Dire Straits: That ain’t working; that’s the way ya do it. Money for nothin’ and my chicks for free.….
Where were you on 8/1/81? That’s the day that MTV was launched in the U.S. and music on television has never been the same.
MTV, originally an acronym meaning Music Television, launched 36 years ago today. The channel started airing music videos and were introduced on-air by VJs (video jockeys). In its early years, MTV’s main target demographic was young adults, but today it is primarily towards teenagers, particularly high school and college students. MTV has toned down its music video programming significantly in recent years, and its programming now consists mainly of original reality programs, comedy and drama programming, and some off-network syndicated programs and films, with limited music video programming in off-peak time periods. It has received criticism towards this change of focus, both by certain segments of its audience and musicians. MTV’s influence on its audience, including issues involving censorship and social activism, has also been a subject of debate for several years.
In recent years, MTV has struggled with ratings, as younger viewers increasingly shift towards digital media, with yearly ratings drops as high as 29%; thus there was doubt of the lasting relevance of MTV towards young audiences. In April 2016, MTV announced it would start to return to its original music roots with the reintroduction of the classic MTV series MTV Unplugged. It was also reported that the series MTV Cribs would be making a return, and after nine years off the air, TRL (once called Total Recall Live) will be returning in October 2017.
On Saturday, August 1 at 12:00 a.m. Eastern time, MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” spoken by John Lack and played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia (which took place earlier that year) and of the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, playing over the American flag changed to show MTV’s logo changing into various textures and designs. MTV producers used this public domain footage as a concept; they had originally planned to use Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” quote, but lawyers said that Armstrong owned his name and likeness and that he had refused, so the quote was replaced with a beeping sound. A shortened version of the shuttle launch ID ran at the top of every hour in various forms, from MTV’s first day until it was pulled in early 1986 in the wake of the Challenger disaster.
The first music video shown on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles and programming was originally only available to homes in New Jersey. This was followed by the video for “You Better Run” by Pat Benatar. Sporadically, the screen would go black when an employee at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR. Sounds pretty primitive now, doesn’t it?
Did you watch MTV or any of its sister channels back in the day? VH-1 was more of our speed. Leslie and I fondly recall a short period in the mid-90s when there was a VH-1 Country channel that would air on Saturday mornings. Now, of course, we can get our music anywhere at any time. Was 1981 a better time? Can you believe all that has happened in 36 years?