Lowry Mays, in 1972, founded the San Antonio Broadcasting Company, which became Clear Channel Communications, which became iHeartMedia. The company purchased its first radio station, KEEZ-FM in San Antonio in 1972. He and his business partner Red McCombs bought a second San Antonio Station, WOAI, in 1975. This station was considered a “clear channel” station because no other station operated on its frequency and its 50,000-watt signal could be heard hundreds or even thousands of miles away on a clear night.
Over the next several years, the company bought ten more struggling radio stations and turned them profitable, usually by switching their formats to religious or talk programming. Their first non-San Antonio acquisition was 1250 KPAC and 98.5 KPAC-FM in Port Arthur, bought from the then Port Arthur College, now Lamar-Port Arthur. KPAC-FM was upgraded by Clear Channel in the early 1980s to be their first “Houston” station when the company built a 2,000-ft tower near Devers, Texas, hoping to cover Houston. The effort failed to meet expectations and the station was sold after Clear Channel bought radio stations with in-town Houston signals. The company went public in 1984. In 1988, the company bought its first television station.
By the mid-90s, Clear Channel Communications owned 43 radio and 16 television stations. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996 significantly deregulated the broadcast industry, Mays and his company purchased 49 radio stations and an interest in New Zealand’s largest radio group. A merger with Jacor Communications, based in Covington, Kentucky (who had bought the former broadcast side of Nationwide Insurance a year earlier), brought the operation of 450 stations to the Clear Channel portfolio. Within eight years, and with an influx of capital investment from the private-equity Griffith Family, Clear Channel had accumulated ownership of over 1,200 radio stations and 41 television stations in the United States, one of the nation’s leading live entertainment companies, and over 750,000 outdoor advertising displays.
In 2003, Mays testified before the US Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.”
Mays was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2004. After suffering a stroke in 2005, Mays relinquished his position as a CEO of the company to his son, Mark Mays.