I want my MTV – with VJs!
What? You’ve never heard of a VJ? (Get your mind out of the gutter!)
Well, way back when – 33 years ago this August 1st – MTV actually had what they called video jockeys. These people introduced videos, which was the mainstay of the station, not reality programming and . . . what else is on MTV these days?
I’m old enough to remember when MTV actually lived up to its acronym – music television – and in fact, interned at a local cable TV station in Somerville, Massachusetts, shortly after its debut, which gave me instant access to this revolutionary idea.
So it was with great interest and a fondness for nostalgia that I picked up a copy of “VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave” by Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn (with Gavin Edwards). The authors, with the exception of Edwards, were the original VJs, in addition to J.J. Jackson, who passed away before this book was written.
It’s a quick read - each VJ is interviewed in every chapter, giving his or her perspective on everything from the history of MTV to the personal lives of the DJs and of course, the videos and the rock stars in those videos. The personal retelling is what makes this an interesting book. You’ll learn a lot about the people who had no idea what a huge impact they would have on the world of music and television.
One of the most interesting stories in the book involves David Bowie calling out VJ Hunter for the station not playing any videos by African American artists. Of course, the VJs had no input into programming, but Bowie wanted to make a point on air, where thousands of people would be given food for thought. And shortly thereafter, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean went into heavy rotation on MTV. The rest, as they say, is music video history.
The influence of the early days of MTV on music and pop culture cannot be denied. It launched the careers of many popular artists, who either looked great, made great videos, or both. (I’m not so sure making great music was part of the criteria.) And it made five people famous for a good long time. Without them, with just videos playing around the clock, I doubt MTV would have caught on the way it did. Their personalities were just as important as the videos.
Of course, videos are no longer the mainstay on MTV (which makes me wonder how they can still host an annual music videos award show); the lineup is mostly reality shows, which, by the way, MTV invented with the Real World series.
As Goodman so eloquently states in VJ, “We’re the reason you have no attention span. And you can pin reality TV on us too. You’re welcome.”