10 Questions with Martha Quinn – MTV VJ, SiriusXM
Martha Quinn Original MTV VJ, On-air at SiriusXM “Big 80s on 8”
by Mark Strickland
TITLE: Original MTV VJ, On-air at SiriusXM “Big 80s on 8”
COMPANY: SiriusXM Satellite Radio http://www.siriusxm.com/80son8
BORN: Albany, NY
RAISED: Ossining, NY (home of Peter Falk, and Sing Sing Prison)
Please outline your radio career so far:
Sirius XM “Big 80s On 8” (Current), MTV VJ (1981 to 1992), WNYU/New York, NY – New York University, WRCU/Hamilton, NY- Colgate University
1) Please tell us the story about how you became one of the original VJ’s for MTV?
I auditioned for MTV right after I graduated New York University, thanks to Buzz Brindle the APD at the legendary WNBC.
I interned my senior year at WNBC under PD Kevin Metheny and APD Buzz Brindle. A few weeks after graduation I stopped by the WNBC offices and ran into Burt Stein, (with A&M Records back then) who was visiting from California.
We were shooting the breeze and Burt asked, “What’s Bob Pittman up to?” Buzz responded that Bob was doing this “MTV” thing. Then Buzz uttered the words that changed my life: “Martha, that’s what you should do, you should be a VJ on MTV!” He picked up the phone and called Bob Pittman. Buzz quickly hung up, told me to hail a cab and get to the studio. It was the last day of auditions.
I scrambled down to the Hell’s Kitchen set and auditioned in a T-shirt given to me by my Nashville-born college roommate. I’ll never forget it. I auditioned for MTV Music Television in a T-shirt that said, in glitter, Country Music Is In My Blood.
I didn’t have a clue what I was walking into, but walked out thinking “that is the most perfect job in the world for me.” In addition to being a radio station geek (first WRCU at Colgate, then WNYU) I paid my college bills by doing television commercials (think: You’ll go nuggets for McNuggets!). Unbeknownst to me at the time, the combination of radio and on-camera experience was the perfect training for this new video music venture. Two days after my audition, I was ecstatic when MTV execs Sue Steinberg and Julian Goldberg, offered me a job as an MTV VJ!
2) Who do you consider the early mentors who were instrumental in developing your career?
First and foremost Buzz Brindle. He was the one who thought enough of meto call Bob Pittman on my behalf (hey I’d gotten him enough coffee during my internship). Bob Pittman for deciding to take a chance on me at MTV. More recently, Steve Leeds who brought me to SiriusXM and Jim Ryan for having my back on the Big 80s On 8.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the King Of All Media, Howard Stern. Howard came to NBC just after I left, but NBC was my station and I listened to Howard from day one! I’d never before heard anyone so authentic, honest and compelling. To this day I’m in awe of Howard and his co-host Robin Quivers. I can never be one-millionth as talented as Howard, but he always reminds me what to strive for!
3) Where do you come up with those bits for your 80s trivia questions?
The trivia questions are partly from my game “The 80s Game with Martha Quinn,” and many come from me just being obsessed with trivia. I don’t have a brain for big concepts, but I have a brain for tiny facts. That’s just how I’m wired.
4) Please tell us about the experience of writing the New York Times Best Selling book “VJ, The Unplugged Adventures Of MTV’s First Wave” with the other original MTV VJ’s Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, and in memory of JJ Jackson.
Yes absolutely. As you mentioned, the book is dedicated to our fellow original MTV VJ JJ Jackson.
The biggest question we get is “Are you and the other VJs actually friends.” Yes. We are forever entwined. One of my favorite things about the book was that I got to work with them again. Plus we wanted to get our memories down before we forgot them all!
I learned a lot about my fellow VJs during the writing of this book. For example, I did not know that Mark Goodman was partying with David Lee Roth, or that they dodged the police in Los Angeles!
It was fun coming clean after all these years about what we were getting paid too. Spoiler alert: the kid whose last gig was picking up Don Imus’ dry-cleaning got the least!
For more information on “VJ, The Unplugged Adventures Of MTV’s First Wave” click here.
5) How do you prep yourself for your radio shift on SiriusXM’s Big 80s on 8?
Four words: “God bless the Internet.”
In the old days, we’d sit in our office surrounded by piles of magazines and books. We had Hits, Cash Box, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Cream, The Rock N’ Roll Encyclopedia, The Trouser Press Record Guide, Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, anything we could get our hands on!
Today I can find out what Boy George had for breakfast with one click on Twitter! You name any 80s artist (The Jets, Sheila E, Debbie Gibson, Heart, Billy Idol) and with Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, I’ve got all the research I need!
6) Music videos were a revolution in the recording industry during the 80s as it added a visual story line to the music. What are your thoughts on the current digital revolution as video channels are replacing music video with reality shows, and videos have migrated to the Internet on-demand?
Videos have migrated to where the younger audience is, and that’s the on-demand world. In the golden era of MTV, half the fun was waiting anxiously for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” video to come on. Today if you want to see a Rihanna video you can see it in seconds.
As far as reality shows go, that’s Howard Stern’s far-reaching influence on the culture of media. He was the first guy to say, “I don’t need guests, I don’t need celebrities, my staff is plenty interesting.” He’d turn his focus on Robin, Gary, Fred and Jackie, dissect them while we all listened in, and he made them stars in the process.
MTV first picked up that idea with “Amuck In America,” sending Alan Hunter out with a skeleton crew to discover small, quirky things happening to everyday folks across the country. Then came “The Real World” and “Jersey Shore,” MTV films like “Jackass” and “Bad Grandpa.” But make no mistake about it, the Howard Stern Show staffers were the first reality stars.
7) What are some of the features we might hear on your radio show?
I have trivia questions every day, and on occasion I’ll create a theme hour. Re-framing 80s songs gives them a new excitement. One of my favorites was an hour of “80s songs that reference The Beatles” for John Lennon’s Birthday. For example: The Hooters song “And We Danced” has the lyric, “She was a be-bop baby on a hard day’s night.” Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town,” Sly Fox, “Let’s Go All The Way,” Billy Ocean “Get Off Of My Cloud,” are all songs that pay tribute either to The Beatles or their lyrics.
I’ve done “Soundtrack Songs” around the Academy Awards, “The Greatest 80s Love Songs Of All,” for Valentine’s Day. My new lists brewing are “80s Guitar Solo Songs” and “Saxiest Songs of the 80s.”
8) How are you using social media to connect with your audience?
Social media connects me with both the audience and the artists. The other night I was watching Curt Smith answer questions from his Twitter followers and I see him tweet, “We won’t tour this year, but next year definitely.” And then I jumped in saying “I think Curt Smith just confirmed a Tears For Fears tour!” Then he tweeted me back saying “Martha, new album AND tour in 2015.” That happened in real time right there on Twitter, with our fellow 80s fans watching the whole thing unfold!
9) Please tell us what it was like to work with VJ and radio legend JJ Jackson?
I did not realize at the time, the depth of JJ Jackson’s legendary status. I knew the facts, and I’d heard him tell the stories about driving Led Zeppelin around in his beat up old station wagon and showing them around Boston when they arrived in America. JJ also introduced Jimi Hendrix at “The Tea Party Festival” in Boston.
While working at KABC, JJ was the first person ever to interview Bruce Springsteen on TV in 1978. But in the 80s I saw it all through the limited perspective of youth. Years later the enormity of what he’d achieved really became clear to me. The Who did not want to do an interview with anyone but JJ. He had an amazing legacy!
After MTV, JJ continued blazing trails. As the PD at KEDG, “The Edge” in Los Angeles, he championed the Cowboy Junkies and Melissa Etheridge, who thanked him on one of her albums.
10) What comes to mind as you look back and the music of the 80s?
The 80s is a fascinating decade of incredible contrasts. On one hand the Cold War infused us all with an omnipresent fear of nuclear war. Pink Floyd began the 80s asking “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” Prince’s 1999 is about partying because “Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day.” Yet at the same time the colors were neon, the shoulder pads were giant, and the hair went to 11!
It’s almost as though the anxiety created a near-hysterical “joie de vivre.” And check this out, as soon as the Cold War started to thaw, the colors muted, shoulder pads shrunk, and our hair went from poof to flat. Kurt Cobain came along and put Aqua Net and spandex out of business.
I definitely want to give a shout-out to the many great 80s bands who are still out on the road and working hard. There’s the biggies like U2 and Bruce. Then there’s Journey, Foreigner, Styx, Asia, Survivor, Hall & Oats, John Waite, Scandal, the Motels, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, Berlin, Debbie Gibson, and tons more. These guys are journeyman musicians and I’m really proud of them all!
And how soul-affirming has it been to see Steve Perry onstage? I confess The Eels were not on my radar but they are now, and I thank them for inspiring Steve to sing in front of an audience again.
Tell us what music we would find on your MP3 player or your phone right now and what new music you enjoy listening to?
I don’t have an MP3 player, I don’t have music on my phone. I do have the SiriusXM app, so I’m either listening to Howard, “60s on 6,” “70s on 7,” or the “80s on 8.” I’ve been known to drive around town blasting Duran Duran. Yes, Martha Quinn is so predictable!
What was the biggest gaffe you’ve made on air?
Well, I wasn’t actually on the air when this happened, but at the very first MTV video music awards, in front of the entire music industry, I tripped. Right on onstage. That’s when Dave Lee Roth did the most wonderful thing, why I’ve always held him in the highest regard. He took me aside and said, “Aw darlin’… welcome to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame! You know how many times I’ve done that? Forget about it!”
Please tell us about your thoughts on the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame?
I love the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s dedication to preserving the Rock era. They’ve had amazing exhibits, from Cleveland to the Clash. I loaned them a dress Tina Turner gave me, the one she wore in her “Private Dancer” video.
But the induction process is painful to me. I don’t like seeing artists trotted out to be approved of, or not approved of, to make it past the velvet ropes of induction. I wish there was a more inclusive approach. In an effort to celebrate Rock ‘N Roll, the Rock Hall adopted the age-old “you’re in you’re out” system, the very system Rock ‘N Roll rebelled against in the first place.
You know who’s in the Martha Quinn Hall Rock Hall of Fame? Anyone who ever picked up a guitar, or drumsticks, or a microphone, and put themselves in front of an audience to communicate their truth.
Who was your most memorable artist you’ve ever interviewed?
I’m a lucky, lucky girl that I’m sitting here debating between Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney! But if I must choose one, I’d have to say Paul McCartney. I grew up in Ossining New York a devoted Beatles fan. My best friend and I would listen to Beatle albums over and over and over, every single day. I went to all the BeatleFests in the city, I was a member of the Beatles Fan Club (back when they would send you brown envelopes from England in the mail) my first concert was Paul McCartney & Wings Over America at Madison Square Garden. Meeting Paul in person, with Linda, was mind-blowing!
Gavin Edwards (co-writer of our book “VJ”) summed it up perfectly. In our book he said for a few years we VJs lived “in the center of the universe–a better, shinier universe.”