MTV GENERATION; as It Celebrates 25 Years, We Look at How a Station Became an Icon in Entertainment

Article excerpt

Byline: By Brian McIver

IT couldn't have picked a better song with which to launch itself - Video Killed The Radio Star.

When MTV first exploded on to the airwaves at midnight, August 1, 1981, that quirky Eighties classic by Buggles not only became the first music video shown on the network, but heralded a new era in the way we would listen to and watch music forever.

Next week, the channel - which has become a global empire of national and genre-flavoured networks, as well as radio, internet and film production - reaches its 25th birthday and is stronger than ever.

Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Robbie Williams, REM, Eminem, Guns 'N' Roses and Nirvana are just some of the acts who have become huge stars on the network and helped define the image and sound of the channel.

It has launched the careers of stars such as Sharon Osbourne, Jessica Simpson, Davina McCall and Edith Bowman, as well as several generations of pop, rock and rap stars, from Snoop Dogg to Britney Spears, who admitted: "I owe my success to MTV."

The MTV brand is also mostly responsible for the boom in reality TV, launching the genre almost a decade before the term was coined.

But the iconic station started life as a cable channel, coming out of New Jersey and launched as part of a joint venture between Warner Brothers and American Express, although it is now owned by' multimedia giants Viacom.

Music Television was designed to copy the radio format of continuous music play around the clock, introduced by a Video Jockey or VJ.

The format was developed by record producer Bob Pittman, who was hired to create the channel's image. He launched it with style alongside Chief Operating Officer John Lack, who introduced the channel at the stroke of midnight with the words, "Ladies and gentleman, Rock 'n' Roll!", before Buggles kicked it all off.

It was initially watched by just under a million viewers throughout August, but within months it had the attention of the music industry and viewing figures and video production were increasing daily.

British bands like Simple Minds, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet all got incredible US exposure thanks to the station, and bands became more image-conscious and turned to the video format kickstarted by Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975.

Michael Jackson's innovative video for Billie Jean became MTV's first huge video hit in 1983, although it was the follow-up ', that became the landmark clip for the channel. The 14-minute Thriller video, by Blues Brothers director John Landis, was initially ignored by the channel because it was too long, but when it was shown it was an instant sensation.

The heavy rotation was directly responsible for album sales of 80,000 copies a week at its peak, and that success became the watershed point when videos became part of the normal record making and marketing process.

Dire Straits were the first band to incorporate video and lyrics for the MTV era, when their song Money For Nothing had the famous line: "I want my MTV."

As it took off, everyone wanted to be involved, and even Andy Warhol had his own show, Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes.

There was controversy in the early days, because, while Jackson was its biggest star, black artists felt they were being ignored at the expense of MTV's mainly rock and pop-based white playlist.

In response, the channel launched Yo!

MTV Raps, which brought then underground hip hop stars to the mainstream and introduced wider audiences to rap for the first time.

In the modern MTV network, hip-hop and R'n'B urban sounds now dominate the schedules, and there are devoted specialist channels, like MTV Base and MTV Jams.

After dealing with its own alleged apartheid controversy, MTV went political in the late Eighties as it became a cultural force and started to spread around the world. …