Better branding through music: Original airport theme songs

These days TV shows, sports teams, celebrities and presidential candidates all have theme songs.

It turns out that some airports do too.

A few of these ditties are fairly new. However, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) traces its theme song to a commercial hit from the early 1970s. In 1971 country music singer Susan Raye topped the country music charts with her song L.A. International Airport, written by Leanne Scott. Here are the words to the chorus:

L.A. International Airport Where the big jet engines roar L.A. International Airport I won't see him any more.

"The original version of the song was a bit sad. Broken hearts and all that," says Nancy Castles, the director of public relations at LAX, "so for the airport's 75th anniversary in 2003 we had new, more upbeat lyrics written." Here are the words to the new chorus:

LA International AirportThe great Pacific's welcome doorLA International AirportI'll be coming back for more

The perkier version was recorded by country music singer Shirley Myers, proclaimed the "Official Song of Los Angeles International Airport," and introduced at a karaoke competition held at LAX. Throughout 2003, Southwest Airlines gave each of its arriving LAX passengers a CD of the song. Now, snippets of the song are played between announcements on the airport's traffic radio station (530 AM) www.lawa.org/lax/AiRadio530.cfm and complete recordings of the old, new, and karaoke version of the song are on the airport's website along with the lyrics.

Fly Huntsville — or just hum along

The same year that LAX was updating its theme song, the folks at Alabama's Huntsville International Airport (HSV) were commissioning theirs. The airport's snappy Fly Huntsville jingle airs on radio and TV commercials designed to market the airport to travelers who might otherwise fly out of the Nashville airport, 130 miles away, or the Birmingham, Ala., airport, less than 100 miles away.

There's no way to tell exactly how much passenger traffic is generated by a jingle, of course. But Laura Gipson, public relations manager for the Port of Huntsville, considers the airport theme song a good investment: "People sing our jingle to us…and some of our employees have it as their ring tone on their cellphones!"

Audio logos for airports

In Germany, both the Cologne – Bonn and Frankfurt airports have their own theme songs.

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) introduced its theme song, Baby if we try we can ride across the sky, at a conference last spring. Airport public relations manager Robert Payne says the goal was to create a "corporate audio logo" for marketing, branding, and promotional purposes. "Our song was created to promote the ... strategy of developing FRA as much more than just an airport, but as a full-fledged city for business, innovations, ideas, shopping, leisure, etc..."

The Frankfurt Airport theme song (music and lyrics) was written by airport employee Stefan Muschalski whose band, the Master Session Group (MSG), includes several other airport employees. The song is performed at many airport events and is available, along with lyrics and music video, on the Fraport website.

Inspired by Eno

The Cologne-Bonn airportholds an important place in the history of music for airports. After being stuck at this airport for hours in the mid-1970s, musician Brian Eno created Ambient 1: Music for Airports, a genre-establishing album of calming, electronic music for public spaces.

In 2003, inspired by Eno's effort, the Cologne based band plus49 (the country code for Germany) teamed up with a design firm to create music specifically for the Cologne-Bonn Airport. They wrote on-hold music for the telephones, special elevator music and an airport "gong," a four-second piece of music called Happy Sky played before every overhead announcement in the airport. The band's song Symbols & Gateways, written to honor the launch of the Germanwings-Airbus "Spirit of Cologne," is now the airport theme song and included on an album of airport-inspired music.

Terminal tunes

In some cities music promotes the airport, but in some airports music promotes the city.

Live and recorded mariachi music was playing throughout Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport earlier this month in honor of Charro Days, an annual week-long fiesta celebrating the border towns of Brownsville, Tex., and Matamoros, Mexico. And there are three stages at Nashville International Airport where top notch local country, folk and jazz groups perform.

Audio recordings of Chicago-identified artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Patricia Barber, Dinah Washington and Gene Ammons can sometimes be heard playing between public address system announcements in the terminals at O'Hare International Airport and at Midway International Airport. But Karen Pride from the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation says the airport recently formed a partnership with a new Chicago-based agency to provide local artists' music in the terminals. Stay tuned for an announcement about that new service.

The airport with the most ambitious music program is definitely Austin- Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. Each week the airport's music coordinator, Nancy Coplin, not only books up to a dozen live performances into the airport's four performance venues, she plays DJ for the airport sound system. "It's all Austin music," says Coplin, "made by musicians who perform in the airport, who live in Austin, or who have an association with Austin."

Coplin changes the pre-recorded music playlist often, choosing from a music library that includes artists such as Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Marcia Ball, Stevie Ray Vaughn, W.C. Clark, Ruben Ramos, Los Lonely Boys, Lyle Lovett, Freddy Powers, Jerry Jeff Walker, Doug Sahm, and Carolyn Wonderland. And while copies of Coplin's mix-tapes aren't for sale, travelers can buy CDs by most featured musicians at an Austin-centric music store right in the airport.

Travelers, have you heard any of these theme songs? Which airports give travelers the best music experience? Share your picks and pans below.

Read previous columns

Harriet Baskas writes about travel etiquette for MSNBC.com and is the author of Stuck at the Airport.

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