ALan HunTer-First MTV VJ, Actor, Producer, Arts promoter, dj
1988: Actor, Host
PHOTO found on http://speakerpedia.com/
When one thinks about the major changes that occurred throughout the 80's, one of the biggest had to be the cultural revolution that was the birth of MTV. We are honored to be able to speak with Alan Hunter, the very first person to speak on MTV. On August 1, 1981 Mr Hunter appeared in an unplanned on-air moment saying, " Hi I'm Alan Hunter. I’ll be with you right after Mark. We’ll be covering the latest in music news, coast to coast, here on MTV Music Television". Thus was born the pathfinding network that would lead Generation X into a new age of mass culture and consumption. How many of us can forget the "I want my MTV" campaign, designed to combat multitudes of baby boomer parents in our neighborhoods who had forbidden us to watch Billy Idol videos, or Tawny Kitaen thrashing on car hoods? We came of age with Ah-Ha, U2, and The Bangles. We had collective nightmares over the puppet Reagan in Land of Confusion, Tom Petty eating Alice as cake in Don't Come Around Here No More, and Rick Ocasek as a fly in You Might Think. We saw MTV evolve from The Buggles and Thriller through the game show Out of Control, Yo MTV Raps , Spring Break , Beavis and Butt-Head ,The Real World New York , Dan Cortese and TRL. It taught us how to break-dance in the 80's and how to wear flannel with our smirk in the 90's. For a brief moment, MTV was ours. Before it moved onto the Millennial viewing tastes of reality shows, mixed with a few musical moments in the 00's, it was our mirror on the world. Before The Daily Show, we got our news from MTV news bulletins. We grew up in the scary shadow of the Cold War, but were encouraged to imagine a better world through songs like We Are the World, documentaries, and concert specials like Billy Joel in the USSR. Before Napster and the internet scattered our musical tastes, MTV was our fireside chat, keeping Gen X warm in its glowing acceptance of our latch key independence and our need for irony. At the center of that moment in time, were Alan Hunter and the MTV VJ's. On his remotes, Alan Hunter was our Jack Kerouac, calling us to experience the world and its unknown corners; sending us onto the road, long before MTV Road Rules turned that same journey of discovery into a product placement packed soap opera.
However, Mr Hunter is more than just an MTV VJ. He grew up in 1960's Birmingham, itself a center of social revolution, before making his way to New York to become an actor. He has made a life out of entertaining and enlightening, promoting films, music, and theater through a variety of projects such as his Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham. He currently is a host, along with many of the original VJ's, on SiriusXM '80's on 8 .
In 1988, Mr Hunter was fresh from walking away from MTV, along with fellow VJ Mark Goodman. According to the book, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave, they both wanted to leave on their own terms upon MTV's releasing of Martha Quinn. They seemed to sense a change was happening at MTV. According to some sources, the studio was moving from a rather loose and free styling production standard to attempt a sleeker, more streamlined viewing experience. Mr Hunter had been there for the rise of many of our most notable 80's musical groups, and had just returned from the USSR with Billy Joel. Those of you who follow the 1988 project, know about our emphasis on the signs of communist decay. This concert series, and the remote work by Alan Hunter can truly be seen as a major foreshadowing moment in the pathway to Soviet unraveling. Perhaps it should be seen in our history books side by side with the nuclear negotiations and the decision to pull out of Afghanistan.
Alan Hunter spent 1988 working on a variety of projects that included a generational quiz show called Triple Threat. Here is a 1988 episode he hosted that saw Tina Yothers and Christopher Barnes in competition. He also was featured in the TV movie To Heal a Nation with Eric Roberts (another 1988 film that involved an examination of the impact of Vietnam). We are beyond honored to have Mr Hunter speak with us at the 1988 project. We caught up with Mr Hunter as he spoke with the 1980's class at our high school. It was a true pleasure to talk with him, as he was gracious, revealing, and hilarious.
1988Project: What do you remember about 1988?
Alan Hunter: I learned how to play golf in 1988, because I moved out to Los Angeles to continue my career, and the writers in Hollywood went on strike, so there were no jobs for anyone. Early 1988, I had just come back from being in Russia with Billy Joel. We had gone over there in late 1987 when MTV was doing a documentary, so that was my first post MTV gig. I remember the people in Russia were trying to find a new way, It was amazing to be there during the middle of Perestroika, Gorbachev was trying to bring Russia into the modern age, and it was fantastic to be there.
1988: Do you think that exposure to music, like Billy Joel's concert, had as big of a role as Reagan and Gorbachev's policies did, in toppling the Soviet Union?
AH: I think it might have helped tip it over the edge, I think it was one of many things. No doubt, music is such a big part of culture anywhere that it can help expose people to another lifestyle, The skies had already begun to change at that point, there was alot of work up until 1987. But no doubt, Billy Joel being the first major westerner to play there..and he only played two concerts one in Moscow and one in Leningrad, 15,000 kids in each place got to see Billy Joel. But what we found out when we went there is that they were such huge fans of western pop music and pop culture as well. They had record collections you wouldn't believe in those little small apartments; bootlegged VHS tapes, some of MTV.Some of them even knew who I was.
1988: That had to be really flattering
AH: Music was part of the change, no doubt.
1988: So you were in a TV movie in 1988, To Heal a Nation,with Eric Roberts where you played a DJ. You also hosted a game show called Triple Threat
AH: Oh, I did a pilot for Triple Threat that was just miserable. I hated it. I was terrible.
1988: Yeah, we were trying to understand the rules
AH: Fortunately it never went behind the pilot. I was a terrible game show host and I think they meant for it to be a younger demographic. All they did was try to get me to smile and be happy. I was like, "I came from MTV." Everything after MTV in the hosting world is a little difficult because we were sort of making up our own game plan on MTV, we were who we were. We were the first VJ's and we were edgy, and then to be a host on a game show where you're supposed to be happy-happy, that was just tough.
1988: Yeah, we watched an episode and tried to figure it out. It was like they have a younger kid answering a younger question, and then Marion Ross from Happy Days jumps in..
AH: Wasn't Tina Yothers on the show?
1988: Yes, Tina Yothers was on the show with you.
AH: You and me were both very confused, kind of sitting there in puzzled confusion. Fortunately, Triple Threat didn't go anywhere
1988: So, you left MTV in 1987. Obviously, 1988 then becomes a big transition year at MTV after the originals leave.How do you think MTV has changed the most since the original 5 left? There have been many Gen Xers who complain that it is all reality shows now. I mean you started shows like Spring Break, so how does '88 change music television?
AH: Well Spring Break we started in '86, so they had a couple of years of that under their belt. The biggest groundbreaking show for me on MTV was Amuck in America which was 1986. It was our trek across America, kind of the first Road Rules and the first time that any reality show, broadcast with Sony handicam, which was really raw and in your face, so we kind of set the tone for reality shows to come. You know I certainly didn't invent reality TV, but we took it to new and interesting heights.
1988: We saw the episode where you were in Nashville in the back of a truck
AH: Oh yeah, Nashville was good, my old town of Birmingham was even better. But you know, Spring Break began to evolve, and in '88 you had shows like Remote Control, Yo MTV Raps...specialty programming that was taking MTV to a different direction other than just the music
1988: How do you think music has changed? I mean, we were seeing pop music riding a huge wave, while at the same time Nirvana is forming in Seattle, setting up the 90's
AH: I don't think music has changed at all. I think there is just a lot more of it .You know Katy Perry and Lady Gaga could have all been huge singing stars back in the hey day. Pop music is certainly a different beast, only in that there is so much more of it, and the branding of the artist is so important. Madonna was the first huge brand, as a person. U2 and Duran-Duran were MTV poster boys because of the way they embraced the video age. I think the 80's set the stage for what is now. A lot of people say "Music is crap nowadays". I say, "That's crazy, are you nuts?" There is a lot more stuff you have to wade through to get to the cream, but that has always been the case in culture in general. There is a lot more stuff, more channels, more entertainment out there. You have to find you kiosk, whether it is I-Tunes, or a friend, or Facebook, you've got to find a way to find the good music. There are so many different styles nowadays. It was a little easier to pigeon hole music back in the 80's, whether it was rock,or pop, or new wave, or heavy metal, 5 or 6 genres. Of course a lot of artists and CD's at the end of the 80's began to be hip hop, rap, and New Jack. I don't know, I think it is exciting. I think music is exciting, I think its tough to make a lot of money as an artist, but as a listener I go all over the place from Sirius to Spotify to mostly what I hear from friends and my young kids. I am excited.