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July 24, 2014

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1/07/02 “Get Along, Little Doggies”

I had a Roy Rogers bedspread, a Hopalong Cassidy guitar and cowboy pajamas with built-in feet that looked like boots. I wore a shiny silver six-shooter over my cowboy PJs while I watched my heroes on our black-and-white TV. When I was 6, America’s heroes were all cowboys, and I wanted to grow up to be one. I wanted to ride the range, eat beans by the campfire, mend fences, sleep in a bedroll and have a faithful horse named Trigger.

Cowboys are renegades. They love cattle, open sky and whisky. They are tough when they have to be, but most often are sensitive and always honest. “Yes, ma’am.” “No, ma’am.” “Howdy do, ma’am.” My TV heroes always told me, “Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes,” so I grew up with the habit of withholding an opinion until I had checked a person’s eyes.

Maneuvering a horse to rope a calf takes anticipation, patience and control. I’ve watched Larry Wilson rope a pasture full of calves and then use the same skills to rope a herd of Radio stations. His corral is known as Citadel, a broadcast company that has earned the enduring respect of Wall Street and, even more impressively, the respect of its employees.

Looking into the eyes of Citadel people, I see something quite rare among employees of Radio companies these days. I see smiling eyes that don’t look away when you ask about their CEO. The people behind the eyes can tell you campfire stories about something that Larry did for them personally.

Larry Wilson told me that he wasn’t interested in building a company at the expense of his employees. In journalism, this speech is known as the “It’s My People” speech, and every journalist suspects that it comes straight from the CEO handbook. What a delight it was to find a CEO who not only says it but also means it and lives it each day. It takes a salty old horseman to stay on horseback when riding that impossible line between employee sensitivity and Wall Street accountability, but Larry Wilson makes it look easy. Must be kinda like herdin’ cattle.

When Radio Ink names the Radio Executive of the Year, our dearest hope is to be able to honor a man or woman who tenaciously upholds the values that are vital to Radio’s continued success and growth. This year, when we looked to see who had made the biggest strides in our industry, the trail was easy to follow, because the man was obviously wearing cowboy boots.

We honor Citadel’s Larry Wilson, not only for building the kind of company that could get the interest and investment of Wall Street financier Ted Forstmann of Forstmann Little, but we honor him for being a renegade who is willing to take a stand for his people and for the continuation of honorable values. For the sake of everyone in Radio, we hope that Larry Wilson will continue to ride the range for a long, long time.

There is a lot of fence to be mended out there, Larry, and lots more cattle that ought to show their Citadel brand to a watching world.

Eric Rhoads


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