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Published on July 26th, 2011 | by Jon Bunnies

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Guess Who Turns 30 on Monday? MTV

At 12:01am on Friday, August 1, 1981, a company called Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Corporation launched a 24-hour music video channel.  It began with the head of the company, one John Lack, introducing the channel:  “Ladies and gentlemen:  rock and roll.”

 

The first video?  An obscurity to most, actually. Before that night, few people in North American had ever heard of a British New Wave band called The Buggles even though it had been a #1 hit in sixteen countries.  In America, it managed a feeble #40.  But that would change, of course.  (It was also the one-millionth song played on the channel.)

Because few critics could imagine such a thing–hell, TV stations that didn’t sign off at 1am were still a rarity and the penetration of cable TV was, well anemic–they predicted the venture would fail.

Oh, sure, CNN had launched a few years earlier, but news did happen 24 hours a day.  HBO?  Well…okay.  There would always be someone up to watch a movie.  But music videos around the clock?  That had about as much chance of being a success as that stupid new all-sports channel called ESPN.  And what was a music video, anyway?

MTV–which, in case you’ve forgotten (understandably, considering how little about music the channel is today)–stood for “Music TeleVision.  And it launched a revolution in…well, a lot of things. 

Consider:

  • No one liked music videos because no one knew what a “music video” was. 
  • Record labels ignored MTV at first because they didn’t understand the point of spending money on a short film so fans could “see” songs.  Music was supposed to be a theatre of the mind thing.
  • MTV lifted the music industry out of a brutal post-disco recession.  Record companies got on board once they realized there was a corrolation between record sales in a given city and if the local cable companies carried MTV.
  • MTV was like a virus, carrying culture from shore to shore.  American consumerism traveled well on the back of MTV while at the time time, it imported UK and European cultural sensibilities.
  • The term “MTV-style” came to describe short attention span viewing and quick-cut edits dedicated to elciting maximum sensory effect.
  • Trends in music, fashion, language (especially slang) and make-up were spread like plague.

In short, MTV changed popular culture as we knew it.

Here are several of my favourite bits of MTV trivia.

1.  The second video played on MTV?  “You Better Run” by Pat Benetar.

2.  The phrase “I want my MTV” was part of an advertising campaign launched by the channel.  Various bands–including the Police–filmed short promos urging people to call up local cable companies that weren’t carrying the channel and say “I want my MTV.” 

3.  MTV launched with just 250 videos, 30 of them by Rod Stewart.  .

4.  Not everyone liked MTV.  Witness this gem from the Dead Kennedys called “MTV:  Get Off the Air”

 

5.  Beck wasn’t a fan, either.

 





About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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One Response to Guess Who Turns 30 on Monday? MTV

  1. james says:

    Not everyone liked MTV. Witness this gem from the Dead Kennedys called "MTV: Get Off the Air"-

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