July 04--Like their parents before them, teens in the '80s and '90s were often glued to their TVs by the sight of a man standing on the moon.
But instead of a stars and stripes planted in the lunar dust, the astronaut the teens watched stood next to a flag bearing three letters: MTV.
Following its launch in 1981, MTV rivaled radio as a primary media for bands to reach new listeners. The success of the format blazed a trail for a rush of all-music channels, including Country Music Television in 1983 and VH1 in 1985.
With the rise of the new millennium, the growth of independent musicians and the advent of websites such as YouTube, these channels -- all properties of media conglomerate Viacom -- began to shift their focus away from music content to a wider range of pop-culture and reality programming. Today, however, they will return to their roots with an inaugural Music Independence Day celebration.
"MTV, CMT and VH1 will provide the ultimate party playlist for everyone to revel in, covering all genres from hip hop to bluegrass to [electronic dance music] to cowpunk," reads MTV's June 12 news release.
From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., each channel will feature videos by established acts and emerging artists, including content produced by independent artists that has been uploaded to the
networks' Artist Platform music discovery site. Additional content will include "themed video hours, intimate performances and some of the bigger music moments throughout MTV history," according to MTV's June 12 news release.
For fans who remember the heyday of music TV, even those who long since have satisfied their music craving via online sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, today is a welcome blast from the past.
"Maybe if it is successful, they will work on incorporating it back into their schedule," says Chattanoogan John Sharpe, 45, who has fond memories of watching video on MTV such as Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" and Fleetwood Mac's "Hold Me."
Music and TV weren't exactly strange bedfellows prior to MTV's launch. Programs such as "American Bandstand," which began broadcasting nationally in 1957, Britain's "Top of the Pops," which started in 1964, and "Soul Train" and "Midnight Special," which began in 1971 and 1972 respectively, televised musical performances long before MTV creator John Lack introduced the new channel with the battle cry: "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll."
When it began transmission on Aug. 1, 1981, MTV took advantage of the relatively recent nationwide adoption of cable TV to create a channel that presented music content continuously instead of periodic programming blocks. Mark Goodman, one of MTV's five original VJ hosts, trumpeted the channel as a game changer for music lovers.
"This is it. ... A new concept is born: The best of TV combined with the best of radio," he said, welcoming viewers during the channel's first minutes of transmission. "Starting right now, you'll never look at music the same way again. ... We'll be doing for TV what FM did for radio."
Then, in an apropos selection that reinforced Goodman's prediction, MTV aired its first music video, The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star."
Many fans look back fondly on music video channels, when programs such as VH1's "Pop-Up Video" or the daily video countdown on MTV's "Total Request Live" introduced them to new artists and memorable video moments, such as the world premiere of the 13-minute video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
"Watching VH1 and MTV as a grade-schooler during the summer of '98 and '99 was my golden gateway to music and the appreciation thereof," writes Kelley Fitzpatrick-Holland of Harrison on the Times Free Press Facebook page.
"I would even go as far as to say that the influence of the music I was able to discover through watching these channels at the impressionable ages of 9, 10 and 11 was transformative and helped shape the foundations of the interests that defined my adolescence."
CHANGING THE TUNE
In the '90s, however, MTV began to shift away from music programming in favor of animated, comedy and reality shows such as "Aeon Flux" (1991), "The Tom Green Show" (1994) and "Jackass" (2000). According to a 2012 news release by MTV, the 28-season run of "The Real World" makes it the network's longest-running program with a legacy of "launch[ing] the modern reality television genre."
According to a 2001 article by Billboard magazine, the number of music videos shown on MTV dropped by more than one-third between 1995 and 2000.
"Clearly, the novelty of a just showing music videos has worn off," MTV President Van Toffler told Billboard. "It's required us to reinvent ourselves to a contemporary audience."
Similar shifts in programming emphasis took place at CMT and VH1, which dropped the tagline "Music First" from its branding in the early 2000s.
Fans say they have long regretted these networks' shift to prioritizing shows such as "Jersey Shore," "Model Employee," "The Pauly D Project," "Teen Mom" and "Couples Therapy."
"CMT hardly ever does any kind of music now," writes Tiffany King. "Now it's 90 percent TV shows. I used to watch MTV and 'TRL' ('Total Request Live'). Wish they would bring them back."
In 1996, MTV split off the MTV2 channel to satisfy fans who longed for a return to all-music-all-the-time and, in 1999, VH1 followed suit with VH1 Classic. Ooltewah resident Debra Fisher says she thinks the rebranding should have gone the other direction.
"I know that MTV plays videos on other channels, but somehow, I think that they should put the reality shows on those other channels and relabel them 'MTV Reality,'" she says. "Go back to your roots, MTV."
With the Music Independence Day celebration, fans will have 12 hours to embrace nostalgia, but some say they've long since moved on from the days of needing TV to tell them what's hot. If MTV took them to the moon to find new music, they say, YouTube and streaming services such as Spotify have pushed that frontier out of the solar system.
"Internet killed the MTV music video star," writes Chattanoogan Bradley Gregory.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
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