Back in the dark ages, before the Internet and iPhones and YouTube and Hulu (well you get the picture) if you wanted to see your favorite band or artist performing, your options were limited. You could hope they'd come to a venue near you so you could see them live; you could watch them lip-synching on weekly music shows like American Bandstand or Soul Train; you could see them perform on one of the assorted concert shows such as Don Kirschner's Rock Concert or The Midnight Special. Or you could hope they'd make an appearance as the musical guest on one of the late night programs (SNL, Tonight Show etc).
That all changed on August 1st, 1981. MTV was on the air with the then innovative concept of 24 music television (yes kids, there was a time when the "M" in MTV actually stood for "Music" - as opposed to Mediocre, Moronic, Mind-numbingly bad, etc). There was something exciting about those early days - maybe it was the chance to see what your favorite performers looked like; or maybe it was watching a channel aimed at my age group; or maybe it was the unsophisticated (some might say "cheesy") videos from bands I'd never heard of. I suspect it was a combination of factors. Whatever it was, I'd never seen anything like it before. We didn't have cable in my house at the time, so for the first year or so I had to watch it at the homes of friends who were more fortunate. When my parents finally relented and we got cable (sometime in late 1982) MTV was always on; often as background noise providing a soundtrack to my daily life.
Guiding us through the videos were the five original VJ's: J.J. Jackson - the hip one with real music creds as a former DJ; Cute-as-a-button Martha Quinn (who had attended NYU around the same time I did -although I don't recall ever seeing her on campus); sexy, husky-voiced Nina Blackwood; funny Alan Hunter, and cool Mark Goodman. It is either a tribute to my long term memory or a sign of my pathetic inability to let the past go, that I can remember each one so distinctly.
During the early years, the channel ran a series of "I want my MTV" ads featuring pop stars enticing viewers to call their local cable stations and demand that they carry MTV. This one features Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, David Bowie and Boy George:
28 years later it must be hard for someone who only knows MTV as it is today - a wasteland of reality shows - to imagine the impact the channel had back in the 1980's. It created stars out of unknown performers, and influenced what people listened to, how they talked, and what they wore. I'd like to close with this short clip of the first 30 seconds of MTV programming (to this day I can't watch scenes of the moon landing without hearing the MTV guitar riff)