News & Politics

An Oral History of the Belmont TV Jingle

The story behind one of Washington's most hard-to-forget songs.

When Belmont TV closed last October after nearly 75 years in business, many Washingtonians had the same reaction: “Oh, the ‘Whatever you want, think Belmont’ place?” The electronic retailer’s infuriatingly catchy jingle, which ran on TV stations from 1976 to 1999 and on the radio until September, is a local cultural landmark. Here’s how the song snippet got permanently lodged in your brain.

Ken Sickmen, owner, Belmont TV: The very first spot on television was done by Jackson Weaver [of WMAL-AM’s Harden & Weaver]. We had a small advertising agency that hired Dan Levine, who is a jingle writer.

Dan Levine, writer/producer/singer/synth player, Belmont jingle: It was originally a jingle called “The House That Jack Built,” for a real estate company. The ad agency didn’t win the account, so it reverted to me.

Pete Kennedy, Belmont-ad guitarist: For a producer like Dan, there is a specialized expertise in translating the advertiser’s message into a song that has to be as catchy as a hit record. Dan is an expert at that.

Levine: Back then, boy, so many jingles were mine: Hecht’s, Giant, Woodies, Hechinger. One I did was for Washingtonian—[singing] ‘Wash-ing-to-nian….’ It was a fun period. I miss it.

Ken Sickmen: They adapted it to [sings] “Whatever you want/whatever it is/whatever you want/think Belmont.” And it starred two members of the Starland Vocal Band.

Jon Carroll, Starland Vocal Band: It didn’t include Bill [Danoff] and Taffy [Nivert], but it was right on time for Margot [Chapman] and I because Starland hadn’t had a hit in a couple of years and we weren’t making a whole lot of money and soon thereafter we had a baby. So—yes! We’re looking for studio work, we’re looking to sing. And that’s when we heard from Dan.

Dan Levine: That was the day of group singers: “Join the Pepsi People,” “I’m a Pepper.”

Jon Carroll: We’d show up and the track would be all done and there’s Dan Levine saying, “All right, we’re gonna sing this like five different times.” And this was not exclusive to Dan. Sometimes you had two people overdubbing until they sound like eight people. The really cool thing is when you have four people overdubbing until they sound like 16 people. Or sometimes even eight people.

Kennedy: There are “classic” jingles just as there are classic hit songs. Belmont is certainly one of those.

Ken Sickmen, who became the pitchman soon after Weaver’s original spot: Weaver was doing us a favor, and frankly, I don’t think his heart was in it. I hate to say it, but this ain’t Gone With the Wind. When you hire somebody from outside, they don’t care about the success of my company, and I did. I was also a drama minor in college. We did nothing but television from 1976 until 1999. Exclusively television. No print to speak of, and no radio. Just television. And it was primarily, we had a contract with Channel 5, which was Metromedia, WTTG at the time. And we ran ads there and also on Channel 20.

Dick Dyszel, former WDCA-Channel 20 staff announcer, better known as Captain 20 and Count Gore De Vol: Yes, Belmont was huge on WDCA. They ran primarily in the early evening comedy block and movies. I also think that [station owner] Milt Grant worked a deal where a WDCA program would appear on the TVs shown in Belmont’s print ads…

Ken Sickmen: No, we never did that.

Dick Dyszel: I could be getting them confused with another client.

Ken Sickmen: We were very successful with WTTG. I couldn’t go anywhere where people wouldn’t know who I was. It was amazing to me. If you do it forever…repetition, repetition, repetition. That’s the name of the game.

Dave Nuttycombe played drums on the jingle for Jerry’s Ford (“Let the Competition Beware”), which ran for 25 years until the tape literally dissolved. He lives in Silver Spring with a wife and angry cat.

This article appears in the January 2018 issue of Washingtonian.