MTV premiered at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1981. (Bébéranol/Wikimedia Commons)

MTV premiered at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1981. (Bébéranol/Wikimedia Commons)

MTV premiered 38 years ago

Video Killed the Radio Star was the first video aired on the channel

The year was 1981 — shoulder pads were abundant and the bigger the hair, the better. This was also the year that MTV: Music Television aired for the very first time.

The channel premiered on Aug. 1, 1981 at 12:01 a.m. First, footage from the launch of NASA’s first orbiter was played and then, in a slightly robotic voice, co-creator John Lack said: “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”

The MTV theme song then rang out over footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalk with the American flag replaced by the MTV logo.

The first video played on the channel was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, followed by Styx, Rod Stewart and several other artists. With that, the 24-hour broadcasts had begun.

MTV’s early days consisted of music videos curated by their video jockeys — or VJs. Performers such as Duran Duran, Madonna and The Eurythmics had videos that were played on MTV regularly. Initially, the videos were basic, but as the program became more popular, more effort was put into the videos as recording studios recognized the value of promoting singers though MTV.

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Since its debut, MTV has introduced several TV shows, documentaries, public service campaigns, news and the MTV Music Video Awards. MTV had a reputation for pushing boundaries by touching on topics such as safe sex and playing music videos that some considered to be risque.

Now, MTV’s content is mostly drama, comedy and reality TV, but the MTV Music Video Awards still take place annually and staple segments such as Unplugged have remained albeit inconsistently.

According to Bell Media, there are 63 MTV-branded channels worldwide.


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