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Original VJ Mark Goodman looks back on 40 years of MTV

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These days, Mark Goodman is heard daily on SiriusXM satellite radio’s ‘80s on 8 channel, but 40 years ago this month, Goodman became one of the five original MTV VJs, the personalities that introduced music videos and interviewed the stars. Along with Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter and the late J.J. Jackson, Goodman provided a face for the upstart cable channel that became a pop culture phenomenon.

As Goodman explains in the following interview, he was supposed to be the first VJ viewers saw after MTV cleared the launch pad on August 1, 1981, but a behind-the-scenes glitch altered that plan. He discusses how the channel’s sudden success shocked everyone involved, and he recalls what he says was the worst night of his life, when his next-door neighbor – John Lennon – was killed.

The Maine Edge: Were you the first person viewers saw when MTV signed on?

Mark Goodman: We’ll put it this way, I was supposed to be. Technology wasn’t really ready for what MTV wanted to do at the time and there was a fair amount of human error involved in the launch. We got through the rocket, we heard (MTV creator) John Lack saying “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll,” we saw The Buggles and Pat Benatar, then there was a little glitch in the Pat Benatar video and it stopped for 12 seconds. Then it was supposed to me saying “This is it…” But what actually came up first was “And I’m Alan Hunter!” It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The guy put the wrong cart in the wrong machine. It was pretty much a (MTV co-founder) Bob Pittman nightmare at our launch party, and it was weird. By the way, Alan Hunter still refers to himself as the first VJ because of that screw up even though mine was the first show you saw on MTV.

The Maine Edge: I really enjoyed the book you collaborated on with the other original V.J.s. Among other things, we learn through “VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave” that there were some pretty wild parties at MTV in the ‘80s.

Mark Goodman: (laughs) Well, MTV parties were the best. That was something that we did really, really well, especially our New Year’s parties. When we did our first New Year’s Eve party at the end of 1981, we weren’t even on the air yet in Manhattan, but it was packed. It was pouring rain and people were lined out the door waiting to get in, we were all shocked. We invited pretty much everyone in the business and a lot of viewers. We tried to do everything like that in a larger-than-life way to give people a doorway into what was happening new in music at that time.

The Maine Edge: Videos existed before MTV but there wasn’t a home for them until you came along. Do you remember how many videos you actually had in rotation at the beginning?

Mark Goodman: It felt like we had about 10 (laughs). I think we actually had about 300 videos at the beginning but when you break that down to 24 hours a day, that’s not enough. We had a lot of Rod Stewart videos but also people like Andrew Gold (“Thank You for Being a Friend”). In the first hour, we played a video by this group called Ph.D (“Little Suzie’s on the Up”). Let’s be honest, we were scrambling but we did the best we could.

The Maine Edge: Among the other original MTV VJs, who were you tightest with?

Mark Goodman: That’s a hard question to answer because the five of us had a weird dynamic. Maybe J.J. Jackson and I would have been friends outside of MTV because we both came from radio before making that transition. In that way, we had quite a bit in common but J.J. had been in radio longer than me. Nina was a rocker, and she knew about the music, so we sort of bonded on that. Martha (Quinn) was about 22 years old and still lived in the NYU dorms so she’s a lot younger than me. I was like “What is she doing here? She doesn’t know anything (laughs).” Same thing with Alan. He was an actor living in New York and he didn’t really know anything about the music we played, he was more into light jazz. He wasn’t a rocker, so we didn’t get along initially.

Within the first six months, we all became so tight, it was sort of like what you hear about Vietnam vets. We were all in this crazy, centrifuge, nutty-house thing and we were all living it together. We shared a dressing room for the first year; the girls would change behind a clothing rack. J.J. was sort of the father figure. I especially bonded with Nina and Martha. Ultimately, Alan and I literally became best friends. Martha too, I just visited her two weeks ago. We are family.

The Maine Edge: Just before you joined MTV for the launch, you were a radio man on New York City’s top rock station, WPLJ. You were on the air the night John Lennon was killed and immediately turned your show into a tribute. Is there any way to convey what that night was like for you?

Mark Goodman: Worst night of my life. When it happened, I was actually in the middle of a tribute to Jim Morrison whose birthday it was. In the middle of playing “The End” by The Doors, I got this call from ABC news down the hall telling me that John had been shot and was taken to the hospital. We didn’t know that he had died. I started playing Beatles music right away and took calls from listeners. We were helping each other which is how I felt about it at the time. As it happened, my apartment building was literally next door to the Dakota building where John and Yoko lived and where John was killed just outside. To come home to the hundreds and hundreds of people that had gathered outside the Dakota building with flowers, singing his songs, it’s a night I’ll never forget.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 07:09


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