31 JULY 2002: “We
were really the first to do that kind of interpretive video to music.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (August 3, 2000):
Years before MTV, an Atlanta
TV show created its own music videos. It was psychedelic. It was far out.
It was the … ‘Now Explosion’
By Miriam Longino
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Music video channel VH1 says
Aug. 1, 1981, is a landmark date in rock history. Airing “The 100 Greatest
Rock and Roll Moments on TV” this week, the self-appointed rock historians
noted that it was the day when MTV launched the nation’s first music video
of needle being ripped across a vinyl 45.)
pop, hiss. Turn up the spacey, distorted guitar intro of the 1970 Norman
Greenbaum hit, “Spirit in the Sky.”)
set the record straight. The nation’s first music video show didn’t start
in New York in 1981, and it wasn’t MTV. An early chapter in the video revolution
happened right here in Atlanta, over a fleeting, nine-month period in 1970,
when a group of young disc jockeys and film producers (eventually with
the help of Ted Turner) launched a 28-hour weekend block of music videos
called “Now Explosion.”
(echo: explosion, explosion, explosion, explosion…).
the psychedelia of Austin Powers blended with the trippy light shows of
Filmore West with a little “Laugh-In” bikini dancing sprinkled into the
mix: Hippies frolicking in Piedmont Park to the Plastic Ono Band’s “Instant
Karma.” Traffic speeding past the Varsity to the sounds of “Vehicle” by
the Ides of March. Bikini clad young girls — surrounded by floating blobs
of paisley — dancing to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My
Back Door” at the Channel 36 studios.
16 and thought it was the closest thing to rock ‘n’ roll heaven that I
would ever get,” says 47-year-old Alice Walker of Gay, Ga. “I can still
hear my mother saying, ‘Are you watching that rock music show? Turn it
down!’ I envied the dancers.”
48-year-old advertising executive Lori Krinsky, who hopped in the car with
a fringed-vested friend one night in 1970, wound up at the Channel 36 studios
and danced on-air to “Spirit in the Sky.”
remember much,” she says with a laugh. “It was kind of cool. We waited
for hours, then they said, ‘Come on in and dance.’ They did that weird
photography that shows just your shadow and outline in psychedelic colors.
What a riot.”
mention of the words “Now Explosion” send Dan Turner, a 47-year-old jazz
pianist from Conyers, into a retro stream of consciousness: “The fog lifts.
… Lazy days sitting around watching TV. … My friend in knee-high moccasin
boots. … Staring at the background stuff on the screen all day in between
runs to the Krystal. … It was way ahead of MTV.”
47, of Douglasville says, “When MTV came along, I tried to explain that
this type of programming had already been tried in Atlanta, and no one
remembered it but me.”
how did one of the nation’s first music video experiments wind up in a
then-sleepy Southern town? The story, which stretches from March to November
of 1970, goes something like this:
Explosion” was the brainchild of a flamboyant Philadelphia businessman
named Bob Whitney. With a background in radio (reportedly as a producer
for Dick Clark), Whitney came up with the idea of broadcasting Top 40 radio
on television — TV you could not just hear but watch. Or as the promotional
brochure said at the time, “TV so turned on you can’t turn it off.”
supposedly bankrolling $25,000 to launch his concept, Whitney tapped two
Atlanta DJs, “Skinny” Bobby Harper and Bob “Todd” Thurgaland, to host the
show and introduce records. The two had been top jocks on WQXI-AM (“Quixie
in Dixie”), Atlanta’s only rock ‘n’ roll station throughout the ’60s, and
were primed for the job.
the first video deejays,” says Harper, 61, a communications consultant
for the Georgia Student Finance Commission (HOPE scholarship program).
“We didn’t have videos handed to us; there was no such thing back then.
We had to make them all.”
54, who lives in Ocala, Fla., recalls the days when UHF stations (these
were the high-band channels long before cable) were desperate for programming
to fill their air time, especially on weekends. “We used the studios at
Channel 36 during the middle of the night when the station was dark. It
was a nonunion facility, so we could play with all the equipment.”
the music was no problem. “Now Explosion” simply used records of the day
(without notifying any of the licensing agencies, such as BMI. It was the
era of love and peace, after all). But getting visuals to air over the
songs was a challenge.
of creating the look of “Now Explosion” was handed to a 28-year-old television
producer named R.T. Williams. The brash young broadcaster had begun his
career on a more traditional route, as a producer for Atlanta’s Channel
11. But when Whitney laid out his new concept of a music video program,
Williams took the bait.
so incredibly simple, but so different,” he says today, peering over a
pair of glasses under a head of graying hair. “You never know that history
is being made when it’s being made. We were really the first to do that
kind of interpretive video to music.”
quit his mainstream job, grabbed a Norelco PCP 90 portable camera and starting
filming. His job: to produce five original videos for each song aired on
you look at music videos today, keep in mind that MTV doesn’t produce any
of this stuff. We had to hatch and fry the eggs
that we made.”
and crew turned to the psychedelic images of the day, and their own imaginations,
to churn out what amounts to an estimated 1,700 hours of primitive music
videos. Many were filmed on location in Atlanta: street scenes of girls
in jeans and gingham dresses from the “hippie” district between 10th and
14th streets; shots of students in big Afros coming and going at area high
schools; politically themed segments, such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water,”
played over film of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”
speech; dancers gyrating in front of a blue screen filled with special
effects — girls that Todd says he and Harper “picked up down on Peachtree.”
carry an empty, two-inch videotape canister with an ABC-TV sticker on it,
and ask pretty young girls if they wanted to come down to Channel 36 at
midnight and put on skimpy outfits and dance,” Thurgaland says with a laugh.
“And they did.”
Top 40 acts would drop by the studio to lip sync their hits, such as Kenny
Rogers and the First Edition, who interpreted “Just Dropped In (to See
What Condition My Condition Was In)” for “Now Explosion.” “Oh, yeah, I
remember it,” Rogers says. “I had this long hair, a big bushy beard, rose-colored
glasses and an earring. I actually thought I looked good.”
was no “American Bandstand.”
no blueprint to go by, the crew literally made up the groovy look of “Now
Explosion” with a series of special effects that Williams still gets excited
was the ‘rhythm zoom,’ where the camera
would zoom in and out real fast,” he recalls. “Then we did the ‘quad
split,’ where we’d show the same image in all four corners of
the screen. The ‘reverse chroma key’
was like they do now with weathermen in front of the weather map, where
we would have a negative outline of a dancer.”
Explosion” was on the air only a few weeks when trouble erupted. According
to the then-staffers, the company that owned Channel 36 was threatening
to take over the show. Williams remembers that Whitney called a secret
meeting in a room at the Emory Sheraton Hotel on Clifton Road.
a raid-planning party,” he says. “We rented some trucks, and went over
to the station [Channel 36] about 3 a.m. It was a driving rainstorm, and
there were still two people working in master control. We went in and started
hauling out all our tapes and loading them into the trucks. Finally, a
guy got wise to us and picked up the phone. Next thing, we saw the lights
and heard the sirens.”
“Now Explosion” crew somehow avoided the law, and smuggled the tapes to
later, the program premiered on Channel 17, a new UHF station owned by
an entrepreneur named Ted Turner. Turner quickly signed on to air “Now
Explosion” all weekend, and also agreed to dub the videos in his studio
on West Peachtree Street for syndication across the country.
“Now Explosion” wound up on 111 UHF stations, including stations in Philadelphia
and New York. But like the Woodstock era that spawned it, its life was
short. Mounting bills and an incredible demand for video footage caused
Whitney and crew to throw in the towel in November 1970.
went on to manage production for the Channel 17 superstation, WTBS. Harper
worked as a spokesperson for Delta Air Lines for many years, while Thurgaland
and his son started a video production company in Florida. No one knows
what happened to Whitney, who was last seen in San Francisco around 1974.
the “Now Explosion” tapes, they wound up in a garage in Coral Gables, Fla.,
where they were reportedly destroyed in a flood around 1972. It’s not likely
any of the dubs exists either. Williams says they were shot on expensive
two-inch, quad video tape.
reel cost $20,000,” he says, noting that television stations were likely
to tape over the footage as soon as it was obsolete.
still owns a one-hour tape of the show, which he dug out of a box in the
attic to share a snippet with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Williams
once had two reels, but left them in his office at WTBS when he departed
1984. “Who knows what happened to them,” he says today.
just a blip on the pop culture meter, “Now Explosion” left lasting impressions.
In the early ’80s, a funky, kitschy local band, led by Clare Butler, adopted
the name and toured the East Coast. Others who watched the show say it
had lasting effects on them, too.
in the seventh grade, and can still see some of the videos,” recalls Leza
Young, 42, of Chamblee. “Bobby Sherman dancing in front of four large studio
panels to ‘Easy Come, Easy Go.’ The clip for ‘Little Green Bag.’ The woman
dancing to Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold.’ The poor hitchhiker standing in
the rain in ‘Kentucky Rain.’ So much of my taste in music developed as
a result of that show — I now have a degree in rock radio and was a deejay
for several years.”
one reason I got so interested in music and do what I do today came from
sitting around all weekend watching that thing,” says Atlanta concert promoter
Peter Conlon. “They played songs that you couldn’t hear on the radio here,
like ‘Little Green Bag’ and ‘Fire’ by Arthur Brown. It was kind of like
FM before everybody had FM radio.”
THANKS TO A. PIERCE!