MTV, 39 years of video clips and revolution on the screen

MTV, 39 years of video clips and revolution on the screen


Who remembers the commercials and programs featuring iconic jingles that have gone down in history, like the one with Jump On It background music? Or the commercial programs that launched music videos between charts, playlists and that glossy programming that had that American flavor from overseas? There are so many memories of a channel that arrived in Italy after Rete A (later All Music), and that managed to overthrow this Italian opponent, especially for teenagers of the time. Let's talk about MTV, acronym for Music Television, a television network that has sincerely marked an era and that was born on a day like today, August 1st 1981.

Let's rediscover together the fundamental stages of the birth of a television network which has been able to concentrate on its frequencies a multitude of artists and musical genres, as well as generating cultural phenomena that have made history.

Music in "video-radio"

If we think about the genre music on TV, especially on a national level, memories of children pop up in our minds (or more recent ones since they have been exhumed in container programs such as Da Da Da or Teche Teche Té of mamma Rai's public service). We are in the early days of the arrival of TV in Italy, between the fifties and sixties, just when the first music videos were also exploited abroad.| ); }
Don't you know the difference between lead writer and showrunner? We explain it in our dedicated in-depth piece.

The phenomenon continued, even outside the “New World”, but always in English-speaking land. Several music programs originated outside the United States, including Countdown in Australia and the world-famous Top of the Pops in the United Kingdom, which had initially broadcast music videos in lieu of performances by artists not available to perform live. In the mid-seventies, however, they began to present these new formats regularly, increasing the amplification of this phenomenon.

Towards the launch

Just around that time, 1974 to be exact, Gary Van Haas, vice president of the Televak Corporation, introduced an interesting concept for distributing a music video channel involving all music stores in the United States. The union of the over-the-air world and the physical distribution of music seems to have served to promote this new channel, called Music Video TV, to distributors and retailers even in an issue of Billboard magazine in May 1974.

The fledgling channel, which featured disc jockey videos, signed a deal with US Cable in 1978 to expand its audience from retail to cable television. However, the service was no longer active when MTV was launched in 1981.

Meanwhile, in 1977, Warner Cable, a division of Warner Communications and forerunner of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, launched the first two-way interactive cable television system called QUBE in Columbus, Ohio . The system offered many specialized channels, including the so-called Sight on Sound, a music channel that featured concert footage and television programs dedicated to this entertainment sector.

With the QUBE interactive service, viewers could even vote for their favorite songs and artists, a rather innovative method for the time and which allowed MTV to proceed with testing before launch. However, MTV was not the only channel operated by Warner-Amex to be tested; even the "sister" channel Nickelodeon, and still alive and well today, was tested for the first time as Channel C-3, broadcasting only the Pinwheel series, before the channel was officially launched in 1979.

MTV's original programming format and schedule was created by media executive Robert W. Pittman, who later became president and CEO of MTV Networks. Pittman had tested the music format by producing and hosting a 15-minute show, named Album Tracks, on New York's WNBC-TV in the late 1970s, but he wasn't the only one to indulge in this genre of music. innovation.

His then boss at Warner-Amex, Executive Vice President John Lack, had for his part curated Popclips, a television series created by former solo artist Michael Nesmith, and whose inspiration came from a program similar on New Zealand's TVNZ network, entitled Radio with Pictures, which debuted in 1976. The idea itself had been in the works since 1966, when major record companies began providing the creator of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation free of charge promotional music clips to broadcast. on air.

The reason? Just as we anticipated earlier: few artists could afford to make the long journey to New Zealand for their live performances.

Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll

Saturday 1st August 1981, 12:01 pm. Warner-Amex vice president utters the famous words: "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," played on video footage of Columbia's first Space Shuttle launch countdown (which happened earlier that year) and the launch of Apollo 11. MTV has been officially launched, just like a rocket in space, just like a unique operation in the world, to conquer the hearts of an ever-increasing number of spectators.

The words by John Lack were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, a rock tune composed by J onathan Elias and John Petersen. Another key symbol in the history of the network is the appearance of the American flag planted on the Moon, modified for the occasion and show the MTV logo varied in different textures and designs, to represent its originality and "all the colors of the music". would be on screen from then on.

MTV producers Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert used this footage, originally planned with the quote from Neil Armstrong “One small step for man, one big step for 'humanity,' but the lawyers said Armstrong had refused the 'granting of the rights to this subpoena', if that is possible to speak of. In any case, the slogan was replaced and a shortened version of the shuttle launch was aired at the beginning of each hour in different forms, from the first day of MTV until early 1986, after the Challenger space shuttle disaster. happened on January 28 of that year.

The first breakthrough broadcasts

The first music video shown on MTV was the song by The Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star, originally available only for New Jersey homes. This was followed by Pat Benatar's You Better Run video. Meanwhile, the network is still changing its graphics, with the introduction of the third graphic, which appeared towards the beginning and end of the music videos.

In these moments, the Kabel font was used for about 25 years, recognizable and decidedly original on the television screen. But this graphic varied over time: it was subsequently set in a different font and also included additional information for each track, such as the year and the name of the record label.

The effect of MTV broadcasts was immediate in the areas where the new video channel dedicated to music was launched. Within two months, record stores in areas where MTV was available were selling music that local radio stations didn't play, such as Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow, and Human League. MTV unleashed the Second British Invasion, which is the name by which the phenomenon is indicated whereby several British artists were made known to the public born in the USA, also bringing with them new musical styles, such as synthpop and new wave.

According to another well-known magazine which is Rolling Stone, this movement has brought about a revolution in sound and style. The phenomenon has seen as protagonists the very young, an audience of viewers between 12 and 34 years, with a particular concentration (over 50%) between 12 and 24 years, according to a research conducted by MTV.

When a VJ is born

The original purpose of MTV, as we anticipated, was to be "music television", playing music videos 24 hours a day and seven days a week, presented by aired characters known as VJs, or video jockeys. The channel's original slogans were “You'll never look at music the same way again”, and “On cable. In stereo. "

The first format of MTV was established following the model of AOR (album-oriented rock) radio; MTV underwent a real transition to copy a Top 40 station entirely in 1984. Young presenters, with a decidedly pop and breezy character, were later hired to host the channel's programming and to launch the music videos that were being played. They are the very first VJs, a neologism born from the pun linked to DJ, disc jockey. MTV's top five VJs in 1981 were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and Martha Quinn, hired to fit the specific audience the channel was trying to capture: Goodman was the most affable, Hunter the popular athlete, Jackson the radio veteran, Blackwood the sex bomb, and Quinn the girl next door. In addition, due to the uncertainty of the success that the channel would have obtained, the network strongly advised VJs not to take up permanent residence to follow MTV programs and to support themselves even with a second job.

If music on video is born with MTV, let's rediscover the birth of music in MP3 format!

A clearly uncertain and unstable climate, made more and more serene and stable over time thanks to the presence on the screen of stars of increasing caliber, including rock bands and singers such as Adam Ant, Bryan Adams, The Pretenders, Blondie, Eurythmics, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, Metallica and Guns N 'Roses. MTV was also home to the great rock classics, timeless stars like David Bowie, Dire Straits, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Who and many more.

The prince of pop

MTV was originally launched as a rock music channel. It was difficult to find African American artists whose music suited the channel format, an aspect that cost the network dearly, thus accused of racism, as it only aired white artists. The counter-challenge? MTV simply followed the rules of the rock business, plus there were hardly any videos made by black artists. The record companies simply didn't finance them.

However, defense critics pointed out that record companies were not funding videos for black artists, because they knew they would have a hard time getting MTV to air them. Among these, certainly could not miss the most famous pop star and mourned by millions of fans: Michael Jackson.

With this character, the so-called "color barrier" was finally broken down, thanks to the action of the then president of CBS Record, Walter Yetnikoff, who had threatened to deprive MTV of the ability to play any video music of the record company. A case solved with the video of Billie Jean, although the change was not immediate. Billie Jean was not added to MTV's “medium rotation” playlist (two or three passes a day) until she had already hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

An unfortunate case for the network, which, however, was able to make itself more and more profitable and managed to proliferate in the world, also thanks to the opening of an ever-increasing series of "secondary" channels and of types of programming, which have seen "pop" reality shows, including Sixteen and Pregnant, Jersey Shore, The Hills and many other purely American products that have entered our homes and our collective imagination.

A pure concentrate of pop culture, between music, socio-cultural issues and a mix of genres from all over the world in the name of the so-called American melting pot.

If you are a true fan of the MTV network of yesteryear, you cannot miss the T-Shirt with the original logo!

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