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As MTV News exits, revisit our 1989 interview with Kurt Loder: ‘MTV is really good at doing stupid stuff’


The May 9 announcement that MTV News was being shuttered surely came as a surprise to many music fans of a certain age. This holds especially true for anyone who had stopped watching MTV altogether few decades ago — more specifically, right after the original “Beavis and Butt-Head” series ended its original five-year run in 1998.

A decade earlier, in 1989, MTV News anchor Kurt Loder sat down in New York for an in-depth interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. He had been hired to bring credibility to the show — despite the fact he had publicly slammed MTV a number of times — and is now being hailed as MTV’s equivalent of Walter Cronkite.

As a writer and editor for Rolling Stone, Loder interviewed an array of legends, including Bob Dylan and Tina Turner, the latter of whom subsequently had him co-write her autobiography, “I, Tina.” But he himself was very press-shy and had not done any interviews after being hired to anchor MTV News in 1989.

When asked, after our two-hour long chat, why he had such an aversion to interviews, Loder smiled and said: “Well, being a writer, I try to avoid what I’ve subjected other people to.”

Here is our complete 1989 interview with Loder, who left MTV in 2005 and is now 78.

MTV’s Mr. Credibility — Respected critic Kurt Loder anchors at network he hated

By George Varga

The San Diego Union-Tribune

April 23, 1989

NEW YORK — “Fifteen seconds!” booms the director’s voice, as a film crew prepares to shoot a recent episode of “MTV News” at the music television network’s Manhattan headquarters.

“MTV News” anchorman Kurt Loder reacts by waving his arms quickly from side to side, as if swatting invisible insects or engaging in some exotic religious ritual designed to induce catatonia.

His goal is comparatively mundane, if urgent nonetheless: to disperse the smoke from the cigarette he’s been puffing on during a brief break between takes.

It is the first time Loder looks distracted since filming began nearly one hour earlier. But when the “MTV News” theme music begins playing and the camera’s red light flashes on seconds later, he is cool, calm, collected and right on cue.

“Hi, I’m Kurt Loder with the ‘MTV News’ … After being arrested at a Georgia concert for engaging in allegedly lewd on-stage behavior, singer Bobby Brown is back on the road,” he says, speaking in a well-modulated voice, as he reads copy from the teleprompter machine placed directly under the TV camera facing him. Behind him is a dark blue scrim; graphics — such as concert tour dates, photos of artists and the “MTV News” logo — will be added after he is done taping his segments.

During the next 40 minutes, the boyish-looking 42-year-old anchorman and former Rolling Stone magazine editor and writer reports on a variety of music-related items. Among them: imprisoned singer James Brown’s failure to win a court appeal designed to gain his freedom; the success of Roy Orbison’s posthumously released solo album; a New Jersey “rock artist” who paints on surfboards to create mobile, water-proof works; and the potentially unsettling news that clean-cut teen singing sensation Debbie Gibson is a fan of glam-rock band Poison and scam-rock band Guns N’ Roses.

Attired in a black turtleneck, black jeans, black boots and a checkered brown jacket, Loder is seated on a wooden crate in an otherwise barren corner of the MTV studios.

“We’re getting a designer crate soon,” he quips during the next break, before lighting another cigarette.

After stumbling over a tongue-twisting bit of text about Sting’s visit to a Brazilian rain forest, Loder mutters a familiar expletive. His only other deviation from the script comes while reading an item about a recent New York appearance by country music satirists Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys.

Loder stops in midsentence and raises his eyebrows. “Can I say ‘Texas Jewboys?’ “ he asks, shaking his head with mock incredulity. Assured that he can, he rereads the item without a hitch.

Later, while reporting on the controversy over Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video-cum-Pepsi Cola commercial and a Madonna impersonator who has been offering “unsolicited phone interviews,” Loder can’t resist smirking.

“Madonna’s new video is remarkable,” he declares, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“When MTV started out, I surely hated it as much as the next guy,” Loder recalls later, as he pours from a bottle of Montrachet wine in a swank French restaurant where the owner greets him by name.

“It really displaced the role of journalism covering popular music; it just made it irrelevant. I don’t think rock writing has as much relevance as it did 10 years ago. It just doesn’t.”

Depending on one’s point of view, the same may or may not be true of Loder himself.

Before joining MTV 14 months ago, he spent nearly nine years at Rolling Stone, where he rose from his position as the magazine’s “Random Notes” columnist to become one of its top writers. Noted for his cogent writing style, he contributed many outstanding interviews, most notably with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, whose autobiography, “I, Tina,” he later co-wrote.

Respected by musicians and fellow journalists alike, Loder’s decision to leave Rolling Stone to anchor the then-oxymoronic “MTV News” came as a surprise to many.

“I’m sure they just wanted to buy some credibility,” he says now of his hiring by MTV. “I had been writing for a long time, and I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll try it.’ After years of being around rock writers who take things real seriously, it’s good to be somewhere that doesn’t take it all that seriously and is willing to do dopey stuff. MTV is really good at doing stupid stuff. I mean, they do dumb stuff really well.

“The dopier and gaudier it is, the more likely you can get it on the air. Now they want to do a comedy show, a sitcom. They want to try a lot of stuff. MTV is like television was in the 1950s; nobody knows what it is, so the attitude is, ‘Let’s just try anything.’ It’s interesting in that regard. There’s sort of an art to it, so it’s enjoyable. But good writing and music can never be replaced by television …”

An outspoken critic of MTV in its early days, Loder was also drawn by his desire to help improve the frequently attacked music television network — a goal he has achieved by virtue of his mere presence and the considerable musical knowledge he brings to his position. (Coincidentally, Michael Shore, “MTV News’” managing editor, is also a former rock critic who frequently wrote scathing attacks of MTV.)

“I thought, ‘Everybody always bitches about how bad MTV is, but nobody does anything about it,’ and I wondered if it was possible to do something about it,” Loder says, lighting a cigarette and ordering a second bottle of wine. “My idea was to get rid of the fluff and get rid of the VJs (video jockeys) doing the news, and try to bring more of an edge to things, be a little more staightforward and not kowtow to the advertising people.

“They’ve been very good about that. We’ve had some run-ins — ‘You really shouldn’t do that story’ — and we always win. They really want to change, and they’re putting a lot of effort into changing. It’s not ‘The CBS Evening News’ or anything, but it’s honest and interesting.”

Loder’s defection from Rolling Stone to MTV also led to speculation that money, not aesthetics, was a prime motivation. He does not deny the allure of higher paychecks influenced him.

“I’d done this book on Tina Turner, and it took 14 months of my life. I spent a lot of time making, like, no money whatsoever, so it was good to make some money. Writing full time entails poverty, and I have to admit I don’t like being poor. And it was interesting, a challenge, so here I am,” he says.

The son of an Eastern Airlines executive, Loder was born in Miami and raised in Peru and New Jersey. After spending two years in college — the first at Oklahoma City University, the second at Temple — he enlisted in the Army in 1966 and volunteered for duty in West Germany.

He was initially stationed in Frankfurt, where he worked for AFN (Armed Forces Network) Radio. He was subsequently stationed in Munich, where he met his German wife-to-be, Kristina.

After getting out of the Army in 1968, he remained in Germany and began writing for Overseas Weekly, a left-leaning, English-language newspaper with distinctly anti-military sentiments. A year later, he became the paper’s pop music critic, reviewing German concerts by artists such as Janis Joplin, Eric Burdon and Johnny Winter, and reviewing albums by Billy Joel and other then-obscure artists.

In 1972, Loder and his wife moved to New York. He spent 18 months writing for a Long Island newspaper, before being hired by Circus, a monthly magazine with a heavy heavy-metal emphasis.

“I was a senior editor, but it was a pretty meaningless title,” he recalls.

“It was lots and lots of work; you just had to churn stuff out. I’ve always been churning stuff out! In May of ‘79 I was recommended to do ‘Random Notes’ for Rolling Stone, which essentially involved going out to parties and clubs, every night, for two years. It was terrific and a lot of fun, but really wearing. I think that got all my desire for night life out of my system.”

Loder now lives in Queens with his wife and 10-year-old son. He still writes periodically for Rolling Stone. The current issue includes his rebuttal to a recent article in National Review denouncing rock music and its listeners. An interview he did with Frank Zappa will run soon.

In addition to doing all of the writing for his daily “MTV News” spots, which air hourly, and his 30-minute “Week in Rock” show, he is also collaborating on a screenplay, tentatively titled “Born Again Ninja.” He laments not having more time for more outside writing, a situation unlikely to change as long as he films “MTV News” five days a week.

Asked if his extensive knowledge of music makes him over-qualified for his position at MTV, Loder smiled.

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“Probably, just by being unusually older than anybody who watches it a lot, and because there’s a finite amount of time you can devote to listening to music. And if you’ve spent 20 or 30 years doing it, you’re ahead of someone who’s 20 years old. But it’s nothing to be proud of; it’s unavoidable.”

By virtue of his age and knowledge, Loder is in a position to educate his viewers as he entertains them, and he clearly relishes the opportunity to expand the musical parameters of his mostly young audience. Witness his enthusiastic on-air endorsements of recent records by James Brown, the Neville Brothers and other worthy rock and soul greats seldom heard on network TV.

“I think there’s a lot of stuff that kids aren’t aware of, because there’s no media left to get it from,” he says. “You can’t read about a lot of new music in Rolling Stone, (because) it’s going to take a long time to get there. So you have to read fanzines, and if you’re not reading Forced Exposure out of Boston, you’re not going to know about the latest Giant Sand record.

“And there are a lot of re-issues; the ‘80s is really the time of re-issues. So I’ll tell viewers, ‘You should have this James Brown double CD, because it’s brilliant.’ If you’re 20, you may be ignorant of all that, but that doesn’t mean you’re stupid. You just have to be told what’s available, so that maybe you’ll check it out. A 20-year-old’s taste is likely as good as mine or anyone else’s, if they just get a chance to exercise it.

“We had Vernon Reid and Living Colour on before anybody even knew about them; we try to get black groups on a lot, and rap is really starting to happen on MTV. We’re trying to get Lyle Lovett on, because I think his new record’s very good, and Lucinda Williams. And I’m trying to get the Chesterfield Kings on, because they’re one of my favorite bands. MTV gives me lots of leeway. The subject may be boring sometimes, but in writing it — as I’m sure you know — you can make it interesting. It depends on the angle you take.”

As the last glass of wine is poured and the conversation draws to a close, Loder is asked a parting question. Why is it that, since joining MTV, the man who has interviewed dozens of top pop stars has himself declined all requests for interviews until now?

“Well,” he says, smiling, “being a writer, I try to avoid what I’ve subjected other people to.”

Kurt Loder bonus Q&A

SHOTS FROM THE HIP TV INTERVIEWS VS. PRINT INTERVIEWS: “You can never get as much good stuff on television as you can in print. I might go and do a great (TV) interview with somebody, but it’s going to end up as 20 seconds no matter what it is. I might have been told a thousand great things, but it’s dead, gone; that stuff will never see the light of day. What a waste. You can really get a vivid impression of somebody on TV, but you’re not going to learn much. Print’s the greatest thing there is.”

THE MTV-FUELED SUCCESS OF DURAN DURAN: “Fourteen-year-old girls should have other options. I understand that they like ‘cute guys,’ but they’re not even cute! They’re insufferable. People now are saying, ‘Duran Duran is back, so (MTV) should give them big coverage.’ Why? They’re dead. Their career’s over. They can’t give their records away.”

THE RECENT GRAMMY AWARDS: “Those awards shows are ridiculous; they don’t mean anything. Jethro Tull wins ‘Best Hard Rock’ group — who votes for this stuff? Meanwhile, Guns N’ Roses wasn’t nominated, Def Leppard wasn’t nominated. Unbelievable! I think the high point was Linda Ronstadt beating out Flaco Jimenez, Los Freddys and all these Mexican artists. Did you see her backstage? A reporter started speaking to her in Spanish, and she says, ‘Oh, I don’t actually speak Spanish. Can you ask me in English?’ And he says, ‘Forget it.’ Los Freddys are cool; they deserved to win just for their name.”

ON-AIR IRREVERENCE: “You should be able to offend the sponsors or offend the acts. Take Bon Jovi: Why should we even be covering Bon Jovi? We play their (expletive) videos every half-hour. So why do we have to cover these guys? And, if we must, do we have to cover them in a reverent way? I think not.”