June 9, 2001
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Singles are dying. Vinyl records are almost dead. Recorded music as a whole is taking a hit because of mp-3 and napster, but we at On the Media have noted a countertrend. It seems that the public appetite for this sound effect--
does not in any way track with the public's appetite for records themselves. The scratch is everywhere, including in this report by On the Media's producer at large, Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA: In a Bud Lite commercial that's currently airing a young couple walk into a jewelry store and the woman falls in love with a diamond ring. Just as the guy starts to think about how much this'll set him back, he is distracted. What's this?! [GUITAR MUSIC]
MIKE PESCA: Beckoning to him through the window is a beautiful woman holding a bottle of Bud Lite. Do you mean me?! -- his gestures say? The beautiful woman crooks a finger. The guy is drawn to her cold-filtered siren song. He can't believe it! This sort of stuff NEVER happens to--
MAN: [SHOUTING] Stop!!!
MAN: [SHOUTING] Fooled again!! [ALARM BELL RINGS] [SHOUTING] [...?...]!!
ANNOUNCER: For the great taste that won't fill you up and never lets you down....
MIKE PESCA: Oh -- No. The woman wasn't beckoning to him at all. She was shooting a Bud Lite commercial within this, the Bud Lite commercial we're talking about! The guy is now forced to buy his fiancee a bigger diamond. And the cue that his world was about to lose all color, cut and clarity--?
[RECORD SCRATCH] The sound effect which says whoa! Wait a minute! NBC's promo department seems particularly in thrall of the record scratch. [GUITAR MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: Tuesday on an all-new Frasier, Daphne's back! And Niles has big news!
NILES: We're going to consummate our relationship! [RECORD SCRATCH] What?!? [LAUGHTER] Oh!!
MIKE PESCA: And for Saturday Night Live--: [MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: And now something every mother wants to hear: [RECORD SCRATCH]
WOMAN: I was just getting acupuncture on my [...?...]. [LAUGHTER]
ANNOUNCER: It's the new Saturday Night Live Prime Time Special!
MIKE PESCA: The screech in the Bud Lite commercial may have been in context. Perhaps they were playing a record on the set of the commercial within the commercial and suddenly yanked it off, but Frasier and Saturday Night Live? They just use the scratch as scratch. Then there's this spot for AT&T where two teenage boys need a ride home after a Destiny's Child concert.
YOUNG WOMAN: Hop in, guys!
MIKE PESCA: And who pulls up in an abandoned parking lot but the band itself. [DESTINY'S CHILD SONG PLAYS] [RECORD SCRATCH] File this under never. Come on kids -- get real!! Destiny's Child giving you a ride home in their limo and on top of that their hit single's being played off of vinyl?! According to Record Industry Association of America statistics, vinyl records account for less than 1 percent of all recorded music sold. But according to Bayger Smith [sp?], the director of the Destiny's Child ad, commercials use record screechs and scratches like they're going out of style --which, of course, they are.
BAYGER SMITH: We always know, you know, at the end of the meeting - we haven't cracked it - someone goes well-- we can always put a record scratch on it. Ah! Good job, Bob! Way to go, Fred. Sort of congratulate ourselves and-- it's going to be funny now -- and move on. So. [LAUGHS] I think that the record scratch is so much a part of our culture comedically that it's -it's probably going to be in the Smithsonian some day.
MIKE PESCA: Even after he decides to use the record scratch, Smith still has choices.
BAYGER SMITH: There's different ones. There's that Rrrrrrt. There's that Rrrrrrit! You know, there's Kkkrrrrrrk! I feel very passionate about the record scratch. [RECORD SCRATCH]
JOHN ABOUD: I mean it's very rare that I'm writing anything that couldn't benefit from a vinyl record scratch.
MIKE PESCA: John Aboud [sp?] is co-founder of modernhumorous.com. He too is no stranger to the lure of the scratch.
JOHN ABOUD: Call me a hack, but I tend to insert that wherever possible.
MIKE PESCA: One place Aboud used the scratch -- actually he admitted it was the only place -- was on a project for Microsoft. The software maker hired him to design a web site about the little paper clip character that pops up in Microsoft Word whenever you try to write a letter. Microsoft's selling point was that their new word processing program wouldn't annoy users with this paper clip feature. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] They used Gilbert Gottfried [sp?] to play the paper clip and the record screech to hammer the point home. [FINGER-SNAPPING]
MAN: Why hello, there! As soon as I finish this proposal, I--
GILBERT GOTTFRIED AS PAPER CLIP CHARACTER: It looks like you're writing a letter.
MAN: Ahhhh!!! [RECORD SCRATCH]
GILBERT GOTTFRIED AS PAPER CLIP CHARACTER: Would you like help?
MIKE PESCA: To Aboud the record scratch harkens to days gone by.
MAN: It wasn't uncommon at the turn of the century for-- a pair of lovers to be dancing to a phonograph in their parlor when the jilted suitor would burst into the room and you know, rip the needle off the phonograph and the, the lovers' reverie would be interrupted by this, you know, brutish thug and that was a classic symbol that carried on into many of our cartoons--, many of our commercials -- it's part of our collective unconscious.
MIKE PESCA: Aboud's jilted suitor scenario supposes the record is a 78 being played on a victrola; hardly a reference for the average Destiny's Child fan. I asked real live teenagers Niasia Hoskins [sp?] and Charmayne Satler [sp?] what they thought the sound effect was.
YOUNG WOMAN: A recording that just stopped, like-- Rrrrrp!
MIKE PESCA: What is that sound?
YOUNG WOMAN: I have no idea. [LAUGHS]
MIKE PESCA: You don't know what that sound is?
YOUNG WOMAN: What? A recording stopping?
MIKE PESCA: Yeah.
YOUNG WOMAN: A recording stopping. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER]
MIKE PESCA: So what would produce that rrrrrip?
YOUNG WOMAN: Oh - pausing the-- the, the tape or the recording? I don't -- I don't know.
MIKE PESCA: What about-- like a vinyl record?
YOUNG WOMAN: I know I saw it on TV - makes that noise.
MIKE PESCA: Have you ever seen that in real life?
YOUNG WOMAN: I don't think so.
MIKE PESCA: As media moves towards extinction it leaves artifacts behind. We listen to a "dial tone" before we "dial" the phone even though almost all phones are made with buttons. The record scratch was once an annoying consequence of misusing the medium, but now -- it's genuine music. [RECORD SCRATCH MUSIC] [GROUP OF FANS CHEERING] When it comes to vinyl, it may be that the only thing that avoids the slag heap of history is the slag itself. [ENERGETIC RECORD SCRATCHING] For On the Media, I'm Mike Pesca. [FANS CHEERING] [RECORD SCRATCH MUSIC] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers; engineered by George Edwards and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Kathleen Horan and Sean Landis and Andy Lanset, and also David Serchuk to whom we bid a fond farewell.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large, Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm Bob Garfield.