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Music

The rise and fall of MuchMusic, from crucial TV to bust

Posted by Ed Conroy / July 18, 2014

Much Music 1980sOne's thirties are the new twenties so they say, but for our embattled Nation's Music Station MuchMusic it's the new euthanasia. Launched with great gusto 30 years ago this August, MuchMusic (original tagline: "It's a lot!") has been slowly dispossessed of its magical powers over the last decade as the channel lunged from an embarrassing identity crisis into full blown televisual catatonia.

MuchMusic

While its overlords at Bell Media are quick to blame a T.K.O. combo of YouTube guzzling kids and a side of strait-jacketed conditions of licence courtesy of our proudly tone deaf Government regulatory agency the CRTC, the sad truth is that a profound lack of vision and imagination have killed this once indomitable golden goose.

Seismic waves triggered by CTVglobemedia's (now Bell Media) purchase of the CHUMCity assets in 2006 are still felt today, as one by one those colorful assets fade into a beige blur of TV mediocrity; Citytv, the incendiary local channel which gleefully re-wrote the rules of a vanilla medium is now a wasteland of second tier sitcoms, reality shows, and mind numbing infomercial loops. Bravo and Space, once bastions of high quality niche series catering to high and low brow viewers alike, are now home to sloppy seconds, practically indistinguishable from one another never mind everything else.

In other news, Netflix, piracy and SVOD are kicking everyone's ass because even us Hoi Polli are better at imaginative programming than most major broadcasters.

Reporting on the gutting of what was left of MuchMusic's original programming, the Globe and Mail (also owned by Bell Media) quoted Bell Media president Kevin Crull as saying "Kids do not watch music videos on television. You're not going to wait for somebody to program a music video when you have a million available on Vevo". It's almost as if some people have forgotten why the peons bothered to watch Much in the first place.

Music videos may well have been the bricks and mortar out of which the original condition of license was constructed back in the early 1980s, but the true pedigree of MuchMusic was always attitude.

MuchMusic was a hard partying Frankenstein's monster forged together by pieces of Citytv's creative maelstrom in the late 70s/early 80s - The New Music (alternative principles and magazine style reportage), Toronto Rocks (edgy rock and street cred), CHUM 30 Countdown (Video countdowns) and City Limits (irreverent commentary, comedy and bizarre stock footage). Unifying all of this wayward mayhem were some remarkable hosts - J.D Roberts, Jennie Becker, John Majhor, and Christopher Ward, respectively.

Later shows on MuchMusic such as Soul in the City, The Wedge, Power Hour, R U Receiving, French Kiss, Electric Circus, The Punk Show, Life on Venus Avenue and Rap City fostered an eclecticism that is difficult to find in the current online megaverse of curation-less content, where we technically have access to everything but limited or no guidance on the journey.

Sook yin leerick the temp2014717-MASTER-T.jpgstrombo

When it was first unleashed onto Canada via the madhouse at 99 Queen Street East, Much's cadre of VJs included electric personalities such as Michael Williams, Erica Ehm, and Denise Donlon, later Steve Anthony, Terry David Mulligan, Kim Clarke Champniss, Tony "Master T" Young, Ed the Sock, Ziggy Lorenc, Monika Deol, Dan Gallagher, Simon Evans, Sook-Yin-Lee, Rick "the temp", Daniel Richler, George Stroumboulopoulos, many others.

Regardless of your preferred musical genre, this motley crew of misfits chilling in their open concept work space invited you to hang out with them 24/7, learn stuff you didn't know, hear amazing tunes, have a laugh and feel like part of something much larger. Just like the best kind of cool older brothers and sisters.

The visionary man upstairs Moses Znaimer and his co-conspirator John Martin were the hip parents who let their children run amuck and experiment as much as they liked, just so long as they did it under his roof. First at 99 Queen Street East, and then later most memorably at 299 Queen West, the ChumCity building was a buzzing sentient cathedral of good vibes, good music, and good people: "The living movie" as it came to be known.

299 Queen St.Nowadays 299 Queen West is a gated mortuary, where everything is hidden away from the public. Long before social media transformed our toys, its ethos was apparent in every facet of MuchMusic's soul. It was live, interactive and approachable. The VJs were actually die-hard music fans. They enjoyed nothing more than turning people onto new bands and genres. It was an adroit educational experience, and everyone including sponsors and advertisers came out smiling.

With virtually nothing, the original brains behind Much delivered on their promise of giving us "a lot". With a lot, the new owners of Much gave us virtually nothing. Reruns of The Simpsons, Degrassi, and The Mentalist might look good from a R.O.I perspective on O&O economies of scale, but they sure won't buy you a dedicated cult following.

With Much's epitaph basically written (but not yet carved in stone), it seems to be all over but for the crying. Bean counters are not usually interested in straying from their scripts, which seems all the more mystifying when you recall that kind of punk flavoured disobedience to rules was what turned Much into the cash money piƱata they bought in the CHUMCity package all those years ago.

Grassroots movement #GivethembacktoMoses sprung up this week with a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Givethembacktomoses) ostensibly to show Bell Media there is still an appetite for the brand under new (old) management. They should return their broken purchase - if they no longer want it - to its prophetic creator Moses Znaimer, who no doubt could turn things around sharpish.

Properties like Much worked best with small overheads and big ideas, and with instant access to virtually every song and music video ever created, we sorely need expert curation more than ever before. It need not be a rerun of the first 30 years, and it's no longer just about videos. The next chapter in this exciting saga is beckoning. Who better to save the wounded and confused monster than Dr. Frankenstein himself?

Besides which, Much Master T thinks it's a good idea.

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.

Discussion

53 Comments

S / July 18, 2014 at 10:38 am
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"One's thirties are the new twenties so they say, but for our embattled Nation's Music Station MuchMusic it's the new euthanasia" WOW. That's an awesome opening line.
Todd Toronto / July 18, 2014 at 10:43 am
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Dumb question from an older guy, but how do people discover videos in an age of Youtube? I know I can watch the video for "Fancy" or some Arcade Fire song whenever I want (which is great), but who's going to introduce me to a cool video by an artist I've never heard of?

One wonders what MuchMusic would be today if left to its own devices, but clearly, the audience for music video television was waning even before Youtube came around. Much would have had to reinvent itself as SOMETHING to keep young people watching. People like me who were weened on watching music videos on TV are far out of the demographic.

Also, I may be wrong, but I don't recall John Majhor even being on Much.
leor / July 18, 2014 at 10:51 am
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there is a mistake in the content of this article. it implies that CityTV is owned by BellMedia, when it is in fact owned by Rogers. it had to be sold when Bell bought CHUM, because they couldn't own both CTV and CityTV.
K&S / July 18, 2014 at 10:53 am
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To this day i would still give my let nut to see Erich Ehm, Rachel Perry and Hannah Simone have a filthy three way.
Jordan / July 18, 2014 at 10:56 am
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Ahhh those were the days. I have such good memories of Much in the 90's. Coming home from school to catch Much On Demand and whatever new music videos were out that week. I guess it's the major difference between current day, having access to everything and anything on demand in many places (phone, laptop, tv, game console) and the days when we had to hope to catch Much airing that new video or your favorite bands new single on the radio. Kind of miss those days but would be near impossible to be ok giving up the convenience of everything we have now.
Cliff S replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / July 18, 2014 at 11:00 am
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"but how do people discover videos in an age of Youtube?"
answer is they don't, or at least I can't be bothered to look through all the fan video's for an official one. It's annoying wading through all the garbage to queue up a bunch of videos so I can watch them on a computer screen (or a laptop with garbage speakers), it ain't the living room couch with a decent stereo that's for sure. Videoflow and the old much were great, AUX can be good at time, but there is a lot of repetition on there, when they happen to show videos.

So moral of the story, the music video is dead, although radio still lives on to see another day.
Axel / July 18, 2014 at 11:02 am
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"Dont Cry" by Guns N' Roses.

Longest winning streak for a video on Combat Des Clips.
duder replying to a comment from Axel / July 18, 2014 at 11:13 am
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I actually believe that it is "Estranged" that has that title...
Sergeminator / July 18, 2014 at 11:16 am
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YouTube killed the video star that killed the radio star.

When will the massacre of stars end!?
Tulliver / July 18, 2014 at 11:16 am
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@Todd Toronto

How to watch videos today like we did with Much? Get an AppleTV, push the Vevo button, choose a genre or song and away you go. The app will choose the rest of the videos based on that, which exposes you to new things.

To this blog: thank you for this clip! Wish there were a fee more early 80s clips but thank you. The thing about Much was that it was MUCH better than American MTV, better music selection for sure.

Thank you MuchMusic.
Bite Mark / July 18, 2014 at 11:18 am
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Bradford How was always my favourite. He was definitely the funniest.
TOmusicguy replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / July 18, 2014 at 11:23 am
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There are great social media sites where people suggest music and popular choices are aggregated.

You might want to look into reddit as there are a bunch of music subreddits dedicated to old, new or many genres of music. As well there are very popular threads where people are asked for their favourite bands, etc. Just google 'reddit music subreddits'.
TOmusicguy replying to a comment from Cliff S / July 18, 2014 at 11:26 am
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This couldn't be further from the truth. Music videos are simply moving from the television to the computer.

source: I've directed a bunch of music videos since the mid-90s and still do from time-to-time
TOmusicguy replying to a comment from Cliff S / July 18, 2014 at 11:27 am
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RIP Much and a massive thanks to BlogTO for this great post!
G.S. / July 18, 2014 at 11:55 am
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Much should bring back Intimate and Interactive. Although it was a ripoff of MTV Unplugged/VH1 Storytellers it was still well produced and brought some great acts to the studio.
Pete / July 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm
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I don't know if it's an age thing but who really watches music videos anymore? Do they really even matter except if they are truly sensational? Lyric videos are usually better, anyway. I don't know if 'kids' bother with videos anymore like it was back in the day when you would rush home to catch in Toronto Rocks or Video Hits. Lol.
RS / July 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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http://www.thebeauzone.blogspot.ca/

FYI, your link for 'Give Them Back To Moses' FB page is borked.
Paul Lawton / July 18, 2014 at 12:52 pm
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Where will we see Massari videos once Much is put out of its misery?
i think replying to a comment from Paul Lawton / July 18, 2014 at 01:02 pm
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You mean The Canadian Pitbull?
Nicky replying to a comment from Bite Mark / July 18, 2014 at 01:06 pm
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Bradford Howe is now the host of Bet the House on Nick at Nite.
Matt / July 18, 2014 at 01:56 pm
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Everything Bell and Rogers touch turns to shyte. They are essentially a bloated, government-backed duopoly that continues to gobble up more and more of the Canadian media landscape from both the service provision and content production sides. Anything that they cannot just buy and assimilate into their media empire (e.g. Netflix) they attempt to choke to death by manipulating the media landscape (like imposing bandwidth caps). They're really the social equivalent of a tumour.

Oh yeah, and depending on the outcome of the upcoming election, Rogers might be running the city as well.
Moaz Ahmad / July 18, 2014 at 01:57 pm
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No "Al Music" video? Weird Al was a popular guest on MuchMusic who had no problem taking over the station.

To my mind MuchMusic's problems started when they brought in MTV Canada. The experiment with MuchMoreMusic and MUCHLoud wasn't great but it didnt hurt them as badly as MTV Canada did.
Bay St. Guy replying to a comment from K&S / July 18, 2014 at 02:03 pm
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Amen!
Arch Stanton / July 18, 2014 at 02:11 pm
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Bring back CBC's Video Hits!
Teenage Wasteland / July 18, 2014 at 02:37 pm
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To me, Much Music problems started when they began playing rap music all day.
W. K. Lis / July 18, 2014 at 02:58 pm
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I would leave MuchMusic playing while at home or at a hotel. When they switched away from music videos, I switched off.
Jacob / July 18, 2014 at 03:57 pm
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Much and Queen Street West both suffered the same fate, unfortunately.

Walking down the street and seeing all the posh fashion chain stores is like tuning into Much, with shiny nothingness.


As the article said, what made Much was a combination of passion and low budget.

(Oh, and don't give it to Moses. He's too focused on "Zoomers.")
Kelly replying to a comment from K&S / July 18, 2014 at 04:31 pm
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I'm sure you meant that as a compliment, and weren't at all trying to be creepy.
Penny / July 18, 2014 at 05:04 pm
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I remember MuchMusic when it first aired and I loved it. The music videos were great and I always looked forward to Michael Jackson videos because they were like a story and so well made not like the videos where it became normal for half naked women gyrating to whatever. I lost interest in much once they stopped airing videos and started showing crap reality shows. I loved intimate and interactive as I got to know more about the bands that I liked and the show was at least an hour long if not longer. I also enjoyed it when they aired concerts on the weekends. and the VJ's were all full of life and personality. so if Much wants to revive itself stick to the music world. i would love to hear about upcoming Canadian artists//bands, show us the social scenes of big cities from Vancouver to Toronto and all the little cities as well. most of all get the fans involved and ask them what they want to see.
Josh / July 18, 2014 at 05:16 pm
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As an aside, I don't think that Bell has adversely affected Space that much. It has always consisted mostly of reruns and, often, lame shows. But it's also the home of Orphan Black, probably the best Canadian TV show in current production. Otherwise it's the usual mix of Star Trek, Stargate, and B-movies.

My only real annoyance is when they use the otherwise engaging Innerspace show to cross-promote CTV stuff like Flashpoint. Why they think anyone watching Space would be interested in that is beyond me...
Friar Canuck / July 18, 2014 at 07:21 pm
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The beginning of the decent started when they focused on a more teen aged audience. Late 80s was more of an adult audience with Labatt's Blue commercials between the videos. As time went on, their target audience's age dropped.

As a side, I missed Test Pattern. Will I ever know what's on Pablo's hands today?
Michael / July 18, 2014 at 07:45 pm
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There are a lot of facts that are not accurate

Bell Media is not OWNER of Globe & Mail, but owns a stake in it.

CityTV is now owned by Rogers.

But great job cobbling together all the amazing throwbacks.
Reg replying to a comment from Michael / July 18, 2014 at 07:48 pm
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Citytv was being discussed in terms of ex Chumcity assets, and of course Bell Media own the mop & pail. You work for them much?
Yelp / July 19, 2014 at 01:57 am
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Video Killed The Radio Star

Internet Killed The Video Star
Adam Coe / July 19, 2014 at 03:28 am
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I don't want to sound like an old man just beating his chest, but holy shit in this case it's true. When Much was run and hosted by people who cared about music and not by a corporation, it was incredible, and it was why we loved being Canadian, because MTV was shit. We had a video channel that played videos, and it was stellar. I remember feeling really great about it, even if it wasn't stuff I was into...just the notion of putting 2-3 hours on a Friday or Saturday night of nothing but videos and people dancing? Totally insane now. I was more into the rock/alternative end, ie. Pepsi Power 30 with my super crush Teresa Roncon, or even stuff like RSVP, with Natalie Richard or the always wonderful Erica Ehm...not to mention truly educated guys who really cared like Bill Wylychka (sorry if I spelled that wrong) and whatnot...don't mean to point fingers but after Rick The Temp it was all over. He and most of the hosts that came after were personalities first and music fans later. I loved to look at Rachel and Amanda but it's not like I expected them to have Allman Brothers records in their collection if you know what I'm getting at. It's truly sad that there can't be anything like that now, but I get it...time marches on and I'm just glad I got to experience it for at least a few years before it was ruined. Just a shame that Denise Donlon, who was there from the early days, and was one of the greats, also oversaw the total dismantling of everything we loved about it.
SubMariner replying to a comment from Cliff S / July 19, 2014 at 09:30 am
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I'm over 50 and hardly the most technically up to date person, but even I know televisions are computer monitors. Assuming your TV and computer were both made in the last few years, you should be able to connect them with an HDMI cable (or a VGA monitor cable and audio cable). My laptop sits semi-permanently on a shelf underneath my TV, controlled by my wireless remote keyboard. I spend more time using/watching stuff on the internet than watching television channels, although often I'm doing both with picture-in-picture.

Radio? Are you kidding? I haven't listened to a music radio station in decades.

The internet has made things infinitely better than they were. I don't understand anyone complaining about having "access to everything but limited or no guidance on the journey". If you can't find what you like today, you just haven't bothered looking. To me, "guidance" meant a few people in charge of our limited media options telling us what we could and couldn't see and hear back in the bad old days before the internet became what it is now. I grew up in the 1970s when, if you were lucky, you got to see an act you might like on the Midnight Special or Don Kirshner's Rock Concert maybe once a year.
Martin / July 19, 2014 at 12:59 pm
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Yes, the misdirection in the narrative promoted by chief bean counter Kevin Crull (just another MBA, not a Creative) is that the cuts are related to a cultural shift. This is echoed in the Financial Post piece which claims that the channel "remains handcuffed" by the CRTC, forcing it to play a lot of music videos.

Let's deal with the reality - these people are not interested in culture, they want to maximize profits, so they fill the slate with the cheap programming that requires no creativity or additional audience building. Not to mention, they just cross-promote across other channels. The accountants running things have no imagination or passion, they just see a channel as a vehicle for selling advertising and view the audience as a particular demographic. Znaimer may be a bit of a megalomaniac, but he wanted to create meaningful content. The accountants running things these days don't have a clue. We have so much talent here that will never be utilized as long as there is cheap syndicated programming to be had.

Ultimately, the accountants will destroy once great platforms. They just don't get it. It's true that the type of content that Much used to create is now found online in places like Vice. The NewMusic was one of the best shows ever, and it's been replaced by re-runs of Fresh Prince, 2 hours of the Simpsons and a clip show called "World's Craziest Fools".

What a load of crap to say that they have to fire people because they are forced to play music videos. No one forced them to stop coming up with compelling original shows, or even a home grown reality show or two. They just want to buy the cheapest platform upon which to sell advertising.

BCE, Bell Media's parent company makes about $2 billion in profits, and that's what it comes down to, the almighty dollar.
Kai / July 19, 2014 at 01:17 pm
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Great article! A fitting tribute to a once great warrior, felled by a sucker punch by the new King.
Eli replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / July 19, 2014 at 05:39 pm
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Best way to discover new videos is by coming to a Video Dance event. In fact if you're in Toronto, once every 3rd Saturday in the month (actually tonight), we do something called the Retro Road Show. It's a Music Video Dance event spanning 4 decades of music videos. 2 Floors also. Upper floor with the legendary DJ Thomas Hall playing 70's/80's and early 90's and then the lower level with 90's/2000's and Today's hitz. It's a fun time so if you're ever interested come check it out. 805 Bloor Street @ Dovercourt (Ossington Subway) - retroroadshow.com . We'll keep youth alive!
J-rock / July 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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I'm in my late 30s, and literally grew up with this station. I agree with most of the posters in that MuchMusic is one of those rare things that actually was "better in our day". But the world in which it was such an important cultural asset, simply doesn't exist anymore. I owe Michael Williams, Kim Clarke Champniss, Simon Evans, Sook-Yin, and so many of the other VJs a debt of gratitude for turning me onto new songs, bands, and even genres of music that I would have never otherwise discovered. I've still got hours of various MuchMusic shows and videoflow trapped on VHS tapes at my parents' homes.

Young people in 2014 have things so much better than we did in a lot of ways, but they also missed out on a lot.

I ran into Master T at a restaurant on St. Clair a couple of years ago, and I just tapped him on the shoulder, shook his hand and told him "Thanks". That's how I feel towards most of the VJs I grew up watching, and the producers who made all of it possible.

Whether it's a radio station, a magazine or TV channel - it will always be better in the hands of real fans, as opposed to ad execs and corporate bean counters. RIP MUCH
Kasra replying to a comment from SubMariner / July 20, 2014 at 04:36 pm
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I just want to suggest that some people do not have computers or internet.to assume that everyone has a tv with a VGA or hdmi. Cable.

Honestly I see it as this radio and tv are going to be around for next 20 years but more of the way of choicing your content instead of it being choicing content for you.

It will still be free but it will be like YouTube where you picked the channels you want.
Steven / July 21, 2014 at 12:30 am
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MuchMusic - R.I.P.
Dean / July 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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Best way to Save Much Music is to drop the word "Music" and just call it "MUCH" like most of us do anyway and get rid of all the sitcom reruns and other BS and focus on the stories of music and pop and un-pop culture. Cover every genre. Show the occasional music video but focus on interviews and fun interactive programs that involves the fans. Be live and original. Revive some of the old bits and put a fresh spin on them. Help kids discover new stuff instead of all the crap we are force fed from every other channel. The key is finding the right hosts - people who strikes the right balance of actually knowing what they are talking about and connecting with the audience. If done correctly it would probably cost them less to hire a few fresh-faced smart host then it does to by all those old shows and pay for the rights. The ROI might not be as immediate but long term if they build up the audience it would be worth it.

By covering everything "culture" they Bring Back the old feeling of "a lot" and help expose kids to stuff that is actually cool instead of being told what is cool.

Much : It's a lot (of crap currently) becomes MUCH : MORE!
Bocesco / July 21, 2014 at 02:29 pm
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R.I.P. to MUCH. I remember staying up late to watch Monday night RAP CITY.
Also Video Fact Videos, MUCH Fact etc.... hopefully this will still exist to help aspiring artists to create music videos.
T / July 21, 2014 at 03:23 pm
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M the U the C the H the V the I the B the E.
Marco replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / July 21, 2014 at 04:01 pm
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I'm working on it......
Ray N / July 21, 2014 at 04:36 pm
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Video killed the radio star...You tube killed Video. Instead of wait for hours to hear/see your favorite video you can load them instantly...it's like many other genres, have gone away with the Dodo. It's ok to be nostalgic and remember fondly about how our younger sibling taped over your Janet Jackson videos for New Kids on the Block, but those days are over. RIP Much Music, you were an influential part of my musical upbringing.
Ray N replying to a comment from Teenage Wasteland / July 21, 2014 at 04:45 pm
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"all day"? Really!?. Exaggerate much?
City Limits / July 21, 2014 at 07:55 pm
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Anyone actually remember City Limits?
It was the precursor of Much, and truly ahead of its time programming in like....'82-'83 when it was around. Weekends, 12 am to 6am... it was so DIY and great. It pre-dated all of the "elements" named in the piece above except for New Music.

Limitoid replying to a comment from City Limits / July 21, 2014 at 09:38 pm
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City Limits is mentioned in the piece
Badbhoy / July 23, 2014 at 02:00 pm
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"the current online megaverse of curation-less content, where we technically have access to everything but limited or no guidance on the journey."

Thia is something lackong in the entire music mesia landscape at the moment. Sure there are websites, music apps, and the like that can certainly introduce you to new bands. But everything is so segmented and targeted (indie Dance Pop songs from the 00's playlist) that there really is not as much incentive to branch out and listen to a new a genre.

Growing up in the 90's I gravitated to alternative music and as ia often the case as a teen my tastes defined me and I publicly shunned other music as a result. But Much was still an outlet that provided me ezporsure to other genres and treated the material with respect regardless of the style. I may not have appreciated as much at the time but I am now glad that Master T or Michael Williams introduced me to music i otherwise would not have seeked out myself. There really isn't anything out there like that today that carries the same credibility and that is a shame.

AUX has tried to fill tbat gap but the station suffers from the lack of fresh self produced content. That just seems to be reality of doing business in television today.

The one exception in the realm of radio (albeit internet radio) is BBC 6 Music. A lot of curated well produced content of a wide variety with excellent hosts who have a deep respect for music. It has become my go-to place for discovering new sounds.
Ashley / July 24, 2014 at 02:39 pm
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A new article about what could be for MuchMusic.
http://bit.ly/1nlbZoD
A. Gorilla / July 24, 2014 at 03:22 pm
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Much started to die off during the early 2000s when they decided to sell their souls to pander to the teenie bopper crowd. After that it was all 24/7 garbage containing the likes of Backstreet Boys, N Sync, Britney Spears etc.

Lately whenever I would flip by that channel it would usually be showing reruns of TV shows and unfunny crap like Video on Trial. Can't believe they replaced Ed the Sock and Fromage with crap like that.

Also, I have heard from people who worked there that moving Denise Donlon up into management was one of the worst things that happened to the station.

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