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The MTV Era (Part 1)

Last weekend, MTV held its Movie and TV Awards, where Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney dominated the stage. Although the channel’s relevance is a shadow of its former self, it’s still one of the favourite platforms for young people. MTV marked generations, set trends, gave people new ways to enjoy music many years before YouTube, and even helped launch some of the biggest names in the music industry. The brand is also a shell of its past self. But can a TV channel even have a strong presence in 2022? Let’s talk about MTV!

Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll!

MTV’s predecessor was Sight on Sound, a Warner Cable product that consisted of a music channel with concert footage and music-oriented content, but no original music videos. It was interactive, so to speak, with viewers voting for their favourite songs and artists, winning prizes and chatting with DJs. The MTV that we know today was created by Robert W. Pittman, later Chairman and CEO of the network. His experience in the music industry gave him the idea to create a network dedicated exclusively to music. So, on Saturday 1 August 1981, MTV launched with the famous “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll!”, playing the first footage from space, accompanied by the countdown to the launch of the space shuttle Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11. The impressive opening was followed by the original MTV rock theme song composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, and of course, if patriotism wasn’t enough, the American flag was thrown in. An abbreviated version of the shuttle’s launch identifier ran at the top of every hour in various forms from the first days of MTV until early 1986, when it was finally removed in the wake of the Challenger disaster.

Hey Mr VJ!

It wasn’t long before the revolutionary innovation came along: fresh and, of course, very cool young people to host the shows and present the videos. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the channel’s success, VJs were urged not to buy a permanent home and to keep their day jobs, but the idea worked, with each VJ becoming a celebrity in their own right. MTV’s five original VJs in 1981 were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn. The VJs recorded the intro and outro soundtracks, as well as music news, interviews, concert dates and all sorts of promotions before the broadcast. It seemed that these episodes would be broadcast live and debut 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but of course, that wasn’t the case; they were recorded in MTV’s studios during a regular work week.

The stars are born

The 1980s were dominated by rock bands on MTV, from new wave to heavy metal: Bryan Adams, Blondie, Culture Club, Def Leppard, Dire Straits, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Peter Gabriel, and Prince, to name but a few of the names that dominated the channel during this period. From 1984, as MTV’s growing popularity grew, more and more artists focused on the music video as a genre, and the videos started to pour in! Flashdance (1983) was the first film to feature several music videos, which were then played “to death” by the channel, which ultimately contributed to the huge success of the film.