By Eric Rhoads
Yesterday I had a feeling that I should call Jim Carnegie. No reason except that we hadn’t talked in a while since I purchased RBR+TVBR from him, and he was on my mind. Today I learned of his passing.
For decades Jim Carnegie was my nemesis. Not so much because we competed, but just because of the nature of our relationship. He would call and tell me he was winning, that I might as well get out of the business. He would tell me stories about all the progress he was making, all the people that he was influencing, all the great things going on at his publication. Then he would hang up on me.
I have to admit, I didn’t much care for Jim Carnegie back then. He just rubbed me the wrong way, though I never returned the vitriol.
We continued to compete over the years; he started Radio Business Report when he and Jerry Del Colliano split up – that was more than 30 years ago. And I always thought he did a great job of reporting on the industry, especially the regulatory and financial aspects of the business.
What I didn’t care for was Jim’s rough edge, the side that would be overly tough with advertisers and was unfairly critical of and harsh toward the industry. Still, Jim called me about twice a year for over two decades. He talked to me about how he was winning (and why I was doing such a bad job), and then he would suggest I buy him out. He would throw out prices like $50 million, especially after R&R had sold for $70 million.
I never took the bait.
Then, after one call, I suggested we have dinner at a radio convention. It was there that I met his wife and partner, Cathy, for the first time. They were like sugar and spice – she was as sweet as he was difficult. We discussed a merger, and it seemed it was going to happen, mostly because of my respect for Cathy, but it never came about.
Then, sadly, in 2012, Cathy passed away.
Jim was devastated.
They had planned on selling the publication, retiring, and traveling together. That dream was shattered when Cathy suffered a brain aneurysm; she died a few days later. We spoke upon her death, and he was a sad and broken man, and perhaps more genuine than I had ever seen him.
It was then that we became a little closer. He was, at that moment, just a man who was broken after losing the love of his life.
Over time, Jim regained some of his original vinegar. He reached out to Jim Robinson, who at the time was running my business. Jim suggested that we should look at it.
I refused, but Jim persisted, explaining all the reasons I should do it.
I continued to resist. Eventually, a year or more had passed. Jim Robinson had all but given up, but suggested that I take one more look.
I agreed to look into it and decided we would do a deal, under one condition: I did not want to meet with Jim Carnegie.
So we did the deal, and, after hours of talking with Jim, I changed my mind and decided to appear at the closing.
I have to admit: That couple of days with Jim Carnegie were two of the most delightful days of my career. It was a true chance to get to know him, and have some deep conversations about the industry and his passion for it. We shared that love for radio. After all, we had both been air personalities at the same time, he at KQV/Pittsburgh, me at Y100 Miami. And I think that, because the competitive factor was gone, he felt he could treat me differently. I was going to carry on his legacy.
We brought RBR+TVBR into the Streamline family, redesigned it, and frankly had a tough time overcoming some issues with advertisers who had been offended by the way Jim had treated them. But our association with the brand and our reputation eventually overcame those issues.
As I heard of Jim’s passing, it occurred to me that I had learned an important lesson or two by dealing with him.
First, he was a man of conviction. He cared little about what others thought and believed deeply in his own opinions. I respect that.
Secondly, behind his gruff, hard, sometimes impossible-to-take exterior was a deeply caring man. It was a reminder that every difficult person has a soft side somewhere.
I also learned a lot about myself. In spite of our many unpleasant encounters, I was able to listen and forgive.
Ultimately the reason I bought RBR+TVBR wasn’t just because of the brand or the revenue. In some ways, letting it fade away might have been better. I bought it because Jim and Cathy had devoted their lives to it, they were passionate about the industry, and I didn’t want to see a legacy brand disappear or be diluted. It was truly an emotional decision.
Thankfully it has worked out, since emotional decisions are often mistakes.
The people of this industry probably rarely stop to think about a man like Jim Carnegie, who devoted his life to serving them, to keeping them informed and educated. But our industry owes him our gratitude. He may have had his gruff side, may have made some enemies, but his unwillingness to be bought allowed him to create some wonderful journalistic moments for our industry.
I never really cared for Jim Carnegie until I took the time to get beyond the veneer and know him as the great friend he turned out to be. Now I’m regretting not following my instincts and calling him yesterday.
I hope you’ll join me in taking a moment to reflect on this man, his passion for our industry, and the important role he played.
I’ve asked our editors at RBR+TVBR to post memories and comments about Jim. Feel free to also leave your thoughts here. From what we understand Jim died of natural causes.
UPDATE: Friends have organized a “Celebration of Life” service for both Jim and his wife Cathy Carnegie.
The service is set for Sunday, August 21st at 5PM at Caddy’s on the Beach in Treasure Island, which is a beach in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida area.
A reception will follow the service. Organizers ask those who come to bring photos and stories you would like to share. Spread the word and please RSVP on Jim’s Facebook page if you can stay for the reception.