Bob Pittman Celebrates 40 Years Of MTV On 'Math & Magic'

By Diana Brown

July 27, 2021

Photo: Getty Images

It may have been forty years since the iconic television program launched, but people are still saying, “I want my MTV!” To celebrate the ruby anniversary of one of the most influential pop culture mediums in history, iHeartRadio CEO and MTV founder Bob Pittman, with the help of his fellow founders John Sykes, Judy McGrath, Fred Seibert, Tom Freston, and Jarl Mohn, tells us the real story of how they launched MTV on this special compilation episode of Math & Magic. They spill all the juicy details, like how much the business struggled in the beginning, how the famous logo spent some time in the trash can, and why Van Halen can’t be trusted with contest winners.

Marketers, entrepreneurs, and MTV superfans will find tons to treasure in these conversations. John Sykes talks about being “a start-up guy” who knew that music belonged on television. When he learned that Bob was putting together a music channel, he quit a good job to get in on it. “The funny thing is, as hard as we worked, I never thought we were going to fail,” he remembers. “It still gives me goosebumps. It was like, ‘This is what I was made to do.’” Bob says he and the others “knew we were doing something that was important to culture, but we had no idea we were going to change culture. MTV changed TV. It changed music. It changed graphic design. And it certainly changed my life.” 

They tell stories about how the famous logo spent some time in the trash can, and how John was sent to buy a house for a marketing stunt and accidentally purchased one on a toxic dump site. One small record store in Tulsa saved the entire business by selling 50 Duran Duran records. And they reveal that a terrible breakfast cereal inspired one of the greatest ad slogans of all time, with former CEO Judy McGrath recalling: “I thought, ‘Wow. I want my MTV.’....those are powerful words. My. In an era before social media and social engagement, something for me that felt like mine.” Hear more about the humble roots of MTV on this episode of Math & Magic.

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Photo: Getty Images

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