Quantcast
MTV TURNS 20
Still Doesn’t Act Its Age
On Aug. 1, 1981, MTV forever changed the face of pop music when it aired the Buggles’ "Video Killed the Radio Star." The channel, jointly owned by Warner Bros. and American Express at the time, couldn’t even get on Manhattan’s cable system at its birth. Starting out with fewer than 2 million viewers, MTV is now seen by more than 73.5 million around the world. Celebrating its 20th birthday this week with a live broadcast tonight, MTV takes an uncharacteristic look back at how far it has come—as do we.

1981: MTV launches from a studio across the river in Fort Lee, NJ, where the press is ferried to a bar to watch the initial feeds. First concert telecast: R.E.O. Speedwagon and the Charlie Daniels Band from Saratoga Springs, NY. One of the five original VJs, JJ Jackson, denies he was around at the launch of television.
1982: The famed "I Want My MTV" on-air advertising campaign, featuring Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, the Police and Pat Benatar, has crazed fans pestering their cable operators. By year’s end, the channel has 9.3 million subscribers.
1983: MTV breaks the color barrier by adding Michael Jackson’s "Beat It" and then premiering the 14-minute mini-film, "Thriller," directed by John Landis. It’s also the last time anyone will recognize Michael. Viewership rises to 16.2 million.
1984: The first Video Music Awards, held at Radio City Music Hall, feature Madonna writhing onstage to "Like a Virgin." Michael Mann’s "Miami Vice," originally conceived as "MTV Cops," bows on NBC.
1985: Seventeen hours of live coverage of Live Aid is capped by VJ Martha Quinn’s reaction to the Led Zeppelin reunion: "Who’s the old guy with the sock in his pants?" Viacom acquires the channel, which boasts 25.8 million subscribers by year’s end.
1986: Channel covers Spring Break in Daytona Beach, FL, for the first time. Dire Straits’ "Money for Nothing" marks the network’s emergence into the pop vernacular and wins "Video of the Year." Debut of "120 Minutes." Julie Brown enters, JJ Jackson and Nina Blackwood exit.
1987: The net’s first game show, "Remote Control," debuts, with co-host Colin Quinn later moving on to "SNL." Whatever happened to Ken Ober, anyway?
1988: Kurt Loder joins MTV News; "Yo MTV Raps" bows. Those two events have nothing to do with each other. Now at 40.2 million subscribers.
1990: Debut of "MTV Unplugged," with acoustic performances by Squeeze, Syd Straw and the CarsElliott Easton. "Totally Pauly," featuring comic Pauly Shore, bows. The dumbing down of American culture officially begins.
1991: MTV’s animated series "Liquid Television" introduces Mike Judge creations Beavis & Butt-head. Cartoons would never be the same. Pee-Wee Herman asks, "Heard any good jokes lately?" at that year’s VMAs. By year’s end, the station has 53.1 million subscribers.
1992: Political correspondent Tabitha Soren interviews Bill Clinton, as the network’s "Choose or Lose" voter-registration drive is given credit for his election. "The Real World" and "MTV Movie Awards" bow. Howard Stern bares his butt on the VMAs.
1993: Dominic Griffin falls down drunk in "Real World 2."
1994: Michael Jackson smooches with better-half Lisa Marie Presley on the VMAs. Sociologists are still discussing the event’s significance.
1995: Jenny McCarthy in "Singled Out," "Road Rules" premieres.
1997: Beavis & Butt-head retire.
1998: "Total Request Live," with former KROQ radio personality Carson Daly, premieres at the network’s new Times Square studios. eat your heart out, Dick Clark. Jesse Camp wins the first-ever "Wanna Be a VJ Contest." "Celebrity Deathmatch" bows as weekly series. Subscribers now up to 68 million.
1999: Tom Green brings performance art to the channel, and we’ll never look at cow udders the same way. Diana Ross cops a feel on Lil’ Kim at the VMAs.
2000: Johnny Knoxville debuts "Jackass," and 73.5 million subscribers feel his pain.|
2001: MTV produces the Super Bowl halftime show in Tampa with Aerosmith, Britney Spears, NSYNC, Mary J. Blige and Nelly.

NEAR TRUTHS:
THE CAKE AND
THE CANDLES
Marketshare machers. (10/27a)
KENDRICK INKS WITH UMPG
Lamar enters the House of Jody. (10/27a)
YTD MARKETSHARE: AND THE WINNER IS...
It's a lock. (10/27a)
MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, PART 8,761: SURGERY IN THE TIME OF COVID
Planning for an Election Day hopped up on painkillers. (10/27a)
ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Vote. Do it now. (10/27a)
RAINMAKERS 2020
Bring your umbrella.
GRAMMY OUTLIERS
Mulling possible surprises.
HALLOWEEN IN QUARANTINE
Why not wear a mask indoors?
ELECTION 2020
What drugs will help us get there?
 Email

 First Name

 Last Name

 Company

 Country
CAPTCHA code
Captcha: (type the characters above)