Did video kill the radio star, as promised 40 years in the past? Alan Cross analyzes – Nationwide


By way of the latter half of the 1970s, some areas of the music group have been having a Marshall McLuhan-esque existential disaster due to the rise of synthesizers and the adoption of latest studio expertise.

The brand new machines, a lot of which may carry out methods that no human may ever duplicate manually, have been driving music into new territory at a fearsome velocity. Was humanity being sapped from music? Have been people going to lose management of music? And have been these new synthetic sounds, strategies of recording, and programmed robotic performances really music within the first place?

And it wasn’t simply music. Technological change was sweeping by way of images, films, radio and tv. All of it appeared each very thrilling and really overwhelming.

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In late 1978, Trevor Horn, an English session participant and producer, sat down with keyboardist Geoff Downes and songwriter Bruce Woolley to put in writing a brand new wave-ish music about music, mass media, and the best way the general public was being force-fed all of it. I wouldn’t be shocked if that they had Community‘s Howard Beale on their thoughts.

Horn had just lately learn a 1960 quick story known as The Sound-Sweep by British author J.G. Ballard that informed the story of a nonverbal boy with the job of vacuuming up all of the stray music on the earth. He meets a destitute opera singer residing in an deserted recording studio whose profession had been ruined due to one thing known as “ultrasonic music.” All of humanity’s music had been displaced and changed by this new expertise.

Kraftwerk was one other inspiration. Their “man-machine” method to music had Horn excited about the chances of document labels having huge banks of computer systems in subterranean vaults that might within the close to future be tasked with writing and performing all of humankind’s music.

The Buggles have been envisioned as a part of that, a “robotic Beatles” that might by no means be seen — or on the very least, by no means play dwell. (Enjoyable truth: The unique title of the band was The Bugs, as in “studio bugs.”)

As the brand new music got here collectively, Horn, Downs, and Woolley jammed on ideas of contemporary expertise clashing with nostalgia, a worry of the longer term mixed with a way of loss for the previous. It took three months to put in writing and document their new music utilizing up a finances of £60,000 (about C$100,000 then, or about C$380,000 right this moment). In line with the theme of the music, most of the instrumental components have been generated by synthesizers. (One other enjoyable truth: The unique demo was sung by a girl named Tina Charles.)

Woolley launched the music first along with his band The Digital camera Membership, a gaggle that featured a younger Thomas Dolby on keyboards.

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That was high-quality, however the model everybody is aware of is by The Buggles, which featured Woolley, Horn, and Downes. It was launched on Sept. 7, 1979, and was a right away hit, reaching the primary spot on singles charts in 16 completely different nations. (In Canada, it solely managed to climb to quantity six whereas within the U.S., the music barely scraped into the Prime 40.)

In 1981, the music was fully repurposed for a brand new enterprise known as MTV. What started as a story about music-making machines displacing an opera star from her spot on the radio grew to become a rallying cry for these selling this new factor known as a “music video.” No marvel this was chosen to be the primary clip performed by MTV when it debuted at exactly 12:01 a.m. ET on Aug. 1, 1981.

In these opening minutes, VJ Mark Goodman promised that we’d “by no means take a look at music the identical method once more.”

“The perfect of TV mixed with the very best of radio,” he stated. “We’ll be doing for TV what FM did for radio.”

Radio didn’t a lot worry the video star at first as a result of many cable programs didn’t see the worth of carrying a 24-hour music video channel.

However then a wierd factor started to occur. Cities that did have entry to MTV noticed dramatic spikes within the gross sales of information by artists whose clips have been performed on the channel. Why would an unknown band like, say, Duran Duran, begin promoting information by the ton in Oklahoma Metropolis? Gross sales stats like that mixed with the channel’s aggressive “I need my MTV” marketing campaign resulted in a large uptick in public demand. Quickly, all cable corporations have been providing it.

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By way of the ’80s and ’90s, radio and music video channels lived facet by facet in a typically aggressive, typically symbiotic state. Primary cable channels bought into the act, too, carving out after faculty and late-night exhibits that includes music movies. Keep in mind CBC’s Good Rockin’ Tonight?

Report labels equipped the music movies free of charge to those channels and exhibits as a result of they knew airing them would goose document gross sales. Artists knew that manufacturing prices got here out of their future royalties, but it surely all grew to become a part of doing enterprise. You needed to spend cash to earn cash.

Whereas we nonetheless had radio stars — that’s, performers who had hit information on FM and (for some time longer, anyway) AM radio — MTV, MuchMusic, The Field, and different channels and shops created video stars, telegenic performers whose fame was pushed by not solely how they sounded, but additionally by how they seemed. The listing is close to countless: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, Prince, Bon Jovi, Weapons N’ Roses, Nirvana.

In the meantime, the VJs — the opposite stars of video — grew to become well-known in their very own method. It was all fairly glamorous. It was solely going to be a matter of time earlier than visible music killed off the previous DJs on the wi-fi.

A humorous factor occurred, although. Radio refused to roll over and die. Whereas it needed to share house with video channels, it realized to adapt. It continued to adapt within the period of the web, by way of the rise of satellite tv for pc radio, and now by way of the age of streaming. With greater than 88 per cent of the Canadian inhabitants tuning in to radio each week — a quantity that’s even increased within the U.S., the U.Okay., Australia and plenty of nations all through Europe — radio stays fashionable, highly effective and worthwhile. Ask any artist and they’ll nonetheless inform you that the quickest and best method to get their music out to a mass viewers is radio.

And people video stars? They’ve all moved to YouTube. The novelty of ready to your favorite music video to come back up on A lot or MTV disappeared way back, forcing programmers to cancel (or extremely marginalize) music video-based programming in favour of actuality and way of life exhibits. And whither all these VJs? Moved on to different issues, together with satellite tv for pc radio (Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, Downtown Julie Brown, J.J. Jackson earlier than he died in 2004), podcasts (Adam Curry), and even good ol’ terrestrial radio (Carson Daly, Chris Booker, Matt Pinfield).

Seems that regardless of the way you outline that Buggles menace in 1979, video didn’t kill the radio star. Radio remains to be simply high-quality, thanks.

And another factor: On Feb. 27, 2000, MTV aired its one-millionth video. What did they choose to make that momentous event? The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star, after all.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for International Information.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing Historical past of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

© 2019 International Information, a division of Corus Leisure Inc.

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