Hip Channel Changed the Music Industry

ByABC News via logo
July 29, 2001, 10:52 PM

N E W   Y O R K, July 30 -- On August 1, 1981, six words changed American culture forever: "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll!" With that short declaration, a new generation was born the "MTV generation."

Never before had there been an around-the-clock TV show about music. With 24 hours to fill, MTV showed virtually any video they got. The first MTV video to hit the airwaves came from an obscure British band. That first song, ironically titled Video Killed the Radio Star, was followed by Pat Benatar's You Better Run and Rod Stewart's She Won't Dance.

Syracuse University Professor Robert Thompson remembers MTV's debut vividly. He started teaching the same month it went on the air.

"MTV really forced you to get cable because what it provided could be gotten nowhere else," Thompson said.

I Want my MTV!

Thompson, who watches and analyzes TV for a living, said MTV took a specific group of people and gave them an identity.

"It's interesting how no other entity in television, no network, no cable service has ever had a generation named after it. You don't hear about the Food Channel generation or the Golf Channel generation."

When MTV came along it really changed the industry. Suddenly music couldn't just sound good; it had to look good too.

Alan Light, the editor in chief of Spin magazine, said established artists and newcomers were suddenly able to have the biggest hits of their careers if they had the right video.

"There were these superstars like Michael Jackson and Madonna, who reached unprecedented, unparalleled heights," Light said. "What MTV did was for the first time give one big central outlet for music, and so rather than having to go radio station to radio station, there was one big hit that became the primary outlet for new music and new bands."

Feeding Pop Culture

MTV's timing was perfect because pop culture was ready for it. At that time punk rock was dying, disco was gasping its last breath and John Lennon had been shot by an assassin's bullet.

"MTV did to cable what Milton Berle did to regular broadcast television," Thompson said. "It started the explosion. It lit the fuse."