The antecedents for music's applications in television may be found in film and radio. Most television music (like film music) is non-diegetic: It is heard by viewers and listeners, but not on-screen performers. This "background" music is added after filming has been completed, and is used to create moods, fill spaces, provide rhythm and link the production to other cultural texts. Television music also draws on the tradition of radio, which foregrounded music through variety shows and featured performances. Variety shows were based in vaudeville and dominated the first two decades of television due to their broad appeal and low production costs. Yet music frequently was considered an afterthought during television's early years. In 1948, only 17 stations were on the air. Programming largely was produced on a local basis, and talent and material often were in short supply.

Labor unions played a significant role in determining how music was used on television in the late 1940s. Under the leadership of James Petrillo, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) instigated freezes on all music recording in 1942 and 1948, and the AFM banned "live" music on television until the spring of 1948. The union also ordered that all programs with featured or background music must be broadcast "live" before they were syndicated via kinescopes, and these kinescopes were banned from airing on any station not affilliated with the originating station. This arrangement that favored networks over independent stations and allowed the powerful AFM to strenghten its control of the music industry. The union also prohibited its members from recording for television films until 1950, when the AFM negotiated a system of royalty payments from television producers to musicians (although no such royalty system existed in the film industry). Television music also was hampered by disagreements between program producers and music publishers. Producers sought a broadened general license fee for music use, rather than a special license, while the major music publishing concern (ASCAP) demanded three times the rate it received for film music.

The networks were concerned with "cultural uplift" during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and they viewed "high culture" as a way to add cultural legitimacy to the new medium. NBC had telecast a Metropolitan Opera presentation of "Pagliacci" on 10 March 1940, and all three networks featured classical music and opera on a semi-regular basis. NBC aired three telecasts of the NBC Orchestra in 1948, and ABC telecast an adaption of "Othello" on 29 November of that year. The NBC Opera Theater began regular telecasts in 1950 with four programs and continued to air opera specials through 1950s and early 1960s. The network also aired an experimental color broadcast of "Carmen" on 31 October 1953.

Yet producers faced a number of problems with adapting opera to television. The NBC presentations were sung in English and frequently condensed into one-hour programs, which aroused the ire of some critics. Early televised operas also were criticized for incessant camera panning and closeups. A reviewer for Musical America described a December 1952 closed-circuit telecast of "Carmen" by New York's Metropolitan Opera to 27 cities: "The relentlessness of the camera in exposing corpulence and other less attractive physical features of some of the performers aroused hilarity among the more unsophisticated viewers, of whom there were, perforce, very many."

The networks also showcased classical music in specials and limited-run series throughout the early 1950s. In 1951, ABC's Chicago affilliate (WENR-TV) became the first station to regularly televise an orchestra, and NBC aired Meet the Masters, a classical music series, that spring. The network continued to air occasional telecasts of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and CBS countered with specials featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra. The classical music series "Voice of Firestone" had originated in 1928 on radio; in June 1954 it jumped to television on ABC. Other network programs presented a grab bag of "high culture." CBS's Omnibus debuted in 1952 with support from the Ford Foundation. Although it won numerous awards, the program moved to ABC and NBC because of poor ratings. Omnibus was cancelled in 1959, and the Ford Foundation's experience with the program led them to provide the seed money for American public television. Classical music and opera also made occasional appearances on variety shows, particularly CBS's Toast of the Town, and performers were prominently featured on variety shows like Toast of the Town and The Milton Berle Show. NBC musical specials in 1951 showcased the works of Richard Rogers and Irving Berlin, and NBC continued to air lavish musical presentations throughout the decade.

Music was an integral part of amateur talent shows, which ran on all three networks throughout the 1950s. The most successful of these, Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, was adapted from radio's Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour. Dumont began telecasting the series in 1948, and it aired on various networks until 1970. Music also was featured in the context of game shows. Celebrities rated records on KNXT's Juke Box Jury, which was carried by ABC in 1953 and later syndicated. Other musical game shows included ABC's So You Want to Lead a Band and NBC's Musical Chairs, which aired in 1954 and 1955 respectively, as well as Name That Tune, which ran on NBC and later CBS from 1953 to 1959 and was briefly revived in syndication in the mid-1970s.

Singers often hosted summer replacement shows in the early 1950s. In 1950, Kate Smith and Sammy Kaye hosted replacement shows on NBC while CBS countered with several summer series hosted by Perry Como, Vaughn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. ABC configured much of its prime time schedule around music, particularly after Lawrence Welk joined the network in July 1955. Welk, who began telecasting his performances in June 1949, remains perhaps the most popular musical performer in television history. By featuring performers like Welk, Guy Lombardo, Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and Perry Como, networks targeted older audiences (at the time, "teenagers" as a demographic group were of little use to network advertisers).

Television producers in the late 1940s and early 1950s relied on older popular songs, or "standards," and avoided songs without proven audience appeal. In addition, ASCAP's outright hostility to television led producers to use BMI-licensed songs, many of which were older and in the public domain. Exposing new music largely was relegated to independent stations. This pattern parallelled post-war developments in the recording industry, in which new genres like rhythm and blues and country music were distributed by small, independent labels. Independent television stations were particularly strong on the West Coast due to weak network links, and remote band broadcasts provided inexpensive filler for broadcast schedules. KTLA-TV in Los Angeles featured five orchestra shows each week in the early 1950s, including Spade Cooley's hugely popular western program, while KLAC-TV countered with the Hometown Jamboree hillbilly program. KLAC also challenged the color barrier by presenting a black singer, Hadda Brooks, regularly in 1949.

"Video deejay" programming provided another economical means of filling airtime. Al Jarvis had created the radio deejay program at Los Angeles' KWAB-AM in the early 1930s, and in the winter of 1950 Jarvis began daily broadcasts of records, interviews, horse racing results and "daily religious periods" at KLAC. NBC began airing Wayne Howell's deejay show nationally on Saturday afternoons, and by the end of 1950 video deejays were firmly established in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as well as secondary markets like San Francisco, Miami, Louisville, Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland (where pioneering rock and roll deejay Alan Freed held forth late at night on WXEZ-TV). Video deejay programs combined lip-synch performances, dancers, games, sketches, stunts and film shorts. Between 1941 and 1947, more than 2000 promotional jazz and ballad films, or "soundies," were produced by the Mills Novelty Company for coin-operated machines, and many of these shorts resurfaced on video deejay shows. "Soundies" also were frequently screened between programs to fill airtime, as were the 754 "visual records" Louis Snader produced in his Hollywood studios between 1950 and 1952. Similar films were produced by Screen Gems and United Artists, with a unique twist: silent films were paired with phonograph records, which allowed the clips to be recycled with different songs.

By 1956, local video deejay programs were telecast regularly in nearly 50 markets. These programs were the only significant television programming produced for teenagers and, along with "Top-40" radio, were instrumental in the rising success of rock 'n' roll. The most notable video deejay program debuted on Philadelphia's WFIL-TV as Bandstand in September 1952. Dick Clark replaced Bob Horn as host in July 1956, and the following year American Bandstand was picked up for national distribution by ABC. The program aired from 3:00 to 4:30 P.M. Monday through Friday afternoons, and Dick Clark had begun to parlay American Bandstand's success into a television empire. More than 100 local imitators of Bandstand were on the air by March 1958, and TV had become second only to radio as a means of promoting music. In 1950, standards outnumbered popular tunes on television by four to one, and popular songs on television were already well-established on records and radio. Four years later, the ratio of hits to standards was 50/50. "Let Me Go, Lover" was recorded by several artists after its initial success on CBS's Studio One, and the "Ballad of Davey Crockett" from Walt Disney's ABC-TV series established TV's importance in making hits.

NBC was the most adventurous network in music programming throughout the 1950s, particularly through Steve Allen's efforts to present pop, jazz and classical artists on the Tonight Show. Allen also hosted an NBC special, All Star Jazz, in December 1957. Like Allen, Ed Sullivan featured a number of black acts on his Talk of the Town variety show in the 1950s. Although most acts were comics and dancers, musical performers included W. C. Handy, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne and T-Bone Walker. On 1 April 1949, ABC affiliate WENR in Chicago began airing Happy Pappy, a jazz-oriented revue that featured an all-black cast, and three years later an ABC special with Billy Daniels was the first network television program to feature a black entertainer as star. Nat "King" Cole became the first black to host a regular network series (on NBC from 1956 to 1957), yet the program failed to attract a national sponsor and was boycotted by several stations in the North and South. As a result, blacks largely were relegated to guest shots on variety shows. No black performer would host a network variety series until Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1966.

Rhythm and blues and rock and roll originally were objects of ridicule on TV, as exemplified by Sid Caesar's "Three Haircuts" parody skit on Your Show of Shows, but programmers began paying closer attention to the burgeoning teenage market in 1956. Ed Sullivan presented a rhythm and blues special in November 1955 that featured LaVern Baker, Bo Diddley, and the Five Keys and was hosted by radio deejay "Dr. Jive," yet attempts at providing a regular network showcase for rhythm and blues failed due to resistance from Southern affiliates as well as pressure from ASCAP, who refused to license rhythm and blues titles for blatantly racist reasons.

Country music was more readily embraced by programmers. "Hillbilly," as it was more commonly known, gained its initial video exposure with shows hosted by regional performers in the Midwest, including Earnie Lee at WLW in Cincinnatti (1947), Pee Wee King at WAVE in Louisville (1948) and Lulu Belle at Chicago's WNBQ (1949). By 1956, almost 100 live local country and western shows aired on more than 80 stations in 30 states. Eddy Arnold, aka the "Tennessee Plowboy," was tapped as a summer replacement for Perry Como in 1952, and his program was syndicated throughout the 1950s. Other network efforts included Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee (ABC, 1955-61), the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show (NBC, ABC, 1955-65), and CBS ran a country music program hosted by Jimmy Dean against Today. Nevertheless, these programs were largely pop-oriented in terms of song selection and guest stars.

Singing personalities increasingly replaced comedians as program hosts in the waning years of the 1950s. By the fall of 1957, more than 20 TV shows were headlined by recording stars. Perry Como and Dinah Shore headlined popular series for NBC, and ABC aired efforts by Frank Sinatra, Guy Mitchell, Pat Boone and Julius La Rosa. Many of these shows suffered poor ratings and were supplanted by westerns in 1958, but the success of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella special on CBS triggered a spate of musical fairy tales on networks in the waning years of the decade. Yet television was decried for unimaginative audio throughout the 1950s. Many productions employed dated music libraries, and dramatic shows often paid little attention to musical scoring (one exception was Richard Rodger's acclaimed score for the documentary series Victory at Sea, which NBC aired in late 1952 and early 1953). Another noted production was the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cavalcade sponsored by General Foods, which aired simultaneously on all four networks 28 March 1954.

On 26 January 1956 Elvis Presley made his national television debut on the Dorsey Brothers' CBS Stage Show and quickly followed with appearances on Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan. The squeals Presley elicited from teenagers were matched by loathing from parents and critics. Reviewing a September, 1956 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, a critic for The New York Times tsked that Presley "injected movements of the tongue and indulged in wordless singing that were singularly distasteful." Nevertheless, rock 'n' roll would remain a fixture on local and national television, and ABC's Rock 'n' Roll Show was the first prime-time network special devoted to rock music. The program aired 4 and 11 May 1957 and was hosted by Alan Freed. In addition to specials and variety shows, rock became integrated into situation comedies. Ozzie and Harriet provided a showcase for young Ricky Nelson, who racked up several hits beginning in 1957. The fate of Your Hit Parade symbolized Tin Pan Alley's eclipse by rock 'n' roll. The program originated as the Lucky Strike Hit Parade on radio in 1935 and retained its popularity after moving to television. As rock 'n' roll began to dominate popular music, Your Hit Parade moved from NBC to CBS in 1958 and went off the air 24 April 1959. An attempt to revive the program in the early 1970s was unsuccessful.

The late 1950s also were marked by a decline in "high culture" musical programming. A 1957 arrangement between Ed Sullivan and Metropolitan Opera led to a brief series of capsule opera performances on Sullivan's variety show, yet Met impresario Rudolf Bing scotched the deal when Sullivan proposed to divide the opera presentations into two smaller sections, with a ventriloquist act sandwiched in between, to reduce viewer tuneout. The CBS series The Seven Lively Arts, a short-lived series of plays and music, was cancelled in 1958, and The Voice of Firestone was dropped as a regularly scheduled program in 1959 (it continued as a series of specials until 1962). More successful were CBS's Young People's Concerts, which began airing infrequently in the late 1950s and continued until the early 1970s. The concerts were hosted by Leonard Bernstein and each telecast was devoted to a single theme; two such concerts were "The Sound of the Hall" in 1962 and "What Is a Melody" the following year. The CBS Camera Three arts series ran Sunday mornings from 1956 to 1979, and NBC's Bell Telephone Hour presented music "for all tastes" on a semi-regular basis from 1959 to 1968.

Jazz enjoyed greater exposure during the waning years of 1950s. CBS aired Stan Kenton's Music '55 as a summer replacement series, and the success of the NBC special All-Star Jazz in December 1957 led to a jazz boomlet the following year. NBC ran a 13-part series hosted by Gilbert Seldes, The Subject Is Jazz, ABC aired Stars of Jazz as a summer replacement, and CBS telecast four hour-long excepts from Newport Jazz Festival in July 1958. Still, most jazz programming consisted of standards, swing and dixieland. One exception was the widely acclaimed Jazz Scene USA (1962), produced by Steve Allen and syndicated by New York's WOR-TV. Television shows increasingly featured jazz background music, particularly tough-guy detective and adventure series like Peter Gunn and Ellery Queen (NBC), 77 Sunset Strip (ABC), and Perry Mason and Route 66 (CBS). Although several of these themes charted on the "Billboard Hot-100," much of the music for establishing moods and providing bridges was imported from Europe. However, musicians and producers began to soften their adversarial stances in 1963, following James Petrillo's dethroning as head of the American Federation of Musicians.In October 1963, all network producers (with the inexplicable exception of the Mr. Ed production team) agreed to use live music in telefilms.

The early 1960s continued to see a shift away from musical variety shows. By 1961, only Perry Como, Ed Sullivan, Gary Moore and Dinah Shore remained on network schedules, and both classical and pop music largely were relegated to specials. One notable exception to this rule was Sing Along with Mitch, in which viewers were invited to participate by reading lyrics off the screen. The program was hosted by Mitch Miller, record company executive and arch-enemy of rock 'n' roll, and aired on NBC from 1961 to 1964. Country music continued to figure prominently on television throughout the 1960s. Jimmy Dean hosted a weekly variety show on ABC from 1963 to 1966, and by 1963 more than 130 stations carried local or syndicated country music programs. Among the most popular were Porter Wagoner (whose eye-popping sequined suits rivalled any Liberace creation for sartorial excess), the Wilburn Brothers and the bluegrass team of Flatt and Scruggs. The latter duo had been performing on television since 1953, but broke out nationally through exposure on The Beverly Hillbillies and the subsequent success of their single "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." These programs were joined in 1965 by syndicated efforts from Ernest Tubb and Wanda Jackson. In what surely must have been a surreal viewing experience, Richard Nixon performed a piano duet with Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith on the latter's Charlotte, North Carolina-based show. By 1970 almost three-quarters of the stations in the United States featured some form of rural music.

The folk music boom of the early 1960s was represented by ABC's Hootenanny (1963), the first regularly scheduled folk music program on network television. Featuring well-scrubbed folk music in the style of the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary, the series was embroiled in controversy from the outset when Pete Seeger and the Weavers were banned from the show for refusing to sign a government loyalty oath. Hootenanny was dropped from ABC's schedule in the fall of 1964. American Bandstand switched from daily to weekend-only broadcasts a year earlier, due in part to fallout from the payola scandal. Dick Clark had come under congressional investigation during the payola hearings in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although he was never indicted, ABC insisted that Clark divest himself of music publishing and record distribution interests. Local Bandstand imitiators were down significantly from their peak in 1958, and the music's lack of presence on television reflected a general malaise in rock 'n' roll.

This changed 9 February 1964, when the Beatles were featured on the Ed Sullivan Show. In what arguably is the most influential musical performance ever presented on television, the Beatles were seen in an estimated 73 million homes. The British Invasion was not universally welcomed, however; when the Rolling Stones appeared on Hollywood Palace, host Dean Martin openly disparaged their performance and snarled that they "oughta get haircuts." ABC's Shindig premiered in September 1964 with the Rolling Stones, the Byrds and the Kinks, and subsequent programs featured a host of English and American "beat groups" surrounded by a cast of writhing dancers. NBC answered with Hullabaloo from January 1965 to August 1966.

Until it folded in January 1966, Shindig also helped black artists like Sam Cooke to cross over to white audiences. In one particularly memorable broadcast, the headlining Rolling Stones paid homage to their influences by sitting at the feet of the great bluesman Howling Wolf as he performed "The Little Red Rooster." The extent of the racial crossover in music was indicated by the fact that Billboard dropped its rhythm and blues chart in 1964. Efforts at integration were slower in other areas, however; the Chicago branch of the AFM remained segregated until January 1966. Television finally caught up with the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s. By 1968, a growing number of black performers were showcased in network programs, such as an NBC special featuring the Supremes and Four Tops.

Teen dance shows enjoyed a resurgence in 1965. Some of the most notable syndicated efforts were hosted by Lloyd Thaxton, Casey Kasem (Shebang, which originated from KTLA in Los Angeles), Sam Riddle (Hollywood A Go Go), Gene Weed (Shivaree) and Jerry "The Geater with the Heater" Blavat's The Discophonic Scene. The ubiquitous Dick Clark also started a weekday teen show, Where the Action Is, on ABC. In addition to records and dancing, these shows often featured filmed performances as well as short "concept" musical films triggered by the success of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Mainstream pop music remained the province of variety shows and specials throughout the 1960s. Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra aired acclaimed specials in the mid-1960s, and ABC presented an adventurous special, Anatomy of Pop, in February 1966 which featured artists as varied as Duke Ellington, Bill Monroe and the Temptations. Another ABC special, 1967's Songmakers, followed the creative process from composition to recording with artists like the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The Big Three networks virtually abandoned classical music to the fledgling NET public network by the late 1960s, although CBS aired a special on Igor Stravinsky in 1966.

Perhaps the greatest rock special in television history, the T.A.M.I. Show, was produced by Steve Binder (who later produced Elvis's comeback special and Pee-Wee's Playhouse) for ABC in late 1964. Shot on video and later transferred to film for theatrical release, the T.A.M.I Show featured Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and an electrifying performance by James Brown. The program also captured an interracial musical mix conspicuously absent from later rock documentaries like Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Other noteworthy rock specials included a 1965 performance by the Beatles at New York's Shea Stadium (aired by ABC in January 1967) and Elvis Presley's legendary comeback performance on NBC in December 1968. The globalization of television was marked by the 25 June 1967 live telecast of Our World. Transmitted by satellite to 34 countries and aired in the U.S. on NET, the program included a performance by classical pianist Van Cliburn and climaxed with the Beatles warbling "All You Need Is Love."

Television also entered the kid-vid rock market when Beatle cartoons premiered on ABC in September 1965. The most successful cartoon group were the Archies (an assemblage of anonymous studio musicians), who scored a massive hit with "Sugar Sugar" in 1969 and cloned a dozen copies in the late 1960s and early 1970s like Josie and the Pussycats, the Bugaloos, the Groovie Goolies (described by critic Lester Bangs as "Munsters dipped in monosodium glutamate") the Cattanooga Cats and the Banana Splits. Equally contrived, though in human form, were the Monkees. Four actors were recruited by former Brill Building pop impresario Don Kirshner to star in a series modelled on "A Hard Day's Night," and The Monkees premiered on NBC in September 1966. The "band" racked up several hits of carefully groomed material, but shocked their followers in Teenland the following year when they admitted they didn't play their own instruments. The series was cancelled in 1968. ABC's The Music Scene ran for 17 episodes beginning in October 1969 and featured comic sketches interspersed with performances by artists ranging from James Brown to Buck Owens.

Johnny Cash on The johnny Cash Show

The Supremes on Hullabaloo

Kate Bush in her music video for Running up that Hill

Luciano Pavarotti in The Three Tenors

The Smothers Brothers also presented some of the more daring "underground" acts of the late 1960s (The Who's Peter Townsend was nearly deafened by an exploding drum set during one memorable appearance, and the Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick made a controversial appearance in black face). Other variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Jonathan Winters presented a variety of alternative acts, each more hirsute and glowering than its predecessors. Sullivan did draw the line at lyrics, however. In a 1967 appearance, amid much eye-rolling, the Rolling Stones changed the lyrics of their latest hit to "Let's Spend Some Time Together." Other performers were less accomodating. After surveying the set before taping an appearance on The Tom Jones Show, Janis Joplin stormed offstage, complaining that "My public don't want to see me in front of no fucking plastic rain drops." Late-night talk shows like the Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show also featured some rock stars (Joplin was a particular favorite on the latter). The syndicated Playboy After Dark also presented a variety of "alternative" artists; in a 1969 taping, the Grateful Dead "psychedelicized" the unwitting production staff. Despite (and, in part, due to) the increasingly outre nature of rock music acts on television, country music's video popularity continued unabated in the late 1960s. Johnny Cash was featured in an ABC summer replacement program in 1969, and his guests included the reclusive Bob Dylan. A more enduring success was CBS's Hee Haw, which presented a hick version of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In beginning in June 1969. After CBS cleaned its house of "older-oriented" shows, the program continued in syndication until the late 1980s.

The 1970s began with the New Seekers unconsciously predicting the increasing melding of music, television, advertising, and the global imaginaries of Live Aid and MTV with "I'd like to teach the world to sing." The song was a worldwide hit after airing as a Coca-Cola commercial. Looking backwards, ABC introduced The Partridge Family with veteran stage and Hollywood musical star Shirley Jones and her son David Cassidy. The half-hour comedy used the tried-and-trusted Monkees formula to successfully target the teen market. Jones played the single mom of a large musical family with a lovable but inept manager placed in various quirky situations. Musical numbers were performed in rehearsal and in a wrap-up concert setting as the denouement of each episode. As well as the oldest of the Partridge progeny, Cassidy became a teen idol as a solo performer. The most traditional outlet for music on the networks in the early 1970s were the host of variety shows: The Johnny Cash Show, Glen Campbell's Goodtime Hour, This is Tom Jones, The Carol Burnett Show. Almost invariably, musical guests would lipsync to their latest hits and sometimes engage in banal patter with the host. However, reflecting the increasing dominance of market segmentation, ratings for most musical variety shows were plummeting by the mid-1970s. Even so, insipid pop duo Captain and Tennille and the Jacksons both entered the variety market in 1976, with their own network shows.

Lipsynching was a common practice on television shows, but the influence of rock counterculture with its ideology of authenticity made the presentation of live music more important. The success of theatrical films of musical events increased the demand for "live" rock shows. Some of the films on offer at the local movie theatre in the late 1960s and early 1970s included Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Gimme Shelter, Let it Be, Elvis-That's the Way it Is, Pink Floyd in Pompeii, Jimi at Berkeley, Concert for Bangladesh.

In 1973 three network shows featuring live music were introduced. NBC's Midnight Special presented 90 minutes of a live concert recorded on a studio soundstage. The show tended to favor more mainstream commercial artists, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull and Van Morrison being the limit of its adventurousness. Midnight Special was hosted by veteran DJ Wolfman Jack and by Helen Reddy from 1975-77. ABC's In Concert combined old film clips by such groups as the Rolling Stones, with footage from concert venues. Produced by Don Kirshner and then taken over by executive producer Dick Clark, the show basically simulated the bill at the Fillmore Auditorium at which three bands played a short live set each. Many of these concerts were shot at the Academy of Music in New York. Kirshner also presented the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Again, this featured clips of concert halls around the country interspersed with promotional clips. White rock acts dominated the program. In a different musical vein, the Great Performances series debuted on PBS in 1974. Produced at WNET in New York, this paved the way for the broadcast of classical music concerts and opera on the Bravo cable network since 1980. Country music found a live showcase in Austin City Limits, first broadcast through Austin's PBS staation KLRN TV in 1976. The show reflected a return to the rawer roots of country music, away from the saccharine Nashville sound of the period. In its earlier days, musical acts like the "Outlaws"--Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson--performed on a stage in front of a small and intimate studio audience. The format remains essentially the same today. Live music has also had a highly visible spot on NBC's Saturday Night Live since 1975. A guest star performed one or two live numbers between the program's many skits. Musical choices were often a little more left field on Saturday Night Live. On one particular occasion in 1977, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, who had replaced the Sex Pistols at the last minute, ripped into a version of their anti-fascist classic "Less than Zero," then abruptly stopped. Elvis told the band that he had changed his mind, and they then tore into "Radio Radio," running over time and giving producer Lorne Michaels a few nervous palpitations. Sinead O'Connor's appearance on the show in 1994, when she ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II after a rendition of Bob Marley's "War," had a similar effect in this prime television showcase for musicians.

Black musical acts found a space for lipsynched performances of soul, funk, and disco hits on Soul Train. The brainchild of Don Cornelius, the show was started in Chicago in 1970, but moved to syndication and Hollywood in 1971. Soul Train featured famous names such as Ike and Tina Turner, and Al Green miming their hits while a studio full of mainly African-American dancers grooved away. The spectacle of skilful and creative dancing was as important as the appearance of the musical performer. In many ways, Soul Train was a return to the old formula of the teen dance show, except for one major difference: it was black. The show was vital in the popularization of funk and disco music. By 1975 the disco boom was well established, and every one was trying to get on the bandwagon. Syndicated shows like Disco America, Disco Mania, and Disco 76 came and went as fast as the latest disco hit. Even James Brown deserted funk for disco with the shortlived syndicated program Future Shock. Some journalists and critics feared the end of that discotheque culture was killing live music. But if anything, the real challenge to live performance on television came from music video.

The late 1970s and 1980s saw the video boom that has changed the face of music on television. By 1975, many artists had made promotional film clips for their single releases. Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Rod Stewart's "Hot Legs," and several promotional clips by Swedish quartet Abba had helped their songs become hits in the Euro-American market. In 1975, Manhattan cable TV began showing video clips on a program titled Nightclubbing. Rock performers were experimenting with the visual form. New Wave group Devo released The Men Who Make the Music in 1979. This anthology was the first long-form video released in the United States. By 1979, America's Top Ten played video clips. The Boomtown Rats "I Don't Like Mondays" was one of the first to make a mark, remembered for the accompanying visuals as much as for its sound recording. The more traditional chart show, Solid Gold, debuted in syndication in 1980, and combined a professional cast of dancers with lipsynched performances by various chart-topping pop artists.

The rise of music video is inextricably tied to the ascent of cable television. In 1980, the USA network debuted Night Flight, which ran both videos and old movies. The emphasis was on new wave videos, since at this time these artists were more innovative with the nascent form. Another cable network, Home Box Office (HBO) began simulcasting rock concerts, while Showtime and the Playboy channel allotted some time for music videos. Also in 1980, ex-Monkee and Liquid Paper tycoon Mike Nesmith's Pacific Arts Company packaged clips into a half-hour show called Popclips, which was sold to Warner Cable, and shown on Nickelodeon. The Nashville Network (TNN) and Country Music Television Network, from 1983, set about showing music videos. The former maintained some shows that fit the variety format of older country programming.

But during the 1980s and 1990s, the musical stage on television has been defined by MTV. Owned by Warner-Amex, MTV began broadcasting in August 1981, prophetically with the Buggles hit, "Video Killed the Radio Star." Robert Pittman, vice-president of programming remarked that: "We're now seeing the TV become a component of the stereo system. It's ridiculous to think that you have two forms of entertainment--your stereo and your TV--which have nothing to do with one another. What we're doing is marrying those two forms so that they can work together in unison. We're the first channel on cable to pioneer this." MTV provided a twenty-four hour service of videos introduced by quirky VJs. It was a kind of radio for the eyes, mixing different kinds of musical genres in a continuous flow. Many of the early videos were by British "new pop" groups like Duran Duran, ABC, Culture Club, and the Human League, who formed what critics called the "Second British invasion." By 1982, record companies confidently claimed that MTV increased sales of their top artists by 20%. As MTV became available through cable providers throughout the country, in the midwest and not just the urban centers of the east and west coast, the music played on the network also changed. New pop had faded away, therefore programming began to reflect the tastes of a largely white national audience demographic. Heavy metal was the predominant music on the channel.

Other cable networks incorporated some of the same strategies as MTV. In June 1983, NBC debuted Friday Night Videos in the old Midnight Special slot. WTBS began broadcasting the similar Night Tracks in June 1983, and Ted Turner launched the ultimately unsuccessful Cable Music Channel in 1984. MTV weathered an antitrust suit from the competing Discovery Network. In 1984, it signed exclusive deals with six major record labels for the broadcast of their artists' videos.

The first American Video Awards took place in 1984, testifying to the emergence of a new cultural form. Meanwhile, more traditional musical fare was on offer in NBC's Fame which began in 1982 and was based on Alan Parker's 1980 film. The program was set in a school of performing arts in New York, with a multiracial cast of talented musicians and dancers who would energetically perform numbers in rehearsal, in class, and at school concerts. The show celebrated traditional showbiz values in a familiar format. It was essentially The Partridge Family with angst, Shirley Jones replaced by choreographer and teacher Debbie Allen as guiding hand and maternal motivator.

MTV's impact on network television and the place of music in televison could be more directly seen in the NBC police/crime series Miami Vice (1984-87). Its working title was MTV Cops. The show's creator Michael Mann later claimed that "the intention of Miami Vice was to achieve the organic interaction of music and content." Sometimes an entire episode would be written around a song, such as Glen Frey's "Smuggler's Blues." Frey and other rock musicians would often make cameo appearances as characters in the show. Record companies were obliging with copyrighted material after the success of the pilot and its use of Phil Collins' hit "In the Air Tonight" as the detective partnership of Crockett and Tubbs drove to a climactic shoot-out through the rain-sodden, Miami streets.

The visual style of the show owed a great deal to MTV. Film and television narratives incorporated music with the camera angles, lighting, rapid cutting, and polished, high production values of music videos. Television advertising was increasingly sensitive to music video aesthetics. In 1984, Michael Jackson appeared in a Pepsi-Cola commercial shot like a music video for one of his songs. Madonna's brief--and eventually banned--Pepsi commercial in 1989 used her song "Like a Prayer," a visual extravaganza for cultural critics as the other music videos that made her a megastar.

In the mid and late 1980s, MTV became less idiosyncratic in its juxtapositions of different kinds of music, moving toward block programming, and the development of shows that fit certain musical genres. MTV's programming began to look more like a traditional television schedule. In January 1985, the network introduced the VH-1 channel programming adult-oriented music that demanded less of the ear and aimed for the pocketbook of the older baby boomer consumer. VH-1 began with a video of Marvin Gaye singing that old chestnut, "The Star Spangled Banner." In 1986, MTV also indicated its move towards a more traditional television strategy as it began showing old episodes of The Monkees.

These developments reflected the segmentation of marketing and targeting of very specific groups of consumers through different channels and shows. This also coincided with Warner-Amex selling their controlling interest in MTV Networks to Viacom International in August 1985. The change in leadership initially brought a more conservative music policy. With criticism of the representation of sex and violence in music videos, there was a brief move away from heavy metal as the central genre. However, the strength of metal in middle American markets led to its return shortly thereafter.

The biggest triumph of the mid 1980s for MTV and for the music industry in general was the successful broadcast of the Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia and London in July 1985. The event, designed to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, proved popular music's sociopolitical value, and like the Beatles worldwide broadcast of "All You Need Is Love," projected a global imaginary (and market) for popular music culture. In 1987, MTV started MTV-Europe, and the network's rapid movement into further areas of global market continued apace. Live Aid was followed by the 1988 worldwide transmission of an anti-apartheid concert in London to celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela. However, in the United States this mammoth rock spectacle was not the success of Live Aid, with charges that FOX had delayed the broadcast signal and censored "political" comments made during the event.

Since the early 1980s, critics charged MTV with racism because of its dearth of black music videos. In its early days, the network featured African-American VJ J.J. Johnson and later black British VJ "Downtown" Julie Brown. However, apart from some big names like Michael Jackson and Prince, few black acts were found on the video playlist. This changed somewhat in 1989 with the introduction of Yo! MTV Raps, a show hosted by pioneer graffiti artist and hip hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy. Yo! MTV Raps joined other specialist music programs like Headbanger's Ball (heavy metal) and 120 Minutes ("alternative" rock) on the network's schedule. Since then, rhythm and blues artists and rap groups like En Vogue and Salt and Peppa respectively have had huge success based in large part on their snappy music videos.

Also in 1989, MTV introduced Remote Control, a game show that tested viewer's knowledge of television trivia. In the 1990s, the breadth of shows on the network reveals that MTV is now more concerned with the integrated elements of contemporary youth popular culture presented in a more traditional televisual format, not just music videos. A fashion show (House of Style), a verité-style documentary-cum-soap opera (The Real World) and even a dating game are staples of the ntetwork's programming. The Chose or Lose and Rock the Vote programs contributed to higher voter registration among young citizens during the 1992 presidential election campaign. In all these television formats, music is important as an extra level of commentary on the visual and documentary/news material.

MTV's professed main goal to integrate the stereo system with the television has significantly improved the audio quality of stereo sound on television. Now MTV like most other outlets for music on television in the mid-1990s combines the kinds of music programming found in older forms like variety shows, live concert broadcasts, lipsynched performance, with an up-to-date staple of promotional music videos. Though it looks increasingly like other television stations in its programming structure, MTV gives everything from fashion to politics to family crisis a musical bent. In this respect, it has "musicalized" television to an unforseeable extent. MTV also marks the decline of radio and the ascent of television in marketing musical commodities. This is exemplified in the live acoustic show Unplugged which debuted in 1990. When the Unplugged sets were released as CDs they sold as successfully as the "proper" studio releases by the musicians concerned. Television now shapes popular musical culture as much as the sound recordings themselves.

-Tom McCourt and Nabeel Zuberi



Malone, Bill. Country Music U. S. A. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1985.

Redd, Lawrence. Rock is Rhythm and Blues: The Impact of Mass Media. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1974.

Tosches, Nick. Country: The Biggest Music in America. New York: Dell, 1977.

Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker (1986). Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll. New York: Summit, 1986.


See also American Bandstand; Cable Networks; Clark, Dick; Country Music Television; Eurovision Song Contest; The Lawrence Welk Show; Messer, Don; Much Music; Music Licensing; Music Television (MTV); Pittman, Robert; Post, Mike; Soul Train; The Tommy Hunter Show; Top of the Pops; The Voice of Firestone