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Here's What MTV Was Really Like In The '80s

Unscripted? Chaotic? Outrageous? Check, check and check.

The '80s brought us Discmans, big hair and the birth of a music-video channel that helped change the face of American television. MTV, which celebrates its 34th birthday on Saturday, was a powerful platform for emerging and seasoned artists alike, and even helped launch the careers of more than a few popular video jockeys, like Downtown Julie Brown.

Brown, a London native, auditioned for MTV in 1986 and was offered the VJ job that very same day. It was a whirlwind experience from Day One, she tells "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" in the above video.

"Here I am, boom, straight from London, into New York City, into the studios," she recalls.

The then-20-something music lover had no idea what she was in for, and she was pleasantly surprised when producers gave her instructions on what to do when she stepped in front of the cameras.

"They basically said, 'Just talk about the music. Just talk about what you like, what you don't like,'" Brown says. "That's what MTV was all about."

In a world where even "reality" shows are now carefully scripted, MTVs approach of letting VJs like Brown say whatever came to mind may seem especially foreign. But that authenticity was a part of MTV's charm. 

"We didn't do retakes," Brown says. "What happened, happened."

The VJs were encouraged to be themselves, but that doesn't mean the gig was all play and no work. Rather, there was a very clear expectation that VJs operate in a controlled chaos -- and always stay on top of the latest music news, trends and events.

"There always is a method to the madness," Brown clarifies. "It was 'be as natural and cool as you want to be, but you do your homework.'"

Devoting time to this preparation, she adds, was especially important in the unpredictable, wild environment in which the VJs worked. It helped prevent the VJs from getting caught off guard if a major celebrity dropped by unexpectedly, which was a common occurrence.

"At any given time at MTV, anyone could walk in, from David Lee Roth to Howard Stern, from Aerosmith to Madonna," Brown says. "They were all kind of hanging around, because MTV, I mean, it was huge."

Brown crossed paths with her fair share of celebrities back in the day, including a rumored romance with rock legend Billy Idol. Watch what Brown has to say about the fling now, decades later.

"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" returns to OWN with new episodes this fall.

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