Clear Channel superstar rises to top

Darren Davis

Darren Davis

I should have known Darren Davis would be running all of the Clear Channel networks someday. I just never imagined it would happen by age 40.

As head of programming and operations at Clear Channel’s Chicago stations for less than three years, the California native earned a reputation as a smart, creative manager who combined a lifelong passion for radio with a discipline for business. By the time he was named senior vice president of programming for the company in 2008, his meteoric trajectory was set.

On Tuesday, Davis was named president of Clear Channel Networks Group, overseeing Premiere Networks, Total Traffic and Weather Network, the 24/7 News Network and the iHeartRadio Network. The newly unified group was created after John Hogan retired Jan. 13 as chairman and CEO of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment.

“It’s going to be fun to step out of a purely-programming role and be the leader for these network teams,” Davis told me shortly after his appointment was announced. “We really want to energize the content and the marketing opportunities for advertising partners.”

Bob Pittman, another former radio wunderkind who made a name as a Chicago programmer in the ’70s, must see something of himself in Davis. In a statement, the Clear Channel chairman and CEO said: “Darren is an innovative and effective leader of teams and has been a success at every role he has played at this company from the beginning as a programmer through his role as EVP and GM for the National Programming Platforms (NPP) group with Tom Poleman. His extensive and diverse experience makes him the perfect candidate for this important new leadership role.”

The son of a baker in Grass Valley, Calif., Davis helped his dad deliver donuts to disc jockeys at KNCO AM. “I fell in love with radio right then and there,” recalled Davis, who eventually landed a summer internship at the station and got to host a two-hour show.

As a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., he applied for a job at WASH FM, where he parlayed an internship on the morning show into a part-time gig as the station’s programming assistant. Within four years, he was program director of the Clear Channel station. Top programming jobs in Houston, Detroit and Chicago followed.

His secret to being such a young boss? “There's a fine line,” Davis told the Chicago Tribune in 2008. “You want to be friendly with your team members, but at the end of the day you're still the leader. . . . When something's gone wrong I want people to leave my office feeling better than when they came in.”