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“I Want My MTV!” The Channel Turns 40

MTV veejays

Looking back, it is hard to believe that only a mere 800,000 households had access to the MTV channel when it went live on August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. Its lackluster debut could be attributed to the fact that most cable subscribers were asleep during that time and the network was carried by cable companies mainly in smaller cities. This would all eventually change. Remember those famous “I Want My MTV” commercials? It was actually a campaign to encourage people to call their reluctant local cable service provider and request the channel be added. It worked.

And just like its opening sequence of a rocket launch, viewership was also destined to take off and MTV would have a significant impact on American pop culture.

The 24/7 deluge of “mini-movies” ultimately influenced trends in fashion and hairstyles, introduced dance crazes, boosted artists’ careers, and gave audiences a visual interpretation of songs. The first music video to air on MTV 40 years ago? Ironically, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Pat Benatar entered in second with “You Better Run.”

Who can forget The Bangles teaching us how to walk like an Egyptian, Whitney Houston belting out her hits, or Michael Jackson’s epic productions? Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine mesmerized viewers with their Latin rhythms, and a Norwegian group named “A-Ha” introduced one of the most original videos of the era. MTV spurred a lot of visual creativity, a lot of great songs (and a lot of cheesy Hair Metal…)

Of course, the list of artists who wowed us on MTV is a mile long. However, the five original VJ hosts really helped make MTV such a phenomenon.

Martha Quinn, 62

Now a mother of two and living in Malibu, California with her former Fuzztones band member husband Jordan Tarlow, Quinn was the youngest VJ at age 22. In a 2016 interview, she recalled the early lean days of MTV. With no budget for things like limousines, the crew and VJs were carted around in a yellow school bus to view the premiere of their show in a New Jersey bar where they sobbed with emotions of joy. According to Quinn, everyone was against the concept initially. Advertisers did not want to do business with them and record companies, for the most part, did not want to provide videos.

Quinn’s post-MTV gigs included a brief stint hosting Star Search with Ed McMahon and landing the role of Bobby Brady’s wife in a Brady Bunch prime-time reboot. She currently hosts an all 80’s radio show for iHeartMedia.

Nina Blackwood, 65

Living a quiet life somewhere on the East Coast, Blackwood says she is just fine with not being in front of the camera these days and enjoys hosting Nina Blackwood’s Absolutely 80’s radio show. She explains, “I certainly didn’t want to be one of these people in their 60s, especially women, having to get Botox and all that crapola.”

As if being an MTV VJ was not memorable enough, singer John Waite confirmed Blackwood’s story that his 1984 hit single “Missing You,” was about her. Well, along with his ex-wife and another woman he once dated.

Mark Goodman, 68

Residing in New York with his wife, Goodman has not strayed away from the music scene either. After leaving MTV, he tried acting for a bit then returned to his roots as a radio DJ. Now cohost of the music talk show Debatable, Goodman and music journalist Alan Light often interview artists. It is also an outlet where they, along with listener input, rank albums, songs, and artists.

Alan Hunter, 64

Hunter admits it was a struggle after leaving MTV. There were no positions for former VJs. When he went for auditions for commercials and such, all the casting directors wanted to talk about were Bon Jovi and other bands. There would be no callbacks. Once hired to appear on an ’80s themed cruise, Hunter made unwelcomed cracks about the ’80s attire and was met with a scolding from his daughter who reminded him that, “These people are here because they love you and they love the 80’s, and they are revisiting a time in their lives that was meaningful to them.” Hunter found his stroke of luck as a DJ on SiriusXM radio for the ’80s on 8 channel.

J J. Jackson

The most senior of the bunch, J. J. Jackson suffered a fatal heart attack in 2004. He was 62. After five years as a VJ, Jackson had returned to radio. An experienced radio personality, he achieved industry notoriety for being one of the earliest advocates for a then-little-known rock band called Led Zeppelin.

Since its inception, MTV has spawned sister channels (without the need for a campaign) and we have decades of memories to hold on to. Happy 40th and thank you for giving us our MTV.

-Sharon Oliver

Photo: MTV veejays (Getty Images)

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3 comments on ““I Want My MTV!” The Channel Turns 40

  1. Kevin O'Brien

    Sadly, MTV is no longer watchable.

  2. Stephen Gary Milkewicz

    The end of rock radio as we knew it.

  3. Jonathan D. Levin

    Contrary to popular opinion, video was a minor player in the death of the “radio star.” Corporate greed from companies such as Clear Channel (now iHeart Radio) were largely responsible for the death of the wonder that was radio.

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