30 Years of MTV

It’s MTV’s thirtieth anniversary, so I felt the need to throw in my two cents on the channel since it was such a big part of my life, for better or for worse, in the 1980s. My family actually had MTV the day it premiered, and I distinctly remember my mother walking in while I was watching “I Know What Boys Like” by the Waitresses, and asking me, “What the hell is this?” …Which is funny because I find myself saying the same thing as I watch MTV today.

When it first started, there was plenty to like about it.

Music you wouldn’t have heard on the radio was able to reach suburbia. While the radio was playing The Little River Band, MTV was blowing our minds with Missing Persons and Adam Ant.

And let’s face it, popular music was in need of a change. Punk rock brief moment in the spotlight had just ended, and we were left with a lot of music that sounded like “The Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh and “It Might Be You” by Stephen Bishop. As much as I liked Christopher Cross and “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder, it was time for a change…. and MTV provided us with just that.

But there was a downside. As much as MTV ushered in new sounds (especially in their offbeat programs like The Cutting Edge and later with 120 Minutes), it also forced musicians to become focused on image over producing quality albums.

You've turned rock and roll rebellion
Into Pat Boone sedation
Making sure nothing's left to the imagination
MTV get off the air
- The Dead Kennedys
My wife grew up in an area without MTV – she didn’t see a music video until 1986, and because of that songs from the early 80s are associated with memories rather than videos. For example, when I hear “Electric Avenue” I am instantly reminded of the video; however, my wife associates memories of the roller rink to the song. I’d much rather be reminded of roller skating than that dumb video of Eddie Grant slouched in a chair. Thanks a lot, MTV.

But MTV’s days as a visual medium for music were actually short lived. Shows started popping up on the channel that had nothing to do with music: Remote Control, Beavis & Butthead, Singled Out, The Jon Stewart Show, and…. (queue foreboding music) The Real World (gasp).

After The Real World, I think it is safe to say the MTV as I knew it was officially dead. The channel quickly dropped any pretention of being a music channel, and started its long line of reality shows (Road Rules, Jackass, The Osbournes, etc.) and other nonsense. Now, I don’t really even know what the theme of the channel is – smutty lame garbage, maybe? The “M” no longer officially stands for “music” – so, what does it stand for?

For me it now just stands for “meh”.


  1. I couldn't agree more...I remember early "Proto-MTV" shows like Video Concert Hall...I was excited when MTV debuted...although the four or five vids they had there at first did start to wear a mite thin. I loved discovering Gary Numan and Adam Ant in that early era. But I haven't watched MTV in years...last time I did was for "120 Minutes" and that must have been well over 10 years ago. They once had some innovative stuff on there (like that animated show of experimental cartoons), but between the move to reality shows and my getting old(er), they just completely lost any relevance to me.

  2. Over here in the UK we didn't have access to MTV in the early days and then even later it was by cable or satellite only.
    The only music videos I and my friends saw were usually on Saturday mornings as this was the designated 'kids' tv spot' and usually a highlight of our week. These were usually interspersed with cartoons and chat so videos were by no means shown on their own in blocks.

    I am glad to have had a relatively video-free childhood like your wife did and this made me appreciate music for what it was.
    That's not to detract though from some classic moments in the 80's such as music videos from Duran Duran and Michael Jackson amongst many more.

  3. I lived in a small town when MTV debuted, and didn't see it until art school (1983-86). I didn't care, being into older groups from the 60s, like the Monkees....By the mid-80s, the video ruled, and was making or breaking acts, so you could say the MTV tail was wagging the dog by then! I DO recall it all coming full circle in early '86, when they played a marathon of THE MONKEES episodes, a show that married music with graphics...

    But, before MTV, remember being shocked to find out what that group or artist looked like? You formed a different picture in your mind based on the tunes you heard...

    Also recall the many imitators? FRIDAY NIGHT VIDEOS and such?

    Al Bigley

  4. I'll always remember the night MTV premiered like people remember Neil Armstrong landing on the moon; it was the summer after I graduated high school, a group of us went to our friend Donna's house for the big event (it had been talked about all summer) & I remember after the first couple videos, everyone agreeing it was just a gimmick and wouldn't last a month.

    Who knew that a couple years later I'd be sitting there watching Jefferson Starships "We Built this City on Rock & Roll" for the 700th time... aargh!!

  5. Ironically, it was MTV that introduced me to the Ramones in 1983, when they played ROCK'N'ROLL HIGH SCHOOL as part of their Saturday Midnight Movie schedule.

  6. Al Bigley, I was just going to mention Friday Night Videos. In my area, that's all we had.

    I'd get to see MTV when we went to visit friends in Tulsa. Perhaps MTV was even cooler to me since it was a rarity. I remember the two hot VJ chicks, and the man-on-the-moon logo. And every video had someone turning over a table it seemed to me.

    When I was in college, I loved Post-Modern MTV, and then 120 Minutes. Or maybe it was the other way around.

    I haven't had cable since college so for 20 years I've not seen MTV, but I hear I'm not missing much.

  7. I haven't watched MTV in possibly a decade or more. I had switched to VH1 for awhile but then thet too became reality show-centric so I quit them too. However in the early days I discovered a LOT of bands thanks to MTV, so I thank them for that.

  8. Anon-

    As much as I liked liquid t.v , mtv was already on its downward trajectory by the time that show aired. Seems weird that they'd be grasping at straws when all they really had to do was play videos. Or was it? I posted a lot of cool classic videos on my blog if you care to look.


  9. We didn't have cable TV in the early '80s, either. I had to get all the great movies of the '70s and '80s uncut from my stepdad, who compulsively taped them off of HBO at his house, and what music videos I saw from shows like Friday Night Videos. And like your wife, I associate the music of the period with random real-life memories. Hearing Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" instantly takes me back to sitting on my polyester bedspread trying to learn to play guitar. Not a particularly cherished memory, but a vivid one for the strange connection that music makes in the teenaged brain.

  10. MTV introduced me to many bands that still make the 6 CD playlist in my car. Over the years, I guess MTV has lost it's soul and become just another channel of garbage. I have no idea how it can still be called Music Television when the only hint of music is during the annual awards show that promises a few faux-news-worthy sound bytes and taboo visuals. It's so sad that such a pioneer in broadcasting has become a big fat nothing.

    Fortunately, I use rabbit-ears on my television today and pickup CoolTV in Austin. They have music videos 24/7 and it's free... yes.. free :)

  11. Anonymous #2, the You Got Lucky video is one of my favorites. The spooky opening music fits perfectly.

    Stupid shows made for idiots (Real World) and a change in what popular music meant to the masses (fucking rap shit raking in huge wads of cash for thugs and drug dealing morons) worked hand-in-hand for MTV's downfall to oblivion.

    I forgot about Friday Night Videos, but I was just talking about Night Flight yesterday and how they played anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of a video, but I don't think they ever played the whole thing. That pissed me off.

  12. The picture of the two guys sitting in front of a TV is from 1978 or so, a good 3 years before MTV came on the air.

  13. "I have no idea how it can still be called Music Television".

    Don't forget, TLC stands for The Learning Channel, lol.

  14. You are dead-on right about MTV. My friends and I have been talking about this all weekend. The series shows are totally what killed it. The Real World crap was definitely the beginning of the end. Some shows were ok - I liked The State, Beavis & Butthead, Liquid Television, but I always thought they belonged elsewhere.

  15. Ah, MTV. I haven't tuned in to that channel since the Beavis & Butthead movie first came out. But I have such good memories from the early 90's, almost all of which involve my insatiable lust for Idalis.
    She's not still hosting, is she?

  16. I remember how they originally played a handful of videos over and over. Pressure, Rapture, Fashion, Steppin Out, House of Fun, Shakin, Love Stinks, In the Air Tonight, Brass in Pocket, Hungry Like the Wolf, You Got Lucky, Africa, Shock the Monkey, Billy Jean, Photograph, Blinded me with Science....

    Like you, when I hear a song I see the video in my mind, no matter how lame it may have been it was part of the experience. I don't even recognize the channel anymore.

  17. As a kid/teen of the '80s, MTV and music videos were the cutting edge, new media. It was part of what, for me, made the '80s so colorful and vibrant. I think its peak was around the time of New Wave and the "Second British Invasion," from around 1981 to around 1985, peaking at 1983, imho.

    Two things though: Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" was a 1983 song, coming out two years after MTV started. And Chris de Burgh's "Lady In Red" was 1986.


  18. I was two layers removed from MTV. We didn't have cable and Friday Night Videos was on later than my parents would let me stay up (11:30). I had to make due with Hot Hit Videos which was a local video show here in St. Louis hosted by local radio station KHTR on Saturday nights at 10:30.

  19. In Canada, we have MuchMusic, which launched on August 31, 1984. At first it was scrambled, but eventually became part of the basic cable tier.

    CBC had a daily 30 minute show called Video Hits, hosted by Samantha Taylor, and on Friday Night was a show, also on CBC called Good Rockin' tonight, out of Vancouver.

    Before these shows was "The New Music, which was syndicated, and they focused on New Wave/Punk, with a little Springsteen thrown in the mix.

    The grandaddy of these shows was called Nite Dreems, on what you would call Public Access TV. It started out with a DJ spinning tunes on a turntable, and showing obscure movies, that lead into early music videos.

  20. The videos were great (most of them) but what i liked more was the "stage shots" of the VJs in between the videos filling time. talking TO US. like they were in our living room. The nervousness, the banter, the interviews (with no screaming groupie audience!) We still get that today on the 80s on 8 if you have xm sirius (but not as good) Also, I LOVED the Atari arcade machines that started showing up on stage around '82 (Space Duel, Gravitar) Well at least we can watch the old days over on the intranets. I wished that stage was my room when I was in high school! Miss ya JJ!