MUSIC: TALK RADIO

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A new cross-marketing extravaganza is sweeping the culture, and it may all be Ken Benson's fault. A year and half ago, Benson, then the program director at KKRZ in Portland, got creative and digitally "dropped" dialogue from the movie Jerry Maguire into Bruce Springsteen's theme song, "Secret Garden." The station's phone lines lit up, movie and music producers took note, and a trend was born.

Other DJs around the country started playing Benson's version and adding touches of their own. Theme songs from other movies, including Good Will Hunting, started to contain what became known as 'dialogue drops.' Late last year, Titanic's song, "My Heart Will Go On," by Celine Dion, got the treatment. By any measure, it is a titanic success, and the studios -- movie and music -- credit the ability to cross-promote. Music is the backbone of the movie industry, they say, and radio is the backbone of music.

Sean O'Sullivan, Sony Classical's national director of marketing & promotion, which promotes releases to radio, says the company will continue to use dialogue drops "where appropriate." In February, it commissioned Benson, now VP- music programming at MTV, to drop dialogue into "Southampton," an instrumental piece from Titanic's soundtrack. The phenomeon is picking up steam: Sony may use drops in soundtracks to The Mask of Zorro and Deep Impact, new movies whose music was written by James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of the Titanic score.

It's no secret that studios are using the dialogue drops to remind people of the movie rather than to tell them about it. (Compact discs sold to the public do not contain the dialogue, which is released in a special version only to radio stations.) "It reconnects people to the movie," observes Frankie Blue, program director at WKTU, a top 40 station in New York. "When they hear certain quotes, it brings back the emotional feeling and it makes them want to go back and see [the film] again."

"We're going to see a lot of it," says Alfa Tate-O'Neill, general manager of Saatchi & Saatchi's entertainment division in Los Angeles. "From the vantage point of an ad agency, I see a convergence of disciplines, with movies, music, TV and advertising -- all of which capture trends in the culture."

Not everyone is pro-convergence, though. Steve Bautista, creative director at Ingalls Advertising in Boston, says it's the "further encroachment of commerce on art. It's all about deals. The [monetary] measure of a successful movie is so high, and so they leave no stone unturned. They pack in ads wherever they can, so music producers hook up with the movie producers, who then make sure they get in as many products in as many ways as they can."

Ric Kallaher, an independent composer/producer who writes scores for commercials and television, points out that the soundtrack for Pulp Fiction incorporated dialogue but that the producer was "stylistically choosing music to set a mood." In contrast, he says, Titanic's theme song is "a packaging, cross-marketing thing. Why do you need dialogue in 'My Heart Will Go On?' The dialogue does nothing besides plug the movie."

As the trend gains momentum, will there be a backlash? So far, there are precious few signs of it. Seventeen months after its release, there's still a big interest in the Jerry Maguire track, if demand at Borders Music in Rosemont, Pa., is any guide. "They call up and specifically ask for the 'Secret Garden' where Tom Cruise says, 'You complete me,' " sighs Steve Childers, a music seller at the store. "And they keep asking for Celine Dion's song, too. It's so cheesy.

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