One of the most easily overlooked anniversaries in the midst of all the sound and fury over the debt fight is doubtless this one. It passed at precisely one minute past midnight, eastern standard time. Thirty years ago from that moment, MTV took to the air for the first time and their premiere offering – doubtless intended as a preemptive declaration of victory – was Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles.
For better or worse, it launched a new era in entertainment which quickly became an obsession in American culture. DJs had previously been able to hide behind microphones, often in lonely broadcast towers up on hilltops. If you ever saw them at all, it was likely just a press release head shot photo, possibly from their earlier, golden days. It didn’t matter if they were older, fat, balding or wearing a grease stained t-shirt. So long as the voice was right, they determined the fate of musicians across the land. (At least until the payola scandals hit.)
With the launch of MTV, a new generation of VJs became the fascination of young music fans. They had to be bright, glossy and dressed in the hippest way possible. (And now I just realized that nobody says “hip” any more. Dear God, I’ve gotten old.) But that craze just didn’t have the legs of the radio stars they sought to replace. While preparing this column I realized that I couldn’t recall the name of a single one of the original VJs except that there were two girls with the same name. (Don’t bother Googling it. They were Julie Brown and “Downtown” Julie Brown.)
In the end, MTV and their later competitor VH1 seemed to fall by the wayside, choosing to hitch their wagons to an endless stream of reality shows and other pop culture pablum. One frequent joke among folks of my age group includes the phrase, “back when MTV still played music videos.”
But what really killed these entertainment delivery systems, along with many others, was the endless march of technology. The audience is not only fickle, but they have grown into an instant gratification society. They want to hear the songs they’re craving now, not when some DJ or VJ chooses to play them. And with MP3 technology and the entire musical history of man available for download, storage and delivery into their ear buds, there is no need for entertainment gatekeepers any longer.
But let’s look back, either with nostalgia or nausea. (Your choice.) Here’s the music video that started it all.
EDIT: Yes, the originally posted video was a later version. The horror may now end. Here’s the original.