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WBAL-TV playing a new tune


WBAL-TV unveiled a 60-second musical spot last Friday, during the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics, intended to endear the station's news team to viewers.

The following lyrics are taken from that very jingle for the Channel 11 "Live, Local, Late-breaking" crew, generally trumpeted as the hardest-hitting program on the air in Baltimore:

"It's all about a world that's at your touch/ It's all about the things that mean so much/ It's all about the lives we live/ It's all about the world at home.

"It's all about a place that we all share/ And every little way we show we care/ It's all about the lives we live/ It's all about the world at home."

What any of this actually has to do with, say, journalism or even Baltimore, is unclear.

But WBAL's not alone in having a feel-good anthem. Baltimore's three major stations each have virtually indistinguishable songs, accompanied by gauzy footage of anchors and reporters sauntering about the countryside.

Two years ago, WMAR (Channel 2) introduced its current song, based on the music and lyrics to "It Takes Two," a song once covered by Marvin Gaye:

"One can have a dream, baby/ Two can make that dream so real/ Like friends we care for one another/ It's a pride that we all feel.

"It takes two, baby/ ABC Two baby/ It just takes two."

Last December, WJZ (Channel 13), the most celebrity-driven local channel, weighed in with a song that includes these verses:

"They're talking to me/ they feel like family/ With Denise, Vic, Sally and Kai/ I get all my news delivered personally."

"They're Baltimore's favorite news team/ Is it any wonder why? More people make the choice/ To hear the friendly voices/ Of Denise, Vic, Sally and Kai/ They're talking right to me."

WJZ general manager Jay Newman personally took part in penning those immortal words with advertising executive Gary Jordan.

"It isn't about having a song," Newman said. "What it's about is having a consistent brand identity for the television station. We are a team of people - anchors and reporters - that are regular people viewers can relate to."

Now comes WBAL's new entry. Its equally intense efforts to ingratiate the channel's reporting staff with viewers comes as a bit more of a surprise, given its unrelenting self-promotion as the region's channel for hard news. But station executive say they're not abandoning their claim to the franchise on tough coverage.

"What we're hearing, and not just from focus groups, is that we've been accepted as the leading news station," said Kerry Richards, WBAL's director of creative services. "People recognize our reporters more than ever. We realized it's time that we started bringing them into our spots, as well as our anchors."

A close look does show one distinction: When WJZ's anchors and reporters are shown, they're depicted feasting at a crab house, shopping for produce, or jogging with neighbors. WBAL intersperses its music with the remarks of news staffers promising up-to-date weather, hometown pride, and local coverage.

"If you really watch the spots, the music and the lyrics are one thing, but our news team really is telling you what they're doing," said Bill Fine, WBAL's general manager.

All the same, at this rate, market research may yield a new theme song with words that go something like this:

"Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings/ These are a few of my favorite things."

Film - and song - at 11.

'Hopkins' air date changes

"Hopkins 24/7," the six-part ABC News documentary on the Johns Hopkins Medical Center will air at 10 p.m. Thursday on WMAR this week and next instead of tonight, as the network aims for larger audiences.

Of the four one-hour segments that have already aired, the highest-ratings emerged on Aug. 31, a Thursday, against a rerun of the NBC medical drama "ER." The other three aired on Wednesdays.

"We just wanted to give it a chance to be seen by the widest possible audience," said Dahlia Roemer, a spokeswoman for ABC News.

In Baltimore, "Hopkins 24/7" has won its time period all four nights. The Aug. 31 episode was seen in about 166,00 Baltimore area homes, and in 10.6 million homes nationally. Its average for the episodes aired on Wednesday was about 7 million homes. -David Zurawik

Political airtime

The parent companies of WBAL and WMAR have heeded the call for television stations to set aside at least five minutes every night for political coverage for 30 days before the November elections.

That makes Baltimore one of only a few regions in the country where more than one station has adopted the plan, touted by a national advisory panel led by CBS President Les Moonves. Interestingly, Moonves' network, which owns 16 CBS stations, including WJZ, and 19 UPN stations, has not embraced the push. "We're evaluating it," said Dana McClintock, CBS' vice president for corporate relations.

Newman, WJZ's general manager, said he was wary of making arbitrary decisions about the news. "We will do what we always do, which is aggressively cover the candidates, the issues and their impact on voters," Newman said.

Politicians and consumer advocates often excoriate television executives for reaping a windfall from the costs of political advertising, although there are few competitive races in this state this year. But many major candidates pass up invitations to appear on air in unscripted appearances, said WBAL's Fine. "What they want to do is to control the message," he said.

Early retirement offers

Some senior employees at WBAL-TV and WBAL radio (1090 AM) were sent letters yesterday offering them financial inducements to retire early. The stations' owners, both under the Hearst corporate umbrella, want to trim payroll costs through the offers, which largely target technical crew.

At the television station, the letters were sent to employees who were at least 50 years old with 25 years of service and those who were at least 55 years old with a minimum of 15 years of service.

Comments? Questions? Story ideas? You can reach David Folkenflik by e-mail at david.folkenflik@baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6923.

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