Remember When: MTV Debuts with “Video Killed the Radio Star”

The 1980s were a decade of technological advances and cultural shifts within the ever-growing music industry. One of the most pivotal moments of the era arrived in the early hours of August 1, 1981, when MTV was broadcast to televisions across the U.S. for the first time.

Videos by American Songwriter

At the time, the network was a hopeful experiment spearheaded by television executives hoping to cash in by appealing to young music fans. Music Television—eventually renamed into its abbreviated form—was the first of its kind. Although artists had been creating and releasing music videos for many years, there had never been a channel singularly focused on the art form.

The first few seconds of MTV’s inaugural broadcast displayed an array of space-themed imagery, including collaged footage from the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969. Moments later, viewers were treated to the quirky music video for “Video Killed the Radio Star,” a single from the then-burgeoning new wave band The Buggles. 

The imaginative, theatrical video mixes creatively altered clips of vocalist Trevor Horn with scenes showing the mysterious journey of a young girl as she’s transported into the future. It’s a clever, eyebrow-raising interpretation of the song’s hypnotic lyrics. 

The Buggles wrote “Video Killed the Radio Star” as a direct response to the rapid changes in technology and its direct effects on society. It was a fitting and timely choice to help kick off MTV’s emergence into pop culture, but it also relays a message that’s still relevant over 40 years later.

[RELATED: MTV Unplugged—5 Intimate Performances to Remember]

The launch of MTV spurred a surge of popularity for both the network and The Buggles, but it was a streak that wouldn’t last forever. It’s been many years since MTV has moved away from focusing on music videos, pivoting to a range of programming with loose ties to music. The Buggles enjoyed a brief period of success and notoriety immediately after MTV’s launch. Still, the band broke up less than two years after the release of “Video Killed the Radio Star.” 

Plenty has changed since that historic day in 1981, but MTV and “Video Killed the Radio Star” will live on as pivotal elements in rock and roll history.

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

Leave a Reply

Rising Stars: 5 ‘American Idol’ Runners-Up Who Achieved Stardom

Disco Fever: 7 Essential Disco Hits That Dominated the Dance Floors