MT USA presenter Vincent Hanley was a visionary in the broadcasting world

Eamonn Wynne

Eamonn Wynne

Long before YouTube, internet downloads and DVDs revolutionised the way we watch and listen to pop and rock music, a groundbreaking music video programme in the 1980s that was compulsive viewing for a generation of young people was the brainchild of a Clonmel man.

Vincent Hanley was the presenter and associate producer of MT USA, a show that broadcast pop videos for three hours on RTE television on Sunday afternoons, with a repeat shown the following Friday night.

Vincent, who was based in New York, introduced the videos against the backdrop of the sights and sounds of the Big Apple and the programme was assembled at the Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin by producer and director Conor McAnally.

It may have been light years away from today’s world of ipods, ipads and smart phones but its significance at the time cannot be overstated. MT USA was the first pop music video show broadcast anywhere in Europe and it made even bigger stars out of singers and bands such as U2, ZZ Top, Pat Benatar, Nik Kershaw and Michael Jackson.

The success of the show, and its presenter who came from Kickham Street in Clonmel, have been fondly recalled during the past week on the 25th anniversary of Vincent Hanley’s death.

He died on April 18th, 1987, three days before his 33rd birthday.

It’s worth remembering that he had carved out a successful career on radio and television long before MT USA.

A past pupil of Clonmel High School, he moved to Cork as a teenager and landed his first break with a three-minute report from the southern capital on the Music on the Move evening show on RTE Radio before being asked to present the show a few years later.

He soon made the move to television, working as a continuity announcer and presenter of programmes that included the Eurovision Song Contest previews. Then the launch in 1979 of 2FM, or RTE Radio 2 as it was known at the time, provided the perfect launch pad for the rising star’s career.

He was the presenter of Radio 2’s prime time morning slot from 9.30-12 noon and, in an age long before a celebrity culture existed, he became one of the country’s leading celebrities.

He was given the nickname Fab Vinny by the show’s producer Pat Morley and even released a novelty single, a disco version of Little Eva’s The Locomotion mixed with Brendan Shine’s Do You Want Your ‘Ould Lobby Washed Down.

The sky was the limit for him. Ambitious and ever eager to develop his career and explore new horizons he moved to London, where he worked for Capitol Radio as well as enjoying a stint on London Weekend Television’s Six o’clock Show.

However Vincent found his true niche when he moved to New York in 1982. In an interview in the RTE Guide a few years later he said “as soon as I arrived in Manhattan I knew I was where I belong. I love it for the endless possibilities it offers. There is something new around every corner and there’s a nervous energy on the streets than you can feel”.

Inspired by the emerging music channel MTV, he hit upon the idea for MT USA. He and television producer and director Conor McAnally, who had worked together on the RTE television series Summerhouse, founded Green Apple Productions and proved a winning combination on the show that in many ways defined Vincent Hanley’s career.

As well as his slick presentation of the videos and unruffled style, a slot with music news from Ireland was also included, featuring contributions from Dublin from Gerry Ryan, Marty Whelan and Ferdia Mac Anna.

The programme first aired in February 1984 and ran for three years. Vincent still had much to offer to the world of television and radio when he died from an AIDS-related illness in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin in 1987.

25 years later, his death still brings back painful memories for his only brother Fergus.

“I was working in a pub in Southall in London at the time. Our parents Mick and Joan rang to say they were going to visit Vincent and when I contacted the hospital I was advised to come home”.

He arrived a few days before the death of his brother, who was four years older than him.

“Vincent slowly deteriorated. You could see the life going out of him. I was holding his hand when he passed away”, says Fergus.

He died in the hours between Good Friday and Easter Saturday and his funeral at Ss Peter and Paul’s Church on Easter Monday was one of the largest witnessed in the town for many years. Several of his former colleagues in RTE attended and Clonmel people turned out in their hundreds to say farewell to one of the town’s most famous sons.

Fergus and Vincent’s mother Joan died in 1996. Shortly afterwards Fergus and his wife Melanie, who were running a pub in London, decided to return to the family home and look after his father Mick - who had suffered a stroke a few years before Joan’s death – and who died in 2001.

Fergus and Melanie are still living in the family home in Kickham Street, where they’ve reared their family of three sons – 20 year-old Declan, 16 year-old Michael and 15 year-old Conor.

25 years after his untimely death, Fergus is proud of his brother’s career and the fact that he is still remembered by so many people.

“Vincent was a visionary and pioneer. He and Conor McAnally worked so hard to develop and promote MT USA. He would have given up on RTE if they hadn’t taken a chance with the show”, he says.