Bob Pittman Makes A Bet On Clear Channel

Bob Pittman is back in radio. Most known in recent years for his role as an investor following stints as the head of MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA) and COO of AOL (NYSE: AOL) Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), Pittman got his start programming radio stations. Now he’s meshing all of that experience in a new gig with Clear Channel.

Pittman is investing in Clear Channel (OTCBB: CCMO) — and joining it as Chairman of Media and Entertainment Platforms. The investment is personal, not through his Pilot Group; he will continue to invest on other ventures through the PE firm.

But the real investment here is something Pittman has avoided since AOL: himself. He’s advised companies and mentored startups since leaving AOL Time Warner. At Clear Channel, though, he will take a hands-on role. It’s also a layered one, the kind that has led to trouble in other organizations and will have to be finely tuned to work here. Clear Channel Radio President and CEO John Hogan will report to a new Operating Committee of the Board “through Pittman.”

The press release from Clear Channel says this reflects the “long term strategic importance of the core radio business to the Company, and the Company’s focus on further development and execution of opportunities in the digital arena.” You would think that would be clear enough without needing Pittman or another layer but Clear Channel clearly wants to send a signal internally and externally that it’s not business as usual.

This follows the August announcement that longtime digital head Evan Harrison is leaving at the end of the year. At the time, Hogan stressed the importance of digital to Clear Channel’s growth strategy. Now the board is stressing it to him.

Update: As a reader reminded me, I should mentioned earlier that Mays also has said he is leaving at year’s end and that no successor has been announced. Bringing in Pittman covers the bases for radio at the very least, and should help keep it from transition-itis. It may also be a precursor for more changes, including Hogan’s role.

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