MTV: 15 Facts You Definitely Didn’t Know (Part 1)



Thomas De Rijk
Thomas De Rijk

MTV has been a leader in popular culture programming for more than 35 years. Debuting in 1981, the channel centered on groundbreaking music-centric programs, leading to the rise of the music video and a new way to discover artists. Since then, the station has branched out, spawning several sister stations focused on specific demographics, including colleges, young men, and Spanish-language programming. Though the station has gotten away from its original focus, it still features shows unlike anything else on television today. Read on to find out more about MTV, and watch for part two of our list, coming soon.

Number Fifteen: MTV Wasn’t Originally Widely Carried

At the time of its launch, the station was only carried by one cable system in northern New Jersey only a few thousand households. Even though they have always had their home base in New York, the channel didn’t air there until a couple of years after its launch, so as to make sure that the channel would be a hit.

Number Fourteen: The First Video Repeated Was by The Who

It’s fairly common knowledge that “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was the first video ever shown on the channel after the opening sequence on August 1, 1981, followed by videos from Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, The Who, and Ph.D. However, it only took 54 videos for one to be repeated. The Who’s “You Better You Bet” was both number four and number 54.

Number Thirteen: The Original Opening Sequence was Taken From the Columbia Launch

The footage from the launch was overdubbed with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” MTV’s famous moon man came from the Apollo 11 launch, with the letters superimposed over the astronaut’s flag. In 1986, the original station tag was scrapped due to the failed Challenger launch.

Number Twelve: The Specials Were the First Black Artist Played on the Station

Michael Jackson is usually considered to be the first black artist to have a video on MTV, with his videos getting airplay in 1983. However, the station played interracial ska band The Specials’ “Rat Race” during the first day (number 58), making Lynval Golding and Neville Staple the first black musicians on the station.

Number Eleven: The Word ‘Music’ Was Taken Out of ‘MTV’ in 2010

By 2010, MTV was not focusing on music anymore. As part of their re-branding, they dropped the long-running tagline “Music Television” from their logo, officially ending the music video era.

Number Ten: The Original VJs Wrote a Book

In 2013, four of the original five VJs, Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter and Mark Goodman, wrote a book about the early days of MTV. Titled VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, the book is an oral history of the station’s first five years and the cultural revolution it created.

Number Nine: They Were Heavily Impacted by the PMRC

A number of videos have been banned by MTV because of their content. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which had ties to the federal government (the most public of their figures was Tipper Gore), had a big hand in this, saying that they didn’t want their children exposed to profane music. This mostly meant videos depicting “devil worship,” but also extended to sexually explicit videos. Some casualties of MTV’s censorship include “Megalomaniac” by Incubus, “Jesus Christ Pose” by Soundgarden, “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, and “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, among many, many others. Shinedown self-imposed a ban on their video for “45,” saying that they didn’t want their video shown if it was going to be censored unfairly, as they thought was being done. Check back for part two of our list of 15 facts about MTV, coming soon.

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