"We're like the cool older brother who introduces you to new music," says Smith. "If MTV and VH1 are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, then we're the Replacements."
Smith is also the host of Steven's Untitled Rock Show, one of the few high-visibility outlets remaining for that genre at a time when rock radio is folding across the country. Smith is a die-hard music fan in his late 20s who came to Fuse from VH1 ("back when they actually played videos"), and it's fitting that he thinks of the channel as a cool older brother, because it's exactly how he acts. When I ask if the show brings out the adolescent in him, he answers immediately, "It never left."
He characterizes the Fuse audience as "the outcasts, the kids in the background of every yearbook photo," but as the channel broadens its appeal and visibility, that description may be changing. The kids in the studio at the Franz Ferdinand performance and at Daily Download don't particularly seem like freaks and geeks. They seem like, well, kids. Fuse may have begun as the anti-MTV, but at this point, they might as well call themselves the anti-WB. The stations share an audience, yes, but they don't do the same thing. "MTV is a lifestyle channel," says Pereyra, who also hosts Hip-Hop Confidential. "They're good at that. But what we do is different."
"There's no antiestablishment voice at MTV," says Mullen. "They are the establishment. Our audience is very sophisticated about that stuff."
There is something of a community-access vibe at Fuse, although you wouldn't know that from the roster of names who have stopped by, including Gwen Stefani, Kanye West, Green Day, Coldplay, Eminem, and My Chemical Romance. Another Fuse show, 7th Avenue Drop, has hosted the Strokes, Foo Fighters, and Fall Out Boy. Other Fuse shows include d'Fused, a music-documentary series, and Empire Square, a South Park-type cartoon about a band of young musicians, created by former EMI UK executives Anthony Cauchi and Lloyd Salmons and ex-Blur drummer Dave Rowntree. But at its heart, Fuse is a fan's channel, the television equivalent of liner notes and box sets. It has all the little extras - the videos, the interviews, the commentary, the behind-the-scenes footage - the things you don't have to have but, man, do you really want.
Right now, Fuse is in 44 million homes, thanks in no small part to its parent company, Cablevision. But it still lacks name recognition, which is why the talking sign recently went up. Already kids are starting to notice, standing outside and peering in, listening to the music being broadcast onto the street. And Fuse has at least one new fan. As my cabbie pulled up to the curb, he stared up at the sign. “Hey, that didn’t use to be there,” he said. “I like it.”