Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Music Essays

Is This Live?

Inside the Wild Early Years of MuchMusic: The Nation's Music Station

by (author) Christopher Ward

foreword by Mike Myers

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2016
Essays, History & Criticism, Popular Culture
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2016
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


"A fascinating, moving recollection that celebrates one of the great achievements in Canadian television." Elaine Lui, author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken
"Ward celebrates...raw, forward-thinking, multicultural, multigender-produced content by finally freezing it in a compelling book where, occasionally he himself wonders, ‘How the hell did we do that?’” The Globe and Mail
What a blast! With a raucous mix of music and personalities, Christopher Ward has compiled the ultimate treasure trove of Canada’s 1980s rock scene. Everybody you remember is here. Revealing, entertaining, enlightening and, most all, fun.” Will Ferguson
From the first Canadian VJ Christopher Ward, Is This Live? captures the pure fun and rock ’n’ roll rebellion of the early years of MuchMusic television.
On August 31, 1984, the Nation’s Music Station launched, breaking ground as the Wild West of Canadian television—live, gloriously unpredictable, seat-of-the-pants TV, delivered fresh daily. 
            The careers of Canadian legends like Blue Rodeo, Corey Hart, Jane Siberry, Bryan Adams, Platinum Blonde, Glass Tiger, Colin James, the Parachute Club, Honeymoon Suite, Barenaked Ladies, Maestro Fresh Wes and Sloan were launched when Much brought them closer to their fans. Much also gave us international acts (Duran, Duran, Tina Turner, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Madonna, Motorhead, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers), and covered the second wave of music activism with events like Live Aid and the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour. Ranging from Toronto’s iconic studio at 299 Queen Street West, to Vancouver’s MuchWest, MuchMusic’s programming travelled across Canada and connected the Canadian music scenes in an unprecedented way.
            The dream child of TV visionary Moses Znaimer, and John Martin, the maverick creator of The New Music, Much was live and largely improvised, and an entire generation of Canadians grew up watching the VJs and embraced the new music that became the video soundtrack of our lives.
           With stories of the bands, the music, the videos, the specialty shows, the style and the improvisational approach to daily broadcast life at Much, Is This Live? is told by the people who were there—the colourful cast of on-air VJs, the artists who found their way into our living rooms of the nation as never before, and the people behind the cameras. 
            As our tour guide to the first decade at MuchMusic Christopher Ward delivers a full-on dose of pop culture nostalgia from the 1980s and ’90s, when the music scene in Canada changed forever.

About the authors

Christopher Ward, Canada's original MuchMusic VJ, wrote the worldwide No. 1 hit Black Velvet. His songs have been recorded by Diana Ross, The Backstreet Boys, and many others, and he's been seen as a judge on YTV's The Next Star. Ward is also the author of Dead Brilliant and Mac in the City of Light. He lives in Toronto.

Christopher Ward's profile page

Mike Myers' profile page


  • Short-listed, Heritage Toronto Award - Historical Writing: Book

Excerpt: Is This Live?: Inside the Wild Early Years of MuchMusic: The Nation's Music Station (by (author) Christopher Ward; foreword by Mike Myers)

"It seemed, a few years ago, that almost every conversation I was having contained an affectionate reference to the early years of MuchMusic. While it amazed me how much people recalled, it also struck me that the whole phenomenon could fade from memory, living on in a few random YouTube clips and the greying recollections of those who worked at Much. Talking to people who watched during that time reminded me of how much it meant to them. And to me. I asked a few close friends what they thought about the idea of a book and I got enthusiastic support. I had no idea how extensive and rich an experience it would be....
   When Much launched in 1984, it was a time when people were obsessed with music. Your favourite band was how you found your tribe. You talked about the band, wore their T-shirts, waited for the next release and shared it with friends on vinyl, cassette, a Walkman with two headphones, mixtapes, or a ghettoblaster in the rain (see John Cusack in Say Anything). And with the dawn of the music video, you anticipated your next glimpse of the band. If you wanted to know about your favourite artist—when they were putting out a new record, a new video, when they were coming to your town—and if you wanted to see what everyone else was listening to, wearing, and talking about, MuchMusic was it!... 
   Much came along at a time of a brilliant creative outburst in Canadian music. We represented that perfect counterpart to ambition: opportunity. Some grabbed it. Some missed it. Some rejected it. In speaking again with the biggest Canadian artists from that era, we talked about the music, but soon moved on to fashion, the challenges of career-building in a formative time in the business and, of course, music videos. Artist after artist spoke of their time in front of the camera and how dramatically it changed their careers. Many look back at the early days of video with bemusement and self-deprecation, but what they created mattered, even if the hair was at times regrettable and the special effects ridiculous. 
   In the conversations I had with my old colleagues, a recurring theme was the enormous freedom we had. There were no restrictions—it truly was a fresh daily, seat-of-the-pants rock ’n’ roll world unto itself that we were blessed to be part of. As programmers, we could play what we wanted without the conventional restraints of format and niche, ratings and phone requests. As presenters, Moses gave us space to discover who we were and how we could connect with our audience. And John Martin [MuchMusic’s first director of music programming] absolutely encouraged the rebellious, risk-taking approach to making television that was at the heart of what drove him daily. 
   Much was a place with no wardrobe, no makeup, no script, no rehearsal, no pre-record, no fix-it-in-the-mix, no wake-up call, no stylist, no day care, no free lunch, no dog-sitter, no back-patting, no troubleshooting, no researcher, no net—no kidding!
   To millions of viewers, MuchMusic was the heartbeat of pop culture in Canada in the ’80s and ’90s. It was amazing to be part of a period that changed music in Canada forever. If you were one of the millions of viewers watching back then or if you tuned in later, I think we’ll have a great time recalling the day-to-day craziness at the Nation’s Music Station."                                                 
                                                         from the Introduction 

Editorial Reviews

“The [music video] medium was still young [in 1987] and its impact somewhat unnerving for artists who might go from anonymous to mob-worthy overnight, just because of a silly, viral music video. Ward captures this somewhat weird and definitely prescient media moment in time in his open oral history of Much. . . . Ward celebrates all of this raw, forward-thinking, multicultural, multigender-produced content by finally freezing it in a compelling book where, occasionally he himself wonders, ‘How the hell did we do that?’” —Vish Khanna, The Globe and Mail

“Christopher Ward was MuchMusic’s first VJ. He would unknowingly write the rules of what was expected and what the new channel should be. . . . Thank you, Christopher, for bringing back some Much memories.” —Bill Welychka, The Kingston Whig-Standard

“An oral history . . . featuring insights from all of the early creative players . . . who acknowledge MuchMusic’s crucial role in their careers. . . . Chock full of glossy photos guaranteed to get the synapses of any enthusiasts from back in the day fired up, and it includes a mixture of fairly serious revelations and comedic stories. . . . Is This Live? is an essential chronicle of not only ’80s and ’90s Toronto, but the scenes that bumped into it and helped mold it into the dynamic music destination it is now. . . . [G]ood times await fans of the early, wild days of our local national music station.” BlogTO

“Former VJ Christopher Ward dishes up plenty of dirt on the heyday of MuchMusic in this comprehensive and personal history of the channel’s first decade, a period that defined a generation of Canadian music. It’s weird, and yes, it’ll make you want to cue up some Glass Tiger on Spotify.” —Toronto Life

“For so many of us, working at MuchMusic was a time of beautiful chaos. Christopher’s vivid storytelling transported me back to those crazy days making groundbreaking TV on a shoestring budget. He’s done a remarkable job recapturing life behind the scenes at Much with interviews and anecdotes from everyone who made The Nation’s Music Station the defining voice for Canadian pop culture in the ’80s and ’90s. What we did at 299 Queen West will never be replicated. This book explains why.” —Erica Ehm
What a blast! With a raucous mix of music and personalities, Christopher Ward has compiled the ultimate treasure trove of Canada’s 1980s rock scene. Everybody you remember is here. Revealing, entertaining, enlightening and, most all, fun.” —Will Ferguson, author of Road Trip Rwanda
“MuchMusic was my pop-culture parent. Reading Christopher Ward’s history of Much’s early days is like going back to your home and watching how it was built from the inside. I could almost smell the hairspray coming off the pages. A fascinating, moving recollection that celebrates one of the great achievements in Canadian television. Now I want to go into that tape library and live it all over again.” —Elaine Lui, author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken

Other titles by Christopher Ward

Other titles by Mike Myers

Related lists