August 1: I Want My MTV!

MtvmoonLet’s say that you were at home on the night of July 31, 1981. You’re surfing around the channels looking for something interesting when you stumble across footage of NASA mission control preparing for a space shuttle launch, with the stylized letters M, T and V in the corner of the screen. “Okay,” you think, “what’s this?”

You keep watching, because there’s nothing better on, and at Midnight a countdown starts. Then, at 12:01 AM on August 1, a voice says “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” and still photos of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon appear on the screen. Except, he’s not planting the ol’ Stars and Stripes on the moon; no, he’s planting a flag featuring an ever changing colorful MTV logo! At this point, casual viewers are probably wondering what the hell’s going on, so MTV decided they might as well air the deeply odd, and oddly fitting video for The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.”

And that, children, is how MTV was launched. Although promotional music videos had existed in one form or another since the 1960s, MTV was the first channel devoted to 24/7 music programming. Obviously that’s changed a bit since then, but we’re not going to talk about that right now. The network’s initial playlist was mostly made up of rock and new wave clips along with whatever other musical videos the channel could get its hands on. In the early days, this meant frequent excerpts from live concert films plus a heavy presence of Devo and “Weird” Al Yankovich, both of whom were early adoptees of the music video format.

Nowadays, with MTV mostly airing “reality” programing, it’s hard to believe that the network was once viewed as daring and innovative. Shows like 120 Minutes and Yo! MTV Raps would evangelize the growing alternative rock and hip-hop movements, respectively, and bring these sounds to a larger audience. MTV didn’t just help bring fame to up and coming musicians, it also helped kick start the careers of music video directors including such contemporary Hollywood icons as Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and David Fincher.

For today’s cocktail, I decided to pay tribute to MTV’s choosing to play “Video Killed The Radio Star” as the first video by mixing a Marconi Wireless. This drink takes its basic inspiration from the Manhattan, but mixes in applejack in place of whiskey, and orange bitters instead of regular bitters. Both of these items are a little hard to find, so if I were you, I’d go check my nearest upscale wine and spirits store or BevMo.

Marconi Wireless

  • 1 3/4 ounces Applejack
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Orange Bitters

Stir in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: We catch a ride on a cable car.


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