Sure, VH1 had them too, but MTV really introduced the world to the concept of the VJ aka the Video Jockey. And for a while, the world was enamored by the concept and everything that it introduced to pop culture.
Remember that infectiously catchy song “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles? Well, that quote definitely describes what was going on in the 80s to a tee.
Suddenly the western world was obsessed with not only hearing their music, but they wanted to see it too. Music videos gave us an extra added dimension to our media consumption. Before we’d have to listen to the old transistor radio, buy the LPs and read Rolling Stone from cover to cover to get a peek into our favorite musical artist’s lives.
This was long before the internet. You couldn’t just follow the musician’s social media pages, subscribe to their YouTube channels, and memorize their Wikipedia entries.
But then in 1981, Music TV aka MTV launched in America and the world of music would never be the same. Artists like Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, and even Madonna owe a great deal of their success to this new form of musical media.
And for the next two decades – before the rise of streaming services and faster internet speeds, MTV was the place to watch this blossoming art form.
And while we had a 24 hour a day source for these videos, we were also treated to some of television’s most iconic media personalities at the time by means of the VJ. After all, someone had to introduce all of those trending music videos.
MTV is approaching 40 years on the air, so we here at Facts Verse dug down through the annals of history and found some pretty amazing facts about MTV and the original VJ’s – Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, and J.J, Jackson. Stick around for the whole video unless you want to miss something mind-blowing.
Facts Verse Presents: Facts About the Original MTV VJs
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MTV Got It’s Start On August 1, 1981
And the world of music would never be the same. The number one single in the United States at the time was Rick Springfield’s classic ode to lusting after your best friend’s girlfriend, “Jessie’s Girl”.
Alan Hunter Was The First VJ The World Was Introduced To
Yeah technically all five of the first VJs were all hired at the same time, but Hunter was the first one to speak on the network. He introduced us to “Video Killed The Radio Star” and then suddenly the world of music stepped into a new era.
Sex, Drugs And Rock And Roll
Those days were pretty wild. Alan Hunter told Time magazine about a time when his fellow VJ J.J. Jackson had hooked him up with some coke. Well, things got messy when the baggie burst wide open in his pocket, probably punctured by his car keys, and then one of their friends proceeded to scoop it off the floor of the public bathroom with no shame.
The Rumors Weren’t Always True
Martha Quinn was repeatedly rumored to be secretly dating David Lee Roth. But that in fact was just hearsay and gossip. A lot of disinformation was flying around the tabloids back then.
Hunter recounted a time that he got a very special piece of mail. He received a letter from a female fan that included a fully nude photo of said girl. That might have been a flattering gesture until hunter realized that it wasn’t meant for him. No, that fan wanted Alan to pass the seductive photo along to Aerosmith’s Steve Perry.
Getting The Job Wasn’t A Walk In The Park
Especially when it came to Nina Blackwood. Producers took her out to dinner at Tavern on the Green in hopes of convincing her to take the job. Well, right off the bat, when the waiter brought over the rolls, she bit into one and promptly started choking. Fortunately, one of the producers knew how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and saved her life. She took this as a sign and took the job.
Being A VJ Paid Terribly Back Then
Hunter had aspirations of making at least $550 a week which essentially equals out to about 12 dollars an hour. His first year on the gig he made slightly more than that at $27000 which meant he was making closer to 14 dollars an hour. That might not sound terrible, but compared to any other job on Television, it was pretty insane. Especially considering New York City housing costs and living expenses.
The interesting thing is even the VJs weren’t really sure what they were getting paid. Quinn once said that she only learned what Mark was making by reading it years later in a book.
The VJs Didn’t Feel Famous
Hunter explained that they felt more like conduits. They were something akin to traffic cops in the sense that they were guiding people to celebrities. He went on to explain how he felt like his relationship with the audience felt more like a friendship – especially since MTV was the backdrop for everyone’s lives back in those days.
To further that feeling of friendship with the viewing audience, the network insisted on the VJs using personal language to refer to the viewers at home on a one-on-one level. This meant they had to avoid using phrases like “all of you”.
The demographic was huge because there was nothing else on. Everyone from 12-70 would put MTV on when their other programs weren’t on, so they became highly recognizable even to folks that didn’t necessarily like the channel.
Too Close for Comfort
When you become universally recognizable, you start losing some of your sense of privacy and security. Nina Blackwood knows this truth all too well. She once had a fan slip a piece of paper into her bathroom stall, while she was doing her business, hoping to get an autograph.
Alan Hunter Still Gets Recognized By Fans
but the fans themselves don’t always know where they recognize him from. He related how many people come up to him mistaking him for someone that they went to high school with.
He’ll be like “Hi I’m Alan Hunter”
and they’ll reply with “No, that’s not it….”
When you were that recognizable so many decades ago, people’s memories begin to fade in funny ways.
The Network Tried to Keep VJ’s Secrets Underwraps – Even From Each other
The crew was blown away when Nina Blackwood showed up to work wearing a wedding ring one day. No one knew she was married and the network wanted to keep it that way. Blackwood insists that Martha Quinn also wed in secret, although Martha says otherwise.
Martha also interviewed Bob Dylan one time and got invited to go to Ireland to travel with his entourage where she and her kids were involved in a bus accident. The other Vjs never knew of this. They only found out about that chapter relatively recently.
Quinn Blames MTV’s Success On The Cold War
The 80s were certainly a wild time for culture. She describes what was going on at the time as a sort of ‘Hysterical Joy’. The world was actually teetering on the edge of mutually assured destruction. Pink Floyd sang “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb” and Prince was telling us that when they do, we’ll all be partying.
So maybe, just maybe, all of the wild colors and absurd haircuts were the results of some kind of desperate happiness to flush out the reality of the situation.
Once the Cold War ended and the world’s political climate began to feel safer, we had more dreary figures come along like Kurt Cobain. Quinn doesn’t think this was by accident.
MTV’s Current Programming Is Somewhat Related To Michael Jackson
It’s no secret that MTV has drifted away from being music-oriented. In fact, most of their programming has nothing to do with music. You might be wondering how this has anything to do with the King of Pop.
Well in the early days, MTV was geared at focusing on Rock Music, but when Michael Jackson came around with videos like Thriller, the network had to reevaluate its model. They just couldn’t ignore stuff like that, so they opened their format up to pop music, and then later to shows about music, and eventually to shows that didn’t really have anything to do with music at all.
Some of the VJ’s take a more understanding look at this transition. Martha Quinn expressed that people from their generation oftentimes express disdain for the fact that MTV switched up formats over the years, but even if they were still music 24/7, people would still complain because it wasn’t what they grew up with.
Alan Hunter said ” The Video Jukebox was losing its luster. The Novelty had worn off” he went on to say that “It had to change…I think It’s Evolution”.
Nina Blackwood is disappointed that MTV has gone so far away from music. People went to their channel for music-driven television, not reality TV shows.
Mark Goodman Touts YouTube As Today’s MTV
YouTube Is the closest thing we have today to what MTV once was – so says Goodman. Music videos are thriving again thanks to the internet. Any artist’s content can be accessed at the click of a button, and it’s a great way to reach your audience.
What YouTube is lacking that MTV had was the VJ, someone to direct you to what to watch. That part will likely never be recreated like how it was back in the day.
The VJs Today – Still Making Names For Themselves
All four surviving VJs have gone on to work on Sirius Satellite radio as 80s DJs. Blackman also hosts multiple syndicated shows across the US on the regular airwaves. Quinn is a stay at home full-time mom. Goodman is managing his 27-year-old daughter’s singing career. Hunter has his own indie film company.
So all in all, the VJs are doing pretty well. Sadly, J.J. Jackson passed away in 2004 of a heart attack.
Well there you have it, everything you’ve ever wanted to know about MTV’s original VJs. A lot has changed since 1981, in fact, the world looks very little like the world that these fresh-faced media personalizes got their starts in. MTV has changed a lot too.
We’d really love to hear from you. Do you miss old-school MTV when it was all about music or are you okay with the evolution of what the network has become, even with it’s drifting away from its original focus? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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