< Record Scratch


Friday, January 21, 2005

BROOKE GLADSTONE: While we were watching the inauguration Thursday, we heard a sound effect in a commercial:

WOMAN: Pookie-Pie - do I look fat in these? Hm?

MAN: Need a moment?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Actually, we're always hearing it in commercials. It seems that the public appetite for this sound effect-
[RECORD SCRATCH] does not in any way with the public's appetite for vinyl records. Vinyl, like tape, is nearly dead. Only the record scratch endures, a phenomenon Mike Pesca reported years ago (with different commercials.)

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?

WOMAN: You're fantastic.

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--

[SHOUTING] Guy-- [RECORD SCRATCH] Who's the guy?! Who's-a this guy?

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. 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?
[NEEDLE ON RECORD SCRATCH] The sound effect which says, "Whoa! Wait a minute."
NBC's promo department seems particularly in thrall of the record scratch.

ANNOUNCER: Tuesday on an all-new Frasier, Daphne's back, and Niles has big news!

NILES: We're going to consummate our relationship!


MIKE PESCA: And for Saturday Night Live--

ANNOUNCER: And now something every mother wants to hear--

WOMAN: I was just getting acupuncture on my rwah!

ANNOUNCER: It's the new Saturday Night Live--

MIKE PESCA: Then there's this spot for AT&T where two teenage boys need a ride home after a Destiny's Child concert.

WOMAN: Hop on in, guys!

MIKE PESCA: And who pulls up in an abandoned parking lot, but the band itself?

MAN: File this under - Never. Need a ride?

MIKE PESCA: 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 one percent of all recorded music sold.
But according to Baker Smith, the director of the Destiny's Child ad, commercials use record screeches and scratches like they're going out of style, which of course they are.

BAKER 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.

MIKE PESCA: Even after he decides to use the record scratch, Smith still has choices.

BAKER 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.)

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 is co-founder of modern humorists dot com. One place Aboud used the scratch - actually he admitted it was the only place - was on a project for Microsoft. To Aboud, the record scratch harkens to days gone by.

JOHN ABOUD: It wasn't uncommon at the turn of the century for a, a, 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 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 and Charmayne Satler what they thought the sound effect was.

YOUNG WOMAN: A recording that just stopped, like-- Rrrrrp! [LAUGHS] You know.

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?


YOUNG WOMAN: A recording stopping. [LAUGHS]

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.
[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.

BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Anne Kosseff, and edited-- by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had editing help from Susanna Dilliplane. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
Katya Rogers is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcasts at onthemedia.org -- and email us at onthemedia@wnyc.org. This is On the Media, produced by WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.