It didn’t take long for MTV to become a cultural phenomenon following its debut in 1981. Nina Blackwood, who learned about its creation in Billboard, was the first video jockey to be hired, later joined by J.J. Jackson, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn as the stars of a new generation. “It really was a whirlwind,” recalls Blackwood, a 1970 Rocky River High School graduate. “The train left the station and was picking up steam. … All we could do was hold on.”
The four surviving VJ’s (Jackson died in 2004) collaborated with Rolling Stone contributing editor Gavin Edwards to pen a tell-all book, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave (released May 7, Atria Books, $24).“It gives people a look at what was happening from our perspective,” the 60-year-old Blackwood says. “MTV was influential on all levels of the entertainment business, fashion and pop culture.”
The VJs worked long hours and some partied just as hard. The book opens with scenes of Goodman doing cocaine with David Lee Roth, while Jackson often came to work bleary-eyed after long nights in the clubs.
Blackwood drew the attention of notorious rockers after posing for Playboy in 1978. The book details an encounter Blackwood had in John Mellencamp’s hotel suite, which he tried to turn into a seduction.“Years later, I interviewed John and he admitted he had been trying to pick me up,” she says.
She also served as an impromptu makeup artist for such stars as Eddie Money and Steven Tyler despite being painfully shy. “That was a big misconception,” she says of her sultry image. “I was always tongue-tied and nervous around guys I liked. Bryan Adams can still make me blush, even on the phone. I was never trying to be Miss Va-Va-Voom.”
After five years, Blackwood’s MTV run ended. But, years later, fame gave way to severe depression that required treatment at a hospital psychiatric ward. “It was a very scary period,” she says. “I did not see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Through it all, MTV’s first family remained close. Blackwood looks forward to reuniting with her fellow VJs for an upcoming press tour. “We never lost the connection we had,” she says. “We’re a dysfunctional family … brothers and sisters with an underlying love.”