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MTV turns 30, doesn’t look a day over 29

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MTV’s early branding included clever use of its logo. (MTV)

The letters MTV stand for Music Television, and while there’s not that much music on MTV anymore, that was hardly the case when the cable network launched 30 years ago today.

MTV changed the music business despite a rocky start, according to an interview with original VJ Mark Goodman RollingStone.com:

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.”

How much has MTV diverged from its original mission of making rock music visual? Consider this: When MTV Networks sought to honor the 30th anniversary, they didn’t do it on MTV itself, but rather on VH1, a cable channel that features older music. On Saturday morning, VH1 aired the original first hour of MTV’s Aug. 1, 1981, launch. And, there’s no mention of MTV’s birthday today on MTV.com.

Like a lot of 30-year-olds, it’s a birthday MTV apparently wants to forget.

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Dwight Silverman | Techblogger, social media manager

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