Oct. 6 2010 10:09 AM

Glenn Erath is the reason you remember 1-800-901-1102

Glenn Erath
Photo by Dave Maass
In 1962, Glenn Erath saw the Beatles on television.

“I thought, Gosh! They’ve got all these girls screaming,” he says. “I was only 6, but I thought, I want to do that!” Nearly 50 years later, Erath is not a pop star. He’s a bug man.

A musical bug man.

To be fair, he’s not an exterminator. In place of a pesticide tank, he carries an acoustic guitar, which he uses to market termite inspections to real-estate groups.

He’s also the man behind one of San Diego’s most infectious jingle campaigns: Corky’s Pest Control.

“I didn’t really envision myself at this point in my life doing this,” he says. “But right now, it’s working out pretty well, and I’m having a good time doing it.”

And, by all accounts, he’s brilliant at it. Anyone in San Diego who regularly watches TV or listens to the radio has heard the short ditty advertising Corky’s toll-free number. But he’s also written a song for every vermin that Corky’s kills. The show tune by the blonde who’s so happy she wants to dance because, “Thanks to Corky’s, no more ants”—that was Erath. The guy in pajamas who’s being tormented by sock-puppet insects—Erath is the one singing, “Bugs in my bed and I want them all dead / I think they’re kind of creepy.”

The Corky’s songs are often layer productions that seem to include multiple instruments and choruses of voices. Really, it’s just Erath playing around in his home studio. His snappy rhymes and catchy melodies are on par with geek-rockers They Might Be Giants.

“I don’t know The Giants,” he says, when told of the comparison. “Oh! They Might Be Giants. I’ve heard of them, but I don’t know anything about them.”

Erath hails from an older time, an age when consumers were bombarded with jingles like, “You wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!” That was one of the ditties that helped steer Erath down his career path—that and the melody for the “Tarpon Rodeo,” a New Orleans fishing tournament.

That’s where Erath was born, but, as the son of insurance salesman, he bounced around Texas and Georgia, eventually ending up on the West Coast. He studied marketing at San Diego State University, spent a few months at a seminary and found inspiration in the live verse of poet Ogden Nash.

It was around that time—the mid 1970s—that Erath met Joe Bauer, radio personality on the Hudson & Bauer morning show on 760 KFMB. Erath joined the team, writing humorous jingles; his “hit” was a parody in response to the 1981 baseball strike: “I hate baseball, baseball really stinks / I hate baseball, baseball’s full of finks. / Winfield, Garvey, Rose, stick it up your nose and go tell Bowie phooey too.”

Bauer says the song was pressed into a 45 that, coincidentally, was released the day the strike ended.

Erath was also one of the show’s main impersonators—his Mike Tyson and Elvis Presley were apparently dead-on.

“As a matter of fact, when Elvis died, we called him that day in heaven,” Bauer says. “We would call him from time to time on his birthday, and he’d be up in heaven eating jelly doughnuts.”

Years after the show went off the air, Bauer heard the Corky’s jingle and immediately recognized Erath’s handiwork. It was in the rhythm, the intonation, the wordplay. The voice of a termite used the same high-pitched effect Erath used to play “The World’s Smallest Person” on the morning show.

“Glenn has an incredible wit,” Bauer says. “Actually, sometimes he’s too fast for himself. I tell him to slow down: ‘You’ve slid past some really funny stuff. Let people hear it; let it soak in.’ It’s like Robin Williams: You have to listen to it two or three times to get it all.”

It wasn’t too fast for pest-control mogul Corky Mizer. As the story goes, he called up KFMB to get Erath’s name and number. It was a smart move: Erath’s work has twice won top honors from the San Diego Radio Broadcasters Association.

“Nine-oh-one-one-one-oh-two,” sings Bill Corkery of Bill Corkery Productions, who shared the award with Erath. “It just sticks with you. It’s entertaining and has more longevity than a lot of the commercials that are just cluttering the airwaves.”

Erath says he used to work too hard on his jingles, writing verses upon verses, before he realized that simplicity is key.

“That’s the creative challenge for me,” he says. “It’s more than just writing a song. It’s actually trying to write a song that’s effective in getting people to remember something or even take action.”

Until about six months ago, Erath was making a living writing jingles for Corky’s and other clients, like Goodwill, as well as hosting roasts and events. But over the last year, as he fell upon financial hardship, Corky’s hired him full time. Now he sings songs about short-selling homes at real-estate gatherings.

“I have found that a lot of times I’ll go to these conferences and a guy will talk for a half-hour and I can summarize what he said in a 30-second song,” Erath says. “Get to the point; get to the crux of what you’re trying to do. I love simplicity. I love it if I can boil it down to something simple and it’s clever.”

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