Sunday, 17 March 2013

MuchMusic: When it was about music

Do you remember a time, long, long ago when MuchMusic used to play – music videos? It seems crazy now given the preponderence of reality shows, movies, and other talking heads.

A personal connection
We didn’t get Muchmusic back on the farm, but a tragedy brought Muchmusic into my life soon after it went on the air in 1984. My grandmother – my mom’s mom – got sick and would never leave the hospital, eventually passing away on Christmas Eve of 1984. My parents visited her in hospital in Lethbridge quite a bit, and afterwards we would go to my Uncle Ed and Aunt Johanna’s. She is my mom’s baby sister, only sister actually.

Carl Schurman, my cousin
the musician, who really
introduced me to Muchmusic.
My cousin Carl was a musician, and at the time was breaking hearts in Southern Alberta with his band Split Image which later evolved into Heartbeat. Anyway, he was four years older than me almost to the day (his birth date was one day after mine), and I always tried to hang around him.

He wasn’t around much, but one day he was. My aunt invited me to go downstairs where he was watching TV. I remember it well. He  was sitting with his sister’s boyfriend watching MuchMusic. I recall Christopher Ward was the veejay, and him saying, “We’re broadcasting from beautiful downtown Canada.” We watched videos for probably an hour, with a minimum of interruption from commercials or Christopher Ward. It was kind of like listening to the radio only on TV.

Veejays Christopher Ward, Denise
Donlon, Michael Williams, and Erica Ehm
Veejays Erica Ehm and J.D. Roberts.
The veejays
I was so excited to see MuchMusic at last. Earlier that year I had read an article in TV Scene about its launch. It was like MTV in concept, but uniquely Canadian. There were four veejays: Christopher Ward, Michael Williams, J.D. Roberts, and Eric Ehm. Muchmusic had kind of evolved from the TV show The New Music Magazine, which I saw a few episodes of on Channel 7 on the farm. That’s where I first saw J.D. Roberts too, because he migrated over from The New Music to Muchmusic. All of it was the brainchild of TV pioneer Moses Znaimer.

Where are they now?
How far all four of those original veejays have come from those beginnings 28 years ago. Every week I see Michael Williams on CTV News Channel as an entertainment commentator. Older, a little heavier, and longer hair with dreadlocks, I recognized him immediately by the trademark deep voice. Seeing him last week actually inspired this entry. Christopher Ward went on to be a pretty prolific songwriter, including writing some songs that went big sung by Alannah Miles. Erica Ehm has become a spokesperson for her generation of mothers, hitting it big again with her whole Yummie Mummie thing. Perhaps, the biggest and most profound change was J.D. Roberts. You may have seen him lately as John Roberts, a newsman in the States. At one point he was even rumoured to be one of the possible successors to Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News. It was a long way from introducing the latest Wham! Video.

Changing the channels
When you look at that old MuchMusic commercial it shows how times have changed. There used to be so few specialty channels, consumers could buy them individually. Basically you had MuchMusic, TSN, and Super Choice First Choice, to choose from. Now all these dozens of channels are bundled together in tiers. You would never see a commercial for one of them offering a price, or a deal.

Increased access
Once I started hanging out with Chris Vining, who had cable, we used to watch videos at his place on Friday nights before we went to Lethbridge to hang out at the YMCA and cruise the strip. If it wasn’t too late, we’d watch some more when we got back, usually after midnight.

It was in res when I went to the University of Alberta that I spent the most time with Much. The Coca Cola Countdown on Friday nights was a staple, either during supper, or when they replayed it after midnight. There was the Pepsi Power Hour for our heavy metal fans, and French Kiss I think it was called which usually had a bunch of slow love songs.

But, it all started for me back in 1984. I will always have a special place in my heart for that early Muchmusic, because it provided a distraction from the tragedy unfolding with my grandmother in the hospital.

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