The MTV of today is packed with more reality television than music videos. But the groundbreaking network used to air music videos, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and promised that we’d “never look at music the same way again.” And we haven’t, after the channel’s maiden broadcast back in 1981. Today is the 34th anniversary of that first year on air. Here are some fun facts about the very first music videos played on MTV and the network itself that reveal the channel’s widespread cultural influence.
MTV launched on Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 AM Eastern Time.
The first words spoken on the MTV Broadcast were “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” by John Lack, the first Chief Operating Officer of MTV Networks. It was accompanied by footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11.
MTV wanted to include Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for mankind” quote, but the astronaut refused.
MTV aired 116 videos during their first broadcast (some videos repeated).
The original five MTV VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn.
New York City design collective Manhattan Design created the famous MTV logo with MTV’s first creative director, Fred Seibert.
The “I want my MTV!” ad campaign wasn’t launched until the following year.
The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video played on MTV.
Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” video aired second.
Rod Stewart’s video for “She Won’t Dance with Me” aired third.
Rod Stewart session band bassist Phil Chen was the first non-white musician to appear on MTV.
The artist with the most videos aired was Rod Stewart (11 in total).
Stewart was MTV’s first artist to have more than one video played, but the first video to be played twice was from The Who, “You Better You Bet.”
The most played videos were The Who’s “You Better You Bet”, April Wine’s “Just Between You And Me,” (Wine was also the first Canadian played on MTV), and Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” — all videos played five times.
During the maiden broadcast, the screen would sometimes go black when an MTV employee inserted a new tape into a VCR.
Andrew Gold’s “Thank You for Being a Friend” was the 53rd video aired. The song was later adapted as the theme song for the Golden Girls.
The credits for each video that MTV is known for were set in a different typeface and included record label info like year and label name.
Blondie’s “Rapture” was the first rap music video ever played on MTV.
David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” played to Saturday Night Live audiences in 1979 before MTV audiences.
Kate Bush’s “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” also played for SNL audiences before MTV, in 1978.
Iron Maiden’s “Iron Maiden” was the first heavy metal song aired and the first (taped) live recording.
Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” was used in an MTV promo.
The first airing of Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” had some dead air.
MTV wasn’t available in Manhattan for its first year, so employees gathered at a bar in New Jersey to watch the debut.
Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy” closed out the broadcast.