To mark the 40th anniversary of the birth of MTV, iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman takes listeners down memory lane to his days as an MTV co-founder on an encore episode of his podcast, “Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing.” The episode tells the story of the beginning of MTV through the eyes of the people who were actually there when it happened.
“It’s the beginning of the 80s. Cable TV was still a crazy idea. Most business executives and most of America didn't understand or believe in how TV was about to change,” Pittman says in the podcast intro. “And here comes this pack of 20-year-olds with an attitude. None of us had ever done the jobs before and all we knew was we had grown up with rock ‘n’ roll and we’d grown up with TV and the two had never successfully come together.”
While the idea of MTV may seem like a natural today, until it launched in 1982 the idea of merging music and television was seen as a bad fit. Pittman said TV producers wanted to make music too much like the format they’d grown accustomed to. What the team of twentysomethings did differently was to make the channel about a mood and an emotion. “MTV was going to be about attitude, and something people wanted to join,” he said.
The story of the wildly successful, culture-bending channel plays out in a string of interviews with Pittman’s MTV co-founders and friends – iHeartMedia President of Entertainment Enterprises John Sykes, former CEO of MTV Judy McGrath, Frederator Networks founder Fred Seibert, former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, and former NPR CEO Jarl Mohn.
Among the memories are how the first MTV logo was designed on crinkled paper (it spent a little time in a trash bin), how a tiny record store in Tulsa helped save the business, how a cereal inspired the channel’s “I want my MTV” slogan.
“MTV was a wonderful ride... from the very beginning, my co-founders and I knew we were doing something that was important to culture, but we had no idea we were going to change culture,” Pittman says. “MTV changed TV. It changed music. It changed graphic design. And it certainly changed my life. No matter how old I get and whatever else I do, MTV is still an important chapter in my life. And all of us as co-founders are still a very tight family.”
The collection of conversations offer a first-person account of how the worlds of TV and music collided in an explosive way.
“The funny thing is, as hard as we worked, I never thought we were going to fail. I got scared when you'd come in and say, ‘They're going to cut the budgets. We've got a few more months, we've gotta make our numbers,’” Sykes reminisces about his early days with Pittman. “That just made me say, ‘Well, we're gonna have to work harder to make our numbers.’”