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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 00:19 GMT 01:19 UK
MTV celebrates 20 years
Billy Idol
MTV helped Billy Idol break America
By the BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles

Twenty years ago, the world's first television network dedicated to music went on the air.

The Buggles hit Video Killed the Radio Star blared out of TV speakers at one minute past midnight on 1 August, 1981 as, for the first time, we were introduced to VJs and the concept of back-to-back music videos.

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer is considered a video classic
Two decades on, there are still plenty of radio stars and about a quarter of MTV's programming is non-music video.

The network makes no secret of its constantly evolving format based largely on an early pledge never to grow old with its audience.

Brian Graden, MTV's president of programming, said the network's first 20 years amounted to a "cultural and musical revolution" that few of its founder programmers could have imagined.


To celebrate its anniversary, the network has decided to adopt a low-key approach.

"We decided on August 1st just to keep it simple and do what we do best - play the music and throw one heck of a party," said Mr Graden.

Duran Duran
Duran Duran enjoyed success in the video age
To mark the occasion MTV stations in the United States will broadcast a live 12-hour special featuring some of the best music videos of the last 20 years.

Mr Graden said it had been a great deal of fun choosing the videos and artists that most personified the early years of the network.

"A lot of us loved Duran Duran with Rio. Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer - that was a big one," he added.

Blond punk

In addition, a three-hour concert, MTV20: Live and Almost Legal, will feature an eclectic mix of performers representing the past two decades of music.

 Click here to watch Duran Duran sing Rio on BBC Top Of The Pops

They will include Puff Daddy, Run DMC, Salt 'n' Pepa, TLC and Jane's Addiction - although Mariah Carey, who is said to be suffering from extreme exhaustion, has pulled out.

The show will be broadcast live on MTV UK.

Billy Idol was chosen to kick off the celebrations. MTV executives, according to Mr Graden, agreed that Idol's image - a blond punk with attitude and a scowl was perfect for the occasion.


Idol credits MTV with providing him with a much needed fresh platform on which to perform his music.

"I've got to admit that when I came to America, it was just as punk was dying in England and, in America, hadn't really taken off," he said.

Buggles was the first video played on MTV in 1981
"Getting onto American radio was extremely hard."

Idol explained that once MTV started to play punk, radio stations were forced to take notice.

"Once the people out there, the kids or whoever it is, saw the videos, liked the music, then they phoned up the radio people and forced those local stations to play your music.

"It was a success in the sense that we got our own way. MTV was a big part of that," said Idol.

"It set the stage for a lot of what's happened in American music since," he added.


Over the years MTV has developed into much more than a TV station playing wall-to-wall videos.

The network has embraced fashion coverage and pioneered reality TV with Real World - years before the likes of Brother and Survivor emerged on the mainstream channels.

If you look at rock and roll history, there's always been film clips with music

Billy Idol
The station has not shied away from controversy with its current offering, Jackass.

The programme involves masochistic "stunt" challenges strictly not to be tried at home. Next week MTV launches Flipped - a new show which gives people the chance to experience a different side of life.

In one show a suburban mum swaps roles for a day with her teenage daughter.

But music remains the network's main focus.

Idol believes MTV succeeded in breaking the grip that radio had on the music industry in the early 1980s.

However, he doubts whether the growing need for songs to be accompanied by good visual material, has had much of an impact.


"If you look at rock and roll history, there's always been film clips with music," he explained.

"If you go back to Elvis films there's Elvis singing Jailhouse Rock.

"So I think all that has happened was that MTV was able to focus music at a time when the radio had a stranglehold on what people were listening to. For people like me at that moment, it was break point," added Idol.

As for the future, "that's the responsibility of the people who make the music and the people who listen," suggested Idol.

"If you don't really like what's going on on MTV, you should find a way of destroying it," he said.

The BBC's Joe Episcopo
"MTV's cultural impact has been huge"
The NME's Andre Paine
"There are certain scenes that thrive without the support of MTV"
Eighties popstar Billy Idol
"MTV was a big part of my success"
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