Say goodbye to VJs, music talk shows and exclusive interviews. Say hello to reruns of The Simpsons.
The garage-like windows at 299 Queen St. W. formerly held the logo of MuchMusic, the nation’s music station. Nowadays they are almost indefinitely locked and have been plastered with adverts of CTV’s winter programming, marking the death of the MuchMusic you used to know and love.
No matter whom you ask, many will say MuchMusic died when their demographic outgrew it. Some will align the death with a specific moment in time, like the cancellation of Electric Circus or the closure of Speakers Corner. Others may say it died when it shifted its focus from edgy underground music to mainstream pop.
MuchMusic launched in 1984 as a groundbreaking concept in the Canadian television industry. The goal was to flatter the need for music-related content in Canada. With a VJ-style (video jockey) setup, viewers could watch music videos, interviews and occasional live in-house performances from their favourite artists. A format like this dominated Canadian music culture, until falling to its biggest competitor: the Internet.
When launched, MuchMusic drove interest by playing hours upon hours of music videos. “MuchMusic launched on August 31, 1984, and, of course, we had a party,” recalls original VJ Christopher Ward. He published a book called Is This Live? Inside the Wild Early Years of MuchMusic: The Nation’s Music Station – a retrospective, as the name suggests, of the zany antics that went on in the 80s and 90s. “J.D. Roberts, Jeanne Beker and I tried gamely to conduct spontaneous interviews and introduce upcoming videos through the din of a building jammed with revellers.”
The party would continue every time the VJs would go on air and speak through their passion of music. Through the years, MuchMusic had waves of VJs, each of whom would leave their mark on the pop-culture goliath. “Rick the temp” Campanelli, Erica Ehm, Steve Anthony, Master T and Ed the Sock all started as unknowns until MuchMusic introduced them to all of Canada from the heart of Toronto.
Each wave of VJs carried on the tradition of challenging traditional journalism by being themselves while making fun and quirky television, like occasionally throwing a Christmas tree off the roof.
It wasn’t until 2007 when I started watching MuchMusic. I recall watching VJs Leah Miller, Matte Babel, Tim Deegan, Sarah Taylor and Devon Soltendieck carry on that tradition. Fans would swarm the intersection of Queen and John to see their favourite celebrities face-to-face, whether for Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, MuchMusic underwent a major rebrand, most notably dropping “Music” from its name and logo. Now stylized as Much, the brand tried to re-align its goals to meet the desires of a digital-focused audience.
The late original productions of New.Music.Live., Much Countdown, Today’s Top 10 and Video on Trial all served as reminders how the station tried to evolve in a more mainstream industry, until they each faced their inevitable cancellations.
With the rise of YouTube, fans of the station no longer needed to wait hours for someone in a control room to program their favourite music videos. This new platform proved that the world was evolving; Much couldn’t keep up.
The foundations of the specialty channel—music videos—were once the oxygen it fed on, but with the emergence of the Internet, the old-school Much was left on life support.
In an effort to break ties with an outdated standard and shift to teen reality, Much had sent in requests to the CRTC with hopes of reducing the required amount of music programming; however, they frequently found themselves unsuccessful.
Today, Much still manages to drift along in a cut-throat industry. There was a digital push in 2015 that introduced “Much creators” who are essentially YouTubers now associated with the Much brand and have access to studio space and equipment.
Original productions, however, are nearly extinct. One of its sole remaining original productions, the MuchMusic Video Awards, still makes its annual appearance, but was recently subject to its own rebranding as the iHeartRadio MMVAs in 2016.
Much now spends its days in a vault with piles of archives in the basement of 299 Queen St. W. As fans hope for it to be unlocked, we, including myself, still remember the iconic moments this station has brought to so many Canadians.
Much’s parent company recently rebranded four of its other specialty channels to be extensions of the CTV network, leaving Much one of the few remaining separate entities. However, with no daily in-house original productions (aside from required music video programming), the channel relies on syndicated shows, most of which are coming from its American counterpart, Comedy Central.
Much’s quarter-life crisis over the past few years may have proved traditional network television can’t last forever. While many bask in the memories, I hope this will spark the next evolution for the nation’s music station as we continue on in this digital era.
As Ward recalls in his book, “Much came along at a time of brilliant creative outburst in Canadian music. We represented that perfect counterpart to ambition: opportunity.”