Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 14…Video Kills the Radio Star and Radio jumps on the Bandwagon….

Part 13 can be found here

Going into the ‘80’s radio was still the first place anyone who loved music would turn to when they needed a fix, but thanks to an innovation developed by the SONY Corporation, people started spending a lot more time listening to a music delivery system that started out as a dictation storage device in the early ‘60’s, grew into a music delivery system in the ‘70’s, and with the introduction of a good quality portable device began to outsell albums for a time all the way through the ‘80’s. The device was called a Walkman, and it played something called a ‘Compact Cassette’.

In the 1960s the only way to hear music other than on the radio in your car was a wonky little device called an 8-Track player. Starting in 1965, Ford offered these as an option in their top end models and later, in all of them when other car manufacturers started to offer the device. They were developed by Bill Lear, the same guy that came up with the Lear Jet, and conceived to outdo the 4track tapes and players put on the market earlier by Earl “Madman” Muntz, a used car salesman and a totally unique character who also manufactured and sold TV’s, built the first American sports car (The Road Jet) and became a Southern California icon with his TV commercials and insane image.

Record companies immediately embraced the 8 track because it afforded them another way to sell their music, and allowed recorded music to be played in cars. The Compact Cassette took the portability of recorded music a step further because it was smaller (cassette is a French word meaning ‘little box’) and, with the advent of the Walkman, could be listened to anywhere, not just in a car. Again, the record industry was onboard in minutes even though the sound quality was not as good as a vinyl recording, but seeing as how the public didn’t really care about sound as much as they did content, were happy to have yet another way to sell their wares. Record companies were still primarily being run by people who not only knew the business, but loved the music that drove the sales. They were always looking for new ways to spread the word just like radio, which was also content driven as much as it was financially.

Soon the portable cassette players included AM and FM tuners, and some could even record the radio signal right onto a cassette whether you were listening or not. Music was King…and no one could have enough of it in their lives.

1980 was kind of a weird year all around for the music business. Life-long friend and musical co-hort of Little Richard, Larry Williams, just 44 (Bony Maronie, Short Fat Fanny, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Slow Down, Bad Boy, and others) was shot to death in his home, either a suicide or murder, no one knows, Paul McCartney gets arrested, tossed in the slammer, and deported in Japan for bringing a crapload of his beloved weed with him to Tokyo, Don Henley gets arrested for cocaine, Quaalude, and marijuana possession  after a 16 year old hooker has drug seizures in his hotel room and  Bon Scott, AC/DC’s singer went to the wrong side of the lawn through misadventure and alcohol as did John Bonham. Joy Division’s Ian Curtis hangs himself, and then, on December 8th, there was the assassination of John Lennon. Rock and Roll is a vicious game…but every one of these tragic events fueled record sales and made the music more important than ever…and as bad and momentous as these events were to the fans and providers of contemporary music then, the most significant and timely thing about 1980 was this: It would be the last year that radio would be the only tastemaker that the record industry and the public looked to for both breaking, and finding, new artists and music.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Rock and Roll…”

With those words, spoken by executive vice president John Lack, MTV hit the air at 12:01 am, August 1st 1981. Well, ‘hit the air’ is an exaggeration. The truth is, MTV’s signal was only seen by a couple of thousand subscribers to a cable company in New Jersey, but that was enough to grab the press, and overnight everyone wanted their MTV.

The network was based on a show called ‘Pop Clips’ that Lack had done with ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith who had released the first long form music video (which won the first ever Grammy for music video) in early 1981 called ‘Elephant Parts’. Nesmith was so far ahead of his time that the clips from Elephant Parts are still better than most of what SNL and Mad TV (and most music videos) have managed to do for the last two decades. Witness this, and this. When Nesmith declined to be a part of an all music television network based on ‘Pop Clips’, Lack went ahead with the idea. It was also influenced by a music channel on the experimental interactive cable net QUBE in Columbus Ohio that had offered a channel called ‘Sight and Sound’ in the late ‘70’s, and a show out of New Zealand of all places, called ‘Radio on Television’. But the real progenitors of MTV were Lack and Nesmith’s ‘Pop Clips’, and Robert W. Pittman’s ‘Album Tracks’, a 15 minute show that ran on WNBC for a short time in the late ‘70’s. Pittman, along with Lack, went on to create MTV.

Up until MTV, Television had had its music oriented shows like American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s Saturday Beechnut Show, Shindig, Hullabaloo, Midnight Special, and In Concert, England had a slew of shows like the Old Grey Whistle Test, Ready Steady Go and (pictured here, The Beatles on Juke Box Jury) Juke Box Jury, and Canada had the New Music, but nothing like what MTV brought to the table. Music videos broadcast 24 hours a day in stereo. Leapin’ Lizards, Sandy!.

Problem was, there weren’t that many music videos floating around.

What was floating around were promotional videos that the more progressive record companies had invested in to spread the word on some of their lesser known acts, and some bands had made videos to promote themselves either with the help of their management or on their own.

After word spread about the existence of MTV, artists couldn’t wait to get in front of the cameras…and when the impact of these videos on the public boosted record sales and radio requests for bands some of the stations hadn’t even heard of, and labels didn’t know they represented, everybody jumped in with both feet. By 1982, MTV ruled the music world above all else.

To show you what MTV was like when it started out, I compiled these 12 clips (10 minutes each) of the first 2 hours of MTV’s first day. They run sequentially and are a fascinating time capsule of what passed for slick entertainment in 1981. The hosts and ads (a sticker to put on your stereo receiver to mark where MTV’s stereo signal could be found?) seem like a parody instead of the real thing. When you get the time, check these out. The videos seem so primitive and earnest…but they started a revolution.

MTV 01

MTV 02

MTV 03

MTV 04

MTV 05

MTV 06

MTV 07

MTV 08

MTV 09

MTV 10

MTV 11

MTV 12

Say what you will about the ‘80’s, it was a ‘coming of age’ for the rock community and the beginning of our obsession with good looks, youth, style, fashion, and appearance. If you think about it, MTV is responsible for what you see on television today. Instead of content being the motivation behind our attention, it is the visual impact surrounding (or obscuring) the content that seems to concern us most.

By 1982 I had pretty much fulfilled my musical obligations for the Segarini Band, having played the remaining dates after we disbanded with Michael Zwieg’s wonderful band The Professionals(?) and the David Bendeth Band, which also included the late, great John Cleveland Hughes and drummer extraordinaire, Paul DeLong, and was sitting around our little house on Armadale Avenue in Etobicoke with a hard working wife who was mostly supporting us, a 4, about to be 5 year old daughter, and a lot of time on my hands.

Cam Carpenter and I were sitting at the dining room table one morning drinking Heiniken (don’t ask) and having been up all night, engaging in our usual ritual performed at the end of a night spent going from club to club to check out new bands by singing…

I’m Chip

He’s Dale

We’re covered

In ale

…and then pouring some of our beer on each other’s heads, when the telephone rang.

It was Warren Cosford inviting me to become a disc jockey at CHUM FM. I won’t go into detail here about how rude I was (I thought it was a prank), suffice it to say he had to call me back, but it was a defining moment for me.

That telephone call changed my life.

I never really considered myself a ‘broadcaster’. Oh sure, I can slide a fader up and down, push a button or two, and cue up a record with the best of them (45? 33 1/3?…no matter how good you were you did play the occasional record at the wrong speed) but there are awesome broadcasters out there that work the board like a pilot flies a plane. They know every fader, knob, switch, button, and computer program. They play a board like a violin, and these days, your computer skills and your knowledge of the equipment is paramount.

No, I wasn’t a ‘broadcaster’ in the traditional sense of the word.

I was (and am) an entertainer. I had been entertaining people my whole life, and radio gave me the opportunity to entertain a hell of a lot of people at once.

It was a rush.

All I did on radio, really, is be myself and share my love of music with the people that were listening, hoping my jokes weren’t lame, or that my talking about what interested me didn’t bore the tits off of everybody else. Basically, I wanted to be fun to listen to, like all the jocks I had grown up listening to, and had kept me riveted to their radio shows for decades.

The next life changing phone call came from Gary Slaight. Apparently, people did like what I was doing, and the numbers reflected it but by now I was no longer at CHUM FM, but at Q107. I don’t know exactly why I was fired at CHUM (no one ever tells you exactly what the tipping point was, they usually just tell you they’ve ‘decided to go in a different direction’ or ‘we’re rethinking you time slot’ or some such). Personally, I think it was the 10 minute Motorhead (pictured here) interview that turned into a 3 hour gabfest playing Lemmy and Phil’s favourite records, which were mostly R&B and old rock and roll classics that weren’t on any playlist in CHUM’s building. They used to put these little stickers in the middle of the album tracks they didn’t want you to play so you couldn’t play them. Lemmy, Phil and I learned that you could pull them off and use a little warm soapy water and the track was back to playable goodness.

I was let go the next day.

I received the call from Gary 24 hours later.

Great radio or not, I had broken the rules. They were just doing their job, making the station profitable and giving it an overall sound and direction, just like I had been doing mine, making entertaining radio. Our two jobs just didn’t agree with one another.

Over at Q107 they were still guided by the desire to present great music with a more ‘street-wise’ delivery than the more mature and formatted sound CHUM FM was gravitating towards.

There were rules, of course, but Q’s rules were a bit more pliable, they were not meant to be broken, but you could bend them.

Instead of putting stickers on non playable tracks and leaving the records you were to play on your show already pulled out and stacked in order, Q107 used an honour system that revolved around little boxes filled with 3×5 recipe cards of different colors divided into A’s, B’s C’s, etc. You put together your own show and could go 2 or 3 deep into the cards, but we all cheated a bit, making sure we didn’t play a record that had been played the hour before we went on the air. They also didn’t have a problem with us reacting to the news or the weather, the best example being able to play ‘Riders on the Storm’ as soon as a lightning bolt and thunder rolled out before us on the 30th floor of the Bay Building. We also played a lot of local records and presented those artists in clubs all over the GTA. We were connected to our listeners and to the streets of Toronto. It was part of the job, but was never mandated…we were just always out there in the clubs and at the shows, and you could always find a few of us holed up on bar stools late at night, talking music, talking radio, having fun. Our owner and manager’s doors were always open, the jock meetings were great dinners and discussions, and we all shared a conviction that what we were doing and where we were doing it was ground zero in our market, and in the eyes of our listeners. This, I thought then and think now, is how it is supposed to be, and I will bet money that this was the feeling that existed in all content driven radio stations that lived the music they played.

So even in the ‘80’s radio could still be involving and intimate, reflecting the personalities of its on-air staff, the overall vibe of the station, and music from the location the station served.

Thanks to MTV, radio was now playing a lot of music that would never had surfaced had it not been for the popular network’s quest to fill its schedule with as much content as possible. True, there were videos and artists that would have been better unplayed, but hey…some of them scored big with the public.

Radio was now faced with deciding what the hell it was going to play. Punk, Pop, New Wave, Rock, Country, Disco, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock…the sub-genres were growing daily and decisions had to be made, and in the mid ‘80’s, radio stations started to make them in earnest. Format was beginning to figure greatly into what radio did…or didn’t, play.

The record companies, meanwhile, were having a field day. With the demand for music increased by the existence of MTV and the wealth of new artists being played by radio, record company record planets and cassette manufacturers were working overtime. VHS video collections began to appear in record stores and the labels were now making money from a medium other than just audio. Touring and live shows were on the rise, and an entire sub-industry of swag…jackets, t-shirts, caps, key chains…it is no wonder the ‘80’s were a decade of excess, wealth and spending in the music business.

In early Spring of 1984 I got another life changing phone call, this one from John Martin. I had known John from working with him on some of CITY TV’s live concerts for John’s show The New Music. Warren Cosford had organized a traveling show of music videos that toured local schools and showed the latest vids on a big screen with a huge sound system and reinvented the sock-hop in the process. These shows were massively successful, and it occurred to Warren, John, and Moses Znaimer that it was time for a Canadian equivalent to MTV to be launched in Canada. The phone call asked for a meeting on the rooftop patio at Queen Street’s Bamboo, and when we had that meeting, John asked me to become one of 3 producers of the MuchMusic Television Network.

Again, this is covered at length in the DBAWIS archives, but I will repeat the one exchange with John I will never forget.

“What does a producer do in television John?” I asked.

“You’ll find out” he answered with a Cheshire Cat smile…

Next: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 15: MTV and now Much Music – Radio You Can Watch

Segarini’s column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

4 Responses to “Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 14…Video Kills the Radio Star and Radio jumps on the Bandwagon….”

  1. Bob, I would still argue that radio has a big role as a ‘purveyor of music discovery’. Just not commercial radio. Being fortunate to live in a city with an excellent campus radio station – http://www.cjam.ca – and being in close proximity to one of the greatest U.S. music cities, I discover new bands daily. Throw CBC Radio3 into the mix and I’ve got enough undiscovered music for a lifetime. Of course, my tastes skew a little (a lot) left of centre so these outlets I have mentioned won’t appeal to everyone. Radio’s role has changed but it is still significant.

    • I agree 100% Terry. The big change has been in mainstream terrestrial radio, where the vast majority would be exposed to new (and sometimes challenging) artists and music. I still have a great deal of passion for radio and appreciate that there are still some risk takers and alternative broadcasters out there who believe what I believe. Unfortunately, the vast majority of mainstream music radio stations are completely out of the music business…they are in the business of selling widgets, beer, and celebrity. I still have faith that the pendulum will swing back, and there are already signs that it already has begun to do that. Thanks for your carefully considered post.

  2. Kathy Hahn Says:

    Great story Bob – how did we survive it all…

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