David Bowie once called out MTV's racist preferences live on the network
In the early '80s, MTV hadn't begun airing black artists in regular video rotation. Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and subsequent Thriller videos helped to change that, but in 1983 it was a pretty steady stream of Pat Benatar, Air Supply, Juice Newton, and the like. During an on-air interview with original VJ Mark Goodman, the legendary David Bowie -- who passed away at age 69 after a battle with cancer -- wondered aloud why the network's preferences were so blatantly white.
"David Bowie: “Why are there practically no blacks on the network?”
Mark Goodman: “We seem to be doing music that fits into what we want to play on MTV. The company is thinking in terms of narrowcasting.”
David Bowie: “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.”
Mark Goodman: “We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by… a string of other black faces, or black music. We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock and roll station.”
David Bowie: “Don’t you think it’s a frightening predicament to be in?”
Mark Goodman: “Yeah, but no less so here than in radio.”
David Bowie: “Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them.’ Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair… to make the media more integrated?"
Of course the tide turned and MTV helped to usher in the mainstream play of hip-hop, rap, and pop by black artists. But it's still remarkable to think there was a time when David Bowie, a known white superstar, would've been (rightfully) compelled to address this on air.
UPDATE: Here's the video.
And for the hell of it, here's what Bowie was up to around 1982.