safe_image.phpIn reading  VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, one thing that particularly stood out was that when she started, Martha Quinn didn’t know what she was doing. But, that didn’t stop her.

Martha Quinn – The Future’s So Bright

I often have students who are afraid to go outside of their comfort zone and to a certain extent, if you don’t know how to do certain things, like fly a plane, do brain surgery or defend OJ in court, then you probably shouldn’t be making it up as you go. You need to understand the basics, but you don’t always need a formal course of instruction in order to be competent at something. What is takes is understanding that you don’t know what you’re doing yet, you see the knowledge gap, and a commitment to constant and never ending improvement.

“In the early days, I would write down every little piece of information that I wanted to talk bout in the ‘off-the-cuff’ segments,” says Quinn (54). “So I was constantly studying, reading Billboard  magazine…biographies, anything that I could get my hands on.”

Quinn did two very important things – first, she read. She researched and did her homework – she did the sets and reps, which not only builds the muscles you need to succeed but also allows you to reach higher heights. And, she was humble. Alan Hunter talks about how J.J. Jackson and Mark Goodman would come into the studio with a copy of the New York Times and sit there reading while waiting for their shifts (VJ’s 52).  Jackson and Goodman were at the highest level of competency, unconscious competence: they do what they know how to do without even thinking about it.


Martha Quinn wasn’t the only one who did the sets and reps, Nina Blackwood noted that she is also meticulous with her research (54) and from watching her on air during the 80s, you couldn’t readily tell who had the most knowledge. Blackwood made up any lack of knowledge with her look, which was definitely ‘rocker-chick,’ and her demeanor, which was respectful and a bit edgy. That wonderful gravelly voice did wonders for her too! Still love hearing that on SiriusXM.

J.J. Jackson, Karma Chameleon

Of all the VJ’s J.J. Jackson was widely viewed as the coolest. He told stories about the people he knew and managed to do it in a way that didn’t sound pompous, which is a rare skill (VJ’s 88). Being able to casually name drop is a skill I still have yet to manage, but for those that can do it, it’s a precious commodity. It both allows you to entertain people and to let others know that you are credible, or known, or whatever having connections with people gives you. Also, Mark Goodman notes that Jackson had the ability to be part of whatever group he was with (VJ’s 93). This is also a gift, but it’s also a work-in-progress – you have to do some homework.

Jackson could talk music and literature and other subjects (VJ’s 93). He wasn’t a one trick pony. When I talk about connecting with people, networking, relationship building, it helps to be well-read and able to discuss a variety of topics which Jackson was. One of the ways that J.J. would establish his credibility with the huge artists that he interviewed was to briefly discuss his history.  Again, here is another advantage to doing the sets and reps. When you haven’t worked your way up, when you haven’t earned your stripes so to speak, you need to first recognize that fact. Don’t expect that people will grant you tons of respect and courtesy (although its nice when they do) until you’ve paid some dues.

Goodman notes that when J.J. would interview an artist he would give them a little bio to establish himself, which put the artist at ease that they were in good hands (VJ’s 95).

There is also something to be said for looking the part. Quinn says that J.J. would go out wearing giant aviator sunglasses, a full-length rabbit-fur coat and red cowboys boots, with a 300-pound Akita on a leash (VJs 97), making him very hard to miss. Now THAT’s peacocking before the term was even popular! Ironically, he would also complain about his fame, but the lesson learned here is that if you want to be the part, look the part. Even the millionaire venture capitalists have their “uniform,” (slacks, no tie, no jacket and wide open shirt collar, about one button unbuttoned too far down).

Everybody Wants Some

Another lesson I learned from the book, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave is the danger of flirtatiousness. For a period of time, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn had an ongoing flirtaous relationship. Unlike in the real world, where management looks down upon such things, in the world of TV and celebrity, management was just the opposite. Instead of sending them to a sexual harassment class (did that even exist in the 80s?), they encouraged the action. Management even had Hunter take off his wedding ring when he was on air to give the impression he was available, and thus encourage more female viewership.

Eventually, Hunter’s wife Jan won out, both the argument with management and with Quinn. While Hunter would put his ring back on when he went home his wife still didn’t like the fact that he had to pose as single while on air. Hunter finally told management to deal with it. Also, Hunter’s wife called Quinn one day and told her to quit flirting with her husband (VJ’s 135). Quinn denied it at the time (I would have too!), but then also stopped the flirting knowing that she’d been caught and seeing the effect it has (VJs 135).

The fact is that with a fully integrated workplace now, particularly with men and women spending more time together as professionals in the office and on the road, its more important now than ever before to keep the two worlds separate. With the term “work wife,” or “work husband,” now in our social vocabulary you have to be careful not to ‘put it out there,’ unless you’re looking for it to be picked up.

There is an expression that I heard one day and eventually I’ll remember the reference – I’m sure it was in a book, but it went like this: Don’t ever let anyone into the emotional territory that is the sole domain of your mate.

We all know where the line is and we know the difference between harmless banter and actual flirtation. And we all know when the line gets crossed. I’m not saying that if a guy thinks about a girl naked, or has a fantasy about sleeping with her that he’s cheating, or is on a certain beach on a certain day and sees a certain VJ topless that its a bad thing (if you want to know what I’m talking about, buy the book). Keep in mind, a guy thinks about sex on average about once a minute where a girl, on average, thinks about it about once a day (damn, I hate it when I miss that window!) Women need a reason, guys just need a location.

It’s natural for us to have those thoughts, but when you begin to take action, consciously or subconsciously, you begin a dangerous journey. It’s a journey with a vicious and sometimes expensive, learning curve.  That’s a life lesson worth remembering and implementing, at the unconscious competence level!

Blackwood, Nina, Goodman, Mark, Hunter, Alan and Quinn, Martha, and Edwards, Gavin. VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave. New York: Atria, 2013. Print.

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