“Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”
These were the first words uttered on MTV by co-creator John Lack. The iconic cable channel turned 40 this year. Feeling old, yet? Nostalgic musicophiles fondly remember when the network was simply a platform for music videos and breaking news in the world of music, presented by eccentric and comical VJs (video jockeys) like Mark Goodman and Nina Blackwood. The first music video to ever air on MTV was The Buggles’ wittily titled hit “Video Killed The Radio Star.”
Long-time Plattsburgh resident, Justin Mull, missed its debut by a couple of years.
“Once we moved to the [Plattsburgh] Airbase in 1982,” Mull said, “that was my first taste of cable and MTV.”
Up until that point, all Mull had ever watched were Saturday morning cartoons. MTV changed the course of television for him. It was not only a new viewing experience but new exposure to top artists of the 1980s.
My first thoughts were probably something like ‘What is this?’ or ‘What am I watching? Radio on TV?’” he said.
Dylan Lesniewski, a SUNY Plattsburgh graduate, was about four or five years old when he got a taste of MTV in the early 2000s. “One of my first memories was being in the mall and Rue 21 had three TV’s all showing the same thing,” said Lesniewski.
The music video for No Doubt’s cover of “It’s My Life” had him awestruck.
MTV respectfully gave a nod to many music genres, not just rock and roll. It’s specialty shows like “120 Minutes” shined a light on alternative rock whereas “Headbangers Ball” brought in a taste of heavy metal and “Yo! MTV Raps” handed the mic to hip hop.
There came a point where MTV strayed from its path and stopped being just about the music. Since the mid-to-late 1990s, it has shifted more toward the reality genre.
“‘The Real World’ was the one that made the breakthrough,” said Lesniewski, “and you still had music videos into the early-to-mid 2000s with TRL.”
However, it became far and few between as the music content dwindled while the channel grew.
Plattsburgh resident, Donna Ruggeri, doesn’t consider herself an MTV connoisseur, but she was easily impressed and amazed by the diversity and how much music was available.
“The videos helped sell the music and made it fun to watch and dance to,” said Ruggeri.
Ruggeri spoke of how she and her friends would buy albums, whether it was on vinyl, cassettes or CDs, based off what they liked listening to on the radio. MTV was a new medium to throw in the mix.
“I liked being able to watch the bands perform as if we were at a concert,” she said. “Then, in that case, the volume was never loud enough.”
The parallels between the 1980s and today are uncanny. Back then, an artist could gain enough popularity if they had an attention-grabbing video, like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Today, at least in the last couple of years, social media sites like TikTok, have had more influence on musical success than professionally-produced content. Lesniewski didn’t mind what the channel has become, but he rarely seeks it out. In his eyes, YouTube is the platform that has essentially replaced it as far as music videos go. However, the lasting impact MTV has had on pop culture and the entertainment industry is unmatched.