Today is the 42nd Anniversary of MTV’s debut. On August 1, 1981, Music Television brought music videos to the masses! Or at least the masses who were lucky enough to have cable TV. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those. But I was a radio geek who knew a bit about how it was transmitted over the cable lines. This allowed me to listen without subscribing and paying a monthly fee.
No, I’m not talking about anything unethical or worse. My method involved basic FM radio. In addition to the regular feed on a TV channel, our local cable system also carried MTV on regular 106.5 FM. You could connect your receiver to the cable and receive the audio in stereo. This was all the rage back in 1981. If you’re old enough, you probably remember the standard setup with a TV in the middle and speakers on each side. You watched the TV and listened through your stereo.
Back in those days, the cable systems were “leaky.” A small amount of signal leaked out of the cable as it was sent through. In our neighborhood, transformers were located phone poles which ran along the street. These transformers boosted the signal before heading to the individual homes.
Since I was into long distance FM listening, I had a high gain directional antenna and rotator on my roof. If I tuned my receiver to 106.5 and pointed my antenna at the transformer, I could hear MTV perfectly on my stereo! I couldn’t see the videos, of course. But at least I could hear Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, and all the great new music they played. Most of which was not yet available on our local radio stations. Somewhere, I have a bunch of cassette tapes that I recorded so that I could listen in my car. Pretty cool stuff for a 17-year-old kid in the 1980s!