In September of 1992, Darren Davis, CCAS BA ’95, a resident of Crawford Hall, received a phone call that would change his life forever. Radio WASH FM had accepted his application to work as an intern at the station. He reported to work the following Monday at 4:00 am, and within four weeks, he was a full-time employee—driving the promotions van, working on the morning show, and helping with station programming.
“I didn’t have what you would call a typical college experience,” says Darren, now president of iHeartMedia Networks. iHeartMedia is the largest media outlet in America, which encompasses 850 popular broadcast radio stations, the iHeart Radio digital music app, and some of the largest music events in the world. “I was working 60 hours a week at WASH FM and employed full time as the overnight DJ, midnight to 5:00 am. I would write term papers while Gloria Estefan and Elton John were playing on the radio. And at 5:00 am, there would always be a kerfuffle at the printer—me printing out school papers while the news anchors were trying to print out morning news scripts.”
iHeartMedia, a multi-platform media company formerly known as Clear Channel, has a monthly listening audience of over 269 million Americans. Darren describes himself as having ‘grown up’ with the company. “I started out as an intern while I was at GW,” he says. “Soon I was the program director for a single radio station, then two stations, then four, then a hundred. From there, I was on the national team overseeing all of our stations—including broadcast radio, digital, and events.” Today he manages multiple businesses and programs, with a focus on creating relationships with hundreds of millions of people throughout all channels.
Darren talks about radio as a listener’s companion, the “friend sitting in the seat next to you as you drive to work.” Radio keeps people connected to communities, creating a sense of intimacy between air personalities and their audience. “We craft messages that drive behavior,” Darren says. “We have a $6 billion a year business, but we don’t just sell advertising. Instead, we build relationships, and then we essentially rent those relationships to advertisers, 30 and 60 seconds at a time.”
The media giant now surpasses both Facebook and Google in numbers of monthly users in the U.S., he says, and with 850 broadcast stations and more than 12,000 employees, Darren is clearly adept at creating community. “I always wanted to be in this business,” he says. “My parents owned a bakery in a small town in Northern California, and some days I would ride to the local radio station at 5:00 am to deliver donuts to the DJs. I also had a record player in the back of the bakery, and I’d play music for our customers. I was hooked at an early age.”
Darren attributes his success in large part to GW. As recipient of a full academic scholarship, he says he would not have been able to attend such a prestigious school without the support he received from the university. He is particularly grateful to the late Ron Howard, then a staff member on the alumni admissions program, for welcoming him to GW and introducing him to personnel at NBC News at the beginning of his freshman year. “That was an exciting time for me,” says Darren. “I got to intern for Tim Russert at NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ and since it was an election year, I also got to meet the presidential candidates every Sunday when they’d visit the show.”
To give back to the university, Darren recently became involved with the GW Athletics Advisory Council. “A school’s athletic program doesn’t only improve the college experience of the student athletes,” says Darren. “A great athletic program is perhaps the best marketing tool for a university. After graduation and beyond, the person whose team does well has bragging rights when they go to work the next day. A strong athletics program invigorates the alumni and draws attention to the university.”
He also mentors a number of seniors, introducing them to people in their chosen fields and coaching them on how to get noticed in a crowded job market. He appreciates the help he had along his way, and expresses gratitude for his strong career and for having such fun in the process. “I’ve rarely had a day off in the last 25 years,” he says. “But you could also say I’ve hardly worked, because I’m in the business I’ve always loved. It’s been great—and still is. Ninety-three percent of Americans listen to radio every month, and it’s fun to be a part of that success.”—Mary Follin