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shayla sullivan

Did Video Kill the Radio Star?

A question for the ages…

Let’s put this catchy song title to the test.

Who doesn’t remember staying up late to catch Michael Jackson’s or Madonna’s scandalous performance on the MTV awards by 1984?  It was the first time that music videos, rather than song quality, were rated and awarded.  How was this different? The launch of the music video era stealthily announced the existential threat to the reign of Rock Gods and Goddesses of the past.

The “radio star” did not have the pressure of being flashy or attractive. But during the infamous “MTV Years”, music artists were forced to develop and focus more on their images and if they could shock the public, more so than showcasing their raw talent.  And it begs the question: would stars of yesteryear been successful during the MTV years?  Let’s think about that. 

Would Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, or even Simon & Garfunkel been the big stars they were in their eras as they would if they had blossomed in the 1980s?  Well, they would have had to compete against the likes of Bon Jovi, Madonna, and Hall & Oates.  Am I making a comparison of talent?  Goodness no.  Not by a long shot.  But aesthetically, Zeppelin did not come equipped with the pretty-boy hair band look, nor did Joplin exude sex appeal to the likes of Madonna. 

Fast forward to 1979. The concept of music being released on video format was thought of as a passing fad.  But by August of 1981, it became a lasting reality.

The MTV era

In those earlier days, radio stars weren’t threatened by the invasion of the video star since many cable networks hadn’t placed much focus on the value of producing a 24-hour music video channel.  So, what happened after the launching of MTV?

Cities that broadcasted MTV saw a significant increase in music sales for the artists that were being featured on the new music video channel.  And when the “I Want My MTV” campaign boomed, sales went even further through the roof. Soon, just about every cable station saw a profit motive to MTV. I can even remember the beginning of the offshoot music video stations like The Box when they joined in on this revolutionary wave of advertising music artists.

What did this mean for the radio stars? Get right or get left.  Left behind, that is.

With the rise of looks over talent, most royalties from music stars went toward video production. Older performers were cautious about radio going “TV” and stuck to their guns.  If they did a video, it would be of them simply performing or not in the video at all. Bruce Springsteen comes to mind as one of these artists who felt that “glamming up” for the music video might affect artistic integrity.  Additionally, talented artists who could play instruments machines’ talented artists who could play instruments felt the creeping threat of the new “music machines”.

Effects of New Music Software

Had we started to lose the human touch?

Another fear was the rise of the machine.  Before the 1970s, music was still being developed on analog audio recording.   By the start of the ‘80s, it was clear that analog was taking a stubborn backseat to the slow emergence to the digital format ran by the “new technology”.  With this came the abandonment of capturing and raw recordings on 8-tracks and LP’s.  

But was video the death nail to the radio stars?  If it was, then the advent of satellite radio and the streaming era was their resurrection.  Nowadays, a music artist not only becomes discovered, but they also become insanely popular through these even newer-age channels. So, what happened to the video stars that had taken over radio?  They’ve adopted to the trending music format and are all on YouTube and quickly migrated from there to Spotify.

We witnessed it killing the radio star, which eventually killed the video star.  But the video star has since died out too with streaming technology.  With this line of logic, what…or who is next? 

Have we gone too far, as the song states?

I’d say the jury is in.  Video is guilty as charged.

I’ll revisit this topic from time to time with updates and newer thoughts.  I go more into the effect of more and more technology on our human society in Robots- Friend or Foe: Analyzing “Mr. Roboto”.

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4 Responses

  1. As a millenial, I don’t think the video killed the radio star because when you think about it, it could just be the music producers just wanting to try something new or take a different direction into music; they wanted to change the way of doing things since the 2000’s was right around the corner.

  2. Hmmm… perhaps. But the main idea is that the introduction of music video did indeed “kill” the stars of the radio era. After 1981, a music artist had to not only had to have talent, but they needed to look the part of a star as well. I’d also argue that as the decades after the 80s went on, musical quality was slowly eroding as well, since the primary focus had changed. Thanks for commenting!

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