Since iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman launched his own podcast, “Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing” in May 2019, he didn’t set out to tell the story of the birth of MTV. But that is what he has done, in bits and pieces, with a guest list that has included many of the other men and women who were alongside him at the cable TV channel’s early days. Now Pittman has strung together those conversations which, combined in a single episode of his podcast, offer a first-person account of how the worlds of TV and music collided in an explosive way.
“One of the pivotal moments of my life was leading the team that created MTV,” said Pittman, who said his goal was simple: “For the first time ever, tell the story of the beginning of MTV through the eyes of the people who were actually in the room when it happened,” he explained. “Because all of us that were really in the room often laugh about how far off other people’s accounts can be.”
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.
That played out in a string of interviews with his 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,” said Pittman. “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.”