July 15, 2001 12:00 PM

At a sleepover in New Jersey on Aug. 1, 1981, 6-year-old Carolyn Davis witnessed the midnight birth of MTV—the network that brought us Madonna, Tom Green, reality TV and, for better or worse, Jackass. After the first few videos, “we kept waiting for the show to end,” recalls Davis, who, like almost everyone else at the time, found it hard to grasp the concept of a 24-hour music channel. “Eventually we fell asleep.” Davis has remained an avid fan, which helped give her the stamina to sift through thousands of images as assistant photo editor for this PEOPLE Extra. She wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm. “This was a dream assignment,” says senior editor Peter Castro, who supervised the issue. “It’s rare to work on a project about something that’s so culturally pervasive.” To tell the story of Music Television, our staffers watched hundreds of hours of videotape, tracked down former on-air personalities around the world and even persuaded Beavis and Butt-head to join the party (see p. 80). They also confronted a startling truth: There are few sights more terrifying than a skinny ’80s rocker wearing spandex and three pounds of hair spray.

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