The rise and fall of MuchMusic from crucial TV to bust

One'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 in August 1984, MuchMusic (original tagline: "It's a lot!") slowly dispossessed of its magical powers starting in the mid nineties as the channel lunged from an embarrassing identity crisis into full blown televisual catatonia.


The original MuchMusic logo.

While its overlords at Bell Media were 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 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 faded into a beige blur of TV mediocrity.

Reporting on the gutting of what was left of MuchMusic's original programming, the Globe and Mail quoted Bell Media president Kevin Crull at the time 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 licence 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 later became difficult to find in the online megaverse of curation-less content, where we technically have access to everything but limited or no guidance on the journey.

Sook yin lee

Sook-Yin Lee in the middle of a spot.

rick the temp

Rick "the temp."


Master T.


George Stroumboulopoulos.

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, and 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.

299 Queen West during a live taping that saw insane crowds and road closures around the building.

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 the kind of punk-flavoured disobedience to rules was what turned Much into the cash money pinata they bought in the CHUMCity package all those years ago.

Grassroots movement #GivethembacktoMoses sprung up back in 2014 with a Facebook page ostensibly to show Bell Media there was still an appetite for the brand under new (old) management.

They should have returned their broken purchase - if they no longer wanted it - to its prophetic creator Moses Znaimer, who no doubt could have turned 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.

#GiveThemBacktoMoses from Retrontario on Vimeo.

Besides which, Much Master T thought it was a good idea.

And for what it's worth, MuchMusic has pivoted to TikTok, creating music and pop-culture content under the logo of the original brand.

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