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MTV Turns 20 - 2001-08-01


Cable television network MTV revolutionized the music business with the concept of broadcasting music videos 24-hours-a-day. That original idea has spawned other music networks, such as VH-1 and country channels TNN and CMT. Now, video has become a necessary part of any contemporary musician's career. VOA's Bernie Bernard looks at the impact of MTV on its 20th anniversary.

"Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles launched the MTV cable network on August 1, 1981. It was one of only 250 videos that were rotated during those first few weeks. Despite lack of advertisers and criticism from media skeptics in its early days, MTV is now the world's largest television network, broadcasting in several languages to more than 300 million households around the world. Steven Tyler, lead singer of veteran rock band Aerosmith, refers to MTV as "the stake in the tent of the rock and roll circus."

The network is responsible for the superstar careers of Madonna, and Michael and Janet Jackson, as well as Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol and countless bands of the 1980s new wave era. British group Duran Duran went one step further by taking a cinematic approach to producing stylish videos, such as the one for their tune "Rio."

MTV also brought musical forms such as hip-hop and alternative rock into living rooms. While the controversy continues about violence, profanity and adult themes being employed in some videos, the impact of MTV can't be ignored. Rapper and songwriter Eve, who represents the new generation of hip-hop, says she hopes to turn the tide and send a more positive message to young girls by way of her videos.

For viewers over age 30, MTV established another network, VH-1, in 1985. The next year, non-video programming appeared on both channels that included game shows, reality-based dramas like "The Real World," rock movies, and re-runs of old TV series from decades past, such as The Monkees. When MTV initiated its "Unplugged" series of acoustic, in-studio performances in 1989, artists such as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart generated million-selling live albums based on the program.

In 1993, MTV launched a cartoon show featuring two irreverent characters by the name of Beavis and Butt Head, who became the new anti-heroes for a generation. From their album, here's their infamous duet with Cher.

In 1992, MTV covered a presidential election by inviting candidate Bill Clinton to answer questions from a live studio audience. That appearance on MTV played a large part in winning the youth vote for the future president. MTV now has its annual video awards show, along with honors for the film and fashion world as well. MTV continues to monitor the pulse of the music industry with boy bands, teen divas, alternative rockers and hip-hoppers. They've also established a new network, MTV2, which is more rock and pop-oriented. The website MTV.com is currently highlighting the artists, videos and moments that shaped contemporary music over the past two decades. The celebration continues this week, with a live, all-star concert from New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom, called "MTV20: Live And Almost Legal."

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