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Original VJ Nina Blackwood: ‘If MTV were just starting today, I’d probably have to be locked up’

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The original MTV VJs - left to right, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter. The original MTV VJs - left to right, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter. (AP file photo)

Anniversaries can be a kick in the pants, especially when you do the math.

Can you believe it’s been 41 years since MTV cleared the launchpad? The world’s first 24-hour music video channel flipped the switch on August 1, 1981, initiating a sea change for both music and television.

Nina Blackwood, one of the five original MTV VJs - the personalities we saw introducing the videos and interacting with the artists – says it doesn’t seem possible that it was more than four decades ago.

“For those of us who were actually on the channel and also for people who watched it at the time, it’s incomprehensible to think that it was 41 years ago - it really is,” Blackwood said to The Maine Edge during an interview that aired on BIG 104 FM.

Blackwood has resided on the Maine coast for 15 years. From Maine she transmits her radio show heard on SiriusXM’s ‘80s on 8’ channel but otherwise leads a private life with her menagerie of animals which currently includes 8 cats (two with special needs), two parrots and a 7-month-old puppy with energy to spare named Owsley Weisenheimer. “He’s all puppy,” she says.

Her careers have taken Blackwood across the country. She was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She later spent years on the west coast but said (during a 2013 interview with The Maine Edge) that she’d always felt a deep connection to Maine in her soul and that it was only a matter of time until she made the move.

A classically trained harpist and pianist, Blackwood says she became smitten by The Beatles when she first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show which ignited her passion for rock and roll.

When Blackwood saw an ad in Billboard about a new 24-hour music channel on the lookout for hosts, she sent a resume and head shot to the address. When called in to audition she was tasked with interviewing a wisecracking Billy Joel (portrayed by future “Late Night with David Letterman” producer Robert Morton). She thought she did reasonably well.

MTV executives wanted Blackwood for the new music channel, but she was on the fence about taking the job until they took her to dinner at New York City’s Tavern on the Green. She said she nervously began eating a crusty roll but inhaled part of it and began choking. When Morton jumped into action with the Heimlich maneuver, possibly saving her life, he cheekily added “You owe me” and MTV had just landed their first VJ.

Each of the VJs had a different image. Nina was the stunning rocker girl, Mark Goodman was the hunk, Alan Hunter was the jock; the late J.J. Jackson was the cool guy and Martha Quinn was the innocent but edgy girl next door. And they each became big-time celebrities during the 1980s.

Blackwood says she mostly looks back on that era with fondness but adds that if MTV were just starting today, she doubts her ability to cope with the reaction from fans.

“It was a different time back in the ‘80s,” she says. “You didn’t have people sticking their phones in your face and I never remember it being that invasive. I thank God that social media wasn’t around then because I seriously would not have been able to handle that. Some people are all about the promotion and they need to have their egos fed. If MTV were just starting today, I’d probably have to be locked up somewhere (laughing).”

Part of the fun of watching MTV in those years was seeing the VJs hanging out music’s biggest stars but Blackwood says she focused on remaining professional adding that it isn’t in her makeup to become starstruck.

“I’m not really like that, and it might be because I’m a musician,” she says. “To me these people were incredible musicians and performers. I’d say the closest I came to being star-struck was seeing Paul McCartney at the premiere for his movie ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ and at the party afterwards.”

Blackwood says that Martha Quinn was with her for that 1984 affair and the two egged each other on to say hello to Paul.

“You have to understand how huge The Beatles were for me,” Blackwood says, adding “Martha was also a huge fan. When we saw him, we were reduced to 12-year-old girls, pushing each other, saying ‘You go say hi,’ ‘No you go say hi,’ No, you.’”

Blackwood says neither actually said hello to McCartney that day, but Quinn later landed an interview with him and Blackwood (then with Entertainment Tonight) hosted a press conference announcing his first U.S. tour in 13 years. Finally, she had Paul’s attention.

“He kept calling me Goldie because he thought I looked like Goldie Hawn,” Blackwood recalls of McCartney. “Then he kissed me on the cheek. I remained professional in the moment but as soon as I left the venue, I was like (screaming) ‘Oh my God! Paul kissed me on the cheek!’ (laughs). Did I ever get starstruck? Paul McCartney, yeah.”

Fans will no doubt become a little starstruck next March when Blackwood says she has plans to join former VJs Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter for an ‘80s cruise. More than 50 on-board concerts are scheduled from artists including Devo, Bret Michaels of Poison, Kim Wilde, Howard Jones, The Church, Morris Day and the Time, and Living Colour, among others.

“Before we did a cruise like this for the first time, I’d never experienced anything like it,” Blackwood says. “We have people who look forward to this cruise all year and they come back every time. They’re wild and I don’t mean out of control but wild in the best sense of the word. They just love the ‘80s.”

I can’t tell you what’s airing on MTV today (Editor’s note: It is almost certainly approximately five hundred episodes of “Ridiculousness”), but I’m fairly confident you won’t see many music videos there. It isn’t easy to convey to younger viewers just how important the channel was to us back then and how exciting it was to watch Nina, Martha, J.J., Mark, and Alan living the dream.

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 August 2022 10:28


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