Back in the eighties I remember a lot of Hollywood films mentioning a TV channel called MTV, and wondering what it was all about. It got to a point where if teenage characters in a movie was meant to be cool, they would just have to mention MTV and that was it – instant coolness.
MTV was launched in the US in 1981, so it really did form a backbone for musical popularity for US kids. Of course, the US was looked on in envy by us British kids, who only had four channels to choose from, with kids programming limited to certain times of the day. The closest we got to a music channel was Top of the Pops!
That changed in 1987 with the launch of MTV Europe, although the number of people able to view the channel was still severely limited since most didn’t have a satellite or cable TV setup with which to receive it. Indeed, it wasn’t until the early nineties that I finally got to see what all the fuss was about for myself when we got our first Amstrad satellite dish screwed to the wall of the house.
MTV was an odd kind of channel because it didn’t really featuring programmes as such back then. There were little segments such as MTV News which told you some of the latest goings on in the music world, but to all intents and purposes MTV was a channel all about playing music videos.
Now, I was never particularly into music as a kid. I watched Top of the Pops as most kids do, and listened to the Top 40 on the radio on Sunday afternoons, but that was about it for me. I never bought records or tapes much growing up, and to this day I’ve never personally owned a proper Hi Fi system, but I did use to like watching the music videos on Top of the Pops, so MTV actually became a bit of a favourite for me when I first got a taste of more than four TV channels.
The channel did have presenters though, who hosted the little in between bits in much the same way as a radio disc jockey would. They were known, strangely enough, as video jockeys, or VJs, and there were quite a number of them. Eighties pop star Paul King was one (he always seemed to be the straight man, and often hosted the MTV News segment) and Ray Cokes was another. I used to find Ray very amusing for some reason, and I’m sure he was the main reason why I enjoyed the early 1990’s Channel 4 show Wanted, which involved contestants trying to evade capture across the UK from a trio of trackers.
MTV has changed considerably now though, and is now firmly based around a core of programmes which are often completely un-music related, which seems strange considering the M always stood for Music. Shows such as Pimp My Ride and Cribs undoubtedly appeal greatly to the channels original demographic, but I wonder why the emphasis on music videos has been lost? May be because today’s music styles are just too diverse, and everybody who used to enjoy MTV when they were younger has now switched over to VH1?