At midnight on Aug. 1, 1981, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, and J.J. Jackson stood inside the Loft restaurant in Fort Lee, N.J., to watch music history being made. The now-iconic “moon landing” guitar riff blasted; Warner Cable executive John Lack intoned, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock ‘n’ roll”; the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” hit the small screen… and just minutes later, the new cable channel MTV suffered its first technical difficulty.
But it didn’t matter. Eventually, everyone in America wanted their MTV, and the music business was forever changed — as were the lives of the five original MTV VJs.
Below, Yahoo Entertainment chats with Quinn, Goodman, Blackwood, and Hunter [Jackson died in 2004] about MTV’s early days and what it was like to hold down “the greatest job we’ll probably ever have.”
Martha Quinn: People say to me, “Will you ever have a job as cool as being an original MTV VJ?” And the answer is no. When am I ever going to have the chance to be a part of something groundbreaking and revolutionary like that? And you can’t be a part of it on purpose. We didn’t know that it was going to be that at the time.
Nina Blackwood: I was out in L.A., working as harpist and studying acting, and also working on three different projects that I was functioning as a host — or what later would be termed a “VJ.” And one in particular was called “K.P.N.K.,” which was far ahead of its time. We had video equipment and would take it around to different clubs in L.A. So, I was kind of doing that as an experimental or pilot situation. Then I read an article about this 24-hour music channel that was starting, and they were looking for hosts and hostesses who “must know music and know about the music industry.” And I went, “Well, that’s me!”
Alan Hunter: I had gone to New York to be an actor, and I was bartending and doing odd jobs. I’d been there less than a year when I bumped into [MTV Networks CEO] Bob Pittman at a picnic — it’s a long story, but I went to school in Jackson, Miss., and every state had a picnic in Central Park. Bob, the creator of MTV, is a Mississippi fellow as well, so we were introduced by mutual friends. He was in a suit in the middle of a hot summer day in Central Park; I thought, “That’s weird.” He says, “What are you doing these days?” I said, “I’m a bartender at the Magic Pan on 57th and 6th. I just got through doing a punk off-off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Talking Heads and Joan Jett music. I was in that David Bowie video ‘Fashion.’” He said he was working on this cable channel that will play videos, and I really had no idea what he was talking about. But that’s why I mentioned I was in a Bowie video — like, “Oh, I know what videos are!”
Nina: Through a series of two different auditions in Los Angeles, they said they wanted to fly me to New York to meet Bob Pittman. I was a little hesitant about moving to New York, though, so the executive producer, Sue Steinberg, and producer, Robert Morton, took me to a very nice restaurant, Tavern on the Green, for lunch. I proceeded to inhale a piece of bread roll, and it got stuck in my throat and I was seriously choking to death. It just went down the wrong way. It was lodged in my throat and I was at the table gasping. Morton had to give me the Heimlich! After the piece of roll came out and everything calmed down, he looked at me with his New York accent and he said, “You owe me.” And that’s when I decided, “OK, I’ll take the job.”
Alan: Two days after that picnic, I got a call from the executive producer at MTV: “Bob said you should come in and audition for this music channel thing.” They didn’t even call it “MTV” at the time. Two months before MTV started, I went in for my series of repeatedly worse auditions, three or four in a row. They kept calling me back, for some reason. I wasn’t very good. But they had five people they needed to cast, a group of different-looking people. I think they were hitting every demographic, and I fit it. I was the last to be hired, three weeks before it all started. I think that they just finally threw up their hands and gave up and said, “Screw it, just hire the dude. We can fire him later. But at least we’ll be able to get up with five VJs.” I’ll credit Bob, though. He’s a Southern boy, and I think he saw in me a kind of earnest sincerity.
Mark Goodman: I was always looking for the next underground. I quit [New York radio station] WPLJ because I thought, “I don’t want to have to play Meat Loaf nine times a day.” WPLJ certainly didn’t play any punk at all, and I just wasn’t interested in what they were doing. So that’s why I left, in the hopes that MTV would be this outlet that would play cool stuff. People were like, “You’re going to quit a job at the No. 1 rock station, in the No. 1 market in the country?” But I was looking for something else, and I thought, “This will probably work.”
Alan: They actually went around to all the rock DJs in the country — and found out that most of them were not at all good on television. Then they went around to celebrities and TV and movie stars, then to artists like Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon. Kevin was asked to be a VJ and he said, “No, sorry, I’ve got a career!” So then they went around to people that Bob Pittman bumped into in Central Park, like me. Mark and J.J. and were the only two came to the plate with some notoriety in their [radio] field. I had no idea what being a host was even all about. I mean, for them to throw the five of us disparate characters together and say, “OK, write the handbook”? I kept asking where my script was.
Martha: I was the youngest. When I got that job at MTV, I thought Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood, and J.J. Jackson were the coolest people I’d ever met in my life. You know how in movies like American Graffiti, there’s always that little kid that wants to get in with the gang? That was totally me.
Alan: Mark and I circled around each other more than any of the rest of us. Nina and I got along because she’s an actress and I was an actor. Martha gets along with everybody. J.J. was the father to all of us, this sweetheart who loved everybody — though obviously he was a little suspicious of me because I had no background in the music business at all. But Mark thought I was a nerd, and I thought he was an assh***, plain and simple, at first. I was trying to figure out what my groove was, and I stared at the camera a lot in the first few months, wondering what to do. But Mark, “Mr. Expert,” was fairly arrogant. He really just didn’t understand why I had gotten the job. But he and I were listening one day to “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” in the green room and I remember we had a little bonding moment. We said, “Man, that’s a great song. And this is not a bad job, this MTV thing. I hope it lasts.” So Mark and I got over our circling one another like feral cats pretty quickly, about six months into it. I mean, he’s still arrogant and I’m still a nerd, but we get along great and I have always been bonded in all of that.
Nina: I would have to say my favorite MTV memory was the launch on Aug. 1, 1981. New York didn’t even have cable yet, so in order for us to see the channel launch, we had to go to some funky club in New Jersey [The Loft] that did have cable. We had buses and we all piled in.
Martha: I remember waiting for a school bus. We didn’t have a budget for limos, so they rented a literal yellow school bus, and they drove the crew and the VJs out to this little bar in New Jersey, because there weren’t many places that carried MTV and we didn’t know where we could see it. But we found this bar in Fort Lee. Mark, I believe, took a limo, because he did not want to ride with these “little people,” because he was the WPLJ disc jockey at that time, which was a big New York rock station. But the rest of us mere mortals took the school bus.
Mark: No, I did not take a limo. We drove! I just didn’t want to get on the bus. You know, it’s August, it’s hot — the last thing I want to do is get on an American school bus and ride to New Jersey!
Nina: The executives, of course, had their limos.
Mark: It was completely ridiculous. You walked in the front door of this Fort Lee restaurant, and there were all these blue-hairs having dinner. It was bizarre. And they took us downstairs to this basement and they wheeled in this TV on one of those racks, like somebody from the AV club in high school.
Alan: The initial first couple of minutes with the Buggles and the graphics and everything seemed like the coolest thing ever, and I’d never seen something like this on TV. I looked at my wife and said, “I can’t believe I’m a part of this. And I’m going to come on in a few minutes. Weird.”
Nina: When that rocket went off and that theme song played, the feeling in the room was indescribable. We were all crying and hugging each other. That was an incredible, incredible night.
Mark: When the rocket went off, I literally teared up. I’m not kidding.
Martha: I’d only been working at MTV for a couple of weeks. I was crying watching the launch, but there were people who’d been working on getting MTV off the ground for two years, and they were sobbing. It was the most emotional night, like having a baby being born.
Alan: We were all there in that little Fort Lee basement watching MTV blast off, basically just drinking a lot. I still had a starving-actor mentality, so for me, it was all about the wings and the booze, of course. Just gotta stuff it down! But while we’re having fun, celebrating the launch of the greatest job we’ll probably ever have, the poor executives are looking at the TV feed, noticing that it had stuttered and stopped and wondering why. And then they’re on the phone to the uplink center in Long Island.
Mark: Well, the rocket went off on time. And then, s*** screwed up. Like, they got into the Buggles video, and then coming out of the video it was supposed to be me going, “Hey, everybody, welcome! This is something brand-new. You’ll never look at music the same way again. Let me introduce you to the other VJs…” Instead, what happened in real life was we saw Alan going, “…and I’m Alan Hunter!” So, he quickly seized on that to call himself “the first VJ on MTV.” But it was my show for that whole first six hours. It was me! We have an ongoing kind of argument about this. [laughs]
Alan: It was just a technical malfunction. The first 24 hours of MTV were held together by duct tape. It was so seat-of-the-pants, it was scary.
Mark: That was the thing about MTV, completely, at the beginning: Nobody knew nothing.
Martha: I thought that we were on to something from the very beginning. It was just a question of whether the world would catch on. I mean, I kept my job at the NYU dorms for quite a while because I just didn’t know, and I needed to pay my rent.
Nina: It didn’t seem like a video music as a form of entertainment would take off, as far as a 24-hour channel that kept going and going and going and going. It was a total gamble, because cable was in its infancy. I didn’t even have cable! So, when I took the job, even though I signed a three-year contract, I talked to my manager and my agent and basically said, “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll come back to L.A. in six months.” That was kind of how I looked at it.
Alan: I was so unsure about how it was going to pan out that I actually kept my bartending job or month or two after MTV started. I didn’t have the balls to quit right away. So, by day I would do MTV in Hell’s Kitchen, and at night I would go to the Magic Pan and mix daiquiris for people. But the first time I was ever recognized was by some dude who I’d given probably too many daiquiris to. He started looking at me sideways late at night, and he was like, “Hey, Mark Goodman?” I said, “No, I’m Alan Hunter, you jerk!” The next day I could not fathom making drinks for people while they recognized me. I thought, “Maybe I can quit bartending now, because this MTV thing is real.”
Nina: The first time I realized we were on to something might’ve been ‘82. We’d go out on these personal appearances at mall and record stores, and that they sent me to one in San Antonio. There was a huge line of people wrapped around the mall, and I said to the person that was my minder, “Hey, what’s happening here today?” And said, “You are!” It was like, wow. And then our fan mail started pouring in. And then I recall one time in ’83, in New York, I was flagging a cab for a doctor’s appointment uptown, and this cop car screeches over. And I think, “Oh no, do they think I’m a hooker or something? What’s going on?” And they go, “Nina, where are you going? Hop in!” And so, I got a police escort ride to my doctor’s appointment, which was pretty cool.
Martha: When MTV launched, everyone was against us. The advertisers didn’t want to advertise with us, and the cable companies didn’t want to carry us, and the record companies, by and large, didn’t want to provide videos.
Nina: The channel made no money for the first few years. Advertisers are going, “What, we’re going to advertise on this little cable thing?”
Martha: The world was just not going along with us. My favorite story about that is, remember those famous MTV commercials that said call your local cable operator and demand, “I want my MTV”? Well, the reason that campaign started was cable companies did not want to add us. So MTV bought airtime, commercials. The had people like Pete Townshend and Billy Idol telling people to call their cable companies, and cable companies were getting inundated with calls. Then the cable companies would call MTV and say, “You’ve got to pull those commercials!”
Alan: The legitimacy came a year into it with the “I Want My MTV” campaign, with Jagger and Townshend and Bowie. That was a genius move on the part of Les Garland and Bob Pittman. … Soon it was evident that MTV was becoming a powerhouse in the business. Record companies were getting calls from local record stores saying, “Hey man, how can we get this U2 music? We need to stock some Stray Cats and Madness!” Kids were going into record stores saying, “I want the new Duran Duran album,” and the record store guy would go, “Where in the hell are you finding out about this band?”
Martha: But so many of the more established artists… I remember Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen saying, “No, we don’t need to make videos.” I am pretty sure that I am responsible for launching the second phase of Bruce’s career — the career that got launched with the Born in the USA album — because I ran into Bruce in a restaurant when he was recording that album, and he said to me, “Hey, aren’t you the girl I see on MTV?” And I said, thinking very quickly on my feet, “That’s more than I can say for you! When are you going to make some videos?” And sure enough, he made videos. So, I really think Bruce should be thanking me!
Nina: But the first few years when we were in our original studio, I would say that that was our favorite time, because it was still really a free-for-all.
Martha: Our studio was like the Honeycomb Hideout. It just was a wonderful time. You how Guns N’ Roses or Poison or Mötley Crüe will always talk about their early days when they were sharing an apartment on the Sunset Strip and they all had to share one sandwich? Those are always people’s favorite memories — those times when they were coming up against the odds. That’s the case of me and MTV too. Those were the most precious times in our arc.
Alan: They were given very little money to put on this cable show, and it kind of mirrored what was happening in cable in the early ‘80s, which was local cable access and porn shows. So, it kind of had the same aesthetic.
Martha: No. 1, my top, favorite moment, is [Billy Squier and the MTV staff performing] “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You.” If I had to go back in time and revisit one day, like if I could get into the DeLorean and go back to one moment, it would probably be this. What you see in that video, it was recorded within months of our launch, and we were all so starry-eyed, such believers. We were rebels with a cause. Everyone you see in that video, they’re the technicians, the secretaries, the executives, the production assistants.
Nina: I also love the Christmas performance with Bryan Adams and Pee-wee Herman; I thought it was really cute. But I gotta say, that first one was so special.
Alan: Andy Warhol came to MTV with Keith Haring, if I remember correctly, and also came with Basquiat at one point. MTV in its ‘80s heyday was kind of like the epicenter of all things entertainment in a way — people would just drop by, like Andy Warhol with Simon and Nick from Duran Duran. Or Kevin Bacon came to do a guest VJ spot after Footloose — and then we couldn’t get rid of him! “You mind if I just hang out?” Sure.
Mark: I always say that it was the center of the universe. I have said for years that MTV was the Beatles of the ‘80s. Everything that the Beatles did for the ‘60s — musically, culturally, fashion, film, style, editing, all of that stuff — we did in the ‘80s.
Nina: I wasn’t at the studio when Andy Warhol came down, but I did an event of myself with Andy, which was kind of bizarre. He and I were judges at a Madonna lookalike contest at Macy’s. We had to watch these young girls on a catwalk, parading around as Madonna wannabes. Andy didn’t have much to say. He was more of a voyeur. It was surreal to see these very young girls wearing their lingerie on the outside, though it now seems so tame compared to so many of the artists of today.
Mark: Madonna was a flirt. The first time I interviewed her, I asked her what “boy toy” meant, because she had that belt buckle, and she’s like, “Well, what do you think it means?” I thought, “OK, so you’re turning this around on me.” In retrospect, if I was gutsier or more confident, I could have gone up against her and flirted back. But I was so shy — or I was shy with her, for sure. You know, she was Madonna. I was a fan of hers. I loved that first record. And she was not like anybody else I had ever interviewed, because she was really coquettish — but not in a weird, stupid way. It was just like who she was, you know? And she was probably trolling me, probably f***ing with me, 100 percent.
Alan: Madonna flirted with everybody. I was the first one to interview Madonna, although Mark will say he was. He interviewed her in the studio, but I interviewed her backstage at the Limelight during one of her first performances. She wasn’t a superstar yet. She was sweet and nice, but man, she suffered no fools. And I came away from it thinking she was so focused on every answer she gave. There were no superfluous words. It was just focused and sharp, and it was clear she was going somewhere. We all agreed that she had the fire from the get-go.
Mark: The second time that I interviewed her was backstage at a stadium show she was doing in Florida a couple of years later, and I said, “Hey Madonna, I don’t if you remember me, Mark Goodman? I interviewed you back before you were Madonna.” And she just said, “You know what, Mark? I was always Madonna.”
Martha: I had the opportunity to interview Bob Dylan. But you don’t say to Dylan, “Come on down to our studio!” He calls the shots. And the way he wanted to do it was if we sent a crew to Wembley Stadium. “And I want it to be Martha Quinn,” he said. We flew to London and I worked on my questions on a little legal pad on the plane. Everyone kept saying to me, “Oh, you must be so nervous. I hear he’s so difficult!” But he was actually totally nice. We had a great time.
Mark: We had a fight about that, Martha and I, because she didn’t know anything. She was like 21 years old. She was still living in the dorms at NYU. She was doing a radio show as “Tiffany,” playing like disco music, literally. So, this kid gets to go and talk to the voice of my generation? [laughs] But I found out many, many years later that Jesse, Bob’s son, had a crush her, so I think that was part of why Bob wanted her to do the interview.
Martha: After the Bob interview was over, his assistant came up to me and said, “Bob wants to know if you want to fly with the band to Ireland for their show there tomorrow.” I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t have my passport with me!” So I had to race back to my hotel in a cab and then race to Heathrow. The plane was waiting on the tarmac. I went leapingonto the plane. My head was spinning! And I flew to Ireland with Bob Dylan and his band and saw his show at Slane Castle, where there was a young kid who was in a new band and was still working for a local music newspaper. The kid went to interview Dylan. And that was the first time that Bono ever met Bob Dylan. And I was backstage and I saw the whole thing happen! I don’t know how I wasn’t nervous. I was there sitting with Bob, doing his makeup, and I was completely calm. I would be way more nervous today. I have been nervous interviewing people before. I was super-nervous interviewing David Lee Roth — totally keyed up for that.
Mark: Oh my God, you have to see Martha’s interview with Dave. We joke about it. She had total crush on him.
Martha: I can imagine it was pretty obvious! I has crushes on pretty much all of them: Rick Springfield, Corey Hart, Prince. There’s a video floating around of Prince where I’m interviewing a contest winner and he walks up, and it’s so obvious that I’m completely throwing myself at him. It’s too embarrassing. But you know, that’s what you do when you’re young.
Mark: Well, David Lee Roth had a crush on Martha too.
Martha: In my area of New York, where I grew up in the late ‘70s, you were either a fan of Black Sabbath, Van Halen, or Earth, Wind & Fire. That was the main three, and that’s all I knew anyone listened to. And so when a chance to interview David Lee Roth came down the pike, I was so excited. All I could think about was everyone back home freaking out. We all know Dave is Mr. Jive Talker, and I was thinking, “I’m going to pierce through to his soul, and he’s going to drop that façade and say, ‘Oh my God, Martha Quinn, where have you been all my life?’” And we would ride off into the sunset. You can see in the footage that I’m not even laughing at any of his jokes. I was so intent on not being razzle-dazzled by him. Now I know that the best thing about David Lee Roth is his razzle-dazzling. So, there was no sunset-riding for me and Dave.
Mark: I interviewed Dave at the Us Festival, 1983. That interview is all over YouTube; it’s pretty famous. It was the night that Van Halen were headlining, and Dave was hammered to the gills and just in rare Dave form. It was useless to try and ask any real questions or get any real information, so we just sort of tap-danced and had fun and laughed and joked with each other. He sort of called me out at one moment when I asked him about his spandex pants. He made a comment about being circumcised or something — I can’t remember how exactly it happened — and then said, “You know about that, dontcha, Goodman?” Like, we were two Jews like going at each other and just having fun.
Alan: Well, I’m the one that they sent to do stupid stuff, like interviewing horses having sex. I went to Bloomington, Ind., to do a week of interviewing everybody in town about their native son, John Mellencamp, ahead of his “Pink Houses” contest. One day, the crew was driving past a pasture and I said, “Hey, let me go interview the horses!” So, I sat on the side of the fence interviewing one horse while another one came up, and they literally mated on-camera behind me. This was how hard-up we were for material! I kept interviewing the horses while they were having sex. And then a lady came out of the barn and yelled for us to stop.
Mark: So, I didn’t get to interview Dylan, but when Paul McCartney was recording Give My Regards to Broad Street in London, I got to go over and interview him at Air Studios. That’s one of the greatest moments of my life, let alone MTV. As I sat down, I was told walking in, “You have 15 minutes — 15 minutes, and that’s it, OK?” So I sat down and I’m talking to Paul, and his publicist is running back and forth. And I say, “Well, Paul, I’m sorry, but they want me to stop. We’re out of time.” And he leans in and goes, “Let’s not stop!” He wanted to keep talking to me. It was great. We went on for another 45 minutes. It was a phenomenal interview. After we wrapped, he asked if I had ever been to London before and I said no, and he said, “You have to try this restaurant.” He got on the phone and called a restaurant that he loved and talked to the manager or whoever, and said, “My friend Mark Goodman is coming over with his wife and they want to have dinner, please.” Paul McCartney made me a dinner reservation!
Martha: I interviewed Paul McCartney at Capitol Records in Hollywood. I’m a diehard Beatles fan, and it’s the only time that I’ve brought an album to an interview to be signed. And the craziest thing happened. He was sitting drinking tea during the interview, and when he walked out after the interview, I looked down at his teacup and I saw there was still tea in there. So, I picked up the cup and I drank it. I was like, “I am going to drink Paul McCartney’s tea. I don’t even care if I get a bacterial infection! I am going to drink it!” No one was looking, so I opened my purse, picked up the cup, saucer, and spoon, and put it right in my purse. I still have them. They’re behind glass, in a cabinet, to this day. And I’ve never washed them.
Alan: One of my most satisfying interviews was with Billy Joel in Russia. I went over there in ‘87 to do an MTV documentary, and that was during his historic play in Leningrad and Moscow. For me, a huge Billy Joel fan, to interview him there in a really longform interview was probably the best one that I ever did. My worst interview was probably Frank Zappa — and I’m a huge Zappa fan. He and Moon Unit came on and he did nothing but say stuff like “That’s a stupid question. Why’d you ask that, Alan?” Meanwhile, Moon is elbowing him saying, “Dad, stop being mean to Alan!” That kind of crushed me. But two weeks later, he came back with her down the hallway at MTV and apologized to me. He said, “I was feeling cranky that day.” I think it was because Moon said, “Why’d you beat up on that poor little VJ guy?”
Nina: One of the most interesting interviews I did, actually, was going over to England to interview Richard Branson, who was launching Virgin Airways, and taking the maiden flight a Virgin back over to the United States. He was a very fascinating person, and it was this huge party up in this brand-new plane, on this brand-new airline. That was fun.
Alan: Well, I remember we did a Journey contest where people would win and they’d get flown by a Learjet to Long Island to see their show and also have dinner with me. So, I get flown out to Iowa — I don’t know, everything is Iowa and Ohio to me, I have no idea where I was. But I flew somewhere in the heartland to pick up these four giddy people at the airport, and they get on the Learjet, all excited. The door closes, and then for four hours on the flight, they do nothing but pepper me with every question they’ve ever, ever wanted to ask any of us. Like, “Have you ever met Rick Springfield?” Just fanboys and fangirls, and I’m trapped on the plane with them and one PR person for four hours. They were relentless. … But I’ve always understood why we VJs are ubiquitous in people’s brains. We were there in people’s lives, 24/7. I wasn’t Brad Pitt, I wasn’t a movie star, but we were always around.
Nina: I didn’t really think about being famous, or a sex symbol. I really just was primarily thinking of my day-to-day job. Years later, guys would tell me things like, “I had my first sexual experience watching you — and I was alone!” You know, that type of thing. Ooh boy.
Alan: I do think Bob Pittman thought Martha and I had a good little chemistry going, and that we were the kids that might have a little sizzle onscreen. In fact, they asked me to not wear my wedding ring on the air! I was very freshly married when I moved to New York. But no, Martha and I were like brother and sister. Had I not been married, would I have slept with Martha? Who’s to say? The real question is, would she have slept with me? We will never know… [laughs]
Nina: It is true that “Missing You” by John Waite was partially inspired by me. We were good friends, and he called me from the studio and he said he had written a song and had been thinking of me, and of his wife at the time, when he wrote it. He played it for me and somebody somebody’s place on West 57th. It’s a beautiful song. I was very flattered. It turned out to be a No. 1 song, which was pretty cool. He sent me gold record for it. But I can’t say were dating. That word to me is weird, I’m sorry. We were really good friends. We hit it off. We would hang out, go out for a meal in Chinatown. We were cozy, and we would talk on the phone a lot. I would classify it more as like a really close friendship. He was not like my boyfriend or anything like that, but we had a very deep connection.
Martha: I actually had another lovely moment with Dave. At the very first MTV Video Music Awards, I opened the show and when I was leaving the stage, I tripped onstage. I remember there was an audible gaspfrom everyone at Radio City Music Hall, and I was mortified to the max. I was so embarrassed, I could barely function. I couldn’t take it. And being young, every single person I ran into that evening, I would say, “Oh my God, did you see what happened?” I said to David Lee Roth, who’d been sitting in the front row, “Oh my God, did you see me trip and fall?” And he said, “Ah, darling, welcome to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. You know how many times I’ve done that? That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.” He just singlehandedly pieced me back together and made me feel OK. So, I totally did have my real moment with David Lee Roth. He was so kind and so positive, so gentle. I’ve always been very grateful for that, because it was a horrible moment.
Nina: The VMAs were just OK. You know, we really didn’t have a big role in them. We were pretty much in the audience for most of it. I do remember Carly Simon at one of them, and she notoriously gets stage fright. I was asked by one of our executives to help her relax, because they just felt that I would be a good person for that, and I remember speaking with her before she went on, kind of doing a little interview with her, to calm her down. And I love Carly Simon. But wouldn’t list the VMAs as one of my top MTV moments. They were fine.
Alan: The kind of overriding story of us VJs and our feeling about that first VMAs in ’84 is, when they sat us down and said, “Hey, we’re going to have this big awards show at Radio City Music Hall,” we thought that was amazing. What a new paradigm for MTV! But then when we were given the script rundown of the evening, and we saw that Dan Aykroyd was going to host with Bette Midler… you know, like as you do as an actor, you read through the script and see where your lines are. There was pages and pages of nothingfor me. And then finally: “Alan is in the balcony and throws to commercial.” That was it. So, each of us had the same feeling of being really diminished. We had been the faces of this channel for three years now. We’d helped bring it to where it was that it could even have this kind of awards show. We were the workhorses of the channel, and all of a sudden we had one or two little bits in the premiere episode of our big awards show? I think that was a little bit of writing on the wall about where MTV was headed.
Nina: MTV’s thinking always was, they didn’t want any of the VJs to be bigger than the channel.
Alan: I believed in the evolution. I think the evolution was good and right. And I would have done it too, if I was the executive. The video jukebox had lost its luster after ‘85 and ‘86. Change was MTV’s oxygen — that’s what I’ll always say about that channel. Before the audience had time to get used to anything, they changed the graphics, the look, the feel, and started all those new shows before people got too complacent.
Nina: They formed an entire news department. At that time, the writing was kind of on the wall at MTV. Our duties were limited, and there was no upward growth.
Mark: Alan and I both quit on the same day. What I loved about my job was doing interviews. When they hired Kurt Loder, I knew that was what Kurt was going to be doing — that he was going to do all the big interviews. And I just thought, “Now’s the time to go.”
Alan: I was the last one to leave, by about two weeks. But my career at MTV was actually starting to hit new heights. I started to move more into the reality world. I did a thing called Amuck in Americain 1986, where we traveled the country for 30 days, me doing man-on-the-street stuff with the Cadillac Ranch, the biggest ball of twine, that sort of thing. That was kind of the first Road Rules-type reality television. And the Spring Break thing started happening, and they sent me down for a week to be the ringmaster of all the inanity. I felt really comfortable in the middle of the thousand screaming drunk college boys! The one image I have that encapsulates the whole craziness of that type of MTV show, which was starting to become more prominent, is when I was interviewing the Hawaiian Tropic ladies in their bikinis — while my wife is standing on the VIP deck, holding my 6-month-old son, like The Lion King “Circle of Life.” These frat dudes were chanting something that I couldn’t really understand, so I listened closer… they were yelling, “Hunter’s got a woody!”
Nina: I think they should have just pulled the plug on the damn thing, rather than still call it “MTV” and have the garbage that they have now. I don’t like reality shows to begin with, on any network. I think they’re stupid. They’re not “real.” It’s just brainwashed TV.
Alan: Bob Pittman said, “I need you on for another three years, and I want to give you a lot more money.” So, I signed a big contract for another couple of years of MTV and got salary bumps that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and I was kind of the man for the “new MTV,” which was the reality stuff. But ultimately, Mark and I sat there in ’86, at the end of that year, and said, “We can’t be VJs forever. Let’s plot the plan to depart and not be here after 1987.” Once Martha was let go, we said, “That’s it. I’m not going to stay here.” So, I said no to the next two years of my contract.
Nina: I can’t say that MTV could exist now as it was in the beginning, but it could have evolved in a music direction, not in the direction that whoever it was chose to take it. It’s just blasphemous that they still call it “MTV.” Just call it “Trash TV” — that would be more appropriate. I’m sorry, but I’m just not a fan.
Alan: In a way, as a bookend, my last minutes on MTV were as impactful as my first minutes — not because they were great, but because it was the ending of a chapter, and I totally aborted giving it its due. My last shift on MTV, I was literally trying to get my family out to Los Angeles for our new life. I had to get to the airport that afternoon. I was taping my last segment, and I had all these ideas for a speech, and MTV wanted to throw me a party. But I said, “Hey, it’s been great being around for all these many years. Peace and progress. Y’all be good.” And I was done. All the crew guys and directors and producers were trying to give me a hug, but I was like, “Sorry, I’ve got to make it to the airport!” It was one of those mundane human moments where the biggest thing in my life had just ended, and I didn’t give it the sendoff it deserved. It was really just sad that I didn’t plot it better, but I don’t think we plot profound moments in our life in advance very well. I have had the most profound moments in my life when I was surprised. And one would be at our dear friend J.J.’s funeral. We don’t talk much about that. I had no idea what I was going to say about his death or his life. Everybody else had written stuff on a piece of paper. Martha was sweating out what she was going to say. Mark had his speech. And I got up and rattled on for 15 minutes. I don’t even remember what I said. But I really was proud that I was able to sum up some real emotions and actually make sense. And I thought, “Oh, that’swhat life is about. Profound moments just come to you.”
Martha: Even now, when I hear the moon landing countdown or “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, I get goosebumps. I practically want to cry, every time, every single time. … We were all one big happy family, fighting for this cause. And we believed so strongly in the power of rock ‘n’ roll.
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