The premise of a television channel dedicated specifically to music and music videos brought great implications for the future of music and television broadcasting, though it would not be overnight that MTV, Music Television, would gain the influence it now currently holds. In fact, MTV was not even a national name until at least a year into its life as a television channel.
According to History.com, Music Television began its first broadcast in the early hours of August 1st, 1981, but was only first seen by night-owl subscribers in northern New Jersey. The broadcast began with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” followed by the now famous picture of an astronaut placing a flag on the moon emblazoned with the MTV logo. This was followed by an ironic first video, “Video Killed the Rock Star” by the Buggles, a little-known British new wave duo. MTV.com lists in the first hour videos by the Buggles, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, .38 Special, and more.
About eighty videos made up the first week of programming, opening the doors for many more videos to be shown. This also allowed the station to showcase new videos and artists, creating a culture of its own through its unprecedented broadcasts. The station would soon be picked up by cable networks nationwide, and would eventually be credited (or blamed) for much of the cultural characteristics that many remember so fondly of the 1980s.
December 31st, 1981, MTV broadcast its first “New Year’s Rock and Roll Ball” live from New York, with live performances from various artists. Shortly after this broadcast, in March 1981, an advertising campaign joined artists together to declare “I want my MTV!” The first “MTV Video Music Awards” was broadcast September 14th, 1984 from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The awards show featured performances from Huey Lewis, Rod Stewart, ZZ Top, and Tina Turner, as well as an iconic performance from Madonna, singing “Like a Virgin” in a wedding dress.
Some of the most important videos broadcast on MTV are those that are still remembered fondly (or not so fondly) today. December 1983, MTV debuted Michael Jackson’s masterpiece, “Thriller,” a 14 minute long music video and film joining the worlds of filmmaking and music. Also aired was Madonna’s controversial “Like a Prayer” video (March 3rd, 1989), as well as MTV’s “Unplugged” series, featuring stars such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Pearl Jam, LL Cool J, and Tony Bennet performing acoustic versions of popular songs. MTV also aired “The Osbournes,” a reality show featuring the “first family of rock ‘n’ roll;” Black Sabbath front man and heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne, his wife and manager (in more ways than one) Sharon Osbourne, and two of the three Osbourne children.
Music Television, once a strange new premise for a small television channel, has now become a national name, thanks to its viewers, its artists, and the culture of the 1980s that it helped greatly to shape.