By Alex Zander
There is simply not another cable TV music video show that can match JBTV. For nearly 20 years Jerry Bryant has hosted and produced a true cutting-edge format hour of music video and interviews. Everyone from Bjork to Skinny Puppy has graced the screen of his award-winning TV show. (Billboard Magazine Best Modern Rock Program and Regional Emmy for Outstanding Achievement Entertainment Program)
For residents of the Chicago area, Jerry Bryant is no stranger. But to those who access Billboard Magazine every week, his chart displayed next to MTV’s, will literally have their mind blown. There cannot be a more original format in this day and age of airplay overkill. When MTV isn’t showing the video by your favorite band, you can bet that JBTV is. If not, it is as simple as calling in or shooting an email to request. The man will play it. The proof was in one of our recent visits to the impressive JBTV studios, we were on for an hour, and he played each of our suggestions. You ain’t gonna see the stuff we love on MTV.
Alex Zander and Moe Wyoming had the pleasure of hanging out with Jerry one afternoon to get the scoop on who the man is behind the magic of their favorite music network.
Alex Zander: Explain your background, why did you start JBTV?
Jerry Bryant: Well, I moved here in 1980 after a divorce. I was in Milwaukee for many years from 1968 - 80. I had a radio station until 1975, 93-Q FM, which was one of the first progressive rock stations on radio in Milwaukee. It was full power, 50,000 watts on FM. So we’re similar to what 93 XRT (a Chicago radio station which started 30 years ago as a progressive station) was, because they would be ethnic half the time. That’s the days when I started in radio, same kind of thing, only in Milwaukee. Then I did production and stuff up there, a lot of TV commercials and things for a lot of ad agencies. Then in 1980 I said, “Oh, well let’s go to Chicago,” because I got divorced (laughs). I came down here and I started just doing audio productions like CRC, Chicago Recording. Then I realized I needed my own studio. Then I came here. When we first came to this studio here, it was just audio because that’s all we did. We used to do all the Pink Floyd promos, I’ve been here (this studio) for 20 years. I think it was 1983 since we got into this facility. But, from 1980-83 I was working at CRC and Dick Marks studios on Michigan Avenue; audio production. We did tour spots for all the tours. You name a tour, we did a commercial for it. Back in the old days, we did the original Pink Floyd tour, all that kind of stuff.
AZ: Before Clear Channel (laughs).
JB: Well yeah, Clear Channel’s only what, 8-10 years old? (laughs) So anyhow I was doing radio production. We came in, because at this point, radio stations would go, “we can’t afford a $100,000 retainer,” So we’ll do your commercials then! You don’t need to pay us a retainer. So they saved money and that’s how we got into doing production. So I’d do a commercial, like we did the old WMET (now defunct rock station) spots, “moving like a giant star cruiser through 50,000 watts of power,” all that kind of stuff. Film, I spent $60-$80,000 on commercials and that’s what we started doing for radio stations. How I started JBTV, I’d get a reel and they’d say “oh, we want Madonna on our commercial.” But on that same reel there’d be Peter Murphy, or all these other bands. They’d send us a one-inch, big reel of all these bands. So I’d be using the Madonna for the commercial and I’d go, “boy, look at this Peter Murphy video! Look at this video!” You know, KMFDM, all these artists and music, Skinny Puppy. They’d send out one big reel, much like you guys are familiar with the club business, like a club reel. You’d get all these different textures of music. Some was cool, some you didn’t play. I’d go, “wow, I wanna do this.” That’s how I started JBTV, which was around 1984.
AZ: What’s the difference between a station you were on then and one you’re on now?
JB: Well, I’m on public access, too. What makes television great is that anyone can go on TV. If you want to go on TV, you can go on TV with your own show on public access. You have to be a resident of the city and you can go there and do it, or if you have your own equipment, you just have to submit a tape. Just make sure it’s technically good, that’s all they care about. But you can’t do anything, you can’t promote things directly, you can’t sell things, it’s a non-commercial area.
AZ: So when you’re promoting, or you have spots for records for certain bands you have on the show, is that because the band’s on the show, or coming on the show? How is that considered not promotional?
JB: Well, let me explain television first. Public Access is the one you can’t do anything. There’s a channel called “Leased Access,” which is Channel 25. Now that channel is available to local people, they don’t charge to go on or anything, but you can run commercials on it. So that’s the difference between the two access channels. One’s made that, if you want to promote MK Ultra, here’s our product, here we’re gonna interview and you can do a TV show, put it on there and run commercials for it. But on public access you can’t. It’s a difference in the channel allocation.
By law, they have it so you have to have these access channels. Anybody can go on, nonprofit, you can do profitable stuff, but it has limited viewership so you can’t charge a ton of money or anything. Then, the other alternative is to be on broadcast, which is what we’re on.
AZ: So when you started, you mentioned you’d get reels with bands like Peter Murphy and early KMFDM...
JB: They’d have 20 bands on them! I’d see all these different bands and I’d go, “Well, I want to play that!” That’s how I started JBTV. I started doing a TV show just playing that kind of music. MTV wasn’t at all in Chicago in the early days because cable systems were non-existent in most of Chicago, except for the suburbs. The only way you got to look at music videos in Chicago was through a show like a JBTV.
AZ: So as far as the music though, it’s always seemed to be cutting-edge music. Not the mainstream, your play list doesn’t look anything like MTV’s. But you were onto bands before anyone else.
JB: Yeah, there’s a pile of videos that just came in today, so I go through all those videos, I’ll archive them and dub them all to my archive tapes. Then I’ll go, “Oh, this is a good video.” That’s how I’ll start playing it.
AZ: When did you get picked up by Billboard?
JB: That was maybe 6 or 7 years ago.
AZ: How did that come about?
JB: No, we were on WOR for a long time out of New York. So we were on national. I loved it when we were on WOR. That was amazing, we were in Trinidad. Channel 9 used to be a super-station, WOR used to be a super-station, Turner Broadcasting is a super-station and KTLA used to be a super-station. There you used to be able to watch WOR on your cable system out of New York. It used to be fun watching New York news. Or let’s see what’s going on in LA news? They cut us off from all that now. The only station we get as a super-station is Turner Broadcasting. So when we were on that is was great. Peter Hamilton came here and he was like, “I was watching you in Trinidad! You played my video, I’m forever grateful.”
AZ: And you do a lot of interviews here in the studio...
JB: I do them all right here. I don’t like going out and doing interviews on location. You don’t get a good interview there because the band goes to a venue, what are they thinking of? They’re worried about their show. Am I gonna do this right? They’re into the music. They don’t care about anything else but what they have to do that night. I like to have them come here so they’re totally away from the venue. Doing interviews at the venue sucks. It’s so difficult, especially for TV. It never looks good. Once you bring in all your stuff and set it up they go, “Oh you can’t be here. You gotta go over there!” (laughs)
AZ: Who was the first band to get big that you had in here?
JB: Oh there’ve been so many I don’t even know. I don’t have a clue.
AZ: Ever have anybody get a little bit out of control?
JB: The Kottonmouth Kings. (laughs) They all seem to be great. I give them space to do things. When John Lydon came in, he was at WXRT for an interview. He was supposed to be here at say, 4 o’clock, and he was at XRT at say, noon or 1 o’clock, at 1:15, Armando’s going, “John Lydons’ here! He wants to do the interview now.” I’m like, “He’s not supposed to be here till 4!” Well it’s now or nothing! I had nobody here to run camera, so I offered to show him the studio and he goes, “I don’t want to see your fucking studio. One question and I’m outta here!” (resounding laughter) So I set up the camera and I couldn’t get him to stop talking and I never even asked him anything. I was running and the camera and said, “Now what do you think about...” and he says, “It’s rude to point, don’t point!” But he talked about corporate radio. Everything he talked about 10-12 years ago is so relevant today, as to what’s happening with music, corporations have taken it over, how hard it is for small bands to get noticed. But that’s why it’s great you have a magazine that’s gonna put KMFDM, Ministry and Prong in there. I mean, we shot Prong in concert ages ago.
AZ: So talk about the corporate thing. You just had a little incident that we ran a story on, where you were actually refused tickets to a New Found Glory show, a band you helped promote.
JB: It was between doing a show in Chicago or Denver. So we said, “Well, we wanna do it here.” They said, “OK, but we’re going to go with this other company to do all the production instead of you guys.” I felt that was one of the few shows where we would fit in something corporate. New Found Glory, we promoted them over the years. We were the first to play their videos; they were on the show before they even had a video. So we’ve had them on the show doing stuff. The corporates they went to an out-of-town TV show. What ends up happening is you get these great radio stations, say Q101, just using it as an example, promotes an artist, but the new radio station gets the credit for it and gets to sponsor the show. It’s the same kind of thing. It’s a decision that was made. I don’t think the band had anything to do with it; it was totally the record label. We helped build these bands, especially in Chicago; I mean Chicago has the best audiences, hands down. If you go to the Metro, The Vic, any of the venues in this city, the audience is really into the music. Unlike, we’ve shot in other markets. We’ve shot in Minneapolis, Joe Satriani and the G3 Tour. The crowd sat for the show and those guys were jamming! Joe went into the back and was like, “Are they going to sit the whole show?!” (laughs) They didn’t get up or do anything. In Chicago the same show wouldn’t matter if they had seats. They’d be on the seats!
AZ: So your take on corporate radio, now?
JB: Everything’s got its good and bad points. A good thing is it consolidates a lot of products so for a record company you only have to go to 1 or 2 people now, instead of having to go to 100. I think every city is so unique. Everything used to be good about Chicago and about LA. Everything’s got its own music scene. Seattle used to be the thing. Now there’s no more of that because with radio being so generic it’s going to be harder for all the smaller bands in these areas to get noticed. The Seattle scene was only noticed by Seattle radio stations who had the guts to play these bands. Then all of a sudden, other people went, “Oh, that’s a good band, we should play that.” Now it’s harder for that. That’s the bad side of it.
AZ: I’m sick when I watch MTV or MTV2 it’s just a bunch of bands who are all the same and no variety. It’s like blocks of a certain kind of music I don’t necessarily listen to or appreciate. But if it’s 3 in the morning and I’ll be flipping through channels and there’s a good band on, there was a day in the early music television Much Music, they would mix them up. You’d have a good variety, a rock band, hair band, Seattle band, then you’d have a rap band.
JB: That’s called programming. Now everything’s programmed differently. It’s all programmed, “Oh, what sells?” It used to be a guy in radio, as I used to be a disc jockey, if it’s a sunny day out and it’s warm there’s a whole sort of music that fits that. If it’s dull and depressing like a lot of news events happening, maybe you want to change the music a bit. A disc jockey used to have that capability. Tom Petty has that great song, “The Last DJ.” And it’s true, it is so today about what’s happening with music. That song says it all. There used to be a time when you could call a radio station, now most of them are automated. The World Trade Center could be getting bombed and you’d have the radio station, “Hey! How ya doin’ New York City! Broadcasting from the World Trade Center!” You know?
AZ: I want to ask you about some Chicago bands that are doing quite well right now. I’m not sure if you’ve had them in before, but Disturbed?
JB: Oh yes, right from the beginning. I like their music, they were this tough, aggressive sound and I had a thing for the lyrics.
AZ: Their second album debuted at #1. Did you see the potential in them?
JB: Well I thought their music was great. I thought their album was strong, aggressive; it wasn’t like anything else that was out there at the time.
AZ: Now you’re playing their “Prayer” video. MTV will not touch that. What I like about Disturbed, those guys will not bend and edit that video.
JB: I don’t think they should. I had Moby in here and Moby tried to get back on MTV and they said, “No, you’re just not hip anymore.” But he had that song, “Revolver,” MTV made him change the lyrics. He changed them and MTV still wouldn’t play the video. So he came here and he was complaining about it. I mean, I started with Moby, I was there at the beginning.
AZ: How much time a week do you put into your one-hour show?
JB: Oh, I like to spend every moment I’m not working on commercials on the show. All weekend it takes me to put the show together, usually. When bands come in, we had OK GO, they spent two hours here. So I have all this great footage, and I only use maybe 10 minutes of the two hours. And I use public access. Because that’s stuff I can play where if they say “fuck” or “shit” I can let all that stuff stay in on the air. I hate censorship. But I’m broadcast and I don’t want to do anything that’s going to cause us to be a problem. I don’t want to be a Mancow or shock jock for TV.
AZ: So that was on Channel 19.
JB: On Cable 19, which more people watch because it is so unique and so different. It’s grass-roots programs. It shows you that people are tired of seeing the same thing all the time; the same music, the same cookie-cutter kind of approach. I think that’s what corporate radio is really screwing up on. They can own all the stations they want, just leave the control to the cities that they’re running in. Don’t expect one person, like “Oh, you’re going to be the modern rock guy and the easy listening program director, you can handle that.” That’s what it’s become. For me it’s hard to look at the little bit of music that I like, because I don’t like to venture too much from what in like. I don’t like to be like MTV and play a pop song or do this; I want to play within my format, or what I think is within my format. So I’m a much tighter playlist. So when stuff goes on MTV and it’s crossing over it’s like well, it’s a little out of it. We’ve had some artists that have done that, they’ve been on the show but now we won’t play them as much.
AZ: I like how you have a band like the Murderdolls, but you also have a variety of power-pop and what they call garage music now, it’s all on there.
JB: Again, I like to do it right at the beginning. Once it gets exposed and it’s all over you won’t see it again. I like to give every artist a chance because people’s careers are on the line! By the time they get to making an album, they put a lot of time and effort into it. I appreciate that to begin with.
AZ: One last question, when Skinny Puppy’s reunion album comes out are they gonna come down here?
Posted by Alex Zander at November 1, 2003 12:00 AM
JB: Anytime they wanna come down, they’re welcome. See anybody can be on the show, I hate to say it that way, but it’s true. If they call, we don’t solicit people too much. Once an artist gets to a point, Tori Amos is a good example, she was in here two times, but she said stuff that she will never talk about now. She talked about drugs and her early days, all the stuff that back then was ok. But now she’s more respected and worth money, you can’t say things like that!