Memories of “Gina” (and Jimmy)

This is the story of two pieces of music, forever connected in my memory. That is, I could hear them on endless repeat in my head, but didn’t actually know what the titles were or who recorded them.

All I was certain of was that they were played every evening, just before 6 p.m., on WJR radio in Detroit. Jimmy Launce, who worked for 38 years at WJR, hosted the “Afternoon Music Hall” in 1975, weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. (The “Morning Music Hall” was the domain of J.P. McCarthy, who owned the morning drive-time slot in Detroit for a generation.) Both shows were a combination of middle-of-the-road pop hits, weather, traffic, and conversation with local and national celebrities, politicians, and everyday people. Jimmy’s leaned a bit more toward music and J.P.’s was more talk, a shift that happened over several years, but they were the voices I heard because my dad listened to WJR in the car pretty exclusively. I’m pretty sure our car only had an AM radio, anyway, and FM was mostly public radio, classical music, free-form album rock, religious stations, and rebroadcasting of whatever AM station co-owned the FM station.

My dad would pick me up on Tuesday afternoons just before six so he could run me out to Waterford Township for a piano lesson. I took piano for seven years and never really learned to play very well, to the unending disappointment of my mom. Anyway, on the way, Jimmy Launce’s show would be ending and he would play a short vocal song that started with “The time has come to say goodnight,” followed by an instrumental that started with pizzicato strings. Jimmy would talk over the instrumental, thanking his guests for being on, promoting the next day’s show, and saying goodbye. Then the instrumental would fade out, right at the top of the hour, and the staff announcer would intone, “You’re listening to the Great Voice of the Great Lakes, AM 760, WJR, Detroit,” followed by a chime and then “It’s six o’clock, Farmer Jack savings time, time to save on…” and a couple of great deals you could get at one of Detroit’s major supermarket chains.

It was probably about then that I decided I wanted to have a radio show of my own, where I could have a cool theme song. I ended up working in radio for several years in the mid-eighties, but by then theme songs had become extinct.

Whenever I’d hear someone say, “well, I guess it’s time to say goodbye (or goodnight, or so long)” I’d think of that sequence. I wanted to hear the songs that Jimmy Launce played again, but didn’t know where to find them.

When Googling became a thing, I tried to search using the lyrics or “Jimmy Launce,” but came up empty until I discovered the website Motor City Radio Flashbacks (visit them for much more about Jimmy Launce, including his obituary where I learned his real name was James K. Lontz). I posted on their message board, and while I found a lot of fellow Detroit radio nostalgiacs, I didn’t find my answer.

Jimmy Launce died in 2018 at the age of 84, and shortly after his death, someone discovered what the instrumental song was and posted it on the remembrance page for Jimmy. The song is “Gina,” by the Don Costa Orchestra, and Jimmy used it at the end of pretty much every show from 1965 on. From there, I finally got a lead on one of the message boards: someone seemed to recall the vocal song might have been from a short-lived variety show hosted by Steve Lawrence. A check of Apple Music found the song, oddly enough titled “The Time Has Come to Say Goodnight,” which Lawrence sang at the end of each edition of his show, which only ran in the fall of 1965.

Here are the two pieces back to back, so you can recreate the end of Jimmy’s show yourself if you want: