Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from March 18, 2009

VJ Days

I'm 45, which means I'm old enough to remember when MTV played music videos. VH-1, too.

Means I know what a VJ is, and that Don Imus and Rosie O'Donnell were once colleagues at VH-1.

I haven't watched MTV in years, maybe going on decades. VH-1 hasn't exactly been part of my viewing list, either. There was a brief spike in my VH-1 viewership when the show "Pop-Up Video" debuted, because I thought that concept was as cool as hell. But aside from that, meh.

It didn't used to be that way.

I was smitten with MTV in the early-1980s, shortly after it burst onto the scene. Radio on TV!

That's basically what it was. Only you could SEE the on-air talent, instead of having to imagine what they looked like. Some of the names, I'm sure, might resonate with some of you. Nina Blackwood. Alan Hunter. Mark Goodman. JJ Jackson. Martha Quinn.

They were young-ish -- late-20s, early-30s -- and they were basically disc jockeys on TV. Hence the brand new moniker of VJ -- video jockey.

It was remarkably simpler back then, MTV was.

Original MTV jocks (from left) Jackson; Blackwood; Goodman; Quinn; and Hunter

You'd flick it on, courtesy your local cable company, and the odds were good that one of two things would be on the screen: a music video, or a VJ -- TALKING about music videos. Or maybe pumping an artist's latest tour, with dates and venues.

You could keep MTV on, in the background, and check in on it whenever you heard a favorite song of the day. Maybe you were just a fan of Nina's, and when you heard her husky voice you'd stop whatever you were doing and poke your head into the TV room to see what she had to say. Or to just look at her. Not that I would know anything about that.

It was magnificently simple, looking back on it. MTV -- music videos with some VJs sprinkled in.

Then there was VH-1.

I was thinking about all of this thanks to the news of Don Imus's cancer diagnosis, which he revealed publicly a few days ago.

I first knew of Imus when I saw his craggy mug on VH-1, working as a VJ in the late-1980s. VH-1 was set up a little differently than MTV in those days. The MTV jocks were in a casual setting, almost basement-ish. They were sitting down, for one. The VH-1 jocks stood, in front of a chroma key background while psychadelic colors and shapes floated behind them.

So there would be Imus, delivering mono-syllabic intros and chatting with the off-camera crew. He was stoic and sarcastic and I thought he was great. I had no idea that he was also a "shock jock" on New York radio. Then there'd be a shift change, and out would be Imus and in would be Rosie O'Donnell -- this pixie-ish Irish girl wearing a beret. Where Imus was laid back and a man of few words, Rosie was chatty and hyper. And quite adorable.

Now Imus battles cancer, having revealed himself (to me, anyway) to be nothing more than a mean-spirited hack on the radio. And Rosie, long ago un-closeted, is a champion of causes and is another who has found Michigan to be moviemaker-friendly. In a story straight from a 1940s flick, Rosie discovered the star of the movie she filmed in Michigan sitting in a diner in downtown Detroit. No joke. She goes up to the kid -- a teenager -- and asks him if he wants to be in pictures. A star is born.

Hers was born in front of the VH-1 cameras, VJ'ing. It led to bigger and better things for her.

And Imus? In retrospect, he probably didn't take the VH-1 gig too seriously. I'm sure it was far too vanilla for his taste.

But they played music videos, at least. Back then.


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