Ever come across a mildly interesting thing in Milwaukee and wonder, “What’s the deal with that mildly interesting thing?” What’s The Deal With explores these local curiosities, and aims to find the stories behind them.
Milwaukee has an official baseball team. Milwaukee has an official basketball team. Milwaukee has an official flag (no, not that one). But does Milwaukee have an official theme song?
Not really, but for Milwaukeeans of a certain age (and/or Milwaukeeans with an internet connection), the insanely catchy “Hello Milwaukee” is the only theme song the city will ever need. So what’s up with “Hello Milwaukee”? Just listen:
“Hello Milwaukee” was created in 1977 by jingle writer Frank Gari—not as a way to honor Milwaukee, but as a way to save a struggling Milwaukee television station. WISN-TV (Channel 12) was suffering from poor ratings and a poor image when management hatched the idea of creating a city “love song” that could double as a station promo. Enter Gari—a New York native living in Columbus, Ohio—who was tasked with crafting said “love song.” (Gari would go on to pen the “Be All That You Can Be” and “Be A Pepper” jingles.) Per former WISN 12 news director Joe Rovitto:
“I want you to write a love song to the city,” [Gari] was told. “The lyrics had to embrace the community and embrace the people in the community. They’re working hard to make a living. They’re working hard to send their kids to school.”
Milwaukee ad man Jerry Smith was also involved in the song’s creation:
“Frank took on the project and sent me back a simple sung-vocal…not many flowery musical touches. I called Frank and told him not to change a single note or word, and that it was the best home town love song ever written for a local TV station, or for that matter, anyone.”
According to Smith, the song initially ran without the “Channel 12 loves you” finale, instead ending with “You know I love you.” Management soon ordered up the personalized version, however, and the song became ubiquitous.
It spread throughout the world, too. Gari and others would go on to repurpose “Hello Milwaukee” for 167 other markets, including Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Utah, and Canada and Australia. (The song’s worldwide utility was detailed in a 2014 episode of This American Life.) Think of it as the MilwaukeeHome of the late ’70s.
Still, the Milwaukee version of “Hello” remains the original, and perhaps the best loved. As Smith says:
“The moral of the story is LOVE conquers all! HELLO MILWAUKEE was a simple love song…no ‘shoehorned’ lyrics about ACTION NEWS or LOOK FOR US, WE’LL BE THERE…just praise for home town…
“‘Makes no difference where I go, you’re the best home town I know, Hello Milwaukee etc.'”