The Science Friday Theme Song That Got Lost In The Mail
Back in 1998, comedian and author Steve Allen, first host of The Tonight Show, joined Ira on Science Friday to talk about the importance of critical thinking. Allen had written a book called Dumbth, calling for improvements in the public’s logical reasoning abilities. Ira was a longtime fan of Allen’s, and eagerly invited him to discuss the book.
During the interview, Allen also took to the studio piano to play his signature song, “This Could Be The Start of Something Big.” As the comedian was leaving, Ira jokingly remarked that Science Friday could use a theme song of its own.
Several years later, while cleaning the cluttered SciFri office, staff uncovered an unopened box of mail—including an envelope from Hollywood containing a single cassette tape, marked “Theme Song For Science Friday—Steve Allen.”
As part of Science Friday’s 30th anniversary celebrations, Ira and SciFri director Charles Bergquist recount the story of the tape, and finally premiere the song, written and performed by the late Steve Allen.
This week, Science Friday celebrated 30 years on the air!
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Ira Flatow and the Staff and Board of Science Friday
As Science Friday’s director, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.
IRA FLATOW: One last thing before we go. Celebrating our 30th anniversary this week, chatting with Charles Bergquist our director, who has been with the show almost as long as I have. 20 plus years, huh, Charles?
CHARLES BERGQUIST: Yeah, winter of ’97.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. That is a long time. We have had a nomadic office experience of the past 30 years. Never stayed in one place very long. For example, back in 1991, we started at WNYC Radio in the Municipal Building in New York. A pretty cool place.
CHARLES BERGQUIST: Yeah, it’s this old city tower down by the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayer Fiorello LaGuardia used to read the Sunday comics from those studios.
IRA FLATOW: Exactly. We had tiny, cramped spaces, but it was fun to be in, and our studio was huge. We had a Steinway grand piano in it. But I digress. Let me move on. We spent quite some time renting office space from a diverse group of people, including the Sun Myung Moon folks, Sirius Satellite Radio.
CHARLES BERGQUIST: Yeah, I think Howard Stern took over our studio when we left.
IRA FLATOW: Actually true. We had to leave because of Howard Stern. There was literally no room for us. But that’s another story. Let me continue, because perhaps the most challenging location was the back of a bridal shop in midtown Manhattan on the fifth floor above a pizza parlor. Remember that?
CHARLES BERGQUIST: I remember having to walk through their bridal gown cutting room to get to our office, yeah.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah, I do remember navigating those gowns and the sewing machines. And I’m bringing all of this up as a lead into a very special moment on SciFri, and it all begins with one of our office moves. It’s a longish story, but worth it at the end. Here it is. Back in 1998, Steve Allen, the original host of The Tonight Show, a terrific comedian, songwriter, even created a fictional talk show called Meeting of the Minds that invited guests like Voltaire and Francis Bacon and Charles Darwin to chat.
Well, Steve Allen came on SciFri to talk about a book he wrote called Dumbth, which championed critical thinking. Now I was a Steve Allen fan boy. I loved his comedy, and would have used any excuse I could think of, like this book, to get him on the show. And much to my delight and surprise, he agreed. He even agreed to sit down at the Steinway in our studio and play his theme song, which he wrote, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.”
And he was very kind to me as I tried to act very professional in front of my idol while I was going gaga. And as I was saying goodbye, I made an offhanded remark about needing a theme song, because at that point, we didn’t have our own theme song. We use the same one as our partner show, Talk of the Nation.
CHARLES BERGQUIST: But fast forward a couple of years, and we’re going through one of those office moves you were talking about. So I’m trying to clean up that very small, cluttered office. There’s books everywhere, piles of paper, boxes upon boxes of tapes.
And up on top of a cabinet, I find one of those post office mail bins full of mail that hadn’t been opened yet. Somebody had just tossed the box up on top of the cabinet to get it out of the way on the floor. So I start going through that mail, and find an envelope from an office in Hollywood with a cassette tape inside, and it just says “Theme song for Science Friday, Steve Allen.”
IRA FLATOW: Yeah, that was a bubble packed envelope I will never forget. It sat unopened for what, years? So I listened to the cassette, and it was a delightful little piano piece lasting about a minute.
And as you say, with the name, “Theme for Science Friday” written right on the cassette. Now, you just can’t claim ownership of a piece of music and use it, even when one is given to you, without first clearing the intellectual copyright for it. And by this time, Steve Allen had passed away.
So what do I do? I searched around and found Steve Allen’s company, still listed in Hollywood, and I got in contact with his son, who checked the ownership of the music and got back to me saying, well, it has not been registered with ASCAP or BMI. It’s yours. And here it is. The world premiere of Steve Allen’s Science Friday theme.
It is a very nice little piece, and I Thank the late Steve Allen for it. But you know what, I’m still loving our current BJ Leiderman theme, and I think we’ll stick with it.