Saturday, May 9, 2020

Turn to News - A Homage to an Unsung American Hero

Here it is; a documentary to a part of my childhood that no one ever asked for.

I was deliberating whether or not this was the place to write about a part of the formative years of my life. After serious consideration, I thought there couldn't be a more appropriate place to do this, as this is about music, and it is, if but remotely, related to video games. If you're interested in sentimental, nostalgic, miss-my-hometown sappy pabulum, and American pop-culture history that no one ever talks about, read on.

There are some memories that just stay with you all your life. But then, I'm the kind of guy who just remembers a lot of trivial things most everyone else tends to forget. I'm the kind of guy who tells my friends "Hey, remember when this happened," and then my friends tell me "OMG! How can you still remember that."

I remember you...
There are all kinds of events that just stay with you in one way or another. I'm sure that psychologists have found a way to categorize them all and I'm just reinventing the wheel here.

There are things you remember as visions; something you saw that just always stays in your head. Some people call the ability to recall something you've seen in detail as a "photographic memory."

Sometimes, a memory exists as a taste or smell. When you smell or taste something, you think to yourself "Ah! I remember this. My dad used to make this. My mom used to have a cream that smelled like this. My cousin used to wear this cologne." I've heard that smell is probably the strongest trigger for memories.

Then there are things you remember because of how they felt to your touch. Or just you remember it because your body remembers it.

Finally, there are memories that I'm going to call here "aural memories"; these are memories of sounds that you've heard, be it the cry of an animal, the words somebody said, a noise, such as the crackling of fire or the patter of rain, the sound of an instrument, or the sound of a song, be it being played live or on the radio.

Let me tell you, I can remember things as far back as when I was 2. There are memories that will always just stick with me.

Some memories shape and influence who you are; we are who we are because of our past experience.

How does this connect to a blog about Japan, music and retro-gaming?

The thread that's going to connect this post to this blog is that of my love of music.

I can't speak for everyone, but some of my favorite music is the kind that reminds me of "the good ol' days," the days when I can recall everything was "better." (Although in retrospect, this is probably a naive delusion.)

I say that if there is anything that influences a person's musical tastes as an adult, it's the music one has heard as a child.

Today, I want to talk about a piece of music that has stayed with me since my days of elementary school; a piece of music I've always hummed to myself whenever I want to recall those days when my only worries were having to finish my homework and getting to school on time, when the happiest moments of my life were when the school day was over and I could come home to watch my favorite cartoons and TV shows. Just humming this tune to myself makes me recall those days when school was out and I was free to enjoy those long, hot days of summer.

I want to talk about my recent adventure in revisiting my past, and discovering who the composer to part of the soundtrack of my childhood was

The Curiosity to Scour the Internet for Child Memories Dawns
YouTube is such an ingenious, wonderful invention. The things one can find uploaded to their archives are simply amazing. Every once in a while, somebody will post a link on Facebook to a video of old commercials and/or TV shows to the effect of "Hey! Do you remember back when...?" I love these videos invoking nostalgia. This has caused me to spend countless nights on YouTube searching for old content to regain those childhood memories.

Who remembers "Ice Cream Cones" Cereal? :-P

In its early days, what one could find on YouTube was severely limited. All the nostalgic stuff I craved was very hard to come by. But slowly, little by little, one could see video after video of things like "commercials from the 90s... commercials from the 80s... opening sequences to shows from this or that era." And not just American content, but content from television around the world. It's amazing that you can find nostalgic content from countries around the world. YouTube is beginning to be a sort of repository; a collective memory for the world.

Another thing I'll aways remember; double-mint gum commercials...

How many of you remember that commercial for Zelda: Link's Awakening?

This must have played on Channel 35 countless times.

Or how about Dr. Mario and that long annoying "Daba daba dooba doobi do-boh!!!" song?

Almost any commercial for a Nintendo game; look it up on YouTube, and it's there. (That was it. The only thing on this post having to do with video games. LOL!)

It happened just the other day; I was sitting at my dining room table studying Japanese, when an old familiar tune started playing in my head. As of this moment, there was no real name to it, it was just the music that would play on my favorite TV channel back home on different occasions. In particular, I remember this music playing during my favorite time-slot coming home from school; the time-slot when all my favorite cartoons would play and birthdays of local residents in my city would be announced.

And then, just there and then, I thought "HEY! Why not check if by any chance, somebody has uploaded this to YouTube. You an find almost anything else. Who knows! Maybe somebody out has thought to upload it."

So I go to my computer, go to YouTube and type in "KCBA 35 song."

I wasn't even sure what I was looking for; I just wanted to see if anyone uploaded something from that channel that might have that music on it.

And sure enough, there it was; a video titled: "KCBA Turn to 35 Promo 1987"

I click, and all of a sudden I was a 2nd grader again, waiting for the KCBA Kid's Club to start so I could watch Ducktales, Thundercats, Silverhawks and GIJoe.

The names Wendy and John Van Camp return to memory, as the hosts of the TV broadcast.

In one way or another, this tune was used on Channel 35. This promo clip would play, or an instrumental variation of it would play during a dedicated slot to announce kids' birthdays.

I remember that it was nice to listen to this familiar melody day in and day out, until one day, it was different.

The birthday announcements would come on and I noticed something was wrong.

"They changed the song!" I thought... "What could have happened???"

Incidentally, there are a couple videos of the birthday announcements, only, it's with the new weird, dorky song.

I must have been in the 2nd grade when this happened.

It was rather traumatic and I still remember the change to this day.

Curiouser and Curiouser!
So here I am, 30 years or so later, this melody still in my head.

My curiosity led me to search YouTube, but it didn't end with the discovery of this video.

After that trip down memory lane, I scrolled down to see the comments, as you do after watching a video on YouTube, and I was delightfully amazed to find out that people in my city weren't the only ones who grew up listening to this music.

Apparently this song, or as somebody might say, "jingle," was used in promotional material at TV stations all across the country; other stations across the US incorporated this song in one way or another, modified to fit local life.

In a sense, this was not only the soundtrack to *my* childhood, but the soundtrack to American people's lives throughout the 80's and early 90's.

"Turn to News" Package, by Frank Gari
Having read the comments, I did some more digging. This music had to have had an author, and I was determined to find out who it was. I wanted to find out exactly where this music came from, and more about where it was played. My search did not disappoint!

I now know that that childhood tune was part of a "package" called "Turn to News", composed by one Frank Gari back in 1983.

The first TV station to use it was WXYC-TV in Cleveland. It was called "Turn to 3" back then.

The jingle was so good that another station, WXYZ-TV in Detroit asked Frank Gari to rewrite it for them. It was re-written as "Stand Up and Tell 'Em You're From Detroit."

This promotional campaign became so successful it was used in other stations across the country thereafter.

It was so popular that it was even used in other countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Chile, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Sweden and Venezuela.

You might say it was an "international success."

I'm just amazed by the age of information we live in. Just a few days ago, this was a nameless melody, and now, I know exactly who wrote it, when it was written and where it was broadcast. In addition, I've become more educated on a little bit of unspoken American pop-culture history.

A Brief History of Frank Gari, the Father of the Image Campaign and News Music Package
It's a little-known fact, but this man, Frank Gari, has been writing the soundtrack to people's lives all around the world. Credit has never been given to him, and it seems he has never really cared to claim it; he just produces music and it's used in media without any mention of him.

Gari began as a pop singer, writing hit songs like "Utopia," "Lullaby of Love" and "Princess" in the 50's and 60's, all of which hit the US Billboard top 40 charts in 1961.

He performed on shows such as The Merv Griffin Show, The Steve Allen Show and American Bandstand. It wasn't until he moved to Cleveland when he began writing jingles for commercials, and music packages for news networks and image campaigns for TV stations.

Some of Gari's early jingles were for Ohio Bell telephone company, Genie garage doors and early commercals for Wendy's. According to interviews with Gari (Links at the end of this post below.), he wrote "With a name like Smuckerss, it has to be good" for Smucker's jams and jellies, and "You deserve a break today" for McDonald's.

It was in Cleveland, Ohio, where, Gari broke into the television broadcasting business, and he pioneered the idea of the "music package" and the "image campaign." According to an interview with NewsCast Studio (link below), up until the 1970's. it was common for news broadcasters to use random cuts of music from movies using vinyl records. Broadcasters would actually drop a needle onto a record and that would be the theme. It was Frank Gary who introduced the idea of the "music package," which included a theme and variations of that theme in different styles for different times, news segments etc.

At the time, there were only three television news networks; ABC, NBC and CBS. Having heard Gari's work in commercial jingles, WEWS-TV 5 (ABC) approached him about writing a song to promote their TV station. Thus the "Catch 5" image campaign was born.


According to Gari, this was the very first TV station image campaign of its time. Channel 5 ABC was 3rd in ratings, but it shot up to No. 1 soon after the Catch 5 image campaign. It was such a success that NBC asked him to write a song for them, and then CBS followed suit. So there was a time where he was writing music for all three networks.

In another instance, WABC in New York approached Gari about recording a new, fresh recording of the Eyewitness News theme they were using at the time, which came from an old, worn vinyl record. The original recording was a song from the album for the movie "Cool Hand Luke," which had become scratchy and overall poor quality.

WABC wanted him to record a brand new recording using a full orchestra. This was the time when he put together his first "music package" which consisted of 12 different recordings for say, sports, weather and traffic. According to Gari, it's still the No. 1 news theme in broadcasting and is still being used today at most ABC news station to promote Eyewitness News.

It was from the 1970s onward that news networks would begin to be identified by their own particular theme. Up until that point, they didn't have a unique identity, but the creation of original music began to establish definite images and an identity for each network.

In his interview with NewsCast Studio, Gari says that what sets his music apart was his privilege to record all of his music packages with the best studios with the best orchestras. He laments that nowadays, with budget cuts, the trend of news music has headed in a direction of doing everything electronically, which means no live musicians. In his time, more time was dedicated for opening themes, which could be as long as 20 seconds. In the past, this length of time served to introduce and develop a theme that would serve as a memorable image and identity. However, nowadays, this time has shrunk down to 5 seconds at most, so the importance of a theme which would develop a news network's unique identity has declined.

Other music packages that can be accredited to Gari would be the "Hello" and "This is home" packages, which have also been played across the country. What is very memorable of the music in these packages is that they all had this theme of having a common goal, of working together and being proud to call one's hometown a "home." In some cities, these songs became a sort of "Town Anthem." For this reason, it can be said that Frank Gari is truly the composer for the soundtrack of America.

In his interview, Frank mentioned that one of his favorite packages that he wrote was the "Stand up and tell 'em you're from Detroit" package. This was the package that will have served as a basis for the music package used at my local TV station. Although "Turn to 35" never became our city's "anthem," I can't help but remember my hometown and the memories I had there.

Gari talks about his lament in the decline of the image campaign. Campaigns like "This is home," "Hello" and "Stand up and tell 'em you're from..." really do seem to instill these ideas of a common goal, working together to build a community and being proud of the place you came from. I think I can agree with Gari, that if the image campaign was brought back, it could help Americans today, especially now, more than ever with the current pandemic.

I'm happy and satisfied to have gone down this rabbit hole of a memory. I'm glad to know that the composer to the soundtrack of my childhood, of my hometown, of America, has a name. I'm glad to know the name of a person who not only touched my life, but indirectly touched the lives of others and changed the face of television in America and even the world.

Frank Gari, thank you for the work that you've done.

Eternal Links:
Fandom - The Annex - Turn to News

Frank Gari's Wikipedia Page

People Pill - Frank Gari

Mental Itch - The Story of Frank Gari

Music Weird - Interview with Frank Gari