November 25, 2015

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First Mediaworks

05/24/04 Get Well, Lowry!

Disasters have a tendency to put things into perspective. Lowry Mays, chairman/CEO of Clear Channel Communications, recently suffered a severe threat to his health, resulting in brain surgery. Thankfully, as I write this today, he is recovering nicely.

My immediate reaction, of course, was a prayer for his recovery, another for his family, and thoughts about the nice guy Iíve known over the years. Health disasters are rough on anyone involved. As I spoke with others, though, many reactions included speculation about his illnessí impact on the company and his ability to lead.

Iíve been critical of Lowry and his company in the past ó perhaps for good reason, perhaps because Iím just not as open to change as Iíd like to think, or perhaps because he built an amazing company we all secretly wish we had built. Whether or not I agree with the decisions Clear Channel has had to make to manage 1,240 radio stations, I have to admit that Lowry has created an amazing company and has accomplished things most people never could have done.

For decades, Lowry Mays was a small-town broadcaster, running WOAI in San
Antonio. Who would ever have picked this sleepy little company to emerge as the world leader in radio broadcasting? It wasnít luck; it was vision and brilliant strategy that took Lowry to the top. He wasnít one of these blow-hards that brag about what he was going to do. Instead, he quietly worked his plan, allowing others to consolidate around him. Once most of the heavy lifting was done, he bought up the consolidators, a move that few anticipated.

Suddenly, Clear Channel was melding many company cultures into a single new one with more than 1,200 stations. Many of you know how difficult it is to manage six or eight stations in a building. Keeping track of 1,240 stations is a nightmare. Most companies would have fallen on their butts and driven themselves out of business. Yet with amazing tactical skill, the company managed to invent systems on the fly, keeping all those stations operating while producing positive earnings for Wall Street ó no simple task.

Itís easy for us to be critical of Clear Channelís mistakes and to want radio to be the way it used to be. Frankly, itís amazing that the company functioned productively with all the daily issues of managing such a huge stable. Could any chairman of any public company have done better? I sincerely doubt it. Lowry spent his life in broadcasting, and he is sensitive to its issues as well as the quarterly demands of Wall Street. My guess is that an industry outsider as chairman would have cut expenses deeper, automated more and cut more public service from the stations.

Iíll continue to be critical when criticism is necessary, yet I am happy that Lowry Mays and his management team are at the helm of Clear Channel. Things may not be perfect, but in many ways the industry is a lot better off because of Lowryís vision. In a time like this, we put our issues aside, get on our knees and say a prayer for restoration of health. Lowry Mays is a good man whose vision has created a new industry. Please join me in good wishes for his full and speedy recovery.

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