It was 32 years ago this week that CMT aired its first country music video.
MTV had launched its own channel on August 1st, 1981, kicking things off with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” and Pat Benetar’s “You Better Run.” The network’s popularity was immediate. Video-friendly artists like Men at Work, who’d struggled to find a foothold in America during the first half of 1981, found themselves selling an unexpected number of albums in the markets that had been wired for cable TV. Before long, many of those artists were topping the Billboard charts, too — proof that MTV had become nearly as influential as FM radio in launching new hitmakers.
Country fans wanted a piece of the action, and they got it on March 5th, 1983, at 6:19 p.m. CT. CMT — which was called CMTV until the following summer, when MTV sued the network for trademark infringement — chose to start things off on a traditional note, airing a live clip of Faron Young’s “It’s Four in the Morning” as the channel’s very first video. “Are you ready, lovely?” Young asks at the start of the vintage video, and while he’s technically talking to the band’s violinist, he might as well have been addressing a new generation of country fans who wanted to see, not just hear, their music.
CMT grew in popularity from there, switching between videos from the network’s relatively small library — few Eighties-era country stars had bothered making music videos, since no real outlet existed before CMT’s launch — and original programming like Jerry Foster’s short-lived Night Life series. Decades later, though it is littered with a few reality shows, the channel dedicates more of its daily programming to music videos than most rival networks, proof that traditionalism still rules the roost.