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When MTV Music Television started to rock (1981)

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Music Television: MTV debuts

Warner Amex pioneers cable music channel

Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Co., already a pioneer in cable TV with ventures like Nickelodeon, the children’s channel, is breaking new ground with Music Television, an around-the-clock service aimed at the viewer who grew up on rock ‘n’ roll.

Music Television, or MTV, features Video Jockeys as hosts for 24 hours a day of rock videos, concert films, animation, music news and interviews with rock stars. And an inexpensive signal-splitter, wired to the cable input line, will send the picture to the TV screen and the stereo sound through the viewer’s hi-fi amplifier and speakers.

Bob Pittman, vice president for programming for Music Television says he thinks the impact of MTV on television will be as great as the change-over in the 1950s from drama-dominated to music-oriented radio.

“I don’t mean to suggest this will signal the end of traditional television programming,” Pittman says. “But it will have a revolutionary impact on the way the hard-core music fan deals with television.”

The original MTV Vjs

Since the advent of FM stereo, people have been listening to their radios all hours of the day. And because audience surveys indicate that the TV is left on seven hours a day in the average household, MTV would seem to be the next logical step — a stereo music channel with a television picture.

Its architects say extensive marketing research was used to determine that the 12-to-34 year-old age group would be the best target for the music channel, which was launched over the weekend.

“We’re not trying to be all things to all people,” says John A Leak, an executive vice president at Warner Amex. “We’re going after the rock audience that grew up on television and music.”

“Rock music is not just a form of entertainment. It also represents a lifestyle, a value system, to that age group,” Pittman adds. “If you’re 50 years, old, you might ask a new acquaintance what church they go to. But if you’re 30, you’d ask what kind of music they like.”

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MTV logos

Rock videos — film or tape clips of bands performing their latest recordings — have enjoyed great popularity on European television for several years, and are showing up with increasing frequency on late-night TV in the US. Pittman says the channel will begin with a library of 400 videos, almost twice the number of records on the average radio station’s playlist.

Although MTV will originate some of its own programming, most of the videos will be provided for free by record companies, who will be eager for the prime audience exposure the music channel can provide. The package will be offered to local cable systems, and in turn, the audience, at no extra charge.

Cable systems, who will get promotional stipends and a chance to add two minutes of local advertising an hour, are signing up like crazy, says Pittman.

And advertisers, who will be able to reach the perfect market for stereo components, records and designer jeans at a fraction of the advertising costs of network TV, are signing up, too.

“Times have been hard for the recording industry, but this could issue in a boom period,” Pittman enthuses. “The networks have been scared to death of rock music, but we can do it because we’ve singled out the perfect audience.”

MTV VJs


“Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”

On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 am, MTV was launched, and it went a little somethin’ like this:

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