The New York Times reports that Michael Wiener died Sunday of cancer at age 71. Wiener and Gerald Carrus bought KOME-FM San Jose in 1972 to launch what became a multi-billion-dollar radio empire – and along the way also launched the careers of Mel Karmazin and Howard Stern.
They were a couple of radio guys who scraped together enough money to buy an FM radio station, back when hardly anyone was willing to invest in FM. By the time nine years had passed the empire had grown to three stations and they hired an aggressive young radio salesman to manage the group. Mel Karmazin then led Infinity Broadcasting through an IPO, a leveraged buyout, another IPO and then mergers with Westinghouse, CBS and finally Viacom.
Along the way, an envelope-pushing DJ named Howard Stern made the company a lot of money, got it into the headlines repeatedly and got it into hot water with the FCC. But Wiener and Carras never wavered in their support for Karmazin or Stern. And Stern, who almost never makes a public comment outside his own Sirius XM show, told the NY Times that Wiener was “a very innovative guy who took a big risk in life” – and noted that a lot of other people would not have taken a risk on him.
Wiener and Carras were always quiet moguls, letting Karmazin be the public face of Infinity. Although many people referred to Karmazin as the “owner” of Infinity, the two founders always held most of the equity. They clearly became billionaires when Infinity was sold to Westinghouse in a stock swap for $4 billion in 2000. RBR/TVBR later estimated that their fortunes had doubled again by the time of the Viacom merger. Whether the two still hold shares in the present day Viacom and CBS, or whether they cashed out along the way, is unknown.
Wiener kept a low profile, but was an active philanthropist. The obituary in the Times noted his long support of the Cardiovascular Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. He and his wife, Zena, who survives, were also contributors to the arts.