Today In History: MTV Launches
Today in 1981, the first MTV broadcast hit the airwaves. It was the first cable television network dedicated to music videos and music news coverage in history. From humble beginnings, MTV would go on to reshape all of pop culture and change the way Americans and indeed the world consumed media.
MTV debuted with a montage of an astronaut planting the MTV flag on the surface of the moon, overlaid with guitar riffs. It was followed by the music video for the Buggles song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” It was followed by many new wave songs that are now considered classics.
At the time, music videos were promotional tools, and did not have a wide audience. There were only about eighty popular songs that had music videos, and MTV played them on constant rotation. As MTV grew in popularity, so did the medium of music videos. Its popularity fed into itself, as music labels poured increasingly large amounts of funding into videos for their artists.
Over the years, MTV’s focus shifted away from music videos and towards original programming. It saw a heyday in the 90s, when shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria and The Real World became cultural phenomena.
When it launched, MTV was aimed mostly at young adults. Now, most of its programming is aimed at teenagers, leaning heavily on reality shows.
MTV was controversial, blamed for shortening Americans’ attention spans and glamorizing a materialistic, pop-fueled lifestyle. They have clearly come out on top of that culture war.