On Monday, Aug. 1, MTV celebrates its 30th birthday. It’s hard to believe, but the original music television channel has entered its third decade of making history, raising eyebrows, and, more than anything else, being the symbol of a generation of music fans.
I caught up with Nina Blackwood, one of MTVs first-generation VJs, to talk about the channel’s early years and how it’s changed.
When you look back at MTV’s history, can you believe it’s been 30 years?
There is no way I can wrap my head around it at all. I keep saying it, but nobody can comprehend that number — maybe 20, but not 30. I’m meeting hundreds and hundreds of fans, and it’s awesome work, but the general feeling is that all of us collectively are not old enough for that! It’s pretty weird. If MTV was a kid, he would be an adult right now.
Probably an adult with kids, too.
I know! How can that happen so soon? Someone’s tricked us or something!
People think of MTV when they think of ’80s music, but they don’t always think of ’80s music when they think of MTV. Is there still an MTV generation?
The MTV generation, the way I think about it, are those people around when it first started. MTV doesn’t even really play videos anymore. It’s reality TV. I don’t want to slam shows like that, but it’s not about music anymore.
Calling it “Music Television” might be disingenuous, wouldn’t you think?
It’s like having your favorite Sirius XM music channel suddenly go [to a talk format]. I love the video music awards. I love Katy Perry — I can’t wait to see her! — but it’s only on once a year. MTV has grown into something different. But, seriously, a show on teenage moms? It hasn’t been about music for a while now.
But the idea didn’t end there. You haven’t left ’80s music, have you? It’s still very much part of your life. You’ve got your Downtown Las Vegas Absolutely ’80s Summer, Sirius XM programs, and two ’80s broadcast radio shows.
When Sirius started, there were just murmurings, and I was so excited — to me, that was the logical evolution of it. Then they came calling, and it was like, this is perfect! And I’m still working with Mark and Martha and the gang — we’re still together. We still have that familial sense between us. We didn’t pretend to be friends, we really were.
You guys are rock stars every bit as the music you play. It’s a comfortable, good feeling, because we know you. You’re a known quantity, and you know the music that’s important to us.
Thank you! That’s sweet!
It’s true, though. People want to hear that music presented by someone who represents the decade of music. That’s you.
That’s great! If there was one statement that I’d like to sum up my career, it would be this: that there is credibility here, that there’s a sense of — I don’t know how to say it — but that we’re kind of the same as the people who listen to this music.
The nature of how [MTV] started was that we were on in people’s living rooms seven days a week — nobody does that. Newscasters don’t do that. So many people have come up to me and said, “You were my babysitter, and I used to come home from school to you” and it’s like family.
It’s got to be hard, though — it’s not like there’s new ’80s music coming out. What do you do to keep yourself from getting bored with it?
Well, I was just prepping my show for this, but Colin Hay from Men at Work, for example, he’s got a new album coming out. The title is “Gathering Mercury” — what an interesting concept, right? A lot of these artists are putting new stuff out there all the time. They’re working hard, doing shows, writing music. Ray Davies, Depeche Mode, John Mellencamp, Madonna, Heart, Bon Jovi — Boy George, for example. He’s still huge in the U.K. He’s very busy. That’s how we keep it fresh. They’re always doing something new and exciting.
I can’t open my Facebook page without seeing someone’s link to an ’80s video. Whenever anyone has something they want to express, they link one of those songs. There was one woman going through a tough spell, and she just posted video after video. It seems a natural thing to do for many of us.
That’s something all music does; it brings back memories and happy times. Music always did this, but MTV was historic. You not only heard the songs, but you saw the videos and [artists’] faces. For the most part, too, ’80s music brings people together. Not so much the alternative, darker stuff, like The Cure and Depeche Mode, which I love, but the rest of it, even the ’90s music (and I loved grunge, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins), it’s not as communal or uplifting as ’80s music.
Did you have a favorite video you liked to play or a favorite band whose videos you liked?
I used to get teased by Martha [Quinn] all the time. She made fun of me, but one I just loved, and if I could live in this video, I would, Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy.” Most girls would love it! It’s like a fairytale. Talk about someone with longevity and credibility: Stevie Nicks! It’s beautiful!
You’re still fun, still cool, and just what we loved about the ’80s! Thanks for keeping us ear-deep in great music, Nina. Spin some Duran Duran for me next time you’re playing hits for us — “Save A Prayer” if it’s handy.