Kurt Loder on MTV's 30th Birthday, Politics, and Music Today

A conversation with the journalist and iconic pop-culture newscaster

Kurt Loder 615 1997 AP Images.jpg
Few faces are more closely affiliated with MTV, the generation-shaping network that turned 30 yesterday, than Kurt Loder. He began his career as a journalist in the U.S. Army, and went on to become a much-lauded writer/editor at Rolling Stone. But he’s best known as a fixture on MTV, beginning in 1988, where he has served as the poker-faced anchor of “The Week In Rock” and “MTV News.” It was in this capacity that Loder delivered the news of Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide.

I emailed with Loder recently about a number of topics, including the MTV’s 30th birthday. He currently writes about movies online for Reason and has book of film reviews, The Good, The Bad, and the Godawful, set to be released in November. Our exchange below, which has been very lightly edited for style and clarity:

Leah Carroll: What are your thoughts on MTV’s 30th anniversary?

Kurt Loder: It’s remarkable that a commercial enterprise like MTV, grounded as it is in pop culture, has had such a long and successful—and ongoing, obviously—run. Naturally, the channel is very different now from what it started out as. But its audience remains vast. I know there are a lot of people who miss the old days, and who hate the reality-TV trend that MTV did so much to launch. I hate it myself. But consider: The round-the-clock abundance of music videos that once made MTV unique is now available in many, many other venues. And music news—which Rolling Stone had actually pioneered as a serious undertaking—is available near-instantly all over the Web. Like it or not, MTV has evolved. Has there ever been any alternative? In the pop-culture business, the minute you decide to stop changing, you’re already out of date.

Carroll: Did your move from print journalism to MTV seem a natural one? When you reflect on both mediums, how do you think they came together to help form the blog-heavy nature of music and political journalism today?

Loder: I guess it seemed natural to the MTV people who called and offered me a job. I suppose my naturally deadpan nature was something of a novelty at the time on TV, a medium so heavily invested in effervescence. And I’m hardly the first to note that the evolution of blog/Twitter culture represents a radical democratization of broadcast media, for better and/or worse.

Carroll: My generation became aware of politics in large part due to MTV and many of the "socially conscious" popular bands of the time, through moments like when Kurt Cobain kissed Krist Novoselic on Saturday Night Live. Did you make a conscious decision to use a band like Nirvana as an opportunity to talk about issues like gay rights?

Loder: I never “used” Nirvana, or any other act, for anything. I think cultural liberalization in the libertarian sense of opposing the suppression of people’s rights is implicit in rock & roll music. And while I think MTV, if it could speak with a corporate voice, would acknowledge that it is also politically liberal—a different thing—it always came down on the “pro” side of individual freedom and irrepressible flamboyance, often to the delight of … not everybody. This was something new in mass broadcast media.

Carroll: Are there any artistic movements going on today (film, music, etc.) that you feel are particularly exciting or that could capture the zeitgeist in a similar way to the grunge craze of the ’90s?

Loder: I think hip-hop has represented the commercial-music zeitgeist for many years now, especially as a production style. But there is of course a lot of fragmentation. There are now more different kinds of music more readily available, from around the world, than ever before. I also think the spirit of rock & roll—which I guess we can call “freewheeling—is now vividly represented in other creative areas as well, comic books especially.