Lowry Mays, chairman and CEO of Clear Channel Communications, rarely speaks to the press but agreed to be interviewed by e-mail on the occasion of his receiving a Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters. Below is the edited interview, conducted by TelevisionWeek contributor Brad Pomerance.
TelevisionWeek: Why did you decide to have Clear Channel move from being a company that owns only radio stations to one that also owns television stations throughout the nation?
Lowry Mays: Actually, we have been a television broadcaster for over 15 years [since 1988]. Our first station was WPMI-TV in Mobile, Ala., which we still own today. We have never viewed ourselves as a radio or television company. We view ourselves as a local media company.
TVWeek: How important are Clear Channel’s television assets as compared with its radio assets?
Mr. Mays: All of our assets are equally important. They each play an important and different role in serving our communities and customers. I don’t play favorites among our divisions, nor my children.
TVWeek: Does Clear Channel intend to expand or contract its television holdings? What’s the thinking behind those decisions?
Mr. Mays: We are always looking to optimize our assets and our market positions. That can include acquiring, exchanging or selling stations. For example, Clear Channel spent $18.7 million on television acquisitions in 2004. That said, we are patient investors and love the television business, but every opportunity is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if it’s the right station and the right price.
TVWeek: While Clear Channel is the dominant owner of radio stations, Clear Channel does not dominate in television ownership. How have you been able to effectively compete with the much larger television station groups?
Mr. Mays: I would hardly call owning 9 percent of U.S. radio stations dominant. At the end of the day, however, size is irrelevant. It’s about serving your local communities, providing compelling programming and being a responsible member of the community. If you do this, you can compete and thrive. A local viewer doesn’t care how many stations our company or our competitors own around the country. It’s the local stations and their management teams that make the difference. They are our greatest advantage.
TVWeek: What is your view of the accession of Kevin Martin to the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission?
Mr. Mays: He is a very bright person and has already been a great contributor to the FCC, and I believe he will do a great job as chairman.
TVWeek: Do you believe that Mr. Martin’s accession will benefit companies like Clear Channel with significant holdings of television and radio assets in single markets, perhaps allowing greater cross-ownership among different media outlets?
Mr. Mays: I think Chairman Martin will do what is right to make sure all industry players can compete freely and fairly. That’s the key to being the best we can be for consumers and our communities.
TVWeek: Please explain whether you intend for your television holdings to emulate the “less is more” advertising strategy of your radio stations, in which fewer commercials are aired to greater effect.
Mr. Mays: “Less is more” is an initiative that is specific to the radio division. The television industry figured this out years ago. The shorter and more creative the commercials, the more folks will pay attention.
TVWeek: Both television and radio companies have been under siege during the past year over perceived indecency on the nation’s airwaves. How do you intend to navigate Clear Channel through this treacherous time in the indecency debates?
Mr. Mays: We have certainly stepped up to the plate and are proud to be part of the solution instead of the problem. But I have to believe that Congress and the FCC will level the playing field for all media, rather than shackle some with regulations while allowing others to roam free. Competition just doesn’t work unless everybody is playing by the same rules.
TVWeek: How would you respond to critics who contend that the media have become too consolidated, creating a homogenization on our airwaves?
Mr. Mays: With cable, satellite, even telephone companies now offering programming, I would hardly call the vast content that is available today homogeneous. Technology is continuing to provide consumers with choice and variety. This is especially true in television. New competitors, companies, even entire industries are created all the time.
TVWeek: How do you intend to create increased synergy among your television, radio, concert and outdoor divisions?
Mr. Mays: Synergy is not something you can create or mandate. It is a natural outcome of responding to the needs of your customers. We believe it is important for each of our businesses to provide a valuable service and to be measured on its own success. As a byproduct of this approach and our focus on serving our communities, we have realized a number of opportunities. For example, our radio and television stations often collaborate in news gathering and reporting.
TVWeek: How have your duties changed at Clear Channel since you passed the CEO job to your son, Mark Mays?
Mr. Mays: I am still very active with the board of directors and senior management but have less day-to-day operational responsibility.
TVWeek: How is your health since your surgeries and hospital stays last year?
Mr. Mays: I feel great! I am invigorated and love coming to work and playing a role in the fantastic changes that are occurring in all of our businesses. This is a great time in my life, and I cherish every day I spend with my family, friends and co-workers.
Title: Co-founder, chairman of the board, Clear Channel Communications
How long in current position: Began owning and operating stations in 1972
Year of birth: 1935
Place of birth: Houston
Who knew? Mr. Mays still cruises his ranch in a 1950s Jeep.