The news is Hollywood

It’s my habit to have the radio on in the morning when I make breakfast. By default, the radio is tuned to Radio 6 music. This is because I like music and I would like to hear what the young guns of the music industry are creating these days (not much, as it happens but that’s another story).

Then the news comes on. It includes snippets of stories, similar to a Twitter feed from the account of a quarrelsome psychopath. What grabs my attention though, is the ‘music’ underneath the reports. It’s mostly drones with reverb, but my thought is, why the hell is it there?

Let’s flashback a decade or so, to the BBC’s six o’clock flagship television news. It has been given a major revamp and as the main headlines are announced, dramatic drum beats accompany them. As I heard them for the first time, my film maker training informed me that they impart only one mood: be afraid. I thought, what if the headlining story is a happy one? The music will be at odds.

Sure enough, the dramatic introduction music was changed within a few days to something less frenetic (mood: be wary). A director on the news crew must have realised how confusing it was for the viewer if the station wanted to report stories that were meant to be beneficial to the general population (believe it or not, on rare occasions the news sometimes includes such stories).

This news director serves the same basic function as the director on a movie set: they want to embellish the product so it has maximum emotional impact. They’re manipulating the story to move the viewer in a particular direction.

Jump-cut to present-day Radio 6 again. The drone music is played throughout the news bulletin, unlike the TV news (or indeed, any other radio station I’ve listened to) which just use the announcer’s voice. Why is that?

I try and visualise the production meeting where the decision to include music was made. Someone suggests, maybe people tuning in to listen to music would like music with their news? Someone else asks, what kind of music would be played though?

Someone would then have to be instructed to find suitable music, lay it alongside various news reports and take the experiments back to the director who would listen to them and make a decision about which one to use.

It doesn’t end there though, the sound mixer will have to make a decision about the volume level of the music in the mix: should it be subliminal, background or foreground? Should it vary with different stories? How do they decide?

Remember, this has zero connection with journalism; it’s there as pure decoration. 

As an aside, I do recall hearing the first announcements of the death of the Queen on Radio 6 and noticing the drone music had been dropped. Who decided the death of the Queen required absolute respect whereas stories about massacres and the deaths of thousands of people due to natural disasters did not? The fact the music was dropped for the Queen announcement confirms my observation it is obtrusive. 

If I had been in the production meeting where someone suggested maybe people tuning into a music station to listen to music might like music with their news, I would have asked, ‘if they tune in for music, why include any news at all?’ 

Of course, I’d have been fired on the spot.