Watch the First Two Hours of MTV’s Inaugural Broadcast (August 1, 1981)

OPEN CULTURE, August 6th 2021

Not everyone on August 1, 1981 had a VCR at their disposal, and not everybody stayed up until midnight. But fortunately at least one person did, in order to tape the first two hours of a new cable channel called MTV: Music Television. Did they know it would be historic? MTV certainly hoped it would be: they equated the premiere of this 24/7 video version of radio with the moon landing. People born long after this time might wonder why a MTV Music Video award statuette was honoring Buzz Aldrin. But at the time, it made sense. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Rock and Roll.” It was a statement: less than three decades after the first rock and roll single, this genre of music had won—-it had colonized the planet. And beyond the planet, the next stop: the universe.

It’s fitting the execs chose as their first selection The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Visuals were not just going to be an adjunct to the music, they were going to become inextricably linked. Either MTV was prescient about the visual decade to come or they in fact caused it to happen. Music videos or short films had been around since the invention of sound in the cinema, but MTV was *all* videos, *all the time*, brought to Americans due to the deregulation of the television industry in 1972 and the slow growth of cable channels.

After a Pat Benatar video, the VJs introduce themselves—-Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, J.J. Jackson, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn (all soon to be household names and crushes)-—and then straight into a block of commercials: school binders, Superman II, and Dolby Noise Reduction. A strange group of advertisers, to be sure. Goodman returns to ask, blindly, “Aren’t those guys the best?” Goodman has no idea what has preceded him… [+]

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