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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, 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.
Many of these FM stations usually simulcast their AM station and used a subcarrier (SCA), to transmit a hitch-hiker signal to a store receiver by subscription. The signal was usually a slow-moving audio tape of 'background music' or Muzak-type service, which was independent of the simulcast AM signal.
Some FM stations made more income from these music subscriptions than from their main programming. WITH-FM, in Baltimore, Maryland (1950s and 1960s), had to keep its FM carrier on the air until 2 a.m. for restaurant subscribers, and could not sign-off the main FM carrier until that time and thus had to run a repeat of its previous day's evening concert on its main FM program line.
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 1990s. 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 (later famous as a sports commentator) developed a beautiful music format for the 50,000 watt NBC affiliate, WBAL/1090. The station format launched in the fall of 1960 featured music sweeps of lush instrumentals with subtle comments from their staff announcers: Perry Andrews 5-10am, 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, 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.
Peters Productions was one of several radio format syndicators—including Schulke Radio Productions (SRP), Bonneville Program Services (BPS), and Century Broadcasting—who created automated tape reels for hundreds of radio stations across the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. The company supplied music tapes as well as pre-recorded announcements of the time of day, and other announcements used to promote the format. Peters' beautiful music format was first called "Music Only for a Woman" and later "Music Just for The Two of Us". Peters was the first beautiful music syndicator to sell out its library in the late 1980s to Broadcast Programming, Inc. (known in the industry as BPI), which snapped up several other syndicators within the next few years. (BPI, later part of Jones Radio Networks, is part of Dial Global as of 2012.) Bonneville, which had acquired the SRP and Century catalogs in the 1980s, itself sold its beautiful music related assets to Broadcast Programming in November 1993.
Some beautiful music stations (especially on AM) did make a successful transition into adult contemporary formats, although often not without call letter changes to drop the identity of being a so-described "elevator music" station. Many of these stations marketed themselves as playing much of the same songs, just the actual versions from the original artists.
Beautiful music stations took a major hit in the late 1980s and early 1990s as country music entered mainstream popularity and moved to the FM dial (prior to this time, country was a format relegated to AM radio). Many beautiful music stations, especially in rural areas, dropped the format for country around that time.
The beautiful music format did not die completely. Today's smooth jazz radio stations maintain the structure and style of the beautiful music format. And although today there are only a handful of true beautiful music stations still on the air, the format still lives on a few non-commercial radio stations, including KLUX (89.5 FM) in Corpus Christi, Texas, KHOY (88.1 FM) in Laredo, Texas, KNCT-FM (91.3 FM) in Killeen, Texas, KGUD (90.7 FM) in Longmont, Colorado and WJMJ (88.9 FM) in Hartford, Connecticut. WREK (91.1 FM) in Atlanta, Georgia plays big band and cocktail jazz on Saturday evenings as a homage to the format and its roots.
Jones College of Jacksonville operated WKTZ, a beautiful-music formatted noncommercial station, from its 1964 founding until 2014, when it agreed to sell the station (along with sister station WJAX) to national Christian broadcaster Educational Media Foundation for $3.375 million; EMF will presumably end the beautiful music format and switch to their in-house satellite K-Love and Air 1 networks.
Some commercial beautiful music stations do still exist as well, often in areas with large retiree populations, and are often very popular in the markets they serve, especially with older listeners, such as CKOT-FM in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada. An annual influx of vacationers from colder climates has helped such stations as "Wave 101" WAVV (101.1 FM) in Marco Island, Florida, KAHM (102.1 FM) in Prescott, Arizona, and KWXY in Cathedral City, California. Most of the commercial beautiful music stations that still exist are primarily in markets with major resorts that attract vacationers from colder climates who come for relaxation. Two exceptions are WGCY in Gibson City, Illinois which serves rural areas in Central Illinois with mostly instrumental beautiful music, and KNXR (97.5 FM) in Rochester, Minnesota. Another surviving station is KDKK, the "Star Station" in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Today most stations that play beautiful music are either characterized as nostalgia, smooth jazz or easy listening.
Instrumental beautiful music can also be found on Internet radio feeds such as Live365's BEAUTIFUL Instrumentals, Sophisticated Easy Sounds, Airstream FM, and Crystal Radio. Sirius XM Satellite Radio programs a dedicated beautiful music channel, Escape, for its subscribers, and such services as Music Choice and DMX provide the format as part of their offerings to cable and satellite television subscribers. Muzak also provides several beautiful music channels which are described as "environmental" background music channels.