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Why Action News still uses that retro music and how Philly reacted to an attempted change

There is perhaps no song more synonymous with Philadelphia than the Rocky theme. It plays, and the world pictures Sylvester Stallone running through South Philly in his iconic sweats. But for local Philadelphians who grew up watching the news on 6ABC, there’s a song that means home just as much as — if not more than — Rocky.

If you’ve watched local news around these parts, you’ve probably heard it:

Move closer to your world my friend, take a little bit of time. Move closer to your world my friend, and you’ll see…

The song has been used by WPVI, Philadelphia’s most popular local news channel, for the better part of 50 years, and Philadelphians feel such a connection with the song that they were up in arms in the 1990s when the station dared so much as to mess with the composition.

According to Action News Director of Creative Services Mike Monsell, the music was composed in 1972 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the vocals were done by The Hillside Singers, a folk ensemble that was pulled together by an advertising agency specifically to sing vocals for TV commercials. Their most famous ad was the 1971 Coke commercial, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”

Maybe you’ve heard it:

After becoming a local TV news mainstay in the mid-1970s, “Move Closer to Your World” has survived through about 40 years, 10 presidential elections, 20 Olympic Games, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and countless local and national major news stories.

And during that time, WPVI has been the premier television station in the Philadelphia market and has routinely topped the local ratings in this city. It’s had an unprecedented hold on local viewers since 1971 when Larry Kane was an anchor, and has since dominated ratings, especially during evening newscasts when it frequently puts up numbers double its closest competitors in the market.

Jim Gardner, the Action News evening anchor who’s been around since 1976, said the song he hears multiple times a day, every day (which he’s remarkably not sick of yet) invokes the same feeling for him that it does for many Philadelphians: familiarity.

“I’m very grateful we have a theme that doesn’t change every four or five years as new people are coming into a television station,” Gardner said. “We have this piece of music that was written in the early 1970s that’s still with us, and it kind of means permanence.”

That feeling is probably why the city collectively lost it in 1996 when WPVI tried to modernize the song by mildly switching up the composition. After reportedly spending $20,000 hiring 400 musicians from the from the London Symphony and London Philharmonic to perform a slower version of the song, 6ABC debuted the newer version during the 5 p.m. Action News broadcast on Sept. 20 in ’96.

“We worried that the theme needed freshening, largely because of technological advancements,” WPVI spokeswoman Valarie Staab told The Inquirer at the time. “Music recorded in the ’70s doesn’t sound as clear and true as music recorded in the ’90s.”

But by 5 p.m. on Sept. 23, the new version had played on just 11 newscasts and was dumped by the station after 6ABC employees were inundated with what Gardner described as “an avalanche” of calls to the station (email wasn’t as popular at the time). They were all from viewers who were angered that the iconic song had been messed with.

Their general reaction? If it ain’t broken, don’t mess with it.

“People have grown up with the music as played, and people are creatures of habit and love something that is not just familiar, but almost becomes embedded,” Gardner said. “And they have a certain kind of affection for that piece of music.”

And it’s probably why the station has no plans to change the age-old theme again. At least not anytime soon.

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