Welcome to television. Watch 9 first broadcasts of classic cable networks

Cable channels were the high-tech revolutionaries of the 80s and the media juggernauts of the 90s. With a rapid series of cable channel debuts, each station had to figure out how to set the tone. These nine did just that.

1. ESPN begins it all in 1979

ESPN was one of the first cable networks out of the gate, so it’s fitting it has one of the best introductions ever. There’s a peppy theme song, a montage, and a first quote: “Yea, verily, a sampler of wonders.” As chronicled in the great book These Guys Have All The Fun, ESPN’s debut was rocky, fun, and wild—and it shows in this first broadcast.

2. MTV waits before blasting off


Most people know that MTV started with the moon man in 1981, followed by The Buggles singing Video Killed The Radio Star. You can see a list of MTV videos and watch the first 24 hours. But what’s easy to forget is that the fledgling network showed serious commitment to its world-changing premise. For a full 15 minutes, MTV showed pre-launch video. It was an elaborate joke and took up programming time that would cost millions today.

3. Mickey and a bearded Donny Osmond launch Disney

In 1983, The Disney Channel (now just Disney Channel) launched with Mickey and Donny Osmond. The first show? Good Morning, Mickey!, which was mostly made up of Mickey Mouse shorts.

4. This is CNN…with a husband and wife anchor

Lois Hart and David Walker left KCRA 3 in Sacramento to join CNN when it began in 1980. The husband and wife duo co-anchored the first broadcast, which didn’t open with more fanfare than a shot of the control room. Our favorite detail? Watch their eyes—they had to look at their notes because a teleprompter wasn’t being used. After CNN, Walker also anchored one of CNBC’s first broadcasts. Hart and Walker returned to Sacramento and anchored the news there before retiring in 2008.

5. CNBC debuts with an earnest introduction

While CNN got right into the news, CNBC took its time in 1989. The Consumer News and Business Network features this lengthy introduction of its stars, principles, and programming. Watch to the end to see a young Neil Cavuto.

6. The Weather Channel debuts

In 1982, The Weather Channel hit the air thanks to meteorologist John Coleman. The plan was simple: show the weather for the present and future.

7. QVC sells its first shower radio

In 1986, QVC got “a clean start” with the Windsor Shower Companion, the first product ever featured on the channel. Named for Quality, Value, and Convenience, the channel was a hit from the beginning. The first product was followed by a prize drawing.

8. Syfy debuts as the Sci-Fi Channel

Dedicated to Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry, the Sci-Fi Channel first broadcast in 1992 (and featured a lot of CGI). The first program? Star Wars (as introduced by a floating head from the future).

9. MSNBC turns on the power

In some ways, the MSNBC launch feels more retro than older broadcasts, with its invocation of “the promise of the internet” and “the digital revolution.” It even included a show about things on the web (today, a show about things on the web would be a show about…everything). The programming rundown shows how much the channel has changed. Stick around for Brian Williams and a clip showing a very outdated website.

Sadly, this list includes a few omissions due to programming types, the year of the debuts, and other irregularities. To make up for it, we can at least offer a reel of all the different Nickelodeon logos, including the first one to air. Don’t show it to your kids, since it’s a little creepy.

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