Chief executive officer and chairman of the board, Clear Channel Communications
Born: July 24, 1935, in Houston, Texas.
Education: Texas A&M University, BS, 1959; Harvard University, MBA, 1962.
Family: Son of Lester T. and Virginia (Lowry) Mays; married Peggy Pitman, July 29, 1959; children: four.
Career: Russ & Company, c. 1962–c. 1970, investment banker; Mays – Company, c. 1970–1974, investment banker; Clear Channel Communications, 1975–, president, chief executive officer, chairman of the board.
Address: Clear Channel Communications, 200 E. Basse Road, San Antonio, Texas 78209; http://www.clearchannel.com.
■ As founder, chief executive officer, and chairman of Clear Channel Communications, one of the largest broadcast and outdoor advertising companies in the world, L. Lowry Mays built his empire from one radio station purchased in 1974 as an investment. Mays used his many radio and television holdings—and later billboard advertising after he entered that business in the late 1990s—to sell cross-platform packages to advertisers. He was concerned with satisfying his advertising customers and offering them value for their dollar. Another focus of Mays's corporate energy, especially late in his career, was the negotiation of deals to acquire more properties for Clear Channel.
A native of University Park, Texas, Mays graduated from Highland Park High School in 1953. He earned money for college by working as a roughneck on an oil rig. Mays then entered Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the Air Force ROTC. He was granted a BS degree in petroleum engineering in 1959. After working briefly in that industry, Mays was called into active duty by the U.S. Air Force and went to China. Upon his return, he decided to continue his education by entering Harvard Business School. By the time he had earned his MBA in 1962, he was interested in finance and the stock market.
Mays returned to Texas and spent the next decade working as an investment banker in San Antonio. In the early 1970s Mays was helping some investors arrange a deal to purchase a local radio station; two individuals dropped out, and Mays bought it himself with Red McCombs, a local car dealer. The purchase marked the beginning of their broadcast empire. (McCombs remained a passive investor in Clear Channel for a number of years.) The co-owners of KEEZ-FM (later known as KAJA-FM) changed the station's format to country, increased its promotional budget, and hired more sales staff. The increase in advertising sales soon made the station profitable.
As the first radio station became a success, Mays became a very active station manager, leaving investment banking behind. He learned about the radio business and began lobbying for deregulation of the broadcast industry. Within two years Mays and McCombs had bought three more radio stations, and in 1975 they founded a company, Clear Channel Communications. Mays served as president and chief executive officer. The pair continued to invest in radio, using some of the techniques that had worked at KEEZ, including investing in promotion, increasing sales staff numbers to increase ad sales, and making favorable deals with advertisers. Initially Mays sought out stations in midsized markets that were not doing well and often bought from sellers who were not particularly savvy entrepreneurs. His method expanded the audience for many of his radio stations and led to increased revenue.
Because of Mays's success in radio, Clear Channel was able to go public in 1984, with Mays holding a majority of stock. Mays then looked toward a new broadcast market to conquer: television. Clear Channel bought its first television station in 1988, an independent station in Mobile, Alabama. In the late 1980s Clear Channel bought other television stations in Tucson, Arizona; Wichita, Kansas; and Memphis, Tennessee. As he did in radio, Mays emphasized unique promotions. Several of his stations were Fox affiliates, and he developed the first Fox Kid's Club around afternoon cartoons, offering member-ship cards and fun deals for kids. By 1990 Clear Channel owned 18 radio stations and six television stations.
While many media companies at this time were losing money, Clear Channel remained profitable. Mays was able to expand his company rapidly in the mid-1990s because of federal deregulation, which allowed companies to own more stations in one market, while containing costs and increasing revenues at his stations. Clear Channel was worth over $3 billion in 1996. By 1997 the company owned 178 radio stations, 11 radio networks, and 18 television stations. In the late 1990s Mays began expanding Clear Channel internationally, first by purchasing 24 radio stations in Australia and later by adding other holdings in the United Kingdom and China, among other markets. By this time Mays was focusing much of his attention on acquisitions for Clear Channel while managers handled the day-to-day operations of the company.
One of Clear Channel's most profitable new markets in the late 1990s was outdoor advertising, primarily billboards. By 1998 Mays's company owned 88,000 billboards. As time went on, billboards became an important source of revenue for the company and another cross-platform selling tool for his sales staff. All three arms of Clear Channel greatly benefited from further deregulation of the broadcast industry at the end of the 1990s. In 1999 Mays bought out AMFM, the largest broadcasting company in the United States, to add even more radio stations, television stations, and billboards. With this merger, Clear Channel became the largest radio station owner and out-door advertising company in the world.
Mays made another big deal in 2000, when Clear Channel merged with SFX Entertainment. SFX promoted and produced live entertainment, primarily concerts, and operated related venues as well as a sports marketing and management firm. Mays believed that this deal would allow Clear Channel a new angle for offering advertising and marketing while diversifying the company. Although there was no doubt that Clear Channel remained successful (in 1999 alone, the company had annual revenues of $3 billion and a market capitalization of $40 million), this move was somewhat controversial as it was seen as a conflict of interest. Tom Hicks, the previous owner of AMFM and now a major shareholder of Clear Channel, owned two major sports franchises (the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars) while McCombs owned one (the Minnesota Vikings). Mays was also criticized for sometimes owning every station in a market and controlling concert tours; both of these perceived monopolies were believed to stifle competition. Mays had to address such issues by appearing before a legislative committee on Capitol Hill in the early 2000s.
Such controversy did not stop Mays and Clear Channel, nor did a failing economy in the early 2000s. By 2003 Mays was worth $1.2 billion, and his company had holdings in 66 countries. Clear Channel owned 1225 radio stations in the United States alone, as well as 36 television stations and 800,000 billboards. Though Mays was near retirement age, he continued to work hard while grooming his two sons, Mark and Randall, to replace him. Mark Mays was forced to serve as interim CEO in the spring of 2004 after Mays underwent brain surgery because of a blood clot and brain swelling. Mays temporarily left his position as CEO to recover.
See also entry on Clear Channel Communications, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Anderson Forest, Stephanie, "The Biggest Media Mogul You Never Heard Of," BusinessWeek , October 18, 1999, p. 56.
Bryce, Robert, "What? A Quiet Texas Billionaire?" New York Times , March 19, 2000.
Chen, Christine Y., "The Bad Boys of Radio," Fortune , March 3, 2003, p. 118.
"L. Lowry Mays," Broadcasting & Cable , November 10, 1997, p. HF28.
Lorek, L. A., "Lowry Mays; The Quiet Empire Builder," San Antonio Express-News , October 12, 2003.
Poole, Claire, "The Accidental Broadcaster," Forbes , June 8, 1992, p. 58.