1981 was a year of many notable firsts. For instance, did you know that the Internet and MS-DOS were first introduced to the world in that year?
Or the fact that high speed train service came to Europe for the first time, courtesy of the French that same year? Oh, it was also the year of the initial launch of the US space shuttle, Columbia.
For many of the young ‘uns around during that time, the highlight of that year was none of those events, but instead, the birth of MTV. If you’re among those who were babies at the time, born that year, or years after, here’s a little history lesson on the world’s first music video channel.
In the Beginning
MTV, which stands for Music Television, first came on air August 1, 1981 at 12:01 a.m. The video for, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, was the first to be aired on MTV and the rest, as they say, is history. It was only available to a select few households at first and took a while to go nationwide as cable stations slowly warmed up to it.
While it did not originate music videos, its launch put the focus on this form of entertainment for the first time in music history. Furthermore, its immediate appeal to teens and young adults resulted in the 24-hour music channel becoming a revolutionizing cultural phenomenon, although it was not always linked to good news.
In fact, according to an article published on the University of New England’s blog, MTV critics and many mature folks in the U.S. referred to the station as a ‘musically-driven youth rebellion’ which scared mothers and fathers of teenagers. Whether that is true or not, MTV soon became one of the most watched stations on television and helped to launch the careers of many songwriters and musicians while shedding new light on the works of a number of seasoned rock and rollers
How MTV Came About
At the time of MTV’s launch, it is reported that music sales were on the decline, and was the case since the 1970s. John Lack, an executive VP at the Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, came up with the idea to create a non-stop, music TV channel to provide a shot in the arm for the industry.
After pitching the idea to another businessman, Robert Pittman, the idea took hold. Two other businessmen, Les Garland and Tom Feston, also came on board to become known as the founding fathers of MTV, along with Pittman and Lack.
Within a few years, MTV became not just the toast of the local and international music fraternity, with rock and roll musicians taking a particular liking to the television platform, but also a reference point for the younger generation of the day. As it grew in popularity, names such as Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Prince, Madonna, and others mastered the music video scene, with many of their hits taking off after their music videos were launched on the station. There were quite a few moments of controversy, for example, when Madonna released the music video for “Like a Prayer,” which sparked a religious debate.
In addition, the station didn’t remain confined to music videos. MTV was also responsible for popularizing the reality show concept and featured a wide range of entertainment-related content, such as animated shows (Beavis and Butthead), documentaries, and even game shows. In an effort to balance out some of the negative backlash that came from some quarters, the station launched campaigns that were geared towards spreading safe sex and human rights messages.
Having been a major influencer of way of life for many people around the world who matured in the 80s, 90s, and even the 2000s, MTV has branched out. There are now sister stations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. No doubt, most people will quickly jump to YouTube nowadays to catch up on music videos. However, MTV is still a major player in the music and entertainment business, continuing to air successful reality shows and showcasing videos via their Total Request Live program.