The history and impact of “The Nation's Music Station” MuchMusic is explored in 299 Queen Street West. MuchMusic was launched in 1984 as a Canadian counterpart of MTV in the United States. The station was the brainchild of CityTV founder Moses Znaimer, with the VJs hosting in open-concept street-level environments at the ChumCity Building at 299 Queen Street West in downtown Toronto. The station would serve as a launching point for a multitude of Canadian artists, while also featuring early appearances of groups such as the Backstreet Boys. However, format changes in the 2000s would remove some of the original spirit of the station.
299 Queen Street West Synopsis
299 Queen Street West is a documentary directed by Sean Menard about the history of Canadian music video station MuchMusic. The early prototypes of what would eventually be seen on the station were shown on the CityTV programs The New Music and City Limits, the latter of which also happened to feature an early appearance of Mike Myers as his character Wayne Campbell. MuchMusic formally launched on August 31, 1984, and would become notable for its crew of video jockeys, who often came across like just an average person.
299 Queen Street West is presented predominantly through archival footage from the first two decades of MuchMusic, accompanied by voice-over interviews with the VJs that hosted over the years. This includes Erica Ehm, a former receptionist, who became MuchMusic's first female VJ, Steve Anthony, who introduced the annual Christmas Tree toss, Michael Williams, the original host of the hip-hop-focused program Rap City, and Monika Deol, the host of the dance-music program Electric Circus. The other VJs interviewed include Rick “The Temp” Campanelli, Bill Welychka, Sook-Yin Lee, Namugenyi Kiwanuka, and George Stroumboulopoulos.
My Thoughts on 299 Queen Street West
It can be surmised that Sean Menard named his MuchMusic documentary 299 Queen Street West because the ChumCity Building, located at that address, was often just as iconic as the station itself. During MuchMusic's peak years in the 1980s and 1990s, the building was notable for its street-level windows, which gave the station's musical guests access to the fans who would often crowd on the street outside. MuchMusic featured everyone from a pre-fame Backstreet Boys to a launching point of the careers of Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber, as well as a multitude of Canadian artists.
299 Queen Street West makes sure to emphasize how the VJs were often hired for their relatable personalities, many of whom had other jobs at the ChumCity building before being put on the air. Probably, the most infamous of these is Rick Campanelli, a MuchMusic fan from Hamilton, who won a contest in 1994 to be a Temp employee at the station. This would lead to him eventually becoming an on-air personality and staying with MuchMusic for over a decade, before leaving in 2005 to become one of the reporters on ET Canada.
MuchMusic ended up being a launching point for many artists and genres in Canada. Michael Williams, and his successor Master T, helped bring hip-hop to the masses through the series Rap City. In addition, Monika Deol highlighted dance and club culture with Electric Circus and she was also notable for being one of the first Indian television hosts in Canada. Then there is Bill Welychka, who got his on-air start hosting the country music showcase Outlaws & Heroes.
While Sean Menard chooses not to delve too much into the recent years of MuchMusic, it is pointed out that there was a major downturn in quality in the 2000s. George Stroumboulopoulos, who left MuchMusic in 2004 to host the CBC talk show The Hour, mentions that he couldn't leave the station fast enough after recounting a time he filmed a bit with two women doing a javelin match in a wading pool to determine who was the biggest Britney Spears fan. Arguably the nail in the coffin was MuchMusic's 2006 acquisition by Bell Globemedia, which resulted in the name change to just MUCH and a greater focus on non-music programming.
Probably the most poignant closing sight of 299 Queen Street West is a brief glimpse of the modern building, now the headquarters for what is now known as BellMedia. The street-level windows that were a major part of the accessibility of MuchMusic during its heyday have now been replaced by closed-off shutters. Even the iconic Speaker's Corner video booth, which helped launch the careers of Barenaked Ladies in the early 1990s, is now but a distant memory. Overall, 299 Queen Street West ends up being a very nostalgic look back at what made MuchMusic special during the 1980s and 1990s.