The Comm and Gender Spot

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I Want My MTV

August 1, 1981 marked a revolution in music, though no one really knew it at the time. This was the day that music television, or MTV for short, was born.

Up until this point the primary way for individuals to get their music was on the radio or by purchasing it on records or cassettes. No one really knew if a 24-hour cable station devoted strictly to music would work. Who would have guessed that MTV would become what it is today?

Coining the name VJ, for video (disk) jockey, five individuals started on MTV as the ones delivering these music videos to their viewing audience. J. J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, and Martha Quinn were the original five VJs, introducing music videos and interviewing a variety of different musicians. In the early days very few artists created music videos to go with their songs, so the same handful of videos ended up getting played over and over. Over time, with the popularity of MTV increasing, more and more artists created music videos as a way for the public to be exposed to their music.

The early days of MTV weren’t as great as many may remember. Videos by black artists were not played on MTV at the beginning. It took nearly twenty months after starting for MTV to play its first video by a black musician. It was Michael Jackson’s Beat It that broke this barrier and finally desegregated MTV’s airwaves on March 31, 1983.

Over time MTV has evolved from its original mission to what it is today. No longer do you see music videos 24-hours a day. There is now more original programming on MTV than there are music videos. Executives have said that they have evolved with the tastes of their target audience, which to me seems unfortunate. While music videos can often still be seen in blocks during the overnight hours, MTV just doesn’t seem to have the same mission as it once did. While they still want to entertain, it appears that they are doing so less and less with music. Instead they are using reality programming and games to reach their audiences.

Over the years, though, many memorable moments have been aired on MTV. From Pedro Zamora living with AIDS on the Real World San Francisco, to Madonna humping the stage while performing Like a Virgin at the Video Music Awards, to Bill Clinton being asked the “boxers or briefs” question, and the emergence of reality television as a viable genre (due to shows such as The Real World, Road Rules, and The Osbournes) MTV has been a constant contributor to American culture.

However, in an effort to remain relevant to their target audience, MTV isn’t even celebrating their birthday. Most of their current viewers were not born at MTV’s inception. For that reason MTV doesn’t want to tell their viewers that they are actually 25 for fear that the current audience will start to think that MTV was not for them but for older audiences. This too seems to be a shame. MTV and its executives are letting two and a half decades of history fall by the wayside, almost forgetting its roots in the music industry.

I think that’s the whole point of this entry. Seeing as how I’m 32, I can’t remember a time that I’ve had cable television without MTV. Granted I was not in one of the initial markets that MTV was carried in, for at least the past 20 years I’ve always had the option to tune into MTV if I so choose. (And I sometimes still do!)

Even though MTV doesn’t want to acknowledge its birthday, I do. And to commemorate the occasion below you will find the first video ever played on MTV. It’s Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles.


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