MTV’s Birth -When Revolution Was On The Air

It was 29 years ago yesterday, when MTV first began broadcasting. MTV, a new creation that was heralded as “a perfect blend of music and pictures” that many believed would change the entire way we experienced music. Do you remember watching? This was a major cultural change and many people stayed home from school or work or whatever they were doing to watch MTV’s liftoff:

The concept was simple, but it seemed so appropriate and cool. Use the image of an Apollo launch, the first steps on the moon,(apparently MTV wanted to use the first words uttered by Neil Armstrong (“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but were not allowed to because of copyright issues.) But MTV did use video of the planting of a flag on the moon, followed by the color-changing MTV Flag (which seemed to go on for a bit too long). But it was a symbol on a claim on brand new territory, and they let their freak flag fly proudly, displaying in big bold letters, MTV, Music Television. Simple yet effective.

And then the first-ever MTV video. Quick Trivia.
Q: What was the first video played on MTV?
A: The Buggles’ cult hit, “Video Killed The Radio Star”

The perfect opening video. A strange, barely known song at the time, with plenty of distortion to the vocals, and a series of odd changes to a perfect melody, with harmonies and that soon-to-be familiar synth sound which would eventually define the entire decade of music and launch a hundred thousand bands.

After that, some technical difficulties in the form of a blurry image for about 20 seconds (apparently they only had a limited amount of VCRs to play all those videos). Then they aired a very funny little documentary meant to cover the history of how people enjoyed music. (If I was watching I completely forgot about that.)

And next up, the second official video on MTV; Pat Benatar’s, “You Better Run” asking that age-old question, “Whatcha trying to do to my heart?” Perhaps not the coolest performer at that time, but some nice eye candy for the male viewers. And then an introduction of the VJ’s (video jocks) who would be our hosts each and every day.

The handsome, regular-guy Alan Hunter; the cute, tomboyish girl next door Martha Quinn; the friendly and knowledgable and veteran VJ, JJ. Jackson; the spacy and sexy, late-night diva Nina Blackwood; and finally the guy who would become the quarterback of the MTV team, weeknight good-looking, romeo Mark Goodman.

They would be the people who would pilot this new medium into our lives and in doing so, become, in some ways, our best friends and even family members. We idolized them and were envious of their cool jobs. But most of all it was, as the VJs constantly reminded us, about the music. And we ate it up. (Remember the slightly irritating, “I want my MTV.” MTV would keep this format for many years, before changes turned the focus away from the music and into new areas like special programming and, of all things, nostalgia and reality shows.

But for a moment in time, MTV was the hippest, smartest television you could find. I’m sure next year there will be even more hoopla to mark the 30th anniversary, and we’ll look back again to a time when we were much more innocent and some of the music was rockin’ and some was, let’s admit it, really awful.

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11 Comments

Filed under Music, Television

11 responses to “MTV’s Birth -When Revolution Was On The Air

  1. Tonya

    Wow. . . 30 years! Un-dirty-word-believable! LOL!!!

  2. Time just flies on by, doesn’t it?

  3. Pat Henderson

    Well, I didn’t put my life on hold for the MTV debut, but I did stay home for Thriller a few years later!

    • Ah, it’s my old friend. How are you. We need to talk. I’ll send you an email.

      As for Michael’s “Thriller,” I know it was “thrilling” enough to stay home for.

      Talk to you soon,

      John

  4. Ron

    It seems like almost yesterday. Well, almost.

  5. Craig

    The Beatles were sending videos to American Bandstand. I don’t know if they were the first, but the music video was around before MTV. So the “medium” wasn’t new. A channel devoted to it was new.

    Another rewriting of history was they wouldn’t play black artists until Michael Jackson. I know I’ve read on many sites that it certainly wasn’t the case. On a side note, MJ didn’t even invent the Moonwalk. It was done on Soul Train years earlier.

    • Craig – I gotta think for a while about my use of the word medium. According to one definition online a medium is: a. A means of mass communication, such as newpapers, magazines, radio, or television.

      So in that respect MTV was a new medium. That’s a tricky one, my friend. Nice user name by the way.

    • I think it all depends on the use of those two words, medium and media. But I’ll definitely be more careful with those words in the future.

      • Craig

        No problems. I didn’t know if my understanding of the word medium was correct, either. I think when many experts and historians comment on MTV, they fail to mention that videos were not new. In fact, I was reading that music video programming was tried before MTV. There’s no disagreeing that it DID change music as we know it. On one hand, I despise it because music became less about music and more about image. Then on the other hand, Bruce may have ended up on the oldies circuit if it wasn’t for him doing videos for BIUSA and TOL.

  6. All good points Craig. Thanks for the responses.

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