Music History

35 Years Ago Today, Something Happened That Made YouTube Possible

It was 12:01am ET on August 1, 1981, when this happened.

It was famously followed by this video.

And if you’re in the mood for winning for some bar bets, this was the second video ever shown on MTV…

…and this was the third. (Note that MTV signed on with just 250 or so music videos, 30 of which were by Rod Stewart. He showed up a lot in those early days as evidenced by this list of videos played on August 1.)

The debut of MTV is steeped in myth and legend, but the fact is that cable companies didn’t see the point in carrying it at first. When it debuted, it was only available in parts of New Jersey, prompting the now-famous “I want my MTV” campaign.

The campaign worked. Soon cable systems all over the US (and in Canada, if you had a satellite dish) started carrying the network. Record companies, leery at first, learned to love it because record sales spiked in cities where the channel was available. The network almost defibbed the entire music industry out of an awful post-disco recession.

The biggest beneficiaries (at least at first) were telegenic New Wave acts from Britain.

At first, MTV was envisioned as a video version of album rock radio, which, in the minds of its programmers, meant few (if any) black performers. That all changed forever with this guy.

Eventually, though, MTV found that no one wanted to wait around to see music videos anymore as more people gravitated online, especially to YouTube. This prompted the network to move deeper and deeper into lifestyle-and-celebrity programming. Hello, Snooki.

The main MTV network is now out of the music video business almost entirely. But today, VH1 Classic became MTV Classic. The 90s version of MTV is back–for now, anyway.

The effect MTV had upon music and pop culture is pretty much incalculable and while YouTube has taken over as the universe’s main outlet for music videos, we can’t forget the idea of visuals to accompany music took one giant leap 35 years ago today.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38343 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “35 Years Ago Today, Something Happened That Made YouTube Possible

  • There’s a great book about the history of MTV (I Want my MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution). It didn’t take me long to read it all. Heads-up: they only cover the first 15 years.


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