Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Ray Routhier firstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKLAND — Nina Blackwood has been star-struck only a couple of times.
Nina Blackwood, one of the original MTV VJs, now lives in Maine and does her satellite radio show of '80s music from her home.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Early MTV VJs, back row: J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood and Mark Gordon; front row: Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter
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Once was when she saw Paul McCartney at a party and was afraid to talk to him. The other time was when she met the meteorologists at a Denver television station.
“They had a book out, and they signed it for me, and I was over the moon. You’d think it was the Beatles,” said Blackwood, one of the original MTV VJs, who helped launch the network in 1981. “I’ve met Al Roker. I’ve never met Jim Cantore, but I’d love to. After MTV it crossed my mind to become a meteorologist. I remember talking to Martha (Quinn, of MTV) about it and she laughed in my face. She was probably right.”
Blazing orange foliage, the blinding white of a Maine blizzard, and the black sky of an ocean storm are among the colorful sights that helped lure Blackwood away from the bright lights – and boring weather – of Los Angeles to her current home in Maine seven years ago. She also says, surprisingly, that despite her 30-plus years on television and radio and a photo shoot for Playboy magazine, she’s basically an introvert who craves nature and solitude.
Longtime friends, including fellow original MTV VJ Mark Goodman, have seen her shyness come out through the years and were not surprised she ended up in rural midcoast Maine.
Goodman, now working for SiriusXM Radio in New York, says he remembers a going-away party the VJs threw for Blackwood when she left MTV in 1986. Goodman thought it would be fun to hire a muscular male exotic dancer to perform for her.
“She was always very, very shy. When this guy appeared in front of Nina in a thong, she became totally terrified. She was so embarrassed she just ran out of the party,” Goodman said. “That was me being a pain in the ass. She’s really a flower, very sweet, somebody who doesn’t want to make waves. I think that was one of her strengths on TV, her sweetness came through.”
HOME STUDIO IN MAINE
Blackwood’s embarrassment at her going-away party is among the many stories about the early days of MTV detailed in the book “VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave,” which came out in May. The book, from Simon and Schuster, features first-person accounts of MTV’s groundbreaking early years, in the words of the four surviving original video hosts; Blackwood, Goodman, Quinn and Alan Hunter.
Blackwood left MTV, after her contract was not renewed, in 1986. But her stint there, and her popularity, helped build a career she’s still working at today. After MTV, she was a host of the syndicated pop music and dance show “Solid Gold,” and was a reporter for “Entertainment Tonight.” Then she began a long career in radio.
Today, from her home studio in Maine, she spends time each day doing research and voice tracks for her three current shows. She hosts a daily afternoon segment on the “80s on 8” channel on SiriusXM satellite radio, and she records two weekly shows aired on various stations around the country, “Absolutely 80s” and “New Wave Nation” for the United Stations Radio Network.
Because she guards her privacy, Blackwood doesn’t like to say which midcoast town she lives in, or have any pictures taken at her home studio. One thing we do know is that Blackwood is not big on technology. Goodman says that until a few years ago, she didn’t have a home computer.
“She was living up there in Maine, recording her shows on a disc, or a flash drive, and shipping it to New York. I couldn’t believe it,” Goodman said. “So I helped her pick out a computer, and she finally got one.”
The book “VJ” has helped Blackwood realize the special place the first years of MTV, and all the VJs, have in the hearts of so many people.
“I think I found out for the first time how much people care about us, about how much we meant to people at that time, and I’m very thankful for that,” said Blackwood, sipping coffee at Rock City Cafe on Main Street in Rockland. “I guess it took off because there was nothing else like it, a 24-hour channel devoted to music for young people. It was sort of like the ’50s, when rock ’n’ roll arrived, and it was the first music that really spoke to young people.”
Like many of her fans from her MTV days, Blackwood is saddened that MTV has changed so drastically. The network has become known for the bickering and backstabbing of its reality programs, without much focus on music.
“I’m really disappointed. I’d sooner have imagined it going off the air, rather than become what it’s become,” Blackwood said. “I don’t know who watches it now.”
MUSIC AND FAME
Blackwood grew up mostly in Rocky River, Ohio, near Cleveland, as an only child. She played piano and harp (with rock and country bands sometimes), had been a cheerleader, and spent countless hours in a nearby nature preserve. She graduated from high school in the early 1970s (she doesn’t give her age, or details that might reveal it), and soon met Danny Sheridan, a touring bass player who became, and still is, her agent.
They became a couple and lived near Cleveland. Blackwood worked a variety of jobs, playing music and modeling for art students. The couple moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s (“Danny hated snow, I love snow,” Blackwood says) and were both soon involved with the fledgling art form of music videos, recording local bands.
With her raspy voice, spiky hair, model looks and love of music, Blackwood was seen as a perfect fit for the Music Television network by its creators. When the network launched in 1981, Blackwood started a five-year run, introducing music videos and interviewing the rock stars of the day. She might interview the members of Cheap Trick and Bryan Adams one day, John Waite and John Mellencamp the next, and Frank Zappa the day after that. Plus she reported live from the big concert events of the day, including the star-studded “Live Aid” show in 1985.
While at MTV, Blackwood got married (to a man she names in the book only as Dennis) and didn’t tell her fellow VJs. It was around the time she was leaving and she didn’t want people to think her marriage was her reason for leaving. Still, the other VJs say in the book that Blackwood’s secrecy – fueled by her shyness and desire to avoid attention – hurt them.
“I saw that ring and felt like I was sucker-punched,” Quinn was quoted as saying in the book.
Also while she was at MTV, Playboy reprinted nude pictures of Blackwood. She had posed for them several years earlier, in a “Girls in the Office” spread, when she was living in Ohio.
In the book, Blackwood lists posing for Playboy as probably her biggest regret.
“For over thirty years I’ve had to put up with a preconceived notion that I’m something I never was,” Blackwood says in the book.
MAINE ON HER MIND
Blackwood had no direct connection to Maine before moving here, but over her life developed a fascination with the state because of everything she saw and read about it. She subscribed to Down East magazine for years. She took a few trips here before deciding to move here, including one stay in Ogunquit, where she happily watched a storm come in off the water. She also rented a place for a while in Harpswell, and loved the area.
But when she finally decided to move to Maine, her real estate agent convinced her she could get more land, and be a little more off the beaten path, if she looked farther up the coast, near Rockland and Camden. Since she was working from her home already, it didn’t matter where her home was as long as it had a studio.
Now she lives in a house surrounded by apple trees, with water views, around two hours up the coast from Portland. The outside of Blackwood’s home is outfitted with weather-measuring equipment.
Inside, she has a radio dedicated to weather forecasts from NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Some of Blackwood’s neighbors call her “The Weather Witch” and blame bad weather on her, because she’s so enthusiastic about it.
One neighbor, Laurie Haynes, had never watched MTV and didn’t know who Blackwood was until other neighbors told her.
“I hit it off with her because she’s direct. I love people who don’t beat around the bush,” said Haynes, 51, a self-employed gardener. “If I hadn’t been told about her history, I would never have suspected she was on TV.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: