Profile: Mr. Earworm
Meet the musician behind the jingle that will soon be stuck in your mind — again
There are many elements of Las Vegas that permeate culture on a national or even global level — the Welcome sign, the Bellagio fountains, the disappointing realization that what happens here does not, in fact, stay here. For Las Vegas locals, however, few things are as ubiquitous as seven numbers: 877-1500.
That phone number. When you see it on the side of a bus, you sing it in your head. To live in Las Vegas is to know it by heart. You may not be able to recite your grandmother’s phone number, but you know that one. Glen Lerner, personal injury lawyer. He is, according to the jingle anyway, the way to go.
If you’ve had Glen Lerner’s phone number stuck in your head, you can thank Pete Radd. The master of jingles produced the tune more than a decade ago.
“Jingles become famous or infamous based on the budget the advertiser has to run it frequently,” Radd says of the ad’s longevity. “Radio stations try songs and watch what catches on, and they run those songs based on how people respond to them, based on how the market responds. When an advertiser has a jingle that they believe in, they have the power to play that jingle as much as they want and as much as they can afford. And that’s a big part of why a jingle is successful. Of course, I think it’s a good jingle. It is a good jingle. But it also has been played incessantly, nonstop on all TV channels, all radio stations, and now online.”
A lifelong musician, Radd has toured as pianist for The Four Tops, served as musical director for The Temptations, and was music director for the show Bottoms Up, which ran at the Sahara. He played at President Clinton’s first inauguration, was featured on a Christmas album with Aretha Franklin, and is a regular pianist in the Bellagio lounge. Radd got into the advertising earworm business in the ’80s, after being hired to produce a jingle for a Reno cab company. The ditty (“333-3333, Reno-Sparks Cab gets you where you want to be”) was a hit.
After moving to Las Vegas, Radd sought out advertising agencies and went on to produce jingles around town, scoring another memorable hit in the early 2000s with a four-second ad you also probably haven’t forgotten: “UNLV Tickets. We getcha there.” But it wasn’t until Glen Lerner’s advertising agency came calling that the ultimate “you know you’re a Vegas local when …” reference was born.
Radd describes the process of creating the jingle as collaborative. The advertising agency suggested the lyric; Radd produced the music, which he describes as “kind of macho with a funky hip-hop beat behind it.”
The fact that those seven digits are now stuck in all of our heads is proof of the logic behind the phone number-centric approach.
“Nobody gets up in the morning thinking they’re going to need a personal injury lawyer,” Radd says. “If you are an unfortunate soul who gets in a car accident, that’s the first thing you need. It flips your life over like a pancake one day. What we were able to do, what Mr. Lerner’s ad agent team knew ahead of everyone, was that it was all about the phone number.”
The jingle’s reach extends beyond Clark County. Not only does it play in other states where Lerner’s law firm has a presence (Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, to name a few), the melody is used by affiliated law firms. Oftentimes, Radd’s friends will call him up while traveling to tell him that someone stole his jingle. “No, I did all of them,” Radd tells them. “They were all done here.”
When asked about his connection to Vegas’s best-known phone number, he says that he feels fortunate to hear his work played so often. There’s an English version, a Spanish version, a fast-tempo version, a slower version. Strip visitors hear it in their hotel rooms. Locals hear it, well, everywhere, and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“They had the budget to play it frequently, and they stuck with it,” Radd says. “They used it consistently over time. Over and over again. You and I could turn on the TV right now and find that jingle playing on a channel somewhere.”