MTV Turns the Big 3-0 Today
Three decades after its birth, the first 24-hour music network is still making history. What does MTV mean to you?
If the 1980s were your “wonder years,” and you weren’t stuck under a rock, then a milestone today should set you adrift on memory bliss and back to a time when the jeans were frosted, the hair was super-charged and gas was $1 a gallon: MTV today celebrates its 30th birthday.
On Aug. 1, 1981, viewers on a few cable systems were treated to a tight shot of the space shuttle preparing for launch and a NASA countdown, followed by the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll!” over footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing, giving birth to a channel that would grow to define pop culture over the last two decades of the 20th century and beyond.
The first video – The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” – followed, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, most of my vintage (I was 9 when the network kicked off) remember MTV as the place where you could watch music videos 24 hours a day.
This was in a now-incomprehensible time before “The Real World” and “16 and Pregnant” and “Cribs” and “Pimp My Ride,” and more recently "Jersey Shore" and "Skins" had been inflicted on us, nevermind the landslide of Reality TV garbage on the 989 channels everyone now gets.
It’s simply impossible to fathom for someone born after 1985 or so how much of a bombshell MTV was in the early '80s. But as it evolved, MTV became a force for social activism and a breeding ground for gifted young directors (Spike Jonze, David Fincher) and an incubator for hip-hop’s ascent into the mainstream.
There are so many classic moments in MTV history. Too many to count, really. What was your favorite moment?
Was it a particular video from the early days? The guy’s face popping up from the baked beans in Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio”?
Ric Ocasek of The Cars buzzing around as a fly in “You Might Think”?
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”?
Genesis's "Land of Confusion"?
The Fixx’s “Red Skies at Night”?
The Tubes’ “She’s a Beauty”?
ZZ Top’s “Legs”?
Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”?
Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing”?
Aerosmith and Run D.M.C.’s “Walk This Way”?
Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”?
Was it the pioneering debut of “The Real World”? Or the 1985 broadcast of Live Aid?
Or classic programming such as “Buzz Bin,” “Headbangers Ball,” “Closet Classics,” “Yo! MTV Raps!,” “MTV Unplugged” or “TRL”?
I think my all-time favorite MTV moment was Nirvana’s 1993 performance on Unplugged. It marked the apex of the band’s career, and served as the soundtrack of an entire year in my college experience.
Young or old, share your memories as MTV vaults squarely into middle age.