Gary James' Interview With MTV VJ
Nina Blackwood

Nina Blackwood is in a very special category. You see, while video may have killed the radio star, it created a whole new breed of star - the Video Disc Jockey, or "VJ" for short. Nina Blackwood was one of the five original MTV VJs. Along with Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood and MTV forever changed the way we look at music, or for that matter, listen to music. Nina Blackwood left MTV back in 1986. These days she can be found hosting a radio show for the Sirius Satellite Radio Network.

It's always nice to interview an original, and Nina Blackwood is an original. It is then, with great pride that we present an interview with one of the original MTV VJs - Nina Blackwood.

Q - I had this idea that since you work for Sirius Radio, you would live in New York City.

A - Nope. I live in Maine.

Q - How then do you get your show to Sirius?

A - I just do them directly and they end up there through the magic of computers.

Q - So, you have your own computer studio in your home?

A - Yeah.

Q - I noticed that all of the original MTV jocks, with the exception of J.J. Jackson (who passed away), now work for Sirius. Does that mean they all work the way you do?

A - Well, we're all over the place, so everybody kind of has their own thing. You know, different ways of doing it. So, I'm not exactly sure how everybody else does it. But, it's relatively the same thing.

Q - You do an '80s theme show for Sirius?

A - Yeah. It's an '80s show. I'm on every day. A regular gig. Sirius XM 8 is the name of the channel, or '80s on 8.

Q - There are only so many records / CDs that were released in the 1980s. How then can you be content just to focus on the '80s? You host an '80s Top 40 Countdown?

A - Well, I was doing that before Sirius and XM merged. We don't have countdowns anymore on this channel. What I do is basically a regular 5 hour shift, talking about the '80s and then I have my syndicated shows that are through United Stations Radio Networks. One is absolutely '80s and the other is New Wave Nation, which is kind of self explanatory.

Q - Don't you have to repeat material?

A - Not really. There's so many artists. I was just talking to two people about this the other day, that so many '80s artists are still very vital and putting out new albums and touring. So, there's constantly new information. There's not a whole lot going on with Kajagoogoo. They did have a reunion in 2008. But, The Pet Shop Boys have a brand new album out that's great. It went to number one in the UK, doing very well on the Dance charts here. The single is "Love Etc". Of course, there's the U2's, the Madonnas, the Mellencamps, Bon Jovi. The list goes on and on. All these people are out and about still.

Q - Will you interview, say, Jon Bon Jovi on air and play a track from one of his CDs?

A - Not for the daily show, the Sirius show, but for the syndicated show we do have interviews.

Q - Weren't you based out of Los Angeles for the longest time?

A - I was living in L.A. up until two years ago (2007) and actually I'm going to be going there in June (2009). I had been there for 20 some years. I don't like the heat first of all and that is not a place to be if you don't like the heat. I don't like crowds and it's a crowded place. It just really, really, really got to me, so I always wanted to live in Maine and I thought the company I work for are based in New York and I'm in L.A., so I'm doing it long distance now. It's closer to New York. I just decided to take a little break and live in the country with the wild life and experience what life is like in Maine.

Q - Beautiful in the summer, cold in the winter.

A - I love that though. I love winter. I was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Ohio and then of course I lived in New York. So, the four seasons I really love and that was another thing I really missed. In L.A. I missed the change of the seasons and especially winter. I love winter. (laughs) I really do. I love snow. I love cold.

Q - Must be you don't have to deal with it, like shoveling snow.

A - Oh, yeah.

Q - Nina, you are strange.

A - Yeah. (laughs) No, believe it or not, there are some of us who actually like snow. I have a wood stove that I heat my house with. So, you get your three, four cords of wood for the winter. It's quite a different lifestyle from L.A. obviously, but I really like it. It's closer rooted to nature, which suits me much better for this time in my life.

Q - Nina, I know you must really like the '80s, but I don't see a whole lot of originality coming out of that era. The '60s produced the hair, the clothes, the British Invasion. The '70s produced the great musicianship of bands like Led Zeppelin and the theatrical shows of Alice Cooper, David Bowie and KISS. The '80s don't seem to have any definite element. It was a mixture of a lot of different musical styles.

A - Well, I agree with you. Probably my favorites would be after the first British Invasion, The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks. I love all that. I really, really do. I'm with you on that. '60s Invasion onward, I don't think anyone can write a picturesque song like Ray Davies. He's a master. You will get no argument from me on that. As far as the '80s, a lot of it was primarily due to the fact that you could see it all on MTV. But it was a potpourri, coming out of the New Wave and the Punk movement of the late '70s, going into the '80s. You had all the synthesizer bands, which up until the '80s was not prevalent at all. Maybe you had Kraftwerk, which was highly influential on Eurhythmics, Depeche Mode, on and on, those type of bands. But I think there was a lot of creativity in the '80s. I really do. And on the other extreme, you have people like U2. They were really just beginning when I was in L.A. the first time, like in 1979, 1980. But they really hit their stride in the '80s. Springsteen, same thing. Granted, he did arrive in the '70s, but he had a lot of hits, some of his biggest stuff in the '80s. You had Mellencamp, another one I have a great deal of respect for. And then you have the other people like, God knows for better or worse, you had Madonna coming out. I'm not much of a Pop music person. I'm more of a Rock music person. But you got Madonna, who became a force of nature and unfortunately of all the other people who follow in her path, the Britney Spears of the world that I could do without, but that's my opinion.

Q - You didn't mention the hair bands.

A - Well, I was getting to that. That was a genre in itself. Having said what I said before about the '60s, whether or not I think that was the proudest moment in musical history, no, I don't. (laughs) Maybe Guns And Roses. I loved Guns And Roses. I still love Guns And Roses. That was, as I always say, so '80s, like it or loathe it, as I always say about Poison. So, I think there was a lot that was going on in the '80s, musically speaking and a lot of niches here and there. But you saw t all in one big ball of wax with the advent of MTV. You would never have a radio station these days that plays all the kind of stuff that we played on MTV. It's so segmented right now.

Q - In the 1960s, you had radio stations that played The Beatles, The Stones, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra.

A - I know. I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse that I was growing up (then) and especially (in) Cleveland and WMMJ (radio station) and that station was the number one station for years and being spoiled for years by listening to the birth of FM radio and what FM radio could do. Nowadays that doesn't exist. Jim Ladd is about the last hold out. But that also brings me to the fact that why I like the whole idea of Sirius XM, although it's not one channel, you've got at your disposal anything you want to listen to right there. It's quite amazing. So, I really like it for that, whether I was on it or as a listener, I think it's one of the best things that ever happened. I think it's really great.

Q - You say "The heyday of video music was the mid-'80s." That was because it was such a new medium, correct?

A - Yes.

Q - Now, it's old hat.

A - I really hate to say this, but when I turn it on, I can't watch it. I like VH-1 Classic because there are a lot of documentaries on there. They have a classic album show about the making of a classic album. It's not just '80s, it's any classic album, basically. I like stuff like that. I'm more of a musicologist.

Q - When you were at MTV, were you in the studio the whole time you were introducing the videos, or would you come in one day and tape all your parts?

A - Back in the early days, we were there five days a week. The only time we doubled our shifts up and we'd do what we call a 48, because we'd do 48 hours worth of programming in one day. That was only for the weekends, but we were there. As time went on, after I left, I think it was more like what you're talking about. Some of our best memories are the times we spent in the studio with the crew. When we first started, I would say the first two years, we were there I would say day and night. Sometimes we wouldn't even get home 'til midnight. We were just parked at the studio. As time went by, I guess everybody got smoother with things, so it didn't take as long. (laughs)

Q - Did you tell one interviewer that before MTV, you met or spoke to people who were doing video music shows?

A - Yeah. I was doing them out in Los Angeles. It was three different projects that I was working on, for lack of a better term, television pilots, and functioning basically, which didn't have a name at the time, as a video jockey before MTV.

Q - And pretty much doing the same thing you would go on to do at MTV?

A - Well, no. Those were a little bit more avant garde. There were some really whacky things that we were doing that were fun. So, it was a little more left of center than what MTV was.

Q - How did you get into TV? Did you have to audition? Did you get an agent like William Morris or I.C.M. to represent you?

A - Well, that's not how I got the job, but I already had a manager and agent and the whole deal. I'm a musician and I was also doing on-camera stuff and acting. So, I was already doing that type of thing. The MTV thing came about because I always read Billboard Magazine. I saw a little article about MTV, a new video music channel and I thought, well, that's what I'm doing. I had these three projects I was working on. I submitted the stuff even though I had an agent. It was kind of funny; when I ultimately got the gig, cable was nothing. There was HBO and CNN and I don't even know if there was The Sports Channel at that time, in '81. But, I mean cable was a baby thing. And so, they're thinking, well, where are we going? Your career is really starting to move here in L.A. So, actually the agents, who were wonderful, weren't all that keen about me doing this thing. You know, "Well try it for three months. If you don't like it you can come back." Five years later I finally came back. (laughs) It was very different and I didn't apply for the position to be on camera, like a lot of the people that came after. My intention was the musical part because I've been playing music since I was four years old. I really thought the idea, and this is what MTV was in the beginning, was a real cool FM radio station, a la WMMS, but on television. So, that's why I went there with the intention of being a video jockey with the emphasis on music and it just happened to be on camera. It wasn't like, I'm gonna do this and become a big star.

Q - Now, in 1978 you posed for Playboy, although it didn't come out until much later...

A - It came out in 1978, but it re-surfaced later because of MTV.

Q - Why did you pose for Playboy? Was it the money or recognition you were after?

A - Well, actually it was my manager... We're going back to when I was really young. I was a model and this opportunity came up. It was really my manager saying "You should do this." I'm like, "I don't know."

Q - Why were you told it was a good idea to do that?

A - He felt it would be good exposure.

Q - It was exposure.

A - Yeah. It's so long ago, it doesn't matter anymore to me. It's not an issue. I had to be convinced to do it, let's put it that way. It wasn't something I was jumping up and down to do. When you're a young girl, you listen to your manager and that's why you pay them 15% for, to guide your career.

Q - "My reading is always about musical biographies."

A - Yeah, pretty much.

Q - "I have an innate interest and passion for that."

A - Yeah, pretty much. I've read almost every one that comes out. Right now there's this lull, because there haven't been any that have come out recently.

Q - Since you read all the biographies, I'm just curious to know if you met The Beatles.

A - I didn't meet either John or George; George being my absolute favorite. I loved George Harrison. But Paul and Ringo, yes.

Q - Where did you meet them?

A - Ringo was at one of his All Star shows and then Paul, I was asked to be the moderator of one of his of his American tours. I was the moderator for his press conference when he was kicking off one of his tours. So, I got to meet him and Linda was still alive at the time. And like just about every girl that grew up with The Beatles, even though George was my favorite, just in a deeper sense; I just connected more with what George was about, I had the biggest crush on Paul. He was so nice and so gentlemanly. After it was done, he came over and kissed me on the cheek and called me "Goldie" 'cause he thought I looked like Goldie Hawn. He kept saying "Goldie" with that Liverpudlian accent. So, I got to meet him, which was pretty cool. I had seen Paul before I met him. He had a movie that was not very good, Give My Regards To Broadstreet. I was at MTV at the time, so we were invited to the Big Premiere and the Big Premiere Party. That was the first time I saw him in person. I'm not usually star-struck. These people are musicians and they're people. But Martha and I were reduced to being two 12-year-old girls. "Oh my God, there's Paul. That's Paul!" There was something about seeing a Beatle (laughs). A couple of years later when I was asked to do the press conference, even though I was honored and excited, my professional side over-ruled the little girl side.

Q - Had MTV failed, what would you have done?

A - Had MTV failed, the plan was just to pursue serious acting. When I got the gig at MTV, I was studying at Strausburg. I studied acting since I was a little girl. Probably that and I'm a harpist. So, continuing to play my harp. It would've been more in those lines, I'm sure.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.