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NPR composer says theme songs just a side gig

BJ Leiderman composes themes for NPR shows like 'Morning Edition' and 'Science Friday.' This May, he's coming out with his debut album, 'BJ!'
Mark Edward Atkinson
BJ Leiderman composes themes for NPR shows like 'Morning Edition' and 'Science Friday.' This May, he's coming out with his debut album, 'BJ!'

Over the years, BJ Leiderman has composed the theme music for lots of NPR shows like Morning Edition, Marketplace, Science Friday, and more.

But in early May, he’ll release his first album. And it’s a lot different from his theme jingles. While listeners might recognize him from his theme music, Leiderman says his passion is performing in a band.


“This album that I’m releasing, BJ! Is sort of a Hail Mary pass to a second career,” Leiderman explains. “BJ 2.0 so to speak.”

BJ Leiderman got hooked on music when he heard The Beatles.He says he remembers watching them make their famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Later, he and his childhood pal would play piano and drums to their favorite tunes.

“We were pretty much Beatle maniacs,” says Leiderman in a convincing British accent.

BJ Leiderman’s big break in the Public Radio world came in 1979. He had a friend who worked at NPR, who passed along a demo tape of Leiderman’s jingles to the producer of a new show called Morning Edition

Back then, most member stations played lots of classical music. So, Leiderman’s assignment was to come up with a theme that wasn’t too jarring for listeners.

Almost 40 years later– and a few updated versions later– that theme still identifies the show. Leiderman says NPR paid him about $5000 dollars for the theme, but agreed to give him a credit after every show.

“Of course my name being ‘BJ Leiderman’ and not ‘John Smith,’ it just sticks out there,” he says.

Suddenly all the teasing he got through elementary and high school for his name, ‘BJ’ was all worth it, he says. People recognize it.


And BJ! is the name of his debut album.It’s a project that’s been 30-years in the making. He says it took him so long to complete because he’s lazy.

The album features 15 original songs, and you can hear Leiderman sing in most of them.But there are a few instrumental tracks as well–some of them even feature banjo virtuoso, Bela Fleck.

Leiderman envisions himself performing this music in public radio cities and towns all over the country as a way to help member stations raise money to pay for the shows, like the ones he writes music for.

“A lot of the listeners don’t realize that NPR doesn’t give these shows out to the member stations,” he explains. “Member stations have to pay serious fees to air Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the others every year. So, that’s my part of giving back.”

BJ Leiderman’s debut album BJ! comes out May 6. You can find more information about him here.

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.