Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News
Videos thrilled the radio stars
MTV launched 40 years ago this month, but you had to live in New Jersey if you wanted to watch it.
The Music Television cable channel which became known as MTV began small and was only available to a limited number of households, but it quickly grew.
It offered music 24/7, but in 1981 there were only around 150 music videos available. In fact the term “music video” did not even exist and record companies in America almost resented having to make “promos”, as they called them.
Promos tended to consist of concert footage packaged together to promote a new release in far-flung places, in lieu of flying the band out.
Luckily enterprising performers quickly saw the potential of making more eye-catching visuals to accompany their new releases on MTV and the floodgates opened.
American singer Daryl Hall, of Hall & Oates, said: “I was a pioneer in MTV and I was there from the beginning so I saw how that developed and how loose it was and how much fun it was in its looseness. And I was influenced a lot by that.”
It all began when NASA footage of the historic Apollo 11 landing in 1969 was mixed with the MTV flag to become the first image viewers saw on the new channel.
John Lack was the Warner executive who helped persuade the entertainment giant to launch the station – and his was the gravelly voice which introduced the channel on that first day booming “Ladies and gentlemen…rock and roll”.
Trevor Horn singing his Buggles hit Video Killed The Radio Star –with the lyrics proclaiming “pictures came and broke your heart” – was the first music video played to be followed in the first hour by You Better Run by Pat Benatar, Sir Rod Stewart, The Who, Sir Cliff Richard, The Pretenders, Todd Rundgren, Styx, Splint Enz and .38 Special.
The first MTV New Year’s Eve Rock ‘N’ Roll Ball was held at the end of the year and the following year saw the launch of the “I Want My MTV” campaign featuring the likes of Sir Mick Jagger, David Bowie, The Police, Adam Ant and Peter Townshend.
After fans, reviewers, music industry leaders and artists such as David Bowie criticised the channel for airing
The Osbournes videos of virtually only white performers in its first years, MTV began playing more Michael Jackson and other black artists who proved highly popular and the 14 minute Thriller film and music video debuted in 1983.
In 1985, Viacom bought MTV Studio for $326million and the channel currently reaches more than a billion people in 180 countries. It also has a vast presence on social media, with more than 700 million followers of MTV Entertainment.
MTV Entertainment President and CEO Chris McCarthy said: “I would be lying if I didn’t say that we made mistakes along the way. One of the bigger mistakes in the early years was not playing enough diverse music so we certainly have had our bumps in the road.
“But the nice thing that I’ve
Duran Duran always learned at MTV is we have no problem owning our mistakes, quickly correcting them and trying to do the right thing and always follow where the audience is going.”
The channel became the natural showcase for the flamboyant stars of the 80s such as Duran Duran, Madonna and Prince and went on to bring viewers rock ‘n’ roll reality show The Osbournes, Beavis & ButtHead and Jackass. The channel boasted video disc jockeys known as VJs and British comedy The Young Ones, which aired on the station in 1985, leading the way for new comedy.
Most of all, MTV helped to sell records and Ozzy Osbourne said years later: “It had a huge impact. Heavy rotation (of videos) took you from selling one million albums to 20 million albums, and that meant a lot of dough.”
The age of the music video was inevitable and MTV was the only place to be. Budgets went through the roof. A four-minute mini-film like A-ha’s frame-by-frame pencildrawn Take On Me would take six months to make.
New York landmarks were lit up in yellow, blue and red this month in honour of MTV’s 40th birthday and a new version of the iconic image of an astronaut on the Moon, with an MTV flag planted nearby, was re-launched.
Chris McCarthy said: “We launched as a video channel on what was the new medium of the time in 1981, which, hard to believe, was cable.
“The fun and interesting thing about MTV is to constantly have to blow yourself up and forget everything you knew to recreate a brand new entity for each generation.”
Producer and Buggles member, Trevor Horn