For most of the 1990s you couldn't watch KYW-TV in Philadelphia without hearing music by MONSTER TRACKS.
The relationship began in early 1990 with a call from then KYW Marketing Director Dick Goggin. Dick had heard about my winning Keyboard Magazine's 1988 Reader Soundpage Contest and wanted to know if I would be interested in doing some work for KYW-TV. This was an exciting invitation because it would give me an opportunity to write music that was very different from the jingles and instrumental themes I'd been creating for my ad agency clients.
The first few projects Dick sent my way were public service announcements, but when engineer Paul Byers joined the Baker staff later that year he brought all of KYW's daily promotional production with him. This placed me in constant contact with KYW producers, who were eager to carry out Dick's initiative to unify the brand by creating custom music for the station's news promos.
You're probably aware that TV stations produce ads to promote their nightly news broadcasts; these "promos" typically open with a line like "Tonight at 6 on Eyewitness News" and go on to provide an overview of the stories the news team is planning to cover that evening. Production of these ads goes on like clockwork. Once the News Director decides which stories will be featured, a producer writes a script that is read by a member of the news team or professional voice talent (at the time KYW was using legendary local announcer Scott Sanders). That voiceover recording is then mixed with music and sound effects and shipped out for broadcast. These daily promos--or "topicals," as KYW called them--rely on music to set the appropriate tone and reinforce the station's brand identity. I created numerous pieces for this purpose, one of which became the foundation for most of the news promos that KYW aired in the 90s.
Philadelphians will immediately recognize the familiar, five-note melodic theme long associated with KYW. This had been in use for as long as I could remember, and Dick was clear that anything I did for the station should incorporate it. I don't know who composed it (and neither does my friend and colleague Larry Freedman, who has featured it in the iconic station IDs he's been producing for KYW NewsRadio since 1984). It is undoubtedly the most recognizable musical motif in Philadelphia broadcast history, and I enjoyed finding ways of adapting it to fit the various musical moods that were needed to support different types of news events. For example, on one occasion I was asked to create a piece that would be appropriate for a crisis.
Another milestone came when Dick asked me to compose a new theme for the station's morning news broadcast. Listening back to this track today makes me smile because it recalls the hilarious scene in the film Broadcast News when characters played by real-life composers Glen Roven and Marc Shaiman pitch their news theme to a network executive. It's also a reminder of how much orchestral sampling technology has improved since 1994, though at the time the sounds I was using were considered state of the art.
My work for KYW reached a peak between 1994 and 1995 when the station switched its network affiliation from NBC to CBS. Producer Steve Miller was planning a protracted campaign to prepare viewers for the change, and asked me to develop a package of custom music to support the effort. His one musical direction was to include a metallic percussion effect, which he described as "the sound of someone tapping on your TV screen." Steve loved the element and insisted that it be prominently featured in the mix.
In today's overpopulated broadcast environment, work for a local TV affiliate may seem relatively insignificant. But to a kid who had grown up with a grand total of eight channels on his television set, having the opportunity to write music for one of the three major "VHF" stations in his hometown market was a big deal. I certainly felt proud to contribute to something that had long been a part of my life, and that was so much a part of life in Philadelphia.
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.