MTV Turns 30

Original VJ Mark Goodman recalls network's first days: 'I think we only had 300 videos'

MTV VJs Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn and JJ Jackson
Mark Weiss/WireImage
MTV VJs Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn and JJ Jackson
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For original MTV VJ Mark Goodman, the news that music network is celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend is hard to fathom. "It's freaking weird," he tells Rolling Stone. "I've lived like three lifetimes since then. It's just so long ago, and yet it also seems like yesterday. It's a weird number – and it's hard to believe that we're still talking about this 30 years down the road."

MTV launched on August 1st, 1981 at 12:01 a.m. The first images broadcast were the launch of the Apollo 11, followed by a video for the Buggles song "Video Killed The Radio Star." The network has gone through countless permutations since then, but this weekend VH1 Classic will commemorate MTV's founding with a three-day marathon of footage from the 1980s, including a re-broadcast of the network's first hour, starting Saturday at 6 a.m. 

Mark Goodman was a 28-year-old disc jockey when he auditioned for the new network in 1981. "During one of the auditions I had to interview Robert Morton – who went on to produce David Letterman's show – as he pretended to be Billy Joel," says Goodman. "He was just being a total fucking asshole on purpose to make it the worst possible interview. In another round, I had to talk to the audience about the Eagles, whose photos were pasted up on a poster board on an easel." 

In the earliest days, MTV was only available in a limited number of cities. When they launched, the VJs had to travel to New Jersey to watch it because even New York cable companies didn't offer it. "Part of the job was to hang out with cable operators and convince them to pick up MTV," Goodman says. "Within six months we started getting these stories back from small towns in the Midwest and in the South where people were going into record stores and asking for the Buggles, who had been off the shelves for about three years by 1981. I also remember doing an appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming at a record store where thousands of people showed up. I said, 'What's going on?' They said, 'You.' I was completely blown away, and I said, 'Okay, it's working.'"

It took a little while for all the major artists to begin making videos. "I think we only had 300 videos at first," Goodman says. "Which is why you saw Andrew Gold every few hours. We also had lots of Rod Stewart, and even acts like Charlie Daniels. One of the early success stories was Duran Duran. We started playing 'Planet Earth' early on and it got them wide exposure. We started to hear about British bands coming to the States and being shocked by how many people showed up."

The new platform served as a tremendous boost to the record industry. "We sort of propped it up when there was kind of an indulgence in the industry," says Goodman. "We were coming off Saturday Night Fever in 1979 and the industry had this gigantic bubble and then things got awful quiet. We came along just in time and revitalized things, or at least opened people up to more music."

Goodman left the network in 1988, but has returned periodically for specials. He recently hosted a variety of shows on VH1 Classic. MTV had a huge celebration for its 20th anniversary in 2001, and reunited all five of the original VJs at a concert special in New York. "As far as I know, MTV isn't doing anything in particular to celebrate the 30th," Goodman says. "MTV doesn't want people to think about how friggin' old they are. The people watching now were so, so not born when we launched. They were light years away from being born."

Original VJ JJ Jackson died in 2004, but the other four do regular work for Sirius XM. "This weekend, me and Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn are going in the same studio," Goodman says., "We're going to recreate, musically, the first five hours of MTV. And we're going to tell stories from the old days, and people like Rick Springfiefld, Nick Rhodes and Eddie Money are going to stop by to talk about their earliest impressions of MTV." 

Despite his deep history with MTV, Goodman admits that he hardly watches it these days. "I have no interest in stuff like Jersey Shore," he says. "I have an 18-year-old daughter and I have watched other shows with her, but it's not for me. I'm 30 years past the demo."

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