Original MTV VJ reflects on launch 31 years ago

Original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood on the rise and fall of music television

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 6:21 pm

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Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Nina Blackwood, one of five VJs who launched Music Television in 1981, isn’t surprised the now-popular cable channel rarely plays music videos.

“It’s the nature of pop culture,” says Blackwood, who will appear in the upcoming National Geographic mini-series “The ’80s: The Decade that Made Us,” which begins Sunday night, on the National Geographic Channel.

Blackwood recalls cast and crew cheering, during the channel’s initial broadcast, August 1, 1981.

Nina Blackwood, original MTV VJ


Nina Blackwood, original MTV VJ (Courtesy Nina Blackwood)

Programming began with the liftoff of a NASA rocket, and the words “Ladies and gentlemen — rock and roll.”

“When that rocket went off, we knew there was no turning back,” Blackwood says. “Our baby was being born, and when you’re talking about a 24-hour channel, it’s not like a TV show where you can ‘OK, that’s a wrap’ — it’s non-stop.”

Initial videos were rudimentary, but the need for round-the-clock music videos provided opportunities and impetus to would-be videomakers and musicians.

“All of a sudden, here was an outlet for all these different, creative people,” Blackwood says.

With landmark videos like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” experimentation led to what’s been considered the golden age of music videos.

“Look at the Duran Duran videos,” which were among the first shot on film by professional filmmakers, she says. “Those were gorgeous mini-movies.”

The Original VJs


JJ Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter were the five VJs who launched MTV Aug. 1, 1981 (Courtesy MTV)

Blackwood remained at MTV until 1986. At the time, music remained the focus of the channel’s programming, targeting young adults.

Now, MTV, which has removed the word “music” from its branding, features reality shows aimed at adolescents and teenagers.

Not surprising, says Blackwood, given fleeting lifespans in popular culture.

“What was really cool yesterday isn’t so cool today,” she says, “But a few years down the road you look at it and go ‘Man, that was really cool.'”

Blackwood currently hosts an ’80s show on Sirius XM Radio.

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