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Rock out on the anniversary of MTV’s debut

MTV debutWhen: August 1, 1981

What: “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll” were the words that launched one of the largest pop culture juggernauts of the past three decades. These were the first words broadcast on MTV, and although it now mostly airs non-music-related programs, the network is still recognized as the herald of music videos and the voice of the “MTV Generation.” Recognize its 30th anniversary on Aug. 1, the day MTV debuted.

Background: The brainchild of media executives Robert Pittman and John Lack, MTV was first available only to a small number of cable subscribers in New Jersey. Blinking onto TV sets at 12:01 a.m., its first video was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and the screen would frequently go black while a technician at MTV switched out the tape. Despite their low-tech start, MTV’s approach to music was so innovative that the network was affecting record sales within months of its debut, with a video playlist independent of what local radio was spinning.

Story Pitch: MTV’s undeniable impact on culture and media gives this event good reach over several industries and causes. MTV popularized the idea of the music videos, so professionals who work in music and video production have a good opportunity to highlight how they innovate in their fields. What new methods of production and promotion are at use in the field now, versus during the MTV era? Smaller, independent labels and recording artists can also use the occasion to talk about their efforts in music production and promotion in the Internet age. How are they using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach new audiences and promote themselves without traditional TV and radio play? MTV also had a major impact on a whole generation. It gave voice to issues affecting young people through groundbreaking shows like “The Real World,” which memorably chronicled cast member Pedro Zamora’s struggles after testing HIV-positive and his death due to complications of the disease during a time when sufferers were marginalized and actively discriminated against. The network was so influential among young people that President Bill Clinton used MTV as a forum for a question-and-answer session during the 1994 election campaign, addressing issues that young people were rallying around. Groups supporting social change and progress should reflect on the influence MTV has had in spreading awareness of social issues, and compare how young people are making change today.

Story Hook: MTV has been criticized over the years for playing fewer music videos and focusing less on music. What other ways are people using to find new music? Is the music video as influential as it was soon after MTV’s debut? Keep the following in mind when making your pitch:

  • How have elements of social networking been used in music promotion?
  • Is music piracy still considered to be a major issue for the music industry?
  • How have terrestrial radio, Internet radio, and satellite radio adapted to technology and affected peoples’ consumption of music?
  • How has the opportunity for consumers to buy one song at a time affected the music industry’s approach? Are consumers also purchasing music videos in the same way?
  • What is the current cultural impact of MTV? Does it still have a political influence?

Tips: Be sure to provide contact info for music critics and local independent musicians who can offer good perspectives on the music industry and promotion.


Association of Music Producers
(212) 924-4100

The Independent Music Awards
(973) 767-1800

(212) 258-8000

Recording Industry Association of America
(202) 775-0101

–Researched, compiled & written by Nicholas Testa
Event Dates & History Today from CHASE’S Calendar of Events

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