Over the past month we've brought you a bit of the history we've uncovered surrounding the five words that have been familiar to all Midwestern TV and radio owners for generations: "Save Big Money at Menards." The jingle has spanned five decades, so it's not surprising that people keep coming out of the woodwork.
Today, we bring out the one man who made it all possible: Bob Holtan.
Currently the operator of 100.5 KDEC in Decorah with his wife Colleen, Bob wrote the lyrics to the Menards jingle back in the early '70s and changed the way we save big money forever. This is the story of the Menards jingle from the man who wrote it.
Gimme Noise: You were the station manager at WAXX/WAYY in Eau Claire. How did that lead to you writing a jingle for Menards? Bob Holtan: I came through the programming side but became station manager in the early part of 1972. One of the responsibilities, I didn't have a sales background, so when they threw me into the sales area I took care of 10 accounts to learn more.
Working in sales, were you coming up with jingles while working as station manager?
Yeah, that's how this all came about. I was taking care of maybe 10 accounts, Menards was one of them. Out of the blue, these houses in the Nashville/Southeastern part of the country would do jingles on spec. What they would do is, studio musicians would send out a reel-to-reel tape that had 20 different jingles produced but for different people. If you found a nice music bed, you could re-lyrics those. You could write new words, send it back to them, they would take it into the studio, have new singers sing what was written and send it back to you. It was basically dirt cheap. I think at that time I could get a jingle re-sung for something like $200. At that time Menards was not the company it is now. I personally was very well acquainted with John Menard and I would talk to his advertising person. As I was making my weekly visits out to Menards for commercial copy, I asked about a jingle and [the advertising person] was interested in it. So, I kept that in mind and put new words to an existing jingle. I sent it back to a guy named Lee Kash, got it back and Menards liked it and began to use it.
I think it was probably 10-15 years after that they wanted a fresher version of it, but essentially the same music and the same words. Just a new production of it. That's where Irish Saxe came into it.
Did John Menard and his people give you any guidelines to follow for your lyrics, or did they just trust your judgment?
I don't recall that they made any changes at all. It was homegrown and pretty darn organic. I remember the original lyrics started out "you'll save big money when you shop Menards" and then went into a music bed, and then at the end "plumbing, electrical appliances too, the savings will always come right back to you. You'll save big money, save big money, when you shop Menards."
Did you have a specific moment when you realized how popular it had become?
Not really. I never expected they would keep the jingle itself for more than a few years. I thought they would want something new, but apparently they liked it.
Since then you've had an impressive career in radio, broadcasting and owning stations. Does your creation of the Menards jingle ever come up in discussions?
Well, every once in a while. My family and people that I work with in TV and radio for several years, they all know I wrote the jingle back then. I wrote jingles for several businesses, most of them I've forgotten about. I remember one for Nelson Sports Center between Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls that they used for a couple of years but then moved on to different things, which I expected. There's turnover in radio, so the people who were there when I wrote the jingle, probably only one or two are still in the radio business. The people I were friends with, they wouldn't know much about it. It's not a big deal, just part of the job.
But it's this immortal jingle that's going to live forever.
Well, yeah, it really has, which has been a lot of fun. It's one of those thing where my wife reminds me all the time "and you gave it away!" Well, no, I told Menards it would cost them a couple hundred dollars. It's a very simple jingle. In fact, there are people who are in the jingle business that think it's much too simple. They've tried to sell John or the people in charge on new jingles, and he just sticks with the old one.
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