So much more than Elevator Music.
Beautiful music (sometimes abbreviated as BM, B/EZ or BM/EZ for beautiful music/easy listening) is a mostly instrumental music format that was prominent in American radio from the 1960s through the 1980s. Mood music, easy listening, and the often derogatory terms Muzak and elevator music are other common terms for the format and the style of music that it featured. Beautiful music can also be regarded as a subset of the middle of the road radio format.
Beautiful music initially offered soft and unobtrusive instrumental selections on a very structured schedule with limited commercial interruptions. It often functioned as a free background music service for stores, with commercial breaks consisting only of announcements aimed at shoppers already in the stores. This practice was known as storecasting and was very common on the FM dial in the 1940s and 1950s.
Growth as a radio format
One of the first Beautiful Music radio stations in the U.S. was KIXL (pronounced “Kick-sil”) in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas area. As early as 1947 it had pioneered playing orchestral music on AM radio (1040), and later on FM (104.5). The station played that format through a name change to KEZL (as in “Easy Listening”) in 1973, but ended its long run with a change to Adult Contemporary in 1976.
In 1959 Gordon McLendon, who had interests in Top-40 radio in Dallas as well as other markets decided to “counter-program” in San Francisco since several Top-40 stations were already there. Taking a clue from KIXL in Dallas, McLendon surprised everyone with the establishment of a Beautiful Music AM station named KABL (a tribute to the famous San Francisco Cable Cars) which became a successful legend in the city through the 1990’s. It then experimented with combining elements of Big Bands and soft rock until its demise in the early 21st Century. However, it was reborn as an Internet Radio Station where it can be heard today.
In the early 1960s, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a standard for transmitting and receiving stereo signals on a single channel of the FM band. In addition to delivering stereo sound, FM broadcasting provided a clearer sound quality and better resistance to interference than AM, thus being the ideal vehicle for broadcasting the beautiful music format. In Baltimore, Md. programmer Art Wander developed a beautiful music format for the 50,000 watt NBC affiliate, WBAL-AM, 1090khz. The station format launched in the fall of 1960 featured music sweeps of lush instrumentals with subtle comments from their staff announcers: Perry Andrews 5am-10am, Molly Martin or Alan Campbell, Mid-mornings, Jay Grayson, Jim West and Paul Shields in afternoons and evenings. The format was suspended for sports and talk when FM stations in the area became the popular beautiful music and easy listening of the day.
In 1963, Marlin Taylor created a custom-designed beautiful music format at Philadelphia’s WDVR-FM, and within four months, WDVR became the #1 rated FM station in the Philadelphia market, becoming not only one of the first big successes in FM broadcasting but instrumental in establishing the viability of the FM band. WDVR was a resource for mature listeners who were driven away from AM radio at the time when WFIL and WIBG (and others) were going to rock ‘n’ roll programming. WDVR’s many large roadside billboards made the adult audience aware of the new station.