“Beautiful Chicago“ (or Chicago in an elevator)

Those who grew up in the 1970s might remember, in the relatively early days of FM radio, that some FM stations programmed a format called “beautiful music.”

Others less impressed called it “elevator music.” It was essentially orchestral instrumental arrangements of popular songs of the day. Those stations more often than not were automated, meaning that there were no live voices on the station, except possibly during news segments.

Madison was cursed — I mean Madison had — four of those stations within its market. While WISM played Top 40 at 1480 on your AM dial, WISM-FM played this, uh, music at 98.1 FM, before WISM’s owners changed the format to hot adult contemporary and the station to Magic 98. (Which still exists today and is one of Madison’s top rated radio stations. At the same approximate time, though, WISM-AM went away to become a news–talk station, which was the fate of many AM music stations.)

This format — sometimes called “Muzak” for the company that sold piped-in inoffensive music for elevators and other places — also could be found at 94.9 FM, which then had the call letters WLVE and was called “Love Stereo.” Then as now, thanks apparently to its transmitter location on the Baraboo Bluffs, 94.9 had a freakishly large signal — from the Stevens Point area clear to the Wisconsin–Illinois state line, and from the Platteville Mound to the suburbs of Milwaukee. Stations in Monroe and Fort Atkinson also played “beautiful music.”

I cannot tell you in mere words how much I hated this so-called music. My father, who remember was in southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band and had generally good musical taste, would force all of us to listen to this crap on occasion within our first car with an FM radio, the beloved 1975 Chevrolet Caprice.
Happily, the “beautiful music” format is almost dead. The late WLVE became WOLX, the area’s first oldies (now “classic hits”) station, as did the Monroe station. The Fort Atkinson station now plays adult contemporary.

But thanks to YouTube, the format is not in fact dead. A Chicago Facebook page came up with this:

For everyone who thinks Chicago has always only played ballads, there is something worse than ballads. Let’s do some compare-and-contrast between original and Muzaked:


(If for some reason the instrumental tracks don’t work, Kostelanetz’s “Make Me Smile is at 6:28, “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is” is at 9:00, “Questions 67 and 68” is at 12:00. “Beginnings” is at 17:30, and “25 or 6 to 4” is at 21:00.)

One irony is that Chicago did play instrumentals on several of its albums. Evidently Kostelanetz couldn’t figure out how to adapt “Free Form Guitar” or “Liberation” to strings. All of these songs include trumpet and trombone, and a lot of rock acts have included strings in their songs, including Chicago.

But … wow. This is painful to listen to. Imagine someone saying that “Colour My World” or “If You Leave Me Now” was too loud.


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