When MTV launched in 1981, it hired five “video jockeys” to serve as hosts. They introduced videos, conducted artist interviews, gave the channel a personality and became rock stars themselves to the teens and twentysomethings who watched the channel for hours on end. “The VJs represented the glue for them,” says Alan Hunter. “We're not a star like Jon Bon Jovi or Bono, but we were part of people's everyday lives.” Although their time at MTV was relatively short, they parlayed their iconic status into lengthy careers in music media. One common career path: stints with the next big music wave of satellite radio.
Martha Quinn, 62
At 22, Quinn was the youngest of the original VJs. Now she's the mother of two children and lives in Malibu, California, with her husband, Jordan Tarlow, formerly of the Fuzztones, a garage rock band. Quinn briefly cohosted Star Search with Ed McMahon and has worked as an actor, landing the role of Bobby Brady's wife in a Brady Bunch prime-time reboot as well as appearing on Full House. In the 2000s, she settled into radio work, first as a DJ on SiriusXM's ‘80s channel and more recently on a San Francisco radio station with an all-'80s format. Her old MTV boss, Bob Pittman, now the CEO of radio conglomerate iHeartMedia, recruited Quinn to his latest endeavor, assuring her that she could host the show from her Southern California home studio. But hosting the show offers her another perk: the chance to interact with listeners.
"People who love ‘80s music are people who are into good vibes, into supporting people around them, and it always feels like family,” Quinn says. “I really feel it's because it's almost like we all went to ‘MTV High.’ Maybe we didn't all go at the same time, but we all know ‘Professor’ Jon Bon Jovi. We all know Madonna. We all know so many of the same cultural landmarks, and we have a great understanding of each other."
Mark Goodman, 68
Goodman tried acting after MTV but eventually returned to his first career as a radio DJ. He worked at various big-market radio stations across the U.S., then switched to satellite radio. There he found a unique outlet, cohosting Debatable, a music talk show. Goodman and music journalist Alan Light interview artists and, with listener input, rank songs, albums, artists and topics on Top 5 Tuesdays. The show is about music from across eras, not just the ‘80s.
"It seems like such an obvious idea or maybe counterintuitive — a talk channel about music where you don't listen to music, you talk about it,” says Goodman, who lives in New York with his wife.
"MTV was this amazing phenomenon. It's sort of like being a TikTok star today, you know? It was so massive. It was so everywhere. And obviously, it's keeping me working today."
Nina Blackwood, 65
The raspy-voiced Blackwood lives a quiet life in the countryside in an East Coast state (she doesn't want to say where exactly) with her six cats, one dog and two parrots. That's where she records her segments for satellite radio, as well as her syndicated shows for terrestrial radio, including Nina Blackwood's Absolutely 80s. She previously worked in TV, including as cohost of Solid Gold in the ‘80s and music correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. But Blackwood is just fine being off camera these days, though she does make occasional personal appearances or host live events. “I certainly didn't want to be one of these people in their 60s, especially women, having to get Botox and all that crapola,” Blackwood says. “I guess they look good, but it's too surface-y for me. With radio, I can talk about music, I can enjoy it, and I don't feel like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to look 20 years old for the rest of my life.’ “
Alan Hunter, 64
The dry-witted Hunter lives in Northern California with his wife and two youngest children. He admits to struggling a bit after leaving MTV. “The future seemed bright because we were on top of the world, but there wasn't really a position for a former MTV VJ. People didn't get it. I would go to auditions for a commercial or host or whatever, and the casting director would freak out and talk about Bon Jovi and all the bands and ‘You guys were my favorites! I loved you!’ Then no callback. It was a rude awakening."
Hunter eventually returned to his home state of Alabama and formed a film company with his brother. He now hosts an ‘80s show on satellite radio but swears he's not stuck in that decade. “I try not to just sit and tell about hanging out with David Lee Roth. Most of what I do on the show is in the context of being a mature man, with kids and a family."
But Hunter understands his fans’ affinity for nostalgia. Once, when hired to appear on an ‘80s-themed cruise, he cracked wise from the stage about the audience's ‘80s attire, only to receive a scolding. “My daughter said, ‘Dad, you can't make those kinds of jokes. These people are here because they love you and they love the ‘80s, and they are revisiting a time in their lives that was meaningful to them.'"
Jackson died of an apparent heart attack in 2004 at age 62. His fellow VJs remember him as an experienced radio personality who gave MTV credibility. Pre-MTV, he was instrumental in helping Led Zeppelin break into the American music scene. Says Quinn: “When he walked through the door, he was already a rock ‘n’ roll industry heavyweight. I didn't fully grasp at that point the gravitas.” Adds Goodman: “He was the wise one.” After five years as a VJ, Jackson returned to radio in Los Angeles.