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Moment 69: Video Stars

MTV, launched in 1981, promised a 24-hour diet of music television, feeding the nation’s living rooms a constant stream of fashionable stars in stylish videos.

Michael Jackson in 1983 making the Beat It video

Michael Jackson in 1983 making the Beat It video.

Photo By Chris Walter/WireImage

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Video officially killed the radio star August 1, 1981, when MTV launched, albeit to just a few thousand people on a single cable system in northern New Jersey. A few months prior, John A. Schneider, the president of Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Co., explained the competitive logic behind its new channel to WWD: "People are just not going to have time to listen to rock on the radio as well as TV." At the time, music videos were in their infancy, and the channel's promise of 24 hours of rock required new talent, which raised a few concerns. As Robert Pittman, then 27 and vice president of programming, said, "In case they don't sound so good, we hope they will look good." Once the highly styled videos of fashion influentials including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper entered America's living rooms, it was obvious that an artist's look was as, if not more, important as his or her sound.