The Launch of MTV: “Folks’s ‘Really feel-Good Hub'”

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It is onerous to consider that on August 1st, 41 years may have handed because the preliminary launch of MTV within the US. And whereas the Cable channel would finally grow to be immensely widespread and influential, initially, it wasn’t. Actually, for the primary yr it was solely proven in a really restricted quantity of markets (with it not even being obtainable in New York Metropolis – the place the channel was primarily based – till lengthy after its launch).

However as soon as it lastly made its means into most houses, the shift within the music business was obviously obvious (and proved long-lasting) – MTV was now the main tastemaker regarding introducing new artists and selling already-established ones, plus offering up-to-the-minute information, tour dates, and finally, would affect trend, promoting, and even politics.

To mark this anniversary, under are excerpts from one among my books, MTV Dominated the World: The Early Years of Music Video, which particulars the channel’s preliminary launch, its immensely catchy theme music (performed on the prime of every hour), and its gradual construct to success.

JONATHAN ELIAS [Co-writer of MTV’s theme song]: That was written solely for the MTV theme. There have been loads of issues John [Petersen] and I have been writing for the MTV theme on the time. Some I wrote by myself, and a few I wrote with him. They have been ten, twelve-second small items. So for a few weeks, we have been simply writing a bunch of issues, throwing them in opposition to the wall. This was one thing that was pre-scored. We hadn’t gotten the movie of the moon touchdown but. And admittedly, I would not have recognized methods to synch it up again then, anyway. I did not actually have a 24-track again then. I feel I used to be working off of a half-inch TASCAM deck. We went into this low cost little studio with a few buddies and simply knocked out a bunch of this stuff. They weren’t polished studio gamers … we weren’t polished studio gamers, John and I.

We did not make sufficient cash to pay anybody. All the fellows obtained 50 bucks or 100 bucks to play it. There was no cash concerned on this, as a result of none of us thought it was going to quantity to something. I feel in these days, they have been paying a thousand {dollars} a emblem. You get a author’s share [each time the song is played], which has been extraordinarily profitable through the years. It was humorous getting a thousand {dollars} … and turning into an icon. However it gave you immediate credibility within the business market, which is what I went on to do, and turning into a rock producer. One of many bands I produced later was Sure, who have been previous burnouts, even they knew the MTV stuff. Nobody knew it could grow to be an icon, particularly me. I feel all of us have been like, “Wow, a thousand {dollars}!” In these days, a bunch of us have been dwelling in a loft in Manhattan on seventeenth Avenue, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, which was the costume jewellery district. It was no man’s land once I was there, ’80/’81. It was sudden, and like loads of stuff you do in your profession, some issues stick, and a few do not.

BOB PITTMAN [MTV CEO]: In the event you return to the early promos, it was all about angle. “Do not watch that. Watch this!” It was all form of parodying different TV and MTV. Visually, the man I employed to be the pinnacle of the on-air look was Fred Seibert, who I employed from radio. And one among Fred’s nice contributions was, earlier than MTV, everyone lower their video first, after which they rolled music below it. Fred and his guys lower the audio monitor first after which lower the video to the beat of the music. Now, that would appear fairly fundamental in the present day, however consider it or not, it wasn’t again then.

Again then, everybody was doing the form of Star Wars logos—huge chrome logos popping out of a star-field, beginning small and turning into huge—and we did not have the cash to do any of that. So Fred was the one who stated, “As a substitute of attempting to do an inexpensive model of what everyone else does, why do not we provide you with a complete new model that we will do cheaply, however as a result of there isn’t a level of reference, we’ll by no means look low cost. We’ll look modern.” And, certainly, we have been. We broke all the foundations on the time of design—logos cannot change, they’ve to remain in the identical place, the colours cannot mutate. And we modified the emblem colour on a regular basis, moved the emblem on a regular basis. It was animated. Fully new strategy, and other people picked up on that as an strategy.

ALAN HUNTER [MTV VJ]: When it got here time for the precise launch, all of us obtained right into a bus in Manhattan—as a result of they did not have it in Manhattan—and we needed to exit to a bit restaurant/bar out in New Jersey [The Loft] to observe the precise kick-off. So we obtained on this bus, we obtained totted on the market, [and] there have been lots of of MTV employers and relations. My coronary heart racing a mile a minute. We had all been consuming fairly closely the entire night time lengthy, and we needed to wait till 12:01/midnight. And at that time, the rocket blasted off, and it was drop-dead silence within the room. The man stated, “Girls and gents, that is rock n’ roll,” or regardless of the line was. The rocket blasted off.

The humorous factor was the order we have been to look on digital camera was I feel Mark, Nina, JJ, Martha, after which me. I used to be purported to be the final man. However the folks out on the technical heart in Lengthy Island that do the importing of all of the video footage—that actually load the tapes into the machines— they loaded the tapes backwards, so I used to be the primary one to return on! That is the trivia query, “Who was the primary VJ on MTV?” That may be me, however it was purported to be Mark Goodman. So after the Buggles got here on [the first-ever video played on MTV was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”], all of us simply checked out one another and stated, “Holy shit! This may simply get huge … if we will final.” After all, the following day, all of us needed to get to work. In order that was fairly painful the following day, I am going to inform ya.

GEOFF DOWNES [The Buggles, Yes, and Asia keyboardist]: We have been informed that “Video Killed the Radio Star” was used because the “launch monitor.” I feel it was extra in hindsight. It was simply one thing that they chose on the time. The impression began to progress as time glided by. However no one knew that this MTV channel was going to be fairly vital.

NINA BLACKWOOD [MTV VJ]: It wasn’t simply the VJs. It was everyone that labored on MTV. The workplace folks, the fits, the crew. After which the time got here— that notorious rocket—that also provides me butterflies in my abdomen. When that rocket went off, we have been simply … I’ve by no means skilled every part like that. It was like a collective child being born. There have been tears, hugs, screaming, simply such superb power. It was simply an “Oh my God … it is actual!” feeling.

ALAN HUNTER: The opposite attention-grabbing factor in regards to the channel that quite a bit folks did not perceive is we did not have any commercials the primary yr. MTV was actually not promoting any advert house, as a result of nobody needed to purchase. The filler was inventory footage of astronauts floating in house. And folks thought that was nice. “Wow, no commercials, and this interstitial materials of cool graphics and simply house folks.” After which a few yr into it, once we began promoting adverts, folks would come as much as us within the streets and say, “MTV is promoting out.” I am identical to, “No … they’re simply attempting to make my wage!”

I do not know what the others have been making. I will not quote a determine, however my solely standards for a very good job was to get as a lot cash as a very good refrain boy makes on Broadway. That was my dream. I lived in an condo on fifty fifth and Broadway. I used to look out down Broadway and dream about being on Broadway some day. I needed to be in musical theater. If I may simply make 550 bucks every week, which was the going union price for an fairness actor, that may be simply nice. If I may make that, I am house free. I made higher than that. However I used to be not getting wealthy on MTV for the primary yr or two. I renegotiated my contract with them a yr into it. We prolonged issues, and I began doing quite a bit higher. However I am going to inform you … we have been just like the early sports activities stars. We performed onerous, we obtained loads of fame, and we began the entire enterprise of MTV. However we didn’t take pleasure in large salaries.

NINA BLACKWOOD: We did not have a complete lot of movies. I feel the quantity was about 300. I appear to recollect round that quantity. Which, if you’re operating a 24-hour video channel, you burn by means of these fairly shortly. I bear in mind loads of Rod Stewart, Pat Benatar, the Buggles, Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter, Aldo Nova, Iron Maiden, Lene Lovich. [Lovich] was one of many first folks I ever noticed a video of, and I simply cherished her. I feel we have been enjoying Blondie at the start, “Coronary heart of Glass.” Once we play one of many songs that we performed again then on Sirius, it simply all comes flooding again.

ALAN HUNTER: All people else had dropped no matter job that they had, however I saved my bartending job a month or two into the gig. I actually went and taped the present through the day, after which I would go to a spot referred to as the Magic Pan—it was on 57th and Sixth Avenue—and I had a nighttime bartending job. I did not let go of it at first. I do not know why. I simply thought, “We’ll see how this MTV factor works out.” So about perhaps two months into it, I used to be mixing a daiquiri, and this man was sitting on the bar, two sheets to the wind, me. He stated, “You look acquainted,” and it nonetheless did not daybreak on me. He stated, “Aren’t you ‘Mark any individual,’ on this music channel?” And it dawned on me that he was speaking in regards to the gig I used to be doing through the day. I corrected him, and stated, “No, I am Alan Hunter.” Just about, the following day or two, I put my discover in and give up the job, as a result of I believed, “I do not wish to be right here making drinks whereas persons are checking me out.” It was sort of onerous to let go of that gig. I used to be going to be an actor, if not a TV host, so for me, I took a diversion in my profession. I feel I made the precise selection.

KATHY VALENTINE [The Go-Go’s bassist]: What stands out quite a bit to me is MTV used to throw these huge events, New 12 months’s events. It was a giant deal. For just a few years, it was simply the spotlight of the yr. They have been superb, nice events. There was one in New York that was actually cool. I bear in mind being there with John Belushi. I simply bear in mind getting a message at my lodge [from Belushi]—”Are we on for tonight?”—and going collectively.

ROBIN ZORN [MTV producer]: My favourite New 12 months’s of my whole life was the primary New 12 months’s live performance. I used to be an affiliate producer within the truck, and I bear in mind, at one level, folks stated, “Robin, go on the market and see who’s there.” It was the primary time we did a New 12 months’s present. We did not know if we might get anyone there. And I bear in mind I walked outdoors, and John Belushi was simply stoned out of his thoughts, sitting at a desk together with his head on the desk. I used to be all excited, like, “John Belushi’s right here!” And, in fact, he was stoned, and we could not even get him on digital camera.

Additionally about that first New 12 months’s present, I used to be accountable for protecting us on monitor time-wise. We needed to hit 4 midnights. The primary midnight was proper on, the second midnight was a bit off, and the third and fourth we weren’t even near being midnight. Once more, it was MTV, so we simply had the VJs announce that it was midnight. That was very typical for us. We have been means off, and but, we have been on the air going, “Yeah, Completely satisfied New 12 months, it is midnight on the market on the west coast,” and in the meantime, it wasn’t midnight. We simply flew by the seat of our pants.

ALAN HUNTER: MTV stuffed an enormous void. And it was not like all these different applications. It was on as folks’s “pleasant firm,” in any respect hours of the night time, for school dorms or housewives within the morning. That was folks’s “feel-good hub.”


Greg Prato is a longtime AllMusic contributor. MTV Dominated the World: The Early Years of Music Video tells the whole story of the channel’s formative period, and is obtainable as paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and audio variations.

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