Network News Music is dedicated to preserving news themes and sharing them with fellow enthousiasts. This website features news theme music from the broadcast networks, much of which has never been heard without people talking over it. In a sense, you can listen to the music in the way it was not intended to be heard: without voice-overs or fade-outs to commercial.
Most people don’t consciously listen to the theme music. But it does register on an subconscious level. Without a viewer realizing it, the theme music communicates a lot about the newscast that it introduces. Compositions that make heavy use of synthesizers tend to remind us of tabloidy and sensational news, while we associate big orchestras and a classical sound with serious and substantive journalism. This is why TV news producers spend a lot of time and money on getting the music ‘just right’.
Why I started Network News Music
Network News Music is created by Victor Vlam and came online January 27, 2002. I wanted to showcase the most memorable news themes of past and present. I have grown up watching the news and have always been intrigued by its presentation. At a young age, I recorded the themes on a cassette by holding a microphone to the TV set. It sounded awful but I could listen to the music whenever I wanted.
News themes have something special. They were always very easy to hum along to, yet sounded powerful, authoritative and classy. It was too bad that a lot of news music is forgotten after it leaves the air or – worse! – original copies get lost or destroyed.
What I noticed when I built the site was that a lot of people also appreciated news music. All the e-mails I get each week suggest that there are quite a few viewers out there who develop an emotional connection with the music. Unexpected, but perhaps not strange. Music conveys emotion really well and the news – especially big events – is usually an emotional ordeal. The news is often about life and death, winning and losing. So the music they heard for so many years on television brings back a certain feeling; something that reminds them of a time that has passed.
Why do newscasts need a theme?
Over time I have had the opportunity to speak with composers and people in charge of selecting music for TV newscasts. I found it fascinating to learn how and why it is used. The primary reason: brand recognition. You know you’re watching ABC News when you hear the four-note signature that used to open every single one of their programs. But it’s also used to grab the attention of viewers and tell them something important is on, hence NBC Nightly News’ opening brass horns, which will command attention no matter what you’re doing. And finally, theme music is a tone-setter
Over the years, the style of news music has changed since the seventies, when network newscast started using custom music. For one thing, cues have gotten shorter. Due to the networks’ focus on the younger demographics with their notoriously short attention spans, long opens and closes are a thing of the past. Yet while those cues are getting shorter, we are hearing more and more music. Lots of bumpers, promos and segment opens are now accompanied by music. When John Williams composed the theme music for NBC News in 1985, it consisted of a mere 19 cues. When James Horner composed the theme for CBS News in 2006, it consisted of hundreds of cues.
While news music has followed some of the trends of contemporary music, network news has been able to resist the influence from local and cable news to sound tabloidy, overly urgent or just generic. Network news themes still embody a certain quality and classiness.
A prestigious gig
Achieving that quality is possible because networks still have relatively big budgets for their theme music. Granted, due to increased competition from cable and online those budgets aren’t what they used to be. But the budgets make possible, for example, the use of real instruments and entire orchestras as opposed to just synthesizers with a few live instruments (as is customary for local news themes).
Good music doesn’t just need money, it needs to be produced by talented composers. And the best are selected by holding auditions before commissioning a theme. So the composers featured on this website are at the top of their field. These composers work hard to compose a great theme because they know that on a network, their theme is highly visible—potentially the entire nation gets to listen to their music. So composing a network theme is a prestigious gig.
It’s for these reasons that network news themes are often sophisticated compositions which can stand the test of time. In fact, I believe some to be absolute masterpieces! And, as such, they and their composers are deserving of a little bit of the limelight.
Guinness World Record
I’m not the only one to collect news theme music, but I do have the most news themes. In 2019 I was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of broadcast news themes. 1,876 hours, 2 minutes and 52 seconds.
Over the years, I’ve been interviewed by various media about news music. I’ve literally done radio interviews in ten countries, been featured in a CNBC report on TV and done numerous podcasts. Here are some of my favorites.
- Every Little Thing: Six O’Clock Soundtrack (2017)
- CNBC: Here’s how the news jingles are created (2018)
- The Washington Post: Network news music is the soundtrack to current events, but few know the composers behind it (2020)
- Crawford Media: Where Fact and Melody Collide (2022)
- Flightless Bird: News (2022)