Spectator calls for ‘obnoxious’ theme music: Gets an ear in return

A Pennsylvania station’s news music has been the source of complaints from viewers in the past — but now one of its anchors is offering the “real” reason the station plays it.

WNEP, the ABC affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA, has been using what is commonly called a “dance version” of the legendary “Move Closer to Your World” theme music used by WPVI in Philadelphia for decades.

Technically speaking, the package is separate, originally compiled for WPXI in Pittsburgh, but WNEP is now the only station in the country to use it (and no other station besides WPVI uses “MCTYW”).

Either way, at least one WNEP viewer doesn’t seem to care what the history of the music is.

“Every time I hear that obnoxious music you use as filler leading into a story or ending a story, ‘bah bah bah ba boom,’ ‘bah bah bah ba boom,’ I just change the channel every time you start it,” he states what can only be described as a grumpy old man from Old Forge, Pennsylvania.

“So we’re losing you to the music?” asks mock-shocked host Scott Shaffer, who hosts a weekly segment called Talkback Feedback, which answers, often humorously, a selection of calls made to the Talkback hotline 16 at the station. Line calls, which can range from commentary on the day’s news to the obscure and odd, are usually played each day at the end of the station’s 5.30pm newscast.

“You know this is no coincidence, Old Forge. We play this music every time we want someone to go away. Nothing personal,” Shaffer quips, before a clip is shown of someone, presumably Shaffer based on the corresponding wristwatch, dancing to the music while wearing the head of the station’s quasi-former Newscat mascot.

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Shaffer has similar responses to callers who complain about out-of-state people winning the lottery and bingo halls admitting underage players — as well as another favorite topic of debate on the Talkback lines, morning weatherman Joe Snedeker, whom many viewers love – hate relationship with.

Each complaint is addressed with another clip of the Newscat dancing, music playing.

“Old Forge” seems to incorrectly refer to the “bah bah bah ba boom” part of the music being used as “leading into a story” or “ending a story” when he probably really meant, at least in TV news parlance, leading to or out of block (the parts of a news broadcast bookended by another program or commercials). Most stations use a portion of their theme, often what is known as a vamp, in these cases.

Vamps are usually a simple series of repeated notes that are meant to play over and over, seemingly on a loop. They often lack a specific melody, making them better suited to playing voice-overs, instead relying more on a repetitive beat to define themselves.

Compared to signatures, the more prominent, melodic series of notes that often help “define” a news music theme, they’re not as memorable (WNEP is “da da da da da da dum”), but they can still to serve as an audible signal to viewers that the news is starting again or about to go on a break.

Many news music packages feature an extended vamp option with a bumpy edge, often featuring signature elements that can also be played for a newscast wrap. These vamps can be part of a clip offered for a certain length, such as several minutes, and traditionally a member of the production team handling the audio will start playing the clip when the newscast has exactly that many minutes to go, but with the recording ” muted’ so viewers can’t hear it.

As the newscast draws to a close, the team member can fade in the music so that the final notes are played in the last few seconds of the broadcast, bringing everything down to pure audio.

This ending can sometimes pop out when a news show offers an extremely long string of banter, which can also sometimes be combined with quick segments about the weather and information such as lottery numbers, prime-time lineups, or stock market updates, when the music essentially “expired” due to the length of time it has been running.

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