doing this huge deal.
Wow, how did it all come to this? In the midst of buying several radio stations while continuing to consult 40 others, I didn’t think it could get any busier I got a call from Jim West. He wanted me to fly to Dallas to meet with Tom Hicks. (pictured above) Tom, who owned 7 Up, Dr. Pepper, The Texas Rangers and even a professional soccer team in Europe, he said, had a proposal for me. Jim promised that the meeting wouldn’t take too long and I remember thinking, “Why would I want this meeting to be short?”
Upon my arrival at DFW, Tom got right down to business. He explained that his younger brother Steve, like me, was also in the radio business. “Steve,” he said, “Is always after me to get involved in radio biz with him, but it just wasn’t big enough. However, with the new relaxed FCC regulations and if I can talk you into merging your company with my baby brother’s, I could be interested enough to take radio to Wall Street and make it a monster.”
I immediately put Tom in touch with Bill Yde who could better talk his language. And before l knew it, we were forming a new company called “Capstar.” When the merger was complete, we would be starting with seven markets and adding more as soon as we could. My priority would be to ensure that the programming was perfect on all of our radio stations, so I was going to be busy. Too busy in fact to do much consulting, so I foolishly resigned most of my clients.
Prior to the merger, I decided to move to Austin and fire up KEY 103 which was the Hicks Brothers flagship station. My intent was to make KEY 103 as big as our K103 in Portland Oregon.Key 103 was a sleepy AC that was in need of a full makeover so I brought in Reid Reker as the ringmaster and Jamie Gold to help out. Next, I hired some nasty major league talent like The Magic Christian, Jeff McKee, Mike Donahue, Mike Keneally, along with Bill Taylor and then proceeded to tear the town up.I’ll never forget the look on Steve Hicks face a few months later when the advanced ratings showed up at KEY. (pictured above) As he walked them into my office he shook his head and said, “George, these new ratings claim that we just beat the unbeatable KASE. In fact, we’ve gone from a 7 to a 13.1 which moves us into first place.” As good as that news was, it didn’t compare to how much fun the rating party was that they threw for the whole staff in Las Vegas.
Less than a month later, I was in New York along with Tom Hicks being whisked to the top of the financial world. As the elevator continued to rise, I was trying to explain to Tom that I didn’t think this was a very good idea. As I told him, “I’m just a guy from Transcona and don’t know from Wall Street. Tom claimed that I’d do fine because the investors I was about to speak to, didn’t know from radio.
Tom kicked off our presentation, and it was sure easy to tell that this wasn’t his first rodeo. He told the gathering that a new day had dawned in Broadcasting, for the first time, outsiders like us will be allowed to invest in radio. “Like you, he went on to say, I don’t know anything radio so I went out and found myself someone who does. The man you’re about to meet is a radio genius and he’s gonna make us filthy rich.” I remember thinking, “Ha, radio genius? Wait till these sharks figure how frightened I am, that should scare ’em. As Tom explained the details of the investment, I was gazing out at the New York skyline wondering, “What the hell am I doing here?” All of a sudden I snapped to when I heard Tom say, “It’s time to meet the star of Capstar, George Johns.” As I stuttered-stepped my way to the stage, I was pretty sure that everyone in the room could hear my knees knocking.
Once at the podium, I took a moment to look out at the sea of blue pinstriped suits and noted that the “suits” were staring back at me with total disinterest. Now, not only am I pissed off, I’m ready!
I bid them all good morning and then said, “As Mr. Hicks has already told you, I’m a radio guy. I don’t know much about anything else but I do know about radio. And the thing I like most about radio is that it’s consumed by 97.5% of the American public. Hell, even deaf people must listen to if they really make up more than 3% of the population. The good news is that radio has never been more popular than it is today, but as popular as it is, few people understand how it works. Even Hollywood gets it wrong. However, I do have to admit, whenever they make a movie about you guys, they fucking nail ya!” With that, the room exploded with laughter, and the demise of radio began.