MuchMusic pioneer John Martin dies

John Martin, the man who was the brains behind The New Music and MuchMusic, has died at the age of 57.

John Martin, the man who was the brains behind The New Music and MuchMusic, has died at the age of 57.

Described by Influence magazine as the "father of rock video in Canada," Martin died of esophageal cancer in Toronto.

In 1979, Martin created The New Music, the Citytv music show that featured interviews with stars about social and political issues, raw hand-held footage from the insides of dressing rooms and young, hip hosts who understood music.

It was a breakthrough in both television and music, because no one in Canada had ever taken pop music seriously before, Toronto producer John Kastner, a friend of Martin's, told CBC Radio. 

"He always wanted to say music can be great television. It doesn't have to be Dick Clark and Dance Party. It can be fun, it can be interesting, it can be compelling," Kastner said.

The format of the show was such a success that Citytv's Moses Znaimer agreed to Martin's plan for an entire station devoted to music. The result, launched in 1984, was MuchMusic.

"He loved Rolling Stone magazine. He thought, there's got to be some way to translate what he called 'rock and talk' into television terms - pocket documentaries exploring the people in the industry, events in the industry and play music in between them."

Born in Manchester, Martin left school at 16 and moved to London where he supported himself with odd jobs and followed the music scene. After coming to Canada, he got a job as a researcher for CBC radio.

He moved from radio to television, where he produced items for shows such as Weekend and 90 Minutes Live.

In an interview with Andy Barrie, Kastner recalled Martin filling in as producer on the current affairs show Viewpoint and hiring the Cambridge University Choir to sing the Canada Elections Act in harmony.

"That was John. He was always trying new and crazy musical ideas and concepts," he said.

After 90 Minutes Live was cancelled, Martin drove a cab in Toronto and began pitching his idea for music programming to the networks.

"He drove around town in a cab for a year with the idea of the New Music fully formed in his head, discussing it with me innumerable times," Kastner said. "Couldn't get any of the networks interested and Moses Znaimer, who was a maverick himself, recognized a fellow genius and put the show on the air just as John had envisaged it."

The live and exciting format of The New Music was an immediate hit and MuchMusic made it mandatory for rock and pop groups to do more than just play — they had to make videos. Martin's creativity and innovative spirit has left a lasting legacy, Kastner said.

"He not only revolutionized television, the success of these shows revolutionized the music industry in Canada. MuchMusic had a huge impact on the industry in Canada," he said.

The show produced stars of its own. Hosts included Daniel Richler, Jeanne Beker, Denise Donolon and John (J.D.) Roberts, who spent more than a decade at CBS as a news anchor and recently joined CNN.

Martin left the MuchMusic network at the end of 1992 and went back to making documentaries. Among his works was The Genius of Lenny Breau, a documentary about the Canadian jazz guitarist that earned him a Gemini award.

He leaves a son, David, 18, two ex-wives and a sister.