Did you know that all over the country, local TV news viewership is down?
It’s way down in every demographic except people older than 60. The older crowd remains stalwart: they watch local TV news. Trouble is, advertisers don’t care about you after you turn 40. If you’re a senior citizen, you’re not making your local TV station any money. And making money is what it’s all about.
I think I know what TV news’s trouble is.
It’s not that the stories they cover are long on drama and short on substance.
It’s not that stations got rid of all the older, experienced reporters and replaced them with fresh college grads (at a third the salary). Beauty pageant winners especially welcome!
It’s not that stations cover Dancing With the Stars and American Idol as if these shows were actual news.
It’s not that if a single snowflake is sighted anywhere in the metropolitan area, the station goes wall-to-wall weather, pre-empting your favorite prime-time shows.
It’s not that they go live to the scene even when whatever happened there happened six hours ago (and they probably slap a Breaking News banner across the screen, too).
It’s not that it’s so much easier to just get your news on the Internet.
No, I think the real problem with local television news today – the real reason viewership is in the toilet – is the theme music. Seriously. If you still actually watch TV news, quick: can you hum your favorite news program’s current theme? Of course you can’t. Not only have news themes been squeezed out in favor of more commercials, the tiny bits of music that remain are throbbing, stabbing sturm und drang designed to make you think something Really, Really Important Is Happening Right Now So Whatever You Do Don’t Change the Channel!!!!!!!!!!! It’s exhausting! Nobody likes it!
So. TV stations everywhere, I’m taking you to school. You want your ratings to improve? Take a lesson from these stations and their melodious, catchy, hummable news themes from the 1970s and 1980s. People heard this music and they immediately thought of your station. They were drawn in, like the rats following the Pied Piper. With the right theme music, it doesn’t matter what you cover!
(Did you notice how many of these shows were called Eyewitness News? It was probably the most popular name for local news shows in the 1970s and 1980s.)
Seriously now: TV news themes have been serious business since about the early 1970s. All but two of the themes in that video were composed and orchestrated by companies whose business is to make themes for television. (The WJW theme was cribbed from a recording of MacArthur Park by Hugo Montenegro, and the KABC theme is from the famous tar sequence in the film Cool Hand Luke.) Several of those companies are still at it today.
If news music interests you, go right away to the SouthernMedia News Music Search Archive, which is cataloging the news music used on every station everywhere for all time, complete with audio clips.