Happy Birthday, MTV!

Written by on August 1, 2008

It was August 1, 1981 when the first all-music video cable TV channel was born. As the popularity of video programs on some cable and network stations was rising, MTV made history while taking advantage of this trend. They led off with the 1979 hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Trevor Horn-led Buggles (from the album The Age of Plastic).

Among America’s new celebrities were the VJs: Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, JJ Jackson, Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter. More would come in later years, but these were the originals. MTV was a huge boon for New Wave music. Bands quickly learned how to make the most of all the publicity they were getting from their well-produced videos that those mini-movies turned many songs that would go otherwise unplayed by mainstream radio into major hits. In a past interview Stan Ridgway referred to MTV’s role in Wall of Voodoo’s success as people who saw the videos called radio stations requesting artists like them, Missing Persons, The Little Girls, Berlin and others that they were “forced to play them” (When I was doing all-talk radio, I would always say that the market should decide what’s played instead of a bunch of industry suits and their inadequate “market tests”).

Is it safe to say that the new wave might have never been as strong without MTV? That statement was true in the network’s early days: often, the VJs would play, promote and encourage new music. Where else would we have seen videos for “How to Pick Up Girls” by the Little Girls, “Hyperactive” by Thomas Dolby, “Slow Dancing” by Lindsey Buckingham or “Never You Done That” by General Public on a regular basis? Those were the days when MTV was actually cutting edge.

Of course, it all ended over the late 1980s. It seemed harmless when they integrated extra shows (aside from just videos) into the lineup like :The Young Ones” or “IRS’s The Cutting Edge,” but soon the 90s would come and we would see less videos and juvenile idiocy like “Singled Out” and “The Tom Green Show.” Then they set off a Pandora’s Box of irritating reality shows to come by airing “The Real World.” This was a show putting several people who most of us would never want to hang out with anyway into a home and watch them all be annoying and whiny together. Thanks to the 90s MTV programmers, other cable and broadcast networks would soon offer America such dreck as “Survivor,” “Big Brother” and “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”

Putting aside the bad, MTV’s impact on new wave and music overall in the early to mid 1980s is reason enough to honor its birthday on Revenge of the 80s.

Here is the first video played on MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles:

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