This essay is excerpted from Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever by Geoff Edgers, out now from Blue Rider Press.
“Walk This Way” felt like the best chance Run-D.M.C. had to take a leap, to become rap’s first superstars. And to do that, Profile Records co-owner Steve Plotnicki knew they would have to crack MTV, and not just for an occasional play after midnight. They were going to need to find a slot in the music network’s regular rotation. And that, for a rap song, wasn’t just rare in 1986. It was unprecedented.
MTV modeled itself after the dominant rock-radio format—album-oriented rock, or AOR. And AOR meant REO Speedwagon, Starship, and Styx were going to dominate the airwaves. It also meant black artists, particularly those who fell outside traditional rock radio, were going to struggle to make the rotation.
Mark Goodman, the first VJ to appear on MTV that early morning in 1981, found the format frustrating, but not surprising. The guys running MTV all came out of radio, and in radio, you stuck to the format.