When MTV Acually Played Videos

The other night, I was flipping through the channels, and was craving some music videos.  One big issue, MTV no longer plays videos.  Not like they used to.

I know I am going to date myself a bit here, but I can remember the date MTV first came on the air, August 1, 1981.  We had one of the original slide box cable units on our dial TV with 23 channels of TV other than your standard local channels.

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, a crunching classical tune composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV’s logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. MTV producers Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert used this public domain footage as a conceit, associating MTV with the most famous moment in world television history. Seibert said they had originally planned to use Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” quote, but lawyers said Armstrong owns his name and likeness, and Armstrong had refused, so the quote was replaced with a beeping sound.

The first music video shown on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. The second video shown was Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run.” Sporadically, the screen would go black when an employee at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR. Video of the launch of MTV was uploaded onto YouTube in 2009, with the original commercials, and the “black screens” between videos. The “MTV lettering” differed on its first day, and included record label information like year and label name.

“Carouselambra” by Led Zeppelin was played as the closing credits rolled when MTV was first broadcast.

As programming chief, Robert W. Pittman recruited and managed a team for the launch that included Tom Freston (who succeeded Pittman as CEO of MTV networks), Fred Seibert, John Sykes, Carolyn Baker (original head of talent and acquisition), Marshall Cohen (original head of research), Gail Sparrow (of talent and acquisition), Sue Steinberg (executive producer), Julian Goldberg, Studio producers/MTV News Writers Liz Nealon, Brian Diamond and Robin Zorn, Steve Casey (creator of the name MTV and its first program director), Marcy Brafman, Ronald E. “Buzz” Brindle, and Robert Morton.

MTV’s effect was immediate in areas where the new music video channel could be picked up. Within a matter of just a couple months Record shops in areas where MTV was available found themselves selling music that the local radio stations were not playing, such as Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow, and Human League.

My brother and I sat glued to the TV that night to see this new Music Television that the newspaper…yes, back when people actually read a physical newspaper…was hyping up.  It was going to be revolutionary, and change the music world forever.  And it did.

Live concerts, MTV Video Music Awards, Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk, the Thriller movie/video.  It was all amazing.  I remember asking to stay up late to watch Head Bangers Ball.  Or the time that we all waited for the debut of Michael Jackson’s Beat It.

Fast forward 30 years, and now all we have is a few time slots of some very bad videos.  Maybe I am stuck in the 80’s and 90’s.  The station has turned in to a powerhouse of reality TV.  I just want to sit back for a few hours, and watch some good MTV from the old days “when MTV actually played videos”

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