Why video disc jockeys need to change horses
Will video kill the radio star? Or will it be Kenny Everett?
LISTENERS who tune in to Kenny Everett on London’s Capital Radio are finding it increasingly difficult to listen to his jokes without imagining the facial expressions that go with them. Television exposure can have a strange effect on a radio disc jockey and even on the airwaves frequented by Everett’s opposition, many BBC Radio 1 stars are going through the same audio-visual motions.
After all, who can listen to Jimmy Savile without seeing him wave one of his huge cigars at the microphone? Is it possible to lend an ear to Noel Edmonds without conjuring up a mental picture of bearded elegance?
To be a top disc jockey in the electronic Eighties, you are going to have to be a video jockey as well. Radio stars, it seems, have to be seen as well as heard these days and good jockeys have to be able to change horses in mid-scream.
Kenny Everett is leading the field at the moment and it is becoming difficult to buy a packet of crisps without his face on the packet. Some newspaper critics have even been calling him “the most creative disc jockey in the country”. And yet is he a disc jockey at all? Like Edmonds, Savile, Terry Wogan and Michael Aspel, Everett can spin a disc as well as smile into a camera but he refuses to slot into any kind of pigeon hole. The award winning Kenny Everett Video Show (Monday) is very difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it. It is brilliantly innovative and childishly simple at the same time. The show’s producer/director David Mallet lapsed into silence when asked to describe Everett. “Kenny,” he said after a moment, “is God’s gift to video. What you have to remember.” he advised cheerfully. “is that what he does on television has nothing to do with him being a disc jockey. Come to think of it, what he does on radio has nothing to do with him being a disc jockey either. On the Video Show he is a sort of rock ‘n’ roll Monty Python.”
So he is, but unlike the Python team, Everett merely projects different facets of his own personality. Any of his creations are instantly recognised by people who know him and although his influences are easy to spot he remains a true original. He is a space age Spike Milligan who loves the Beatles’ music and has followed in the footsteps of radio pioneer Jack Jackson. Like Jackson, Everett paints sound pictures on radio, and moving to television was a logical step.
But not every D.J. will adapt so readily. There is a subtle distinction between a D.J. and a broadcaster in the radio world and even the most experienced radio stars can come to grief when they try TV.
NOT SO LONG ago the big four in the D.J. arena were Jimmy Savile, Pete Murray, Alan Freeman and David Jacobs. Although Jacobs did well for a time on Juke Box Jury only Jimmy Savile is still a television star today.
Once upon a time the radio D.J. could be a smooth talking voice in between pop records. But nowadays, a star on a low-budget independent local radio station has to be able to interview famous people, host phone-ins and be seen at local functions. Not every D.J. can become a Jimmy Young and interview world leaders on their “prog.” but the trend is definitely towards broadcasters and away from frenetic D.J.s who send out a stream of cliches.
When Buggles topped the charts recently with their catchy but prophetic Video Killed the Radio Star many people in the radio industry had a good listen to the lyrics. Buggles equated video’s impact on radio with the talkies’ impact on silent movies. As Buggles put it so eloquently: “Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on V.C.R.” (video cassette recorder).
But while video will definitely not kill the radio star, it will have an enormous impact on the radio business. The opportunities to cross over from audio to visual broadcasting will increase dramatically in the Eighties and, with the advent of the video disc (essentially, a long-playing record that produces not only sound but pictures as well-via your TV screen) the relevance of playing records on the radio will decrease somewhat.
Last month several events occurred which proved that the writing was on the wall. Pye Records launched the first video sales force, a company called Film-a-Disc started trading and two giant American record companies combined to produce video disc equipment. Pye’s video sales force will be selling cassettes of movies like The Stud and concerts by Elvis and the Beatles. You can now walk into a record shop and buy an hour-long Boney M concert for £37.75 [about £150 in today’s prices, allowing for inflation – Ed]. Before you leave the record shop you can, thanks to Film-a-Disc, watch videos instead of just listening to records. Gone will be the days when you nervously ask the shop assistant to play you a track before you buy the album. Already you enlist the help of sophisticated equipment and watch the artists performing, and equipment for reproducing sound and pictures on video disc is getting cheaper and simpler all the time.
Within 12 months, video disc equipment should be available in this country and some record companies are currently releasing albums on video cassettes while they are waiting for the market to catch up with technology. If you have a video cassette system you can buy Chrysalis Records video cassette of Blondies’ Eat to the Beat album and watch the delectable Debbie Harry singing the 12 tracks on your television. It is in the shops now and it costs £29.95 [£120], but at that price is anybody buying it? Chrysalis’ marketing manager Phil Cokell says that it is doing very well and that his company are planning several more video albums this year.
“With a highly visual act like Blondie, we’re convinced that there is a market for video,” he says, and his company’s huge investment shows they are confident they know which way the winds of change are blowing. The Blondie tape cost 150,000 dollars to film but as Chrysalis are leading the video field, they hope to attract new acts with visual appeal. Eat to the Beat was filmed by Jon Roseman Productions, a leading video company. Appropriately enough the success of the Buggles record was greatly helped by the Roseman-made video promotions film which was shown on television pop shows.
VIDEO promotional films are becoming more and more important in the pop business and although they can cost anything between £6,000 and £20,000 [£24,000 and £80,000] each, the impact on sales is astonishing. I Don’t Like Mondays, Video Killed the Radio Star and Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 were all number ones which would not have been half as successful without their promotional films. It is also worth remembering that the biggest selling U.K. single of all time (more than two million sold in Great Britain alone) benefited enormously from its video. That was Wings’ Mull of Kintyre; the video version of which featured those shots of Paul McCartney and his bag-pipers striding through the heather.
By the end of this decade, many predict, most homes will rent or own video disc and video cassette equipment. You will be able to play computer games, teach yourself to do almost anything, run movies and watch your favourite recording star perform on the screen.
But what about our radio stars? Already D.J.s are appearing on the videos shown in record shops courtesy of Film-a-Disc Ltd. and with Wrigley’s Chewing Gum sponsoring a record last month almost anything could happen in the future.
In the good old days, disc jockeys merely had to be able to talk well and work the equipment, or “drive the desk” as they say in radio circles. Only people with speech impediments were ruled out and many a deep sexy voice was owned by a 5ft. tall, ugly individual with dandruff. Nowadays you have to look the part as well as sound the part because, apart from video and television opportunities, D.J.s are promoted like brands of washing powder.
But if you are not as good-looking as Noel Edmonds, don’t despair. Looking the part doesn’t mean you have to be extremely handsome. Film stars like Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman are not good-looking in the conventional sense and if you want to make it as a disc jockey in the 1980s you will simply have to project a personality that people can identify with in some way or other.
By the middle of the decade, there could be a lot less music on the radio, a booming video disc industry and records that have their own commercial breaks. You just might be able to buy a video album by a top act with links by a famous D.J. and advertisements in between some of the tracks. Every album could become a mini television show.
Pop concerts have become visual events in recent years with top groups using lasers and expensive, special effects. The future will see even more visually-orientated musical acts, an ever increasing use of video in education as well as entertainment and a full-scale revolution in the film and television industries. As far as pop music is concerned, the brave new world pioneered by theatrical artists like David Bowie, Genesis and Kate Bush will soon be here but, ironically, most of the action will probably take place on television screens via videos and not in theatres through live concerts.
But back to radio. Video will not kill the radio star but every D.J. will have to become more versatile and, indeed, more visible. The fast-talking idiot who says nothing for so long in between records will soon be as extinct as the wind-up gramophone. Several radio D.J.s already work as continuity men on their local ITV stations. Before too long the faces behind the voices on the radio could also be seen on video in local shops, hospitals and homes.
hearing their employees referred to as D.J.s Many radio bosses do not take kindly to these days. The personable young man with a good education and a background in hospital radio is becoming a presenter, not a D.J. One day he might be interviewing Margaret Thatcher, the next hosting a phone-in on unemployment and the next introducing the latest Abba album.
But, as the decade progresses, what will happen to Kenny Everett, the man who is God’s gift to video? Well, he will probably be entertaining billions through his own system of inter-stellar, communication satellites. He is already enlisting the help of the intrepid Captain Kremmen and our two cuddly heroes plan to conquer the galaxy by next Tuesday. Video might well kill the old-style radio star but it looks like making an intergalactic celebrity of Kenny Everett.