Now the chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, Inc., Bob Pittman got his start in the media business as a 15-year-old disc jockey in Mississippi, where he grew up.
Motivated to earn money so he could take airplane flying lessons, he first applied to the local men’s clothing store and then tried to get a job bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly. When that failed, he walked into the local radio station, where the owner asked him to read some wire copy into a tape recorder.
“He goes, ‘That’s good enough, go to New Orleans and get your third class radio telephone operator’s license, and you’re hired.’ And that began my career,” says Pittman in an interview with Beet.TV. He’s held a variety of jobs in the media industry, from co-founding MTV to being COO of America Online, Inc. (later AOL Time Warner).
After his first break, Pittman worked as a disc jockey in Milwaukee and Detroit before getting an opportunity to program a radio station in Pittsburgh at age 19. Then he was hired by NBC in Chicago, and, at 23, he was transferred to WNBC, the flagship station, in New York.
Asked about his greatest career setback, he says he believes there’s no such thing, and you only learn and grow by doing.
“In our place we preach, at iHeart, that mistakes are the byproduct of innovation. If you’re going to try something new, there’s no way you’re going to think it through on paper,” he says.
Considering the future of the business five or six years down the road, Pittman thinks it’s going to continue to be transformed by data.
“It’s going to look very data-driven, it’s going to look very consumer-centric,” he says. “It’s going to be a wonderful mix of the math, which is the quantitative stuff, and the magic, which is the creativity.”
This segment is part of Beet.TV’s “Media Revolutionaries,” a 50-part series of interviews with key innovators and leaders in the media, technology and advertising industries, sponsored by Xaxis and AOL. Xaxis is a unit of WPP.
Pittman was interviewed for Beet.TV by David J. Moore, Chairman of Xaxis and President of WPP Digital.