Yesterday, Today, & FOREVER The King of Pop

Why It Took MTV So Long To Play Black Music Videos

Jet Magazine – Oct 9th


Buzz Brindle, MTV‘s early director of music programming who reported to Les Garland (MTV co-founder), defended the network’s early format then and does so now. "The point I always made was that MTV was originally designed to be a rock music channel," he says. "It was difficult for MTV to find African-American artists whose music fit the channel’s format that leaned toward rock at the outset".

When Michael Jackson‘s record label submitted his video for Billie Jean in 1983, it changed how the network excluded videos

After Billie Jean, Jackson’s Beat It followed the same year. Next came Thriller, a 14-minute short film, and the first of its kind. "For the first time in the history of MTV, we spotted big time ratings spikes," says Garland. "We were averaging back in those days like a 24 hour rating of 1.2, but every time we would play Thriller, we’d jump up to an 8 or 10. We learned a lot about programming."

Jackson‘s videos helped break the color barrier at MTV. More videos by Black artists, most notably Prince, were then aired.

"Fortunately, Michael Jackson helped us to redefine the musical parameters of MTV, "says Brindle, "and to help its audience become accepting of a more diverse group of artists and genres".

Davey D, host of San Francisco’s KPFA 94.1 Hard Knock Radio and hip hop/political columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, says that Jackson saved the entire music industry. "At that time the music industry was suffering," Davey D says. "He came along and pretty much saved it and took the level of video production to a whole other height and changed the game. So MTV owes a lot to Black artists and the type of attention that they drew to the channel".


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