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MTV’s first featured artists reflect on the network’s debut 30 years ago.

Anyone being born as MTV celebrates its 30th anniversary this month won’t have a clue what the M in the cable network’s acronym stands for. The station officially dropped the “Music Television” tagline from its logo last year, a subtle admission that Snooki and teen moms had become its main attractions. But that wasn’t the case at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Aug. 1, 1981, when MTV debuted in a handful of cable markets around the United States with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” clip.

“And it did,” the Who’s Roger Daltrey tells American Way about the song’s ominous title. “[The Buggles] were so spot-on.”

As MTV commemorates three decades on the air, AW spoke with some of the first artists to have videos played on the then-fledgling network about being a part of television lore.

Geoff Downes of the Buggles: “ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ dealt with how technology changes? people’s perceptions of things. I’m still very proud of it — not just the fact that it was the very first video on MTV. When you see it now, it’s a little piece of mini-art.”

Pat Benatar: “We were in some dumpy little hotel in Oklahoma getting ready to do the festival Rocklahoma. And it was, like, one of the five places? in America that actually had MTV. Our manager comes running in and says to us, ‘You know that video we shot three months ago? They’re gonna air it for the first time today!’ Maybe four or five days later, you couldn’t go anywhere [without being recognized]. That changed everything.”

Roger Daltrey of the Who: “We heard about this MTV startup and everyone seemed really excited about it, but I never was. I always felt that kind of 24-hour music-visual thing would take away from the music, rather than add, which it ended up doing. I certainly wasn’t interested in watching the Who on TV, that’s for sure.”

Jim Diamond of Ph.D.: “The only thing I remember about MTV was that as soon as [our video for] ‘Little Suzi’ was on, suddenly everyone knew who we were. In territories we’d never been to before, people knew us at the hotel, which was freaky. It’s probably the worst video that’s ever been made.”

Early Adopters

The first 10 videos play on MTV.
  1. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles
  2. “You Better Run” by Pat Benatar
  3. “She Won't Dance with Me” by Rod Stewart
  4. “You Better You Bet” by the Who
  5. “Little Suzi's on the Up” by Ph.D.
  6. “We Don't Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard
  7. “Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders
  8. “Time Heals” by Todd Rundgren
  9. “Take It on the Run” by REO Speedwagon
  10. “Rock'in the Paradise” by Styx