Fascinated by the surprising and often inspired music curation on TVNZ 1’s evening news bulletin, Calum Henderson goes in search of the person responsible.
It is one of the great pleasures – only sometimes guilty – of modern TV viewing: being able to identify any piece of music on any show simply by holding your phone in the general direction of the screen.
Recently there is one particular show I have been whipping out my phone for time and time again, Shazamming more often than any other by far.
That show is 1 News Tonight.
Every weeknight TVNZ 1’s evening news presents a concise digest of the day’s top stories in a calm, reflective tone befitting its bedtime timeslot. Newsreader Greg Boyed gently guides viewers through the headlines to ultimately arrive at a final moment of serene contemplation: tomorrow’s weather.
Unlike the 6 o’clock bulletin, there is no weather presenter on the evening news, meaning the weather graphics play accompanied by a nightly piece of music. This has been happening for many years. As far as the actual song selection is concerned, expectations are generally low to nonexistent.
1 News Tonight’s weather music curation, however, is superb – frequently serving up an eclectic mix of classic hits and deep cuts from the past 50 years of popular music. I often wondered who was behind these inspired selections, assuming it to be the work of a shadowy and mysterious behind-the-scenes figure.
The real answer was staring me in the face the whole time, straightening his wireless keyboard and shuffling his wireless mouse. The person responsible for the majority of the 1 News Tonight weather music… is Greg Boyed himself.
“Probably 80 percent of the time it’s me,” he admits. The amiable newsreader has been leading the weather music curation since he began on the evening bulletin, and says the song selection criteria has evolved over the years. “When we first started doing it we tried to kind of theme it to a big story,” he remembers. “Sometimes that was impossible. Sometimes it was just lame. So we kind of opened the gate.”
These days you never know what you’re going to hear over the top of tomorrow’s weather. One night it might be soul classic ‘O-O-H Child’ by The Five Stairsteps, on another, it could be 1997 hit ‘Say What You Want’ by the Scottish group Texas. “It’s a slinky one eh?” Boyed agrees when I tell him this is regularly one of my most well-received selections to when I put it on the UE Megaboom at Friday work drinks.
Recently, he says, he has begun integrating weekly themes into his weather music curation. “This is my new thing – when I’m not on, Ant [Muru, team leader edit] or the producer chooses, which I then try to use as a start point for a theme for the week. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes less so. I once thought I was a smartarse making Iceland a theme… that proved harder than I thought.”
‘O-O-H Child’, which played on a rare night when Peter Williams was reading the evening bulletin, was one such selection. “I didn’t know the song,” Boyed admits, “but I thought: bands with numbers in their name.” The rest of the week saw songs from a list of artists as diverse as Maroon 5 (‘This Love’), Three Doors Down (‘Superman’), Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five (‘The Message’) and U2 (“who I’d normally avoid”) with early single ‘Out of Control’.
Similarly, the Texas song was inspired by that Monday’s selection, ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie. “Blondie was chosen Monday, so I thought, ‘OK, either CBGB-type bands – Ramones, Talking Heads… – or women fronting bands. Ergo, Texas.” The rest of the week included tracks from PJ Harvey (‘A Place Called Home’) and Siouxsie & The Banshees (‘The Killing Jar’).
1 News Tonight is not the only evening news bulletin that plays music over the weather. Three’s Newshub Late does it too, even listing the track details on screen for the viewer’s convenience. But while an argument could be made for Newshub Late’s song selection being trendier, and certainly more up-to-date – last week, for example, they played the new Breeders single the same day it was released – for sheer depth, 1 News Tonight’s weather music selections are unparalleled.
Case in point: Tuesday two weeks ago, the day Tom Petty died. That night Newshub Late’s weather music was ‘I Won’t Back Down’ off 1989’s Full Moon Fever, one of Petty’s best-known hits (only ‘Free Fallin’’ has more plays on Spotify). Great song, and playing it over the weather a moving tribute, but over on 1 News Tonight Boyed went with a slightly deeper cut: ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ from 1994’s Wildflowers.
“It was a no-brainer,” he says of his inspired selection. “I always like the ‘next tier of hits’ songs, and frankly any song with the line ‘let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint’ in it which doesn’t become a stoner anthem should be celebrated.”
Mining the ‘next tier of hits’ – that sweet spot just below the surface of an artist’s catalogue – is what sets 1 News Tonight’s weather music selections apart, and what makes it worth staying up for. In the last month alone it has reminded me of the brooding, majestic 1987 Gino Vannelli single ‘Wild Horses’ (part of a horse-themed week) and introduced me to Sheila E’s awesome Prince-penned ‘The Belle of St Mark’. “I wanted to do the not-so-obvious Prince stuff, but a heap of his earlier work is kind of X-rated,” Greg explains. “So, I started looking at people he’d written for or produced, which is another rabbit hole altogether.”
Boyed says he usually begins thinking about the weather music on his way into work. It is not always easy. “At times I’ve sat there thinking, ‘OK, any song in the world which tickles my fancy – nope, can’t think of a single tune’.”
He has just two rules for choosing a song. Rule one is “Nothing with ‘weather’ or ‘rain’ or so on in the title – it’s just too bloody obvious.” Rule two? “Lisette [Reymer, 1 News reporter] can’t choose. With her it’s just Beyoncé and that isn’t a choice. It’s just one woman… constantly.”