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News Music Monday: MSNBC’s Inaugural Theme Package

On Friday, it marked the 26th anniversary of MSNBC. On July 15th, 1996, the network launched at a secondary studio that was once for America’s Talking, in Fort Lee, New Jersey; a sister network from CNBC. AT launched in 1994 as a botched attempt to port talk radio onto cable, but by early 1995, Bob Wright, the dimwit head of NBC along with Microsoft’s Bill Gates at a gathering in 30 Rock, announced that they would introduce a competitor to CNN, with the partnership with Microsoft. The channel was scheduled to launch in 1996 with America’s Talking to be replaced, as it was NBC’s second cable entity.

This made Roger Ailes; the head of both NBC cable networks go into a rage, according to a book, he shouted  dropped f-bombs to the closed circuit feed of the announcement in his Fort Lee office, of which explains why Ailes was not invited to the gathering across the Hudson. He immediately jumped the Hudson to help start up “a Fox news channel [sic]” with Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp, the then-owner of the Fox Broadcasting Company… ironically a block adjacent to 30 Rock. The Fox News Channel would go live just four months after MSNBC in mid October.

a screengrab of MSNBC's launch on July 15th, 1996
Jodi Applegate has the bragging rights to not only start up a cable news channel but a well known morning news show in Boston at the former Fox O&O in 2003!

The actual MSNBC facility was still in construction on the day of inception, they would later relocate to Secacaus April the following year. The difference was a larger studio footprint, and the signature cylinder display that was above the anchor desk. The Fort Lee anchor desk was unable to move around robotically.

They went to Shelly Palmer to commission the theme package. It had a really sexy and seductive sound. Mixing in the set, it made MSNBC stand out against CNN (which basically retained a “1987-look”) and FNC had really plain set, but the flashy graphics and theme there compensated for the blandness. CNN didn’t ignore the competition, since it was the first time in nearly 13 years they had competition. ABC/Group W’s Satellite News Channel was basically mocked by Ted Turner, SNC was failing financially, and Ted Turner needed some toys in Atlanta, such as upgrading outdated cameras, so he bought SNC’s property and satellite space without staff in October of 1983. CNN in 1996 however launched CNNfn, the Financial Network, and CNNSI (after the merger with Time Warner in 1995 ) an attempt to have synergies with Sports Illustrated. CNN was basically in build-mode too. 

MSNBC was just very elaborative in the detail. With the partnership of Microsoft, the set replicated a coffee house in the Seattle region. I watched MSNBC almost on Day 1, probably the week or two after. The sex appeal caught my attention.

Sadly the theme only was used for less than a couple of years, the set in Seacacus remained in tact till 2007, when NBCUniversal had made the decision to realign the news gathering operations, and MSNBC was relocated to 30 Rock on the third floor. In 2021 MSNBC went through it’s first major rebuild since the relocation, with its studio being a large set with no functioning newsroom. Around 2016, NBC News also built some lofty-styled newsroom that may also acted as operations for MSNBC, but it seems from what I can see with NBC News Now, that could be their newsroom.

On the theme here are a few bumpers from day 1 (Video from Sloan’s TV Airchive aka “airchivesloan” back in the ol days of YouTube)

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