Early history (1985–1994)
Format and VJs (1985–89)
The first VH1 logo used from 1985 to 1988 in the USA, 1995 to 2002 in Germany and in 1993 to 1999 in United Kingdom/Ireland. Designed by LPG/Pon, Dale Pon and George Lois.
The second VH1 logo used from 1988 to 1994. Designed by Scott Miller. During the Christmas season the "V" would be flipped upside down to resemble a Christmas tree.
VH1's aim was to focus on the lighter, softer side of
 including such musicians as
Fleetwood Mac, in hopes of appealing to people aged 18 to 35, and possibly older. Also frequently featured in the network's early years were "videos" for
Motown and other 60s
oldies consisting of
newsreel and concert footage. It was introduced on January 1, 1985 with the video performance of "
The Star-Spangled Banner" by
From the start, Video Hits One was branded as an urban version of its sister/parent channel. It played more jazz and R&B artists than MTV and had a higher rotation of urban-contemporary performers. Its early on-camera personalities were New York radio veterans
Don Imus (then of
Frankie Crocker (then program director and DJ for
Scott Shannon (of
Jon Bauman ("Bowzer" from
Sha Na Na),
Bobby Rivers, and
Later VJs included Tim Byrd of
WPIX-FM (the current day FM rebroadcast of
WFAN), a station whose eclectic ballad-and-R&B oriented format mirrored that of VH-1, and
Alison Steele ("The Nightbird" of
Rosie O'Donnell later joined the outlet's veejay lineup. O'Donnell would also host a comedy show featuring various comedians each episode. As an added touch to make the network more like a televised radio station, the early years of the network featured jingles in their bumpers produced by
JAM Creative Productions in Dallas, who had previously made jingles for radio stations worldwide.
The format left room for occasional ad-libs by the VJ, a godsend for emcees such as Imus and O'Donnell. In true Imus style, he used a 1985 segment of his VH-1 show to jokingly call smooth-jazz icon
Sade Adu a "grape" for her oval-shaped head.
Typical of VH1's very early programming was New Visions, a series which featured videos and in-studio performances by
smooth jazz and classical and
new-age bands and performers, including
Yanni. At first many different musicians guest-hosted the program, but eventually musician/songwriter
Ben Sidran became the permanent host.
New-Age music videos continued to play on the channel into the 1990s. They would be seen on the Sunday morning 2-hour music video block titled Sunday Brunch.
Early programming (1989–1994)
Once VH1 established itself a few years later, they catered to Top 40,
classic rock, and 1980s mainstream pop.
 For a time, even country music videos aired in a one-hour block during the afternoons. They started out using MTV's famous
Kabel typeface font for their music video credit tags. It was later replaced in 1991 by a larger font, with the year the video was made added to the lower column that identified the label on which the album was released. In 1993, the name of the videos' director was included at the bottom of the credits.
During this time, they also had some non-music programming, such as a comedy hour hosted by
Rosie O'Donnell with various amateur and veteran comedians, called Stand Up Spotlight,
 an in-depth look at current movies called Flix,
 and reports on good civilians and volunteers in the community, called Good News People.
Every week, the Top 21 Video Countdown usually had a different guest host.
 Occasionally, they had themed countdowns as well, such as Elvira hosting scary videos for Halloween in 1991.
Long blocks of music videos by a particular artist or band, theme, or years were also very popular in this era. One popular weekend program was called Video Rewind, in which blocks of 1980s videos from one particular year would play for an hour.
 There was also a short-lived hour-long program called By Request in which viewers could call a 1–900 hotline number to request their videos.
Also in 1991, a popular morning program was introduced called Hits News & Weather that ran from 7 AM to 9 AM ET.
 (It later expanded to 10 AM ET.) It consisted of music videos both past and present along with a 90-second update of the day's news & weather provided by
All News Channel. The updates were typically shown twice an hour during the program. A box displaying the minutes past the hour was shown below the logo during the period. It was discontinued a week before the channel was re-branded in the Spring of 1994. During the week prior, classic music videos from forgotten artists/bands aired, titled Whatever Happened To...?
The channel's playlist was gradually expanding, and, by 1994, included contemporary musicians such as
Ace of Base,
Seal, and other slightly heavier, or more
alternative rock-influenced music than what it had originally played, although favorites such as
Janet Jackson, and
Céline Dion still continued to receive heavy play for several more years as well.
VH1 Corvette Give-away Sweepstakes
In order to reach a wider and younger audience, VH1 announced in late 1989 that in 1990 they would be holding a contest where the grand prize was a collection of 36
Chevrolet Corvettes, one for every model year from it's introduction year of 1953, to the then current model year of 1989 (there is no model for 1983), all going to a single grand winner. All cars were to be certified as roadworthy and in "good" to "excellent" condition. The collection at the time had an estimated worth of over $1 million (USD). Contestants entered by calling a 900 number and registering, at $2 per call. VH1 received over 4 million call-in entries. The winner was a man from Long Island, New York, who immediately sold the entire collection to artist
Peter Max for $500,000. Max intended to use the cars for an art project, but it never got started and the entire collection was left in an underground parking lot in New York City for over 20 years, and deteriorated into poor condition.