Growing up as a teenager with access to one of the few cable systems to carry MTV when it debuted on August 1, 1981, I spent a lot of time watching the channel and its original five VJS. So when VJ : the unplugged adventures of MTV’s first wave arrived on our shelves to be cataloged, it immediately caught my eye.
In it, the four surviving VJs – Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn —together with co-writer Gavin Edwards compile an oral history of the early days of the channel, back when it really was “music television.” They reveal details of their lives before they were tapped for the brave new occupation of “VJ” , behind-the-scenes tales of the channel’s shaky startup (when even cable operations in Manhattan – where the VJs were living—didn’t carry the channel & so they couldn’t have a full picture of what their efforts were creating), through MTV’s heyday in the mid-80s. Especially enjoyable for me are their reminiscences about fifth VJ J.J. Jackson (who died in 2004), and the scoop on their individual (and sometimes sudden) departures from the channel.
Since I wasn’t able to watch MTV as it transitioned from radio-like blocks of video rotation into more original programming following the departure of the original VJs, it was interesting to read how even in the mid-80s they could see this change coming. For all their visibility and celebrity to those of us growing up watching them on our sets at home, the VJs struggled off-camera to be more than just interchangeable cogs in what was becoming an increasingly polished product delivery system.
VJ is a breezy read, and the affection these four people share for each other really comes through. Their easy-going personalities from 30 years ago are still evident, tinged with just the right amount of lessons learned from the past. Spending time with them again brought back good memories of being hooked on MTV in its early days, when it was just a few people in a studio, broadcasting new and interesting music out to an audience unfamiliar with anything not heard on mainstream Top-40 or AOR stations.
Dale – Tech Services