Interview: Steve Anthony reflects on MuchMusic’s 30th anniversary

I distinctly remember where I was on August 31, 1984: tuned in to the debut of MuchMusic, the upstart music video station launched by Moses Znaimer. I watched as veejays J.D. Roberts and Christopher Ward burst through a screen of some sort and began talking. Unfortunately, a glitch in the sound meant I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it didn’t kill my excitement for the channel.

For years Ward, Roberts, Erica Ehm, Michael Williams, Steve Anthony, Master T and Laurie Brown were my guides to the newest singles by the hottest bands. Sure, I was more into the hair bands of the 1980s (the above image of Poison’s Bret Michaels with Anthony brings me great joy), but I appreciated all music, especially when it was served up via video form.

On Saturday, the channel celebrates three decades of being on the air with the retrospective 30 Years of Much. We spoke to Anthony–who is back at Much’s 299 Queen St. West headquarters as host of CP24 Breakfast–about his memories of working at MuchMusic.

MuchMusic launched in 1984 and you joined the crew in 1986. What was it like joining this group that Moses Znaimer had put together at the time?
Steve Anthony: Just as the thing that makes Moses the visionary that many people refer to him as–these days they would call him an architect–he would draw up the blueprint for this thing and then he would go, ‘OK, I need an electrician, I need a plumber, I need a lighting guy or girl,’ and then he would find these people and say, ‘Go!’ That was it. Once he had his blueprint down, he didn’t change them a lot.

I was told what my role was and I was successful. My attitude would be to be carefree and I had this reverence and that’s one of the things that he wanted on this channel. That’s where I fit in. I knew that I would not be replicating the things that Michael Williams would be doing. When you talk about a team effort, you’re all heading in the same direction but you each have your own skill sets. It was like basketball. Everybody on the court has their own style and does their own thing but it’s together that they try to beat the other guys.

You had already built up a career in Montreal on radio and then moved to Toronto to work at Q107. What made you decide to move from behind the microphone and in front of the TV camera?
I discovered when I got in front of the camera the impact that the visual message had. It’s so much more powerful than just the audio message. Don’t get me wrong, I love radio. I adore radio; it’s where I’ve come from.

I never had a five- or 10-year plan, but I imagined that I would inevitably get on TV. It just seemed like a natural evolution because I’m very animated and I like being in front of a crowd. But I didn’t know what the timing of it would be. I had just gotten to Toronto and had spent a year doing radio here; I didn’t think it would happen that fast. I’m flattered and very happy that it did. It was thrown into my lap and I seized the opportunity.

What I liked about you on-air was the handful of paper in your hands and the relaxed way you had of speaking right to the camera. Did that come naturally, or was it something you worked on?
I wish I could say I worked on it, but the fact is I just wasn’t very good. [Laughs.] Let’s face it, real television people were able to stay focused and didn’t go off the rails. It just became part of who I was.

Did you guys feel like you were doing something special or were you just trying to survive?
Our mandate was to keep people entertained between the most entertaining thing on television, which was music videos. The youth were hungry for videos. We weren’t told what that had to be. Over the mosaic of the day, Moses knew that we would all bring a scope of Canadian culture to young people.

What do you think of the current incarnation of Much?
It’s evolved into a much more professional product. It knows what it wants to be and is very smart about it. It is still relevant to young people. They still address what viewers want, and that’s being on top of the latest comedy, the latest in music and the music videos.

30 Years of Much airs Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on Much.