“Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”
Those were the immortal words of John Lack at one minute past midnight on 1 August 1981. The occasion was the launch of MTV, a 24-hour television channel aimed at doing nothing but airing something called music videos, the first of which famously being the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. Clips of a space shuttle launch were shown. An odd theme song was played. And mainstream America was poised to finally have one destination dedicated strictly to the art of music transmitted through TV airwaves.
It was a monumental moment in the evolution of popular music. Regardless of what your opinion on MTV may be today (i.e., what would eventually come of the “music” portion of “music television”), the initial idea behind the network was paralleled by only ESPN, another niche venture that eventually spawned an entire subculture of subject fanaticism. MTV transcended the idea of popular music and made it such a gigantic element of popular culture that the world of big business record-making would never be the same again. Sure, Jersey Shore is very literally one of the low points in American television, but when considering the bigger picture, it’s impossible to dismiss precisely how important the network was in getting this form of entertainment on TV.
Though contrary to what most people under the age of 30 might like to believe, the first few minutes of MTV being on the air was not the first time music found success in broadcast television. In fact, it wasn’t even the second, third, or 50th time. Not even close. No, you see, the marriage between musical performance and moving pictures began decades before the first Joan Jett video premiered or the initial Video Music Award was given out. Indeed, the notion that the boob tube could be yet another promotional tool in the big, old record-selling machine originated far before large-haired 20-somethings appeared on boxed sets and an entire country started exclaiming “I want my MTV!”
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