joke out of playing a certain kind of music to reach a certain segment of the audience and we turned it into a bit.
Anyway, that’s the answer to the question.
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