On August 1, 1981, MTV launched at 12:01 a.m. Above you can relive the first two hours of the network’s existence, thanks to YouTuber Max Speedster.
The nostalgic trip back in time is fun for anyone who either remembers MTV’s early days or wasn’t old enough to witness it. It is also historically interesting for the commercials, shows a surprisingly seat-of-the-pants approach to cable TV—complete with lots of dead air and bad audio cuts—and features a surprising mix of videos. Oh, and they won’t shut up about how they’re broadcasting in stereo.
Stick around until after The Buggles’ video for “Video Killed the Radio Star” for a bit of dead air, then a weird micro-documentary about MTV, followed by a Pat Benatar video. Then we meet some of the original VJs, including Martha Quinn and J.J. Jackson.
The first MTV commercial starts just over 10 minutes into the hour. It's for “The Bulk,” a three-ring binder. The second ad is for Superman II, “the most exciting movie event of our time.” The third ad is for Dolby noise reduction. Then you’ll be treated to a vintage Rod Stewart video in which he wears some very unfortunate trousers. (The much-better “You Better You Bet” video should erase your memory of Rod’s pants.)
While the offer to receive an “MTV Dial Sticker” to put on your TV so you’ll never forget which channel it’s on is probably no longer valid, we hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.
Still looking for more? Read all about the launch of MTV here.
A version of this story ran in 2011; it has been updated for 2023.