- The launch of MTV on August 1, 1981 marked a new era in music, entertainment, and pop culture.
- MTV originally played 24 hours of nonstop music videos.
- The VJs were MTV hosts who curated soundtracks, interviewed musicians, and added cultural commentary to music videos.
- The original five VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, JJ Jackson, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter.
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On August 1, 1981, MTV broadcast “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, a British band that was practically unheard-of prior to that day. Hosted by VJs, or video jockeys, MTV aired nonstop music videos, and the network quickly became a cultural sensation.
The VJs curated soundtracks of hit videos, interviewed musicians, and offered cultural commentary and social context to each video. From Nina Blackwood to “Downtown” Julie Brown, VJs through the years brought their own personalities and perspectives to the network that revolutionized how people experienced music.
Keep reading to reminisce on our favorite MTV VJs, ranked in chronological order from when they starred on the iconic TV channel.
1. Alan Hunter: MTV VJ from 1981 until 1987
All the original MTV VJs get a spot on the list of favorites, but Alan Hunter has a special piece of history, as he was the first of the five VJs to speak on the network, according to an interview with TIME and details from a book Hunter co-authored about the launch of MTV.
While he had little by way of music knowledge, it was his acting background and improv skills that bewitched audiences. “Our job there was to be irreverent,” Hunter told Alabama.com. “My brand of loose comedy and irreverence worked because I made a good transition between videos. … You’d see accidents, me bumping into the teleprompter. That was part of the magic. It was out of the norm for the stiff, premeditated TV world of the 1980s.”
2. Martha Quinn: MTV VJ from 1981 until 1993
3. Mark Goodman: MTV VJ from 1981 until 1988
4. Nina Blackwood: MTV VJ from 1981 until 1986
5. JJ Jackson: MTV VJ from 1981 until 1986
6. “Downtown” Julie Brown: MTV VJ from 1985 until 1992
Julie Dorne Brown, better known as “Downtown” Julie Brown, was the outspoken, over-the-top host of “Club MTV,” the channel’s first dance music series. Brown’s memorable presence was the definition of all things ’80s, and her true fans know that she coined the phrase “Wubba wubba wubba.”
7. Serena Altschul: MTV VJ from 1987 until 2002
Serena Altschul earned a spot on the MTV VJs favorites list for the riveting interviews and reporting she brought to the network. In 1987, she was the first host, alongside Kurt Loder, of “MTV News,” which was then focused on breaking news related to the music industry.
She also hosted other news-oriented specials on MTV, including “Breaking It Down,” in which she tackled hard-hitting youth issues, such as homelessness and drug abuse.
11. Julie Brown: MTV VJ from 1989 until 1992
Julie Brown joined MTV in 1989 and was often called Miss Julie Brown to differentiate herself from “Downtown” Julie Brown, the network’s other VJ with, ironically, the same name.
12. Bill Bellamy: MTV VJ from 1992 until 2001
Bill Bellamy made his VJ debut in 1992 and hosted “MTV Beach House,” “MTV Jams,” Video Music Awards, and top 20 music video countdowns. Bellamy was a defining personality of MTV in the ’90s, and made waves with his groundbreaking interviews with icons of the time, like Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Tupac Shakur.
13. Carson Daly: MTV VJ from 1998 until 2003
Carson Daly, who hosts NBC’s “The Voice,” has made appearances on “The Today Show,” and just wrapped “Last Call With Carson Daly” after 2,000 episodes, first made waves as the first-ever host of MTV’s “Total Request Live,” or “TRL.”
“TRL,” whose studio overlooked Times Square, had a live studio audience and played the top 10 most requested music videos, chosen by viewers. It also featured interviews with musicians, and, per Vulture, was “less a TV show than a televised pep rally and a necessary promotional pit stop for pop stars like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, and the Backstreet Boys.”
Daly was the beloved host from its launch in 1998 until 2003.
14. Ananda Lewis: MTV VJ from 1993 until 2001
Ananda Lewis was another well-known MTV VJ from the late-’90s and early 2000s. Lewis hosted a variety of MTV shows, including “MTV Jams,” “True Life,” and most notably, “Total Request Live.” Lewis was loved by fans for being a powerful and inspiring voice for young adults, as she often used her VJ personality and platform to speak about social issues.
15. La La Anthony: MTV VJ from 2001 until 2003