The two-fingered “V” sign means neither victory nor peace to the very, very specific demographic of those who were Boston-area teenagers in the mid-1980s. Instead, it summons the memory of a genial, skinny-tied VJ proclaiming that you were watching “the V” — V66, the local UHF version of MTV that beguiled teenagers, gave regional bands critical exposure, and then vanished.
The V (WJVJ-TV) launched on February 12, 1985, when I was a 15-year-old MTV-deprived high school sophomore in Lexington. Like 63 percent of Boston-area homes at the time, my house didn’t have cable, so V66 was my lifeline to the music-video zeitgeist. The channel was the brainchild of Massachusetts radio fixture John Garabedian, who wanted it to connect with a TV audience the way good local radio did. “Boston has a unique, vibrant culture in music and night life,” he says today. “It seemed to me to be a natural that we could do a local version of MTV, and better.”
The channel was decidedly low tech; the 2014 documentary Life on the V: The Story of V66 employs original footage of VJs broadcasting from a cramped control room, operating their own cameras, and using effects out of old wedding videos to transition from one song to the next. But V66 charmed us because it loved us back. The VJs were live and took requests. My friend Kristen, who grew up in Carlisle, still remembers calling in to complain about VJ Perry Stone’s haircut: “I told the operator it looked like he was wearing barrettes, and he REPEATED THAT CRITICISM ON THE AIR. . . . It was a highlight of my young life.”
V66 radiated Boston pride: In the lead-up to the 1986 Super Bowl, the station produced a response to the Chicago Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle” called “New England, the Patriots and We.” (After the Pats’ drubbing, neither history nor grammar would remember the song kindly.) V66 promos regularly featured montages of people around the broadcast area flashing the V while spouting town-pride alliterations like “Powerful in Peabody!” and “Charming in Chelsea!”
Garabedian and his partner, the legendary radio figure Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg, gave prominent play to regional acts, and not just big bands like Aerosmith, Boston, and The Cars. Fan requests meant the Del Fuegos, the Fools, and Lizzie Borden and the Axes could pop up as often as Tom Petty or Dire Straits. It played ’Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” when no one knew it’d be a hit. Years before Extreme’s “More Than Words” topped the charts, we were air-guitaring to the then-unsigned group’s “Mutha (I Don’t Want to Go to School Today),” a hair-metal ode to truancy shot at Melrose High. The V highlighted Lansdowne Street bar bands, giving heavy play to videos like the Stompers’ “East Side Girl,” which was like David Lee Roth’s cover of “California Girls,” but set on Revere Beach. The video opened with the neighborhood rally cry “East Boston is not an airport.” At shows, “people would come and yell that and show up with T-shirts that said it,” remembers Sal Baglio, lead singer and guitarist for the Stompers.
But advertisers were hard to attract. V66’s short-burst audience would channel-surf when songs they didn’t like came on, making it hard to measure ratings. Ultimately Garabedian sold V66 to the Home Shopping Network, and on September 21, 1986, 19 months after it started, the network waved its farewell V.
Still, for those of us who followed it, the V remains indelible. “A month doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t recognize me from V66,” says David O’Leary, a former VJ who co-hosts Magic 106.7’s morning show. “When people talk to me about [it], the clarity and specificity of what they remember is amazing to me. But that’s TV for you.”Josh Wolk is a writer in New York and the author of the memoir “Cabin Pressure.” Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.