By Ed Ryan and Adam R Jacobson
The man who founded the company that would go on to become the biggest radio group in the United States has died. Lowry Mays passed away Monday at the age of 87. The announcement of his death was made by his alma mater, Texas A&M University.
Mays founded the San Antonio Broadcasting Company back in 1972, with the purchase of an FM that today is KAJA in San Antonio. In 1975, that property was sold, allowing Mays to team with longtime investor Red McCombs in purchasing WOAI-AM 1200 in San Antonio.
It’s a deal that would serve as a foundational transaction for the company that would become known as Clear Channel Communications. WOAI enjoys a “clear channel” signal that can be heard as far as Los Angeles after dark.
Today, the company Mays built is known as iHeartMedia.
Throughout the years as Clear Channel, the company would enter television broadcasting, amassing over 40 TV stations, including the CBS affiliate serving Eureka-Arcata, Calif., one of the nation’s smallest DMAs. Clear Channel Outdoor would also see its launch. With the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Clear Channel would grow its radio station assets in a significant way.
First, Clear Channel purchased Jacor Communications, led by Randy Michaels, in 1998 in a $3.4 billion stock swap, adding over 450 radio stations. Then, in 1999, the company bought AMFM Inc. in a deal valued at $17.4 billion in stock and $6.1 billion in debt. This brought in stations once tied to Chancellor Broadcasting, Shamrock Communications and Milton Maltz’s Malrite such as WMMS-FM in Cleveland and “Z100” in New York.
Clear Channel under Mays would own over 1,200 radio stations, gobbling up other companies during the early years of deregulation when radio was the darling of Wall Street.
The debt would eventually lead to a bankruptcy years down the road, but that was after private equity firms Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners in July 2008 completed a $17.9 billion purchase of radio station and billboard company. Clear Channel had agreed to be acquired at the height of the private equity boom, in 2007. Fortunes changed dramatically in 2008, but Thomas H. Lee and Bain persisted.
As reported by Reuters at the time, the buyout firms had agreed to buy Clear Channel for $39.20 per share but later filed lawsuits in New York and Texas to force six banks to fund the deal. Eventually, a deal with a $36 per share valuation was struck, with Citigroup Inc, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse Group, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Deutsche Bank AG and Wachovia Corp. funding it.
Bankruptcy would come for the company formerly known as Clear Channel in March 2018. By this point, it was known as iHeartMedia; CEO Bob Pittman was in charge.
It had been years since the Mays family was actively involved in the company.
After suffering a stroke in 2005, Lowry Mays turned over the day-to-day operation of Clear Channel to Mark Mays. Son Randall Mays was also involved in the company. Pittman’s tenure as CEO came in 2011. Under his leadership, radio assets were pared to about 850. Clear Channel Outdoor was spun off as part of the Chapter 11 restructuring plan signed off in 2019.
‘A REALLY BIG TREE,’ FALLEN
Lowry Mays was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1999 and Radio Hall of Fame in 2004. He was named Radio Ink’s Executive of the Year in 1999 and was on Radio Ink’s 40 Most Powerful People in Radio list from 1996 to 2004, holding on to the #1 spot from 2000 to 2004.
The Broadcasters Foundation also has an award named after Mays.
Mays was a 1957 graduate of Texas A&M University. A business school is named after him at the college. Mays was dedicated to supporting his alma mater, serving two non-consecutive terms (1985-1991 and 2001-2007) on The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, including as chairman from 2003-2005.
“A really big tree fell in the Aggie forest today,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “We will never forget what he did for Aggieland.”
Texas A&M’s school of business was endowed by Mays in 1996 with a $15 million gift and was renamed the Lowry Mays College & Graduate School of Business. The university renamed the school once more in 2002 to Mays Business School. In 2017, the Mays Family Foundation gifted an additional $25 million, the largest single commitment in the business school’s history. Both gifts were part of an overall lifetime giving of $47 million.
Texas A&M University President M. Katherine Banks said, “We are saddened to hear of Lowry Mays’ passing today. He truly exemplified the Aggie core values. The Mays family has had a remarkable impact on the business school, providing countless opportunities for students and faculty, as well as on the university system through his service on the Board of Regents. Aggies are proud to carry on his legacy of leadership and service.”
In 2010, the Texas A&M Foundation Board of Trustees honored Mays with its Sterling C. Evans Medal for his philanthropy to the university. And as a result of the Mays’ service and generosity to the business school, the Peggy and Lowry Mays Impact Award was created and given to the couple in 2017. The award continues to be given in honor of those who impact the school through exemplary giving and strong leadership.
NAB President/CEO Curtis LeGeyt was among the first of the industry leaders to express condolences on Tuesday.
“NAB is saddened by the passing of Lowry Mays, a trailblazing icon whose historic career revolutionized and reshaped the broadcasting industry,” LeGeyt said. “He founded and built one of the foremost media companies in the world through bold and innovative thinking, while his philanthropic and generous spirit helped countless people during his lifetime of service. We extend our deepest condolences to the Mays family and the iHeartMedia community.”
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, Chairman Scott Herman said, “The Broadcasters Foundation of America mourns the loss of one its longtime supporters, Lowry Mays. One of radio’s most prominent leaders, Mays established the Lowry Mays Excellence in Broadcasting Award, which is bestowed annually at the Broadcasters Foundation breakfast to an individual whose work in broadcasting exemplifies innovation, community service, advocacy, and entrepreneurship. We send our condolences to the Mays family.”
— Radio Ink