At 6PM on January 1st, 1985, cable system operators across America flipped the "on-air" switch and began broadcasting Video Hits One (VH1 for short) to 3.4 million unsuspecting cable subscribers. Thirty years later, VH+1 (as it is now known) is available to more than 98 million cable and satellite subscribers in the US alone with variations of the channel available in more than a dozen other countries including Finland, whose logo appears at top of this post. While many ultra-hardcore music trivia fans know the 206 videos that were played during MTV's first 24 hours on-air, ask those same people what the first two videos shown on VH1 were and you're more than likely to get a blank stare. HERC did the research and is pleased to present those first two videos below for our edification and education:
It all started with Ted Turner
On October 26th, 1984, the cable mogul launched a 24 hour music video channel to compete with MTV - in Turner's own words the channel was "gonna play a wide arrangement of music. We're gonna stay away from excessively violent or degrading clips towards women that MTV is so fond of running." (And don't forget those demonically satanic heavy metal videos, Ted.) The first music video shown on The Cable Music Channel (as it was known) was:
After sustaining huge financial losses despite an estimated potential audience of two and half million viewers, Ted sold Cable Music Channel's assets to MTV parent company Warner-AMEX for a cool one million dollars just 34 days after launching, quite possibly making it the shortest-lived cable channel ever. The next day, the channel aired its final music video (below) before scrolling complete cast and crew credits through the "I Love L.A." video and going dark.
Bob Pittman gets his way the second time around
Early on, exec Pittman envisioned the first national music video channel as TV1. He was voted down and the network launched as MTV. Once the former Cable Music Channel came under his guidance, he revived his fight for the name TV1, altering it to VH1, standing for Video Hits One, to gain acceptance. Thirty-two days after the creatively named Cable Music Channel bit the dust, Pittman oversaw the debut of VH1.
MTV for our Parents and our Grandparents, too
The original targeted viewer demographic for MTV were people between the ages of 12-24 in 1981. VH1 was aimed squarely at more mature music fans born between 1931 and 1960 or those 25-54 in 1985. HERC fell in the first demo back then and both his parents and all four grandparents were among VH1's sought after demographic. Flash forward thirty years to 2015 and HERC is on the tail end of VH1's demo and sometimes watches VH1 Classic, a spin-off channel that shows music videos from (and shows and documentaries about) the Eighties and the Nineties.
What are your memories of VH1 during its early days? Let HERC know in the comments below.
This brief interview appeared in the January 17, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.
More music videos than MTV
During it's first twelve hours on the air, VH1 showed 120 videos from 92 different acts including many that had never appeared on the then more than three years old MTV. By comparison, during it's first half day on the air, MTV aired 103 videos by 48 different acts though to be fair, there are a lot fewer music videos to choose from in 1981 then there was in 1985. The most played video during VH1's first twelve hours was Diana Ross's "Missing You", which aired five times. During it's first twelve hours MTV played two videos three times apiece:
The two videos below received three spins each on VH1's first half-day:
The youngest act with a video on VH1 those first twelve hours was New Edition, while the oldest performer seen was Frank Sinatra, who appeared with a little help from A LOT of his friends. Their respective videos can be seen below.