Monday, August 1st was the 30th anniversary of the day MTV crackled into existence, beginning a three-decade run of cultural domination that introduced the world to the idea of VJs and video girls as well as The Real World and Snooki. To mark the occasion, the New York Post interviewed the four surviving original video jockeys (Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, and Nina Blackwood; J.J. Jackson died in 2004) and other key players who helped shape the network in a brief but quite colorful oral history. Highlights:
The first broadcast was a total disaster:
"The guy at the uplink center in Smithtown, Long Island, rotated the tapes around, and played them in the wrong order," explains Hunter. So after the first few seconds of MTV's existence, when the network ran a graphic of a rocket launching and a voice-over intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen, rock & roll," the first human words spoken on MTV were "...and I'm Alan Hunter."
Thankfully, nobody in Manhattan -- where most of the music industry was located -- could see it. For a full year.
MTV didn't get widespread cable distribution at first -- "We used to hear from cable operators and advertisers, 'Nobody's gonna watch music on television 24 hours a day. That'll never work," cofounder Les Garland remembers -- so the VJs had to trek to New Jersey to watch their maiden broadcast.
Music Television started out with only about 250 videos.
And that list was dominated by... Rod Stewart! Other artists with clips at that point included Styx, Charlie Daniels, and REO Speedwagon.
Mick Jagger made a buck for being the first to record an "I Want My MTV" ad:
Garland flew to France to ask the Rolling Stone to help promote the fledgling channel and Jagger replied, "We don't do commercials." When Garland pointed out the Stones' recent tour had a corporate sponsor, Jagger pointed out he'd been paid for that. "I reached in my pocket and pulled out a dollar bill. I said, 'We don't have any budget, but I will personally give you a dollar,' " Garland says. "We shot it the next day."
Duh, Michael Jackson forever changed the face of MTV.
His first video debuted at a time when the network was being accused of avoiding black artists (a charge all those interviewed by the Post vehemently dispute). "Michael Jackson broke MTV open from a rock station to a pop station," Quinn says. "In a way, he was the beginning of the end of that first incarnation of MTV, which was the rockers. Once Michael came in, it became more pop. If Britney Spears had come out when we first started, there's no way we would have played Britney Spears."
Before Madonna decided to bust out of a wedding cake at the inaugural VMAs, she wanted to do something seriously risky.
"She calls me and goes, 'I got it. I'd like to sing 'Like a Virgin' to a fully-grown, 600-pound Bengal tiger," Garland recalls. The venue didn't allow live animals, so the Queen of Pop settled for giving one of the most talked-about awards show performances of all time.
[Photo: Mark Weiss/WireImage.com]
- Alan Hunter