Newswise — MANHATTAN, Kan. -- "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll."
That declaration was given nearly 30 years ago with little fanfare and was only audible to a few thousand people in northern New Jersey. But the launch of Music Television, also known as MTV, on Aug. 1, 1981, had permanent implications for the music industry and popular culture, according to two Kansas State University music experts -- an impact foreshadowed by images of the moon landing that accompanied MTV's launch.
The network's first music video was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, an intentional selection according to one of those experts.
"That song came out a couple of years prior to the launch of MTV," said Nora Lewis, assistant professor of music. "When MTV launched, it featured videos 24 hours a day on every day of the week. MTV creators knew its cultural and musical impact would be huge, and the selection of 'Video Killed the Radio Star' served as the perfect harbinger for its impending significance."
MTV initially had a limited audience. Cable television was not widely available in the early 1980s. As the popularity and scope expanded, MTV began to effectively define popular culture and the music industry in an unprecedented manner, according to another K-State music expert.
"Popular music became more visual," said Steven Maxwell, assistant professor of music. "Dancing styles and clothing styles became increasingly more important. It also helped break the color barrier for popular music on television. Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' video was shown in 1983 and helped MTV and Jackson gain in popularity."
Record sales spiked for artists shown on MTV. Soon the music video became an effective marketing tool for record companies. For artists the video developed into an avenue that expanded creative boundaries and embraced and propelled technological advances, Lewis said. The increased importance of music's visual element had a number of effects on the music industry as a whole.
"Some bands that were less talented but had great visual appeal became more popular," Maxwell said. "On the positive side, many bands that were not known in the United States such as Duran Duran or Flock of Seagulls had more opportunities."
Many networks followed MTV's example and began playing music videos. The success of MTV also spawned several sister networks that became the primary areas for playing music videos. It was an ideal opening for reality television, a burgeoning portion of the network's programming. Reality television was introduced to MTV viewers in 1992 with "The Real World." The music programming on MTV and related networks would never be the same and it could be focused on one factor.
"Money," Maxwell said. "The reality series that they have created have been extremely successful. From 'The Real World' to 'The Osbournes' to recently 'Jersey Shore.'"
Since these changes have taken root, MTV's musical significance has become more limited. Numerous vehicles for disseminating music videos are available and record labels often post their artist's videos to YouTube or allow them to stream from a website, eliminating MTV's former role.
"It is so easy to view videos online," Maxwell said. "I don't think they will go in that direction again."
Lewis believes MTV still offers a perspective of popular culture, but that it also is limited.
"Now there are more avenues that define popular culture, offering more diverse perspectives," she said. "I don't think that MTV can return as the singular defining force of popular culture that it once was."