Sunday, May 22, 2011
Rendering news more urgent through music
The news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 is presented without the accompanying introductory music, and without any musical interruptions. This is not true of the news on BBC tv, which is introduced and interrupted by drumbeats. It is also not true of the majority of news broadcasts around the world, whether on radio or tv.
What, I wonder, is the purpose of this?
The visual effect of a scene can be greatly enhanced by music, as is common knowledge to all those who watch films. The neural mechanism underlying this enhancement is not known with any precision, but that there must be some increased activity in the visual cortex when the appropriate music accompanies the visual scene is likely.
Perhaps musical accompaniments to news bulletins have the same purpose, to enhance – what? – the sense of urgency and expectation.
The pre-news bulletin music tends to be somewhat urgent and at times hysterical. Its intended effect, I suppose, is to give the news items that are read some urgency. But the uncritical use of the “urgent” music has, on occasions, a somewhat hilarious and presumably unintended outcome. When I was living in Washington DC, there was an hourly news broadcast, which was preceded by such urgent music, designed to give the news items greater immediacy and importance; it was accompanied by the words, “News, news, news, three dimension news – every hour, on the hour!”, words which were uttered with much force and gravitas. But the intended effect was often nulled by the top news item that followed, which was often something like, “There is a two mile traffic jam in Hicksville”.
On tv, this sense of urgency is sometimes heightened by the pen that newscasters hold in their hands, implying that they write the news which they are employed to read and implying also that there may be a sudden and urgent need for them to change the news in light of incoming information.
With really important and urgent news, you do not need any musical accompaniment, especially of the hysterical variety. But the dullness of dull news may be alleviated somewhat by injecting a sense of urgency into it through another agent, namely music.
I wonder how much effect such musical interjections have in convincing listeners to stay put and listen to the entire broadcast, and through what neural means – does it make them expect something dramatic to happen? Otherwise, why would newscasters use such hysterical music indiscriminately, regardless of the importance of the news that follows?
As for me, I prefer to listen to the news on Radio 4.