Video jock recalls glory days of MTV
By Lilli Kuzma For Sun-Times Media December 4, 2013 6:35PM
Alan Hunter: VJ: The
of MTV’s First Wave
27 Live, 1012 Church St., Evanston
Book signing and discussion: 6-8 p.m.;
concert by blitzfm at 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7
$7 advance, $10 door
(855) 927-5483; or reserve at 27live.com
Updated: December 4, 2013 9:47PM
It wasn’t even called MTV when Alan Hunter was asked to be on a new music channel. For the current Evanston resident, the show business opportunity was a walk in the park, literally.
“Simple connectivity, being in the right place at the right time. Central Park had a picnic in the park and I was there and met the guy developing a new video channel. He said he’d just been in a David Bowie video so had some idea of what it was all about.”
Hunter became one of the five original “video jocks” for the now-fabled MTV. A memoir of the experiences of these VJs, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, was recently published by Atria Books. Professional writer Gavin Edwards served as the collator of the oral histories provided by the VJs — Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn — along with a chapter on the late J.J. Jackson.
On Dec. 7 at 27 Live in Evanston, Hunter will sign the book and lead a discussion, followed by a concert of cover hits by the band blitzfm.
“MTV became the epicenter of all things entertainment back in the ’80s,” Hunter said. “When MTV began, the library had probably 200 videos. When artists saw MTV, they were the drivers behind it. After hearing MTV and shooting Middle America, people knew [for example] who The Stray Cats were.”
Hunter laughed as he described the MTV studio location. “The MTV studios were in Hell’s Kitchen at 33rd and 10th. In 1981 and 1982 it was a scary little place, criminals and hookers right outside our door. There was a bar next door called Sam’s where we all went afterwards. But it was also charming and romantic to be in Hell’s Kitchen during that time.”
He named several memorable celebrity interviews and guest hosts.
“My first interview was with Ozzy Osbourne, so was crazy. He was not a lunatic by any means, but was ‘scattered.’ I had a great time with Dan Aykroyd, who came on to advertise the ‘Ghostbusters’ movie. My favorite interview was Robin Williams, he was definitely a riot. I preferred to talk with the non-musicians, and my forte became the man-on-the-street interviews. We started reality television, with a Handycam. MTV started finding success with shows like ‘Spring Break’ when we’d go down to Daytona. Live was where I shined, because I liked the spontaneity. And it was revolutionary to use amateur cameras for shooting.”
An MTV VJ from 1981 to 1987, Hunter has been involved in many entertainment projects since that time, including hosting on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “Big ’80s” and Classic Rewind channels. In 1995, he formed Hunter Films, which produced the 2002 short film, “Johnny Flynton,” an Academy Award nominee.
He’d been in theater early on. “I performed as Pancho Sanchez in ‘Don Quixote’ in fifth grade,” he said. “I was a character actor back then.” But on a serious note, Hunter adds, “I’d like to get back to my acting.”
So once again, Hunter finds himself in a good place. “The cultural richness of Chicago is making me crazy,” he said.