Magazine article American Journalism Review

Radio's Hot, and So Is Thomas Hicks

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Radio's Hot, and So Is Thomas Hicks

Article excerpt

The little-known mogul and his partners own five or more stations in seven big markets.

A decade ago, in the hit movie "Working Girl," aspiring Wall Street tycoon Melanie Griffith hatched a plan to help a company gain a foothold in TV broadcasting--through radio. Seasoned Wall Streeters mocked her: "Radio is small potatoes."

But the plot proved prophetic. From January through November 1997, 839 radio deals worth $9.8 billion were struck.

Since President Clinton signed the 1996 telecommunications reform act, fully one in four commercial radio stations have changed hands. Two years after Congress shredded nearly every rule governing radio station ownership, there is no hotter industry.

And no more important figure than Thomas O. Hicks.

While everyone has heard of one--the new

radio colossus, CBS--the other of radio's Big Two, Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, with more than 400 stations, owns twice as many.

Rupert Murdoch and Michael Eisner may be household names; Hicks ought to join them in media mogul status.

Hicks Muse is a private Dallas-based investment firm that in 1997 gobbled up former radio giants Evergreen Broadcasting, Gulfstar, Viacom, Capstar, SFX (pending) and Gannett's radio arm in deals worth an estimated $7 billion.

Today Hicks and his investment banking partners own five or more radio stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Yet only astute baseball fans had any idea who Hicks was when early in 1998 he announced he would spend a quarter of a billion dollars to purchase the Texas Rangers.

Hicks knew radio's prime times--the morning and afternoon weekday commute--seem immune to competition from other media. He figured that if he collected hundreds of stations, centralized programming and cut sales costs, he could improve the bottom line.

He also knew he could begin to compete with television and newspapers for advertising. In any market, Hicks Muse's stations could reach what TV and newspapers promised, and better target certain audiences. Indeed there were no more interested followers of Hicks' performance than executives in newspapers and TV stations, who formerly had the local advertising market to themselves.

Hicks did not come to radio as some wunderkind. He had cut his teeth buying and selling hotels, and he still controls Ghiradelli Chocolate, Chef Boyardee and Stetson hats. …

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