MTV, also known as Music Television, is arguably a shadow of its former self. It used to be the only way to watch music videos for free. Now it’s a hub where reality shows reign supreme over music videos, for digital spy and Drag the bean.
However, as the name suggests, it was the go-to channel at the time, long before Backstreet Boys music videos were featured on the TV channel’s schedules.
This is the story of MTV’s early years.
MTV and the Buggles
MTV first launched as a cable television channel on August 1, 1981, in parts of New Jersey, according to Story. At the time, the television channel’s programming consisted of basic music videos introduced by video jockeys and provided free of charge by record companies.
At the time, music videos were thumbnail films and performance clips built around singles by pop and rock bands, for Grunge. Although they’ve been around since the 1970s, with MTV being the first and only cable TV channel to air them.
The reason for this free access was because they did not believe in the power of television at a time when radio was the primary media provider. However, that didn’t stop a few companies that were willing to give the new TV channel a chance.
The first music video released by MTV was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”, which was introduced to the world by one of MTV’s creators, John Lack, with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”.
However, that was something that almost didn’t happen. MTV program director Steve Casey said in the book “I Want My MTV” that no one wanted to kick off with “Video Killed the Radio Star” because everyone wanted to kick off with a hit. However, Casey thought otherwise, saying “Nobody’s going to watch. It’s symbolic.”
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The Buggles’ song was indeed symbolic. The British-born band were a New Wave duo with a “futuristic sensibility”, the music video being the result of a dream of its bassist, Trevor Horn.
Horn mentioned that he had a “vision of the future” where record companies would have computers in the basement and make artists. He then envisioned the band as an anonymous robotic version of the Beatles, but with oversized pairs of glasses that made them look wide-eyed.
Making the music video was chaotic and expensive, with the shoot costing $50,000 and taking an entire day to film. Interestingly, future Oscar-nominated composer Hans Zimmer appeared in the music video.
The chaotic part was due to two things: the group that blew up a TV (which viewers later complained was too violent) and a test tube that tipped over when it shouldn’t have. do it while filming.
What happened next ?
Unfortunately, MTV hit a snag on its first run. Right after Lack said his line, MTV experienced glitches and errors serious enough to delay the airing of “Video Killed the Radio Star” by showing edited footage of the 1969 moon landing while playing its theme music from network. It was then followed by a myriad of errors that would make the TV channel look amateurish.
However, the channel’s management persevered. In the late 80s, MTV was already heralded as a cultural frontier and taste pusher with the release of Madonna’s hit single “Like a Prayer”. It even aired documentaries, news, game shows and public service campaigns on voting rights and safer sex.
He eventually became successful enough to air his first popular reality series “The Real World” in 1992.
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