We LISTEN to music, right?
We turned on the radio. We played singles, then albums, then 8-tracks and cassettes, eventually CDs. Now and then, we were treated to seeing our favorite artists perform on “American Bandstand,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Midnight Special,” “Soul Train.”
But on August 1, 1981, that all changed. Thanks to the latest thing: Cable TV. Suddenly, we could see and hear rock music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We could watch MTV.
The notion that there would be an audience for music videos, sent out on some remote cable channel 24 hours a day, was ridiculed at first, just like other “narrowcasting” ideas of cooking channels, fishing channels, Christian channels, History channels, even 24-hour news channels. “Who will watch this all day and night?” was the question the businessmen asked.
For decades, and perhaps still somewhat true today, rock music and television have had what Keith Richards describes as “a very weird, unnatural marriage.” From its inception, rock and roll was rebellious, brazen and controversial. Television, on the other hand, was bland, familiar and non-threatening. They had very little in common.
Just as Hollywood and the movie industry ignored, belittled and dismissed rock and roll for many years, television also showed it no respect, at first. Almost everyone in positions of power in TV — the network executives, the program producers and writers, the censors in the “Standards and Practices” department, the established stars and show hosts — all showed a very obvious disdain for rock and roll. With only a few exceptions, it would take TV many years before recognizing the growing appeal and marketability of rock, and even longer to acknowledge its artistic merits.