In the 80s it was MTV all the way. That was when they played music. Enough has been written about that and I don't feel that I have anything to add on that subject. What I would like to bring up is the fantastic show that was 120 Minutes.
In the mid-80s, 120 Minutes aired on Sunday nights (I want to say on Sunday nights around 10 or 11pm) and played alternative/new wave/post punk music. It was usually the only time when one could see videos and interviews from the kind of artists I was drawn to (and still drawn to) on MTV. During the day, through the week, MTV played rock and pop and started to play rap, but aside from The Cure or maybe Red Hot Chili Peppers, you had to wait until Sunday nights to see the bands I liked.
Back in the day, I was into REM and 10,000 Maniacs from listening to Centenary College's radio station. I was maybe 11. In 1986, I saw Pretty in Pink and was obsessed with the music from the bands on the soundtrack. It was about the same time that I saw a commercial for 120 Minutes. Since it was on so late, I had to set the VCR and record the show. 120 Minutes was where I was first introduced to Depeche Mode, The Smiths, New Order, The Replacements, The Lemonheads, The Smithereens, Cake, They Might Be Giants, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Tom Tom Club, The Dead Milkmen, Echo and the Bunnymen, Aztec Camera, and The Breeders. Heck, it's where Mojo Nixon sang "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two Headed Lovechild."
What was great about the show is that bands would give interviews, perform live, and guest host the show. There was a feeling that no one was really watching the show and artists were quite candid and fun. It was a show made for music lovers. Somewhere, I still have a VCR tape of an episode or two and I know that "Take the Skinheads Bowling" is on it.
For nostalgia's sake, here are a few of my favorite videos from 120 Minutes.
One great song, The Replacements' "I'll Be You" – it has the line "rebel without a clue" that Tom Petty later borrowed for "Into the Great Wide Open." I had such a crush on Paul Westerberg.
One highly underrated band, The Smithereens, with "A GIrl LIke You." Belinda Carlisle does backing vocals on this one. Love this song. Great vocals, great guitar.
And a song played often on 120 Minutes, "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths. Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know, it's serious.