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Robert Pittman, the Mississippi native that defined a generation

On the first day of August in 1981, the voice of Apollo 11 astronaut John Lack unleashed a cultural revolution with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”

All design by Manhattan Design (Pat Gorman, Frank Olinsky, Patti Rogoff), New York City

It was the birth of music television; MTV’s first broadcast began with a voice from the stars, followed by the first of countless music videos: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. A fitting genesis for the groundbreaking cable channel that would skyrocket to success and define pop culture for decades.

MTV cofounder and CEO Robert Pittman born in Jackson, Mississippi and landed his first job as a radio announcer in Brookhaven when he was 15-years-old. The rest, as they say, is history.

In his twenties, Pittman had already seen success in his career in radio and was beginning to branch into broadcasting.  By 1979, Pittman had worked his way up to senior vice president at Warner, positioning him to implement the brainchild that would become MTV.

Originally, MTV was true to its name and featured musical content 24 hours a day.  Michael Jackson made history with his cinematic, and now iconic, video for “Thriller” and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” stirred controversy across the nation.

Soon, though, programming would evolve to include shows like Beavis and Butthead, Daria, Mr. Show, Celebrity Deathmatch and so many more. The MTV brand grew to include live events and even its own award show.  In 1984, the first MTV Music Awards debuted, Herbie Hancock and Michael Jackson were the most awarded artists, receiving five and three awards respectively.  Also honored at the first ceremony were The Cars, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, ZZ Top and Billy Idol.

(credit: Joe Shlabotnik via flickr)

Pittman is also credited with much of the success of Nickelodeon, saving it from near extinction and catapulting it to the top of the charts for kid’s programming. Among many accolades over the course of his phenomenally successful career, Pittman was awarded Innovator of the Year in 1981 by Performance, and Life recognized him as on it its Original Thinkers of the 1980s.

The entertainment icon went on to head several media giants in the 80’s and 90’s, including Time Warner Enterprises, Six Flags Entertainment, Century 21 Reality. In 1996, Pittman took the helm of America Online with the goal of making it a household name, but 1998 the Internet service provider had seen such success under this direction that Pittman was promoted to AOL’s president and chief operating officer.

Pittman is now the Chairman and CEO of Clear Channel Media Holdings and Executive Chairman of Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, with a net worth of $100 million dollars.