Morning television news programs are full of all the things you need to know: the body count from whatever disaster or major murder happened the day before, breaking news (one horrible thing after the next these days), traffic and, of course, weather.
But if you tune in to Houston's CBS affiliate, KHOU, between 7 and 9 a.m. during the workweek, you get something more: so much cool music that the show's two hours begin to resemble a guess-this-song game. It's not just the typical classic-rock commercial break music, or whatever Top 40 Muzak some lazy television producer pops in the deck.
On CBS This Morning, between breaks, segment cues and teases to news stories, you might hear a little Dr. Dre, or something from the Rolling Stones, or maybe The Clash — multiple staffers here have heard "Police on My Back" attached to stories about cops — and probably a Pharrell Williams track or two. And sometimes the producers pick more obscure stuff (ever heard of Ned's Atomic Dustbin?) that we like.
It's always different, and something that makes walking around your home in your underwear holding your coffee more fun, while you do a double take on a song that just played.
And the kinds of tunes they play on that show, which like a lot of morning news TV shows isn't meant to be watched so much as to have on in the background while you're getting ready for work or school, run the gamut of rap, '80s New Wave, indie rock, you name it. No death metal or anything jarring, however.
A music cue sheet that goes to ASCAP, which the CBS show shared with Houston Press, shows music by Lenny Kravitz, Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, The Cure and Kongos, to give just a small sample of the types of selections that make it to the airwaves.
"We are completely obsessed with the music in the show; it occupies a tremendous amount of our conversation throughout the day and in the morning," says Ryan Kadro, the executive producer for CBS This Morning. A Detroit native who loves music, he went to L.A. to become a rock star but settled for television production. He moved his way up the ranks, landing a gig early on with the defunct late-night talker Last Call With Carson Daly.
"How the show sounds is just as important as how it works," 41-year-old Kadro says. You wouldn't think a show that is sold on women 25 to 54 would be as hip as it is, but the truth is moms listen to hip-hop these days. The CBS show features old-school host Charlie Rose (who started his broadcasting career in Texas); Gayle King, a.k.a. Oprah's best friend; and the winsome San Antonio-raised Norah O’Donnell.
While the anchors might have something to say about the music on the show, it's more about the selections made throughout the morning in the control room. And when it works, it works. Take, for instance, the time the show ran a story about a home in Parker County that turned into a swingers club. The song that teased the piece couldn't be more perfect: Naughty by Nature's "O.P.P."
"We got a ton of Twitter traffic, and that was a lot of fun," Kadro shares. Getting those hidden song meanings is part of the fun for frequent watchers who will shoot tweets to the show.
"It’s a team effort," Kadro explains about how certain music makes it to air. "There’s a guy named Evan Hirsch who’s our line producer, who takes a lot of the music and then we debate it during the commercial breaks," he explains.
Kadro says the picks come at a quick clip throughout the show, sometimes just enough to fill a few seconds. "It often starts with a countdown clock, so Evan will set the bar and we’re gonna [run] a story about maple syrup tapping, right? So, he’ll say all right, I have Echo and the Bunnymen, 'Lips Like Sugar'; and you’re in a three-and-a-half minute commercial break, so you’ve got three and a half minutes basically to come up with a better song than what Evan has picked."
But sometimes the selections can be like musical Russian roulette — take, for instance, the show that aired for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
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"A commentator from NPR tweeted how insensitive it was for us to play Toto's 'Africa,' and it set off this huge thing, and the front man from Toto put out a statement. In a vacuum, it wasn't the best decision," Kadro admits.
Still, with a show that runs five days a week, chances the producers take turn into more hits than misses.
"When we were developing the show back in 2011 and launching it in 2012, music was always going to be a very big part of it," Kadro offers. "We have really wide-ranging interests as people, so as producers we really want that to be reflective. And it’s just a way to make our show stand out from everybody else."