Homage to Newschannel (and to Frank Gari)

The people who know me best know full well I wanna go into the business of broadcast journalism. Ever since I was young, I appreciated the aesthetics of how it worked – how to cover a story (and, to an extent, not cover it), how to make your product sound and look the best, and so on.

Which brings me to a certain factor of news presentation – the music package. Frank Gari invented the modern news package – linking together various themes suited for different parts of the broadcast (weather, sports, etc etc), and linking them all with a mnemonic. A signature. Creating a package always starts from one station that wants a good look – the best in the city. Gari started that with Cleveland’s WEWS. A certain slogan… “Catch 5”.

As the 80s went on, Gari made a name for himself creating great news imaging packages that, in fact, were so good, at least one or two stations in each market wanted a piece of him. In fact, one of his best known works started in Atlanta and, until recently, enjoyed an over 3 decade run of existence. Not on that same station, no… Atlanta moves too damn fast. But look further into the East Coast…

Maybe a bit too fast. Unfortunately, nobody in Savannah had enough foresight to record a full newscast from 1988. So, let’s look a little to the west, circa late 80s…

They wore that slogan like a feather on a cap. For the better part of a decade, those singers reminded you what you were watching.

[forgive the odd coloring]

And even when that choir was silenced at the turn of the millennium, the spirit remained.

Our Georgian friends weren’t too far behind either. They so much as used the original cuts up to last month.

Last month. Yes, last month. Something happened with Gari’s company last month. Acquisitions. It’s too much to explain to non-news junkies, so I’ll just be plain. There’s another company that does news music as well – Warner Chappell [no relation to Warner Bros Pictures]. WC bought out Gari. As a result, for whatever reason, Raycom, the company that owns WTOC and WAFB [which were owned by Aflac at the time of their Newschannel-isation], faced an iffy offer, since the whole of their station group used Gari themes [don’t count their cluster in Hawaii – they used some production music until mid-last year].

Cue a music group in Texas headed by a guy named Stephen Arnold. Suddenly, he made a better offer. That cluster in Hawaii – they switched to a new theme by Arnold long before this ever happened. But at the time I’m writing this, not counting a certain Cleveland cluster, all of their stations have music by Stephen Arnold. You’re asking yourself, “What about WAFB?” Well…

And WTOC? ….what about it?

It just goes to show you, in today’s world, brand recognition is no longer sacred.

Unless you’re WPVI. But that’s another story.

So, here’s to the legacy of Frank Gari, to the two stations that carried one of his longest running themes… and to that theme itself. Long live the king.

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Author: mtparson

Amateur journalist

2 thoughts on “Homage to Newschannel (and to Frank Gari)”

  1. I uploaded most of the WAFB videos you posted here to his blog (aside from the image campaign, which someone uploaded in 2010). I really like everything you have put here about Newschannel. I will add a few things regarding WAFB’s case that may help further your homage and argument.

    Aflac purchased WAFB from a local insurance company in Baton Rouge in 1988. They made many changes to the station, some of which were controversial, but worked out in the long run. They bounced a longstanding locally produced children’s show (Buckskin Bill), shuffled the daytime programming a bit (moving Young and Restless to 4 PM and Price is Right to 11 AM), and even hired an out of state newsman from Detroit (George Sells, the one sitting on the rocking chair in the image campaign video) to anchor the primetime newscasts. They also introduced the “Louisiana’s News Channel” monkier at the time. In November 1990, the theme and image campaign was introduced, at a time when many image campaigns were going by the wayside elsewhere–rival station WBRZ was phasing out its “On Your Side” image campaign, also by Frank Gari.

    The news opens harkened back to a major shift in Baton Rouge, when the economy was still soft due to the oil prices and the suburbs were growing, especially due to some education controversies in the city/parish. The fact they stressed Louisiana’s News Channel, as opposed to Baton Rouge, definitely helped people associate with the station.

    During the 1990s, CBS was going down the tubes in ratings, with losing the NFL rights to Fox and many affiliates, but WAFB was picking up in the ratings at the time. For the most part of WAFB’s history, it was a distant second to WBRZ, which was locally owned, had ties to the city’s newspaper, The Advocate, and had spent its entire history on the VHF band (WAFB moved to channel 9 in 1960). WAFB had a few ratings victories here and there (such as the one annotated in the 1990 news open), but Newschannel and the stability of the station helped propel it to number 1 by the mid 1990s–WBRZ was losing anchors left and right, went through several rebrandings and news packages, and was using focus groups throughout the 1990s. Today, WAFB’s ratings are almost twice over the ratings for the other stations in town, and Newschannel and the consistent branding has helped it stay that way.

    Who knows what will happen with the station now–perhaps it will have consistent ratings and a different news package may not change things. I don’t think there has been a WPVI-outcry here (ironically WBRZ used “Move Closer to Your World” for a period in the early 70s). Across the Atchafalaya Basin in Lafayette, KLFY had plenty of success with another Gari package, “Hello News,” (Hello Acadiana), and its ratings dominance has eroded since the package was retired in 2005. Hello Acadiana is periodically used in spots today, but I think the damage has been done there.

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