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.