Posts Tagged ‘MTV’

January 8th, Elvis & Me

Elvis-Presley (1)

January 8th is a special date for me.

It’s not because I’m an Elvis Presley fan. I like a lot of Elvis’ music but I wouldn’t categorize myself as a fan.

No, it’s because Charles Manson was a fan. Not THAT Charles Manson but, instead, the Charles Manson who was the general manager of radio station WGLD-FM, Chicago on January 8th, 1973. It was on that day forty-one years ago that Manson decided to switch the station’s format, without bothering to tell the station’s owners, from Progressive Album Rock to Oldies.

At the time, I had just been fired from WGLD’s sister station, WMOD-FM/Washington,DC for defending the use of a “Chicken Man” joke on-air by the station’s morning personality, Jack Casey. It’s a long story.

In any case, as a member of the union American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), I had received a several pay package from WMOD and Sonderling Broadcasting which owned both the Washington and Chicago stations. Three weeks after being fired, I found myself flying to Chicago at the behest of Sonderling’s corporate program director, Dave McNamee to take over as program director for WGLD-FM. Consequently, I had not only been promoted from the ranks of on-air personality to management within the Sonderling organization but was also receiving both my severance payments from WMOD and my new program director’s salary from WGLD!

Radio. You’ve got to love it.

As it turned out, my stint in Chicago didn’t last very long. Manson didn’t like the idea of corporate imposing me on him and our relationship was strained from the beginning.

In early 1973, the Nixon administration was out to get broadcasters because they felt that the media was being too critical. This was just prior to the Watergate hearings and the administration was sending a message to the media.

At the time, a radio personality named Bill Balance was having some success doing a sex talk call-in show in Los Angeles so radio general managers in other cities decided to create their own local versions of a sex talk show. Charles Manson was one of them. Unfortunately, he hadn’t thought it through.

WGLD’s midday music personality was assigned to host a one hour sex talk show each weekday.  If I recall correctly, it was scheduled between 10-11AM Monday-Friday.  I wasn’t a fan of the show because it really didn’t fit with what we were trying to accomplish with the station and I would have preferred to can it but the general manager ignored my objections. Of course, typical of the radio industry at that time, management hadn’t bothered to train this DJ about any of the legal ramifications involved in such a show.  One of the FCC’s rules made it clear that it was a finable offense if the content of a sex talk show was targeted at persons younger than 18 years old.

One morning during the sex talk program, the host found himself assigned to do a live read of commercial copy for a local driving instructor. Although I had warned him about being careful about the appearance of talking to teens, during his reading of the commercial the host ad-libbed a comment in which he said something along the line of “Hey, kids. They can help make sure you pass your driver’s test.”  Either the FCC was monitoring the show, a competitor had taped and submitted the recording to the FCC or a listener complained. In any case, WGLD got busted and the station became a poster child for the Nixon administration’s war against smut on the radio. Of course, as the program director I was held responsible for the DJ’s gaff.

That episode plus some other “philosophical differences” between Mr. Manson and myself resulted in my departure from WGLD in July, 1973. Once again, Sonderling Broadcasting was paying me a generous severance which allowed me to lounge by the pool and to watch the Watergate hearings.

One day, I received a call from Dick Booth, a former colleague at Northeastern University’s WNEU radio, who offered me a job at a new FM station in Pittsburgh where he’d been hired as station manager.  I was his second hire. The first was a 19 year old kid named Bob Pittman.

So, I loaded up my meager belongings into a rental van and drove to the Steel City where I met the guy who would ultimately offer me positions with his teams at WNBC, New York and at MTV.

All because of Elvis’s birthday.

Elvis & Me

Elvis-Presley (1)

On Elvis Presley’s birthday in 1973, the general manager of WGLD-FM in Chicago, an Elvis fan, decided to change the format of the radio station from progressive album rock to pop oldies. He made this rather rash decision without consulting with the station’s corporate headquarters at Sonderling Broadcasting. The general manager’s name was…Charles Manson. (No, not THAT Charles Manson).

Meanwhile, I was living in Washington, DC where just after Christmas I had been relieved of my duties as a DJ at Sonderling’s WMOD-FM and collecting severance pay because of a Chicken Man joke. Allow me to explain.

While introducing a recorded commercial message for a sale on chicken at the Giant Foods chain voiced by  the owner of the chain’s local advertising agency, the morning DJ had introduced the spot “And now, a word from Chicken Man”. The Chicken Man radio series which satirized the superhero genre was a favorite among young radio announcers at the time.

Unfortunately, an associate at the advertising agency who was monitoring WMOD-FM and heard the comment was unamused. She complained to the station’s local sales manager who then mentioned it to me. As it happened, I was unofficially in charge of the programming department while most of the other managers were out of town on business. I had also attended a holiday party on the previous evening at the home of the advertising exec who had voiced the spot.

Confused about why the agency would find the DJ’s comment offensive, I decided to contact the agency owner to get a better understanding of the problem so that management could address the situation upon their return. Luck wasn’t with me that day and the person who answered the phone was the young woman who’d made the original complaint. I attempted to explain that radio listeners tend to presume that the relationship between a radio station and the businesses it advertises are friendly and that the Chicken Man comment was obviously meant to be cutely humorous. Her response was that she didn’t like my attitude. She then hung up, complained about me to station management, and I was summarily fired.

That brings us to January 8th, 1973 when the company suddenly found itself in need of my services to help get the situation in Chicago under control. So, I found myself in the odd situation of collecting severance from the Sonderling’s Washington station while simultaneously collecting a management paycheck from its Chicago station where I had been hired as program director.

As it turned out, Charles Manson resented my appointment by corporate management to the Chicago position and he ended up dismissing me 6 months after I’d taken the job.

However, my former college radio station manager at Northeastern University at just taken a job in Pittsburgh to launch a new Top 40 station and he offered me a job as one of his first two employees. The other person he hired was a young kid named Bob Pittman. And, together, the three of us launched one of America’s first FM Top 40 radio stations, WPEZ.

Pittman later hired me at WNBC, New York and at MTV: Music Television.

So, you might say that I ended up as a member of MTV’s original management team because of Elvis.

Here’s to The King!


MTV Memories

Flattered to be acknowledged by Martha Quinn in the new book, “VJ:The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave (No)”

MTV VJ Book-Martha Quinn story about REB

[Minor inconvenience: You have to click on the picture to actually read the story. (Insert sheepish smile)]

It’s not quite how I recall it. But, close enough.

Seeing The Song

I love Billy Joel’s music and I respect him as an artist. But I have to disagree with him on his generalization that “Before MTV music said LISTEN to me, and after MTV it said LOOK at me.”

I’d argue that pre-MTV rock music artists like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and KISS were very much visual as well as music acts. Fashion and attitude have been part of Rock N’ Roll culture since its inception.

During MTV’s early years, our team of researchers surveyed MTV viewers in those markets where the channel was available in order to learn their reactions to the songs we played. We used a methodology common to radio where the respondent was asked to rate a song based on how familiar they were with it and their level of positive or negative reaction to it. Early on, we were trying to determine a way to factor the visual variable into the equation and we found that the MTV viewers we spoke to frequently responded “I’ve seen that song”. Consequently, we changed the language in our survey to ask “Have you seen this song?”.

During my four years as MTV’s Director of Video Music Programming, it was my observation that the video component might have created some initial interest in a song but, if the music didn’t strike that responsive chord with viewers which catapults a song into the level of viable hit, the video was going to provide the necessary momentum to save the song.

It’s always been about the music.

Image may attract attention but, in the end, it’s the relevance of the music and the emotional connection it makes with the listener that really matters.


MTV’s 30th Anniversary

August 1st, 1981 was a day which ushered in a transformation not only for a music industry suffering from the “Disco Sucks” backlash but also for television.

MTV: Music Television was the first TV channel created specifically for a lifestyle.

The radio industry had been forced into creating niche boutique formats targeted at specific psychographic audiences by the growth of FM as a viable broadcast distribution channel. The number of listener choices on the radio dial were significantly increased.

Meanwhile, the television landscape of 1981 resembled that of radio in the 1950s and 60s. CBS, ABC and NBC dominated and under their big tents were a variety of program types appealing to a broad spectrum of lifestyles and age groups ranging from the cradle to the grave.

Cable TV distribution was still in its infancy. HBO became the first viable cable channel as a destination for uncensored movies. However, there wasn’t much else driving significant audiences to cable TV from the broadcast networks.

In the late 70s/early 80s, American Express created a marketing plan for its Gold Card which was targeted at the affluent Baby Boom generation. Part of that plan was the company’s partnership with Warner Communications to create WarnerAmex and their brainchild was a shopping network named QUBE. The concept was simple: viewers would see products showcased on QUBE and use their AMEX Gold Card to buy them.

But before they could launch QUBE, WarnerAmex needed to encourage more Americans to sign up for cable TV. In the early 1980s, the cable industry was dominated by small, local companies rather than multi-system operators (MSOs). It wasn’t unusual for the cable operation to be running out of a local mom & pop hardware store. The industry may have been able to lay cable throughout their communities, accounting for “homes passed” but not many of those homes were actual cable subscribers.

To encourage Americans to become basic cable subs, WarnerAmex created three networks: The Movie Channel to compete with HBO, Nickeldeon to attract the Sesame Street crowd, and MTV: Music Television. Expectations for these channels weren’t all that high. Essentially, they were dog & pony shows offered free to encourage increased use of cable TV and to set up the introduction of the big money machine, QUBE.

Unfortunately for WarnerAmex, the company spent too much time tweaking and researching their product. So, in 1985 , the Home Shopping Network launched and QUBE went into the history books as the cable TV industry’s version of the Edsel.

However, MTV: Music Television began to catch on at least in the markets which could get it. Viewers in places like Albany (NY) and Peoria (IL) were mesmerized by the new video music channel. Parents and their teenagers gathered around the tube and discussed the videos. It was, to quote the sagacious Sly Stone, “a family affair”.

Oddly, music industry executives in New York and LA weren’t all that interested. They’d heard about this new fledgling cable channel but they couldn’t see it. MTV wasn’t available on the cable systems serving New York City and LA. So, for its first two years of operation, MTV was pretty much off their radar screen.

The Michael Jackson phenomenon changed all that as did the introduction of MTV onto the New York and LA cable systems late in 1983 which resulted in network TV and national magazine coverage. The channel’s brand continued to grow throughout the 80s and 90s. The sales department won more arguments about the ratings value of long-form programming versus short-form music videos. “Real World”, “Beavis & Butthead”, and other long-form show continued to encroach on the channel’s schedule real estate making less time available for music videos until MTV could no longer refer to itself as “Music Television”, at least not without its tongue in its cheek, and the channel evolved into what it is today.

MTV’’s approach to targeting a specific lifestyle group was similar to what the social media world today refers to as “communities of like-minded end users”. MTV’s Bob Pittman used to say that the channel was about “fashion”. And, whether it’s fashion in the sense of clothing styles, in the sense of an individual’s overall tastes and preferences, or in the sense of a collective group’s tastes and preferences, MTV opened the door and led the way for successors like BET, E!, Bravo, Lifestyle, CMT, The Comedy Network and OWN. Meanwhile, the audience segmentation and changes in expectations created by these highly targeted networks have had their impact on the decline of broadcast network TV viewership.

As I mentioned earlier, during MTV’s first two years on air it was unavailable in Manhattan where our offices were located. So that we could monitor the channel, video airchecks were messengered in from the Long Island uplink on a daily basis. Sometime during this period, news came out that many of the classic episodes of “The Ed Sullivan Show” and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” had been destroyed because the networks were reusing the old tapes on which they’d been recorded. Amazingly, no one thought it was important to preserve these shows for history.

I had a stack of MTV airchecks in my office and sensing that these might be of some historic value I contacted New York’s Museum of Broadcasting to see if they’d be interested in the tapes for their archives. The museum official with whom I spoke informed me that, no, they would not be interested in having those airchecks for their collection because MTV was (and I think I actually heard him sniff as his nose went up in the air) “cable…not TV.”

MTV was destined to transform the television and music industries but to the short-sighted it was irrelevant because the channel didn’t fit into their preconceived notions. There’s a lesson in that story.

Augmented Reality To Enhance Music Experience

In late 2009, Augmented Reality was incorporated a book celebrating Michael Jackson’s career. Since then, I’m not aware that there’s been much buzz about AR in the music world. However, today I received this press release:


New “BEP360” App for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch Takes Fans Inside “The Time (Dirty Bit)” with 360-Degree Motion Control and Augmented Reality Developed by Peas Front Man

LOS ANGELES January 24, 2010 – Music industry pioneer and front man of The Black Eyed Peas,, today announced the iTunes App Store launch of BEP360, an iPad, iPhone and iPod touch app that immerses fans in a 360 degree universe of the legendary music group. Featuring the world`s first 360-degree view music video (“The Time 360”), BEP360 features the song “The Time (Dirty Bit),” the first single from new CD, “The Beginning”, now available on Interscope Records.

“will.i.apps and the BEP360 app have been established to help artists tap into the potential of our hyper-connected mobile world and bring fans deeper inside the music far beyond a four minute audio recording. It`s a unique and completely new way to experience 360 degree music immersion that will bring artists and fans closer together,” said

    Key Features of BEP360

· Point iPad, iPhone and iPod touch device at the cover artwork of the band`s latest album, The Beginning (Interscope Records) and watch augmented reality take form with BEP avatars dancing to the beat

· Direct a virtual photo session with Fergie,, & Taboo allowing users to capture their own shots and share them.

· Stay up to date on everything about the Peas via an aggregated Twitter feed

· Play an addictive Peas-inspired puzzle game

· View pictures and comments posted by other BEP360 app users on a virtual earth

The BEP360 app is available for $2.99 from the App Store on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, or at:

Image: As soon as you point your iPhone onto the CD a virtual 3D character appears and the music starts.

A demo of BEP360 app featuring The Black Eyed Peas and the making-of behind the scenes video can be seen at:

I’m going to be interested to follow this story over the next few weeks to learn how fans react and how the rest of the music industry responds.


I’m creating this blog to help those of us born between 1946 and 1964 to cope with the rapid changes that are happening all around us. Remember at the end of the last century when a big question was what we were going to do with all of our spare time? I don’t know about you but even though I left my last “official” job over two years ago, I don’t find that I have a lot of spare time.

One of the challenges I’ve encountered is that I don’t have a college degree. When I was 13, I decided that I wanted to be in the radio business. During my sophomore year at Northeastern University in Boston, I was offered a job in broadcasting and I was learning so much and having so much fun that I left school and pursued my career. Over the next 40 years, I had a successful communications management career in places like Providence, Albany, Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York working for companies like NBC, SFX, AM/FM and MTV Networks.

Despite not having a college degree, I was also invited to teach a communications course at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, served as a faculty advisor at Siena College and was certified by the New York State Education Department as a licensed private school teacher. Nevertheless, I’m finding many organizations refusing to even consider me for employment because I don’t have a college degree. I’ve also noticed that many of the online job application forms that HR departments are using to screen candidates no longer include “Some college” as an option.

Have you encountered this problem? Have you figured out a way to deal with it?

Tell me about it.