by Ryan Meehan
Alan Hunter was one of the five original video jockeys on MTV from 1981 to 1987. He is currently a host on the Sirius XM Radio’s “The 80’s on 8” channel, and co-owns the production company Hunter Films with his brother Hugh. The two brothers also founded WorkPlay, a multi-purpose office, studio, and entertainment facility in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the host of the reality show “Looking” for Stars on the Starz cable channel as well as the Encore series “Big 80s Weekend”. Bust out the Aqua Net and dust off your Hall and Oates LPs, as Alan Hunter is totally my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: When you were growing up, who was the first performer you saw that led you to believe this was an industry in which you really wanted to be involved?
AH: I hadn’t intended to get into the music business. I wanted to be an actor. Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” inspired me.
RM: What was your first acting job like; and when did you realize that you were going to have to move to a major market in order to break through in the world of entertainment?
AH: I had a small role in an ABC movie of the week called “Love’s Savage Fury” during my senior year of college in Mississippi. That’s how I eventually got my SAG card. After college I knew I needed to go to New York, which was where young actors went in 1980. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore…it’s too expensive.
RM: When you originally interviewed for the MTV gig, had the term “Veejay” already been coined? If not, what terminology did the network use to describe the position you were applying for?
AH: While I was auditioning over the course of about 3 weeks, we were just hosts. Somewhere closer to the Aug 1, 1981 premiere of MTV, the term started up along with the actual name “MTV”. Only weeks before it was simply The Music Channel, or some similar derivation.
RM: How would you best describe the exact moment you knew that MTV had gone from being a fledgling cable network to an international revolution on the verge of changing music forever?
AH: About 6 months after its launch when we began getting feedback from middle America that they were watching, and buying records from bands that had no exposure in the US other than MTV. Radio wasn’t playing the Stray Cats or Duran Duran, and MTV was. Then the record companies started paying attention. A couple of years later when the popular media began to describe the entertainment landscape of the day using “MTV-esque” as a descriptor – like the movie had a faced paced MTV-esque quality to it – we knew MTV had made a lasting impact.
RM: How did the idea of putting together the material which would later become the book “VJ: The Unplugged Adventure of MTV’s First Wave” first come about; and how long did it take to see that project through to completion?
AH: The book was a decade in the making. That is, 10 years spent motivating all four of us to take a swing at writing it. The time seemed right as we approached the 30 year anniversary, which ultimately passed by the time we released it. But after many years of wondering why, we finally decided, why not tell our story?
RM: What was the most bizarre interview you had the pleasure of conducting during the glory days of that network? What made that discussion so unique; and if you had to do it all over again would you have handled it differently?
AH: Ozzy Osbourne was the most bizarre in my early days with the channel for perhaps obvious reasons: Ozzy is bizarre. Surreal moments included my interview with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and Phil Collins backstage after their historic performance at Live Aid. My interview with Billy Joel – with whom I spent several weeks traveling around in Russia for an MTV documentary – was my most satisfying.
RM: When you see the product that MTV is putting on the air today, does it bum you out a little bit that music and music news is no longer the central focus of that channel, or do you just accept it as the natural progression of what their target demographic is looking for in modern television entertainment?
AH: MTV today is the product of natural evolution. Love it or not, it evolved from a video jukebox to a lifestyle channel. That began in the late 80s with Remote Control and Yo! MTV Raps and continues today, perhaps into oblivion.
RM: The eighties had plenty of artists who were – for lack of a better term – forgettable at best…What set the timeless artists from that era apart from those who wound up in the seemingly endless pool of one hit wonders? In other words, why do we remember Billy Idol but may not recall a majority of the Kajagoogoo catalog?
AH: Well, so many factors go into making an artist or band great and lasting: Talent, image, timing, et cetera. Some artists survived longer than a hit or two because they had a great image to coincide with a modicum of talent. Some artists disappeared because their image or lack thereof wasn’t appealing enough to carry mediocre talent. It’s the same in every era – true talent stands the test of time.
RM: Let’s talk about the radio show for a second…For those who aren’t familiar with the program, what do we need to know about “The 80s on 8”? Who are some of the artists from that time period that you play the most; and what kinds of other fun stuff do you and the rest of the gang like to do during each of your shows on that channel?
AH: SiriusXM Satellite radio is where it’s at these days in terms of radio. 80’s on 8 plays just that: All great hits from the 80’s as well as some of the more obscure stuff too. I’m also on Classic Rewind channel 25 with the cassette era of rock and roll – 70’s, 80’s and a little bit of 90s. I’m on in the afternoon/evening, Mark in the morning, Martha late morning, and Nina mid-afternoon. Just like in the 80’s, we all have our shifts.
RM: WorkPlay looks like it’s an amazing facility…How did you go about getting that project off the ground? How intensely involved are you with the day-to-day operations that take place in that establishment; and why was the opening up of that venue so important to you?
AH: Workplay was a dynamic project I conceived of and built along with three of my brothers in 2001. A true entertainment complex with two music halls, a bar and a suite of office spaces focused on entertainment and the arts. I was extremely involved in the day to day operations of the facility and it also provided a home base for the film company I started with my oldest brother Hugh in 2003, as well as the Sidewalk Film Festival for several years. We had a great 10 year run with Workplay and the time was right for us to sell it in 2011. I haven’t looked back since.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
AH: Just got off the first ever 80’s Cruise (March 2016) along with Mark G and Nina B, musical performances by Huey Lewis and the News, Richard Marx, Was not Was, Starship, Tiffany and others. It was a massive success. Looking forward to another cruise in 2017. Working on another film development company and pitching the MTV story to Hollywood. We’ll see. I presently live in Chicago with wife and two kiddies. Life is good.
Buy “VJ: The Unplugged Adventure of MTV’s First Wave” on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/VJ-Unplugged-Adventures-MTVs-First/dp/1451678126/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431114268&sr=1-1&keywords=alan+hunter+mtv
Official Website: http://1stvj.com/
WorkPlay Official Website: http://www.workplay.com/
80s on 8 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Big80son8
Alan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/1stVJ
Alan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alanhuntermtv
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