STRAIGHT TALK

NZV8 - - CONTENTS - WITH TONY JOHN­SON

Quiz time: bet you can rec­og­nize this song from the lyrics — “Now look at them yo-yos / That’s the way you do it / You play the gui­tar on the MTV / That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it / Money for nothin’ and chicks for free.” You got it — Dire Straits and Money for Noth­ing, off their fan­tas­tic 1985 Broth­ers in Arms al­bum. You don’t win any­thing if you got it right, be­cause ev­ery­one knows that song — well, ev­ery­one over 45, at least. But — do you know what Mark Knopfler was talk­ing about? He was writ­ing from the per­spec­tive of a nor­mal work­ing-class guy watch­ing the wealthy mu­si­cians on Mu­sic Tele­vi­sion — bet­ter known these days sim­ply as ‘MTV’. Knopfler says, from the per­spec­tive of a hard-graft­ing work­ing­class guy: “We got to move these re­frig­er­a­tors, we gotta move these color TVs / I shoulda learned to play the gui­tar / I shoulda learned to play them drums” as he looks across at the stark con­trast be­tween his life and that of some of the mu­sic celebri­ties he de­scribes — con­tro­ver­sially at the time — as “That lit­tle fag­got got his own jet air­plane / That lit­tle fag­got he’s a mil­lion­aire”. I know, I know — this has noth­ing to do with cars, and this is a car magazine. You’re right. Just hang in there with me for a bit, though, be­cause I reckon you’ll find this story re­ally in­ter­est­ing — for two rea­sons. Rea­son one: most car peo­ple I know are into mu­sic; rea­son two: you’re prob­a­bly a New Zealan­der, and this is a truly amaz­ing — and lit­tle-known — story about New Zealand in­no­va­tion. MTV — mu­sic tele­vi­sion; we watch it on var­i­ous Sky chan­nels (I’m sooo pissed off with Sky TV for drop­ping the MTV Clas­sic and Juice 2 chan­nels) — and it’s even on free-to-air TV these days through a chan­nel called ‘Edge TV’. Edge TV mu­sic is com­plete crap, but it’s mu­sic, be­ing played, with video, to the masses. MTV — it must be one of the world’s big­gest in­dus­tries. OK. Now — next quiz: what was the name of a New Zealand TV show back in the ’70s and ’80s that showed mu­sic clips? That’s right! Ra­dio With Pic­tures. Well done! Ra­dio With Pic­tures was an early mu­sic video show that TV2 ran from 1976 through to 1989. Back then — be­fore the ad­vent of MTV — record com­pa­nies were pro­vid­ing a lot of mu­sic videos to TV pro­duc­ers for free — even to con­ser­va­tive 1970s two-chan­nel Tele­vi­sion New Zealand. Among the clips was a lot of stuff that it would have been con­sid­ered ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ to show kids back then, with bands such as the Sex Pis­tols and scant­ily clad young ladies in­cluded in the props. So, a guy at TV2 by the name of Peter Grat­tan came up with the idea of pro­duc­ing a weekly late-night mu­sic show and put the pro­posal to his boss, Ke­van Moore. Ke­van had an in­ter­est in mu­sic on TV from his time pro­duc­ing a New Zealand TV show called C’mon in the 1960s — if you re­mem­ber C’mon, you’re as old as I am! — and he ran with the idea. The new show — aptly and sim­ply called Ra­dio With Pic­tures — got go­ing in 1976, and not only showed mu­sic from overseas but also had a strong ethos of in­clud­ing a lot of non–main­stream mu­sic that we wouldn’t get to hear on ra­dio. The show also be­came a plat­form from which to show­case up and com­ing New Zealand artists, which was a great thing. The Red Hot Pep­pers — not to be con­fused with the Red Hot Chilli Pep­pers — was the first Kiwi band to be shown on this new TV pro­gramme. I re­mem­ber, as a teenager, be­ing glued to Ra­dio With Pic­tures, be­cause, for the first time ever, we weren’t just hear­ing mu­sic from all around the world; we were see­ing it. It was fan­tas­tic! We got to see — not just hear — what the bands we’d al­ways lis­tened to looked like and what was go­ing on in the world of mu­sic. Travel was ex­pen­sive then, and com­par­a­tively few bands from overseas came all the way to ‘God’s own’. For mu­sic lovers, this was amaz­ing stuff. Do you re­mem­ber who the Ra­dio With Pic­tures hosts were? There were a few, but the ones most closely associated with the show were Karyn Hay and Dick Driver, who hosted it through most of the ’80s. On ev­ery episode, they looked and sounded as if they were stoned — but hey, why not? It was, af­ter all, the ’80s. At the be­gin­ning of Ra­dio With Pic­tures, dur­ing the ’70s, the show didn’t have a host be­cause it didn’t have a bud­get. How­ever, as this latenight ‘ra­dio with pic­tures’ TV show gained pop­u­lar­ity and mo­men­tum, it gained a bud­get and could start do­ing more. Record com­pa­nies re­al­ized that the sup­ply of clips to the show was re­sult­ing in TV watch­ers buy­ing records; when the artists fea­tured on Ra­dio With Pic­tures toured New Zealand, the view­ers went to see them. It worked on me, for one — in 1975 or there­abouts, I went and saw the Red Hot Pep­pers at the Royal Wan­ganui Opera House be­cause I knew who they were — from Ra­dio With Pic­tures. It was prob­a­bly the first live con­cert I went to. Can you see where this story is go­ing? This is where it gets in­ter­est­ing — and it sur­prised the shit out of me when I learnt about this. Re­mem­ber that in the 1970s MTV hadn’t been thought of. If you’re old enough to re­mem­ber Ra­dio With Pic­tures, then you’re also old enough to re­mem­ber the Amer­i­can TV show called The Mon­kees — you know: “Hey, hey, we’re The Mon­kees …” The show was based around four young guys form­ing a band and try­ing to find star­dom. Any­way, it was a cool TV show, and I al­ways thought The Mon­kees was a cool band — even if the band was a 1960s made-for-TV boy band. The mem­bers were Michael Ne­smith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones. Slightly iron­i­cally, The Mon­kees had some fan­tas­tic songs — Day-Dream Be­liever, Last Train to Clarkesville, I’m a Be­liever — and be­came a big hit on the charts, reach­ing num­ber one in the US with each of their first four stu­dio al­bums. Any­way, to get to the point of the story: in Novem­ber 1976, only months af­ter Ra­dio With Pic­tures had started, Michael Ne­smith was do­ing a solo tour through­out New Zealand, play­ing I have no idea where — The Mon­kees had long since dis­banded. One night, Ne­smith turned on the black and white TV set in his mo­tel room and found Ra­dio With Pic­tures. He was en­thralled. As soon as Ne­smith got back to the US, he went and saw me­dia guru Robert Pittman and told him about what he had ob­served in ‘Nooo Zee-land’. Pittman was a ra­dio and TV pro­gram­mer, mar­keter, in­vestor, and gen­eral me­dia en­tre­pre­neur, and he was quick to see the po­ten­tial in what Ne­smith was de­scrib­ing to him — mu­sic with vi­su­als; ra­dio, but with pic­tures; mu­sic tele­vi­sion. Pittman grabbed the con­cept with both hands and went on to over­see the cre­ation and the con­tin­u­ous growth of MTV for many years, un­til its mas­sive mo­men­tum took hold and spread it through­out the world to be­come the house­hold prod­uct it is to­day. I thought that was an amaz­ing story: that this world-wide MTV phe­nom­e­non was con­ceived right here in New Zealand, and, for me, at least, it makes my mem­o­ries of watch­ing Ra­dio With Pic­tures as a teenager on a black and white TV set in Mum and Dad’s liv­ing room all the more spe­cial. Lastly — a fi­nal in­ter­est­ing lit­tle anec­dote: when MTV Europe went live on Au­gust 1, 1987, Mark Knopfler’s song Money for Noth­ing — tak­ing a poke at the high life en­joyed by mu­sic celebri­ties (like him!) — was the very first mu­sic video that went to air! “Lemme tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb …”

a truly amaz­ing and lit­tle-known story about New Zealand in­no­va­tion

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