Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

15.23 1 Aug 2021


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Today marks 40 years since the launch of MTV in the US, and 34 years since the launch of MTV Europe.

The channel famously kicked off on August 1st 1981 by broadcasting the video of The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star.

Of course, MTV has changed a lot in the years since then - now more associated with reality television than the music that gave it its 'M'.

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Nonetheless, the channel did change the music industry forever - and has had quite the impact on Irish broadcasting as well over the decades.

Donal Fallon dived into the topic on this week's Hidden Histories on On The Record.

MTV turns 40: The history of music television in Ireland

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Donal observed: “For all the worry that MTV would herald the end of music radio… that’s probably a certain irony in how little music is on MTV today. Music television seems to be more reality television.

“In the 1980s, things were very different - MTV heralded a new dawn in youth culture, on both sides of the Atlantic.”

MTV's rise wasn’t quite as meteoric as we might imagine - it even wasn't initially available in key US markets such as LA or New York.

However, it quickly picked up steam - and within a few short years led to the rise of cinematic music videos produced for the likes of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Before MTV Europe arrived in 1987, Irish audiences instead had MT-USA - an RTÉ music television show broadcast between 1984 and 1987, hosted by 'video jockey' Vincent Hanley (better known to audiences as Fab Vinny).

Donal recalled: “It was a three-hour show… Vinny Hanely, interviewing American music stars and taking in New York life. It was so different to the grey existence of 1980s Ireland.

“A tragic end… Fab Vinny died in April 1987, a victim of the AIDs crisis which was ravaging LGBT communities internationally. But his place in broadcasting history was secured.”

MTV Europe

When MTV Europe did arrive, it launched in London - but the station had a keen interest in what was happening in Ireland.

That interest was in no small part associated with the rising popularity of a little band called U2 - very possibly the biggest band in the world at the time, following the release of The Joshua Tree.

Indeed, Donal says there was something of an obsession with trying to find the next U2 - an often painful and tedious process for those working to find Irish acts to feature on MTV.

The focus on reality shows, meanwhile, began early in MTV's history, with the launch of The Real World New York back in 1992.

However, Ireland had its own MTV musical extravaganza when Dublin hosted the European Music Awards in 1999

Donal said: “They were hosted in the Point Depot by Ronan Keating. Britney Spears performs and sweeps the board of awards.

“I think the hosting of the EMA’s here at that time tells us about how much Dublin was changing with the Celtic Tiger, as much as it does anything musical. One of the head honchos said they hadn’t been able to do it in Dublin until then as there wasn’t enough hotel rooms."

That spectacle aside, Donal believes Irish music television always managed to compete against MTV with a fraction of the budget and resources.

He said: “One thing we can be proud of in Ireland is our approach to musical TV - from Fab Vinny to No Disco - was always more authentic, and done for the love of music.”

Meanwhile, MTV US is marking its anniversary by broadcasting reruns of a clip show called Ridiculousness for the entire day. Reruns of that one show now makes up a significant majority of the station's weekly output.

Video may not have killed the radio star... but the music video stars have certainly all moved to YouTube.

Main image: File photo of an MTV logo in Berlin. Picture by: DPA DEUTSCHE PRESS-AGENTUR/DPA/PA Images

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