Drew Horowitz started his radio career fresh out of college, selling advertising at RKO Radio’s Oldies WFYR/Chicago. Like many new radio sellers back in the ’70s and ’80s, Horowitz was given the Yellow Pages and told that was his account list. After receiving some training, and getting thrown out of a few local businesses, Horowitz got his “elevator pitch” down and began to get the hang of selling. He closed a sale to a motorcycle company, then a bookstore. He says, “Once you get that first sale or two under your belt, you get confidence, and then I was off to the races.”
Two months into his new career, Horowitz got his first big sale. Dick Clark had just come out with his book Rock, Roll and Remember and was doing a book tour, with a stop at WFYR. Horowitz sold the Dick Clark package. “I will never forget, it was $3,400, which back in 1976 was a whole heck of a lot of money,” he says. “And I outsold all of the senior sellers. And I got to actually do the tour with Dick and his wife and be in the limousine and go out to the bookstore and do the book signing. That was pretty awesome. I never looked back after that. That sale closed me on being a radio sales guy.”
After his first three months in the business, Horowitz would go on to hit his sales budgets, as a seller, for 39 consecutive months, putting him in a great position to be promoted to the local sales manager position when it came open. He proceeded to make WFYR the number one-billing FM in Chicago. “We really built a great team,” he says. “We had a wonderful group of people, highly motivated, and we really did a great job beating some really good radio stations.” The promotions would continue. Following his success as LSM, Horowitz would become the GSM, where he was put in charge of two local staffs and national.
After being passed over for GM at WFYR, Horowitz decided to put some feelers out and heard about an opening at crosstown WUSN (US99). First Media owned the station at the time, and Dan Mason was part of the management team at that company. Horowitz applied for the job, and Mason hired him. He was 31 years old. Mason tells Radio Ink that even in the early days, Drew had a ton of energy and passion for the business. “He always has been a blue-collar, duty-driven guy with a goal in front of him,” says Mason. “It’s been fun to watch all of his success and where he is now.”
Horowitz says, “When you think, seven years prior to that, I had the Yellow Pages as my account list, it was a pretty amazing moment to get that job. To say I was scared out of my mind walking in would be a gross understatement, because there were three other Country stations in the market at the time — US99 was the fourth of four. They were the bottom of the heap.”
When Horowitz left the station five years later, US99 was a tremendous success, and was the only Country station left standing in the market.
The WFYR GM job would come open again, and Horowitz just couldn’t resist going back to the station where it all began. He ran WFYR for a few years before venturing into ownership. It was during the duopoly area, and eventually consolidation began to kick in and the industry changed. “The landscape changed at that point, where small companies like ours, at least in my view, weren’t going to be able to be competitive, because people were paying ridiculous multiples,” he says. “That’s when I left ownership.” Horowitz then had an interesting decision to make.
By now Drew Horowitz had made his climb to the top. He was a manager running stations and had even tried his hand at ownership. However, being from Chicago, living in Morristown, NJ, was not necessarily making him or his family very happy. Chet Redpath was running WTMX in Chicago for Bonneville. Horowitz recalls, “He called me and said, ‘Listen, I know you’ve been a general manager, I know you’ve been a station owner, but I could really use some help here. If you’d consider coming back as a general sales manager for the Mix and help me right the ship for at least two years, I will pay for you to come back. I will give you a nice package, and I will get you back to Chicago.’”
Horowitz took the job. “That was tough for me,” he says, “because I was a general manager at age 31. Now I’m turning 40 and I’m going back to be a general sales manager again. But I really felt it was the right thing to do. So I went back in May of 1992 to be the general sales manager for the Mix.”
WTMX was in a bad way. The station needed a complete cultural change, and Redpath was really starting to feel the heat from corporate. He was eventually fired, and Bonneville’s then-new CEO, Bruce Reese, tapped Horowitz to run the station. “Drew was my first hire as an executive at Bonneville,” Reese says. “If only they’d all been that good!”
Reese goes on, “Drew has a remarkable ability to focus on what are going to be long-term successes, develop practical game plans to get there, focus on the required intermediate steps, and be brutally honest when corrections need to be made. Drew has great judgment about leaders and leadership. Ego doesn’t get in the way. He’s one of the great unsung heroes of radio in this era. I’m proud to count him as a friend for the past quarter century.”
As the industry changed, Horowitz’s responsibilities at Hubbard grew. More stations were brought into the Chicago cluster, and he was given other markets and stations to oversee and fix, including WTOP/Washington, DC, which, believe it or not, was struggling at that time. And in 2010 Horowitz was promoted to executive vice president of Bonneville, reporting directly to Reese. When 17 Bonneville stations were purchased by Hubbard in 2011, Reese and Horowitz went with them to Hubbard. And when Reese retired in 2014, Horowitz was named president and chief operating officer, reporting directly to Hubbard CEO Ginny Morris.
Morris says of Horowitz, “He is a relentless professional who also knows how to get the job done and make the work fun for everyone. It’s a real privilege to work side-by-side with Drew — he is wicked smart and has such depth of experience that we are all learning from his past experiences and perspective.” ›››
RI: When you were first hired in Chicago as an AE and thrown the Yellow Pages as an account list, did you ever think you would be where you are today?
Horowitz: No, not in my wildest dreams. I am living my dream. When you’re 24 years old, coming out of the educational system and getting your first job, I don’t think you have a clue. I think your window of perception of time is in increments of months or a year or two. But 10, 20, 30 — you’re a kid. You have no sense of that. I had no clue.
I will be totally honest: I did not have this vision of myself that “I’m going to be this one day.” My vision was to always be successful and to win at whatever I did. My feeling was that if you do that, the rewards from that will happen. I never sat there thinking that one day I wanted to be the president of a radio company. Probably a little bit later in the process, but surely not in that first 10 years of my life there. Not even maybe. It didn’t enter my mind.
RI: You turned Country station US99 around back in the ’80s. How did you do it?
Horowitz: People have always asked me that. I think I outworked everybody else. I think I, through sheer will — I know that sounds kind of weird, but people talk about this, certainly in sports, and I think it is true in business as well — that through sheer will and focus and desire, you will it to happen.
It was a lot of work. It was just very intense. That was when I was really young and super intense. I was working 12- to 14-hour days, and I was just committed to winning. There was nothing that was going to stand in my way of hitting my goal. Five years later, we achieved it. We were a top 10 radio station in the number three market — the only Country station left, moving ’JJD, ’JEZ, and WMAQ out of country music, and had built, I think, a very credible and good reputation for the station and the staff, in those five years. It was great.
RI: You mentioned sheer will, hard work, focus, drive, commitment to winning. But you also need people to follow you that trust you and that see you as a strong leader. What is it about you that made those people want to work for you and succeed themselves?
Horowitz: When you are in a leadership role, people need to feel that you have their backs, that you care about them, that you’re committed to their success, and ultimately, that you will be there for them through the good times and the bad, as you go through the process. I think people have an innate sense of knowing if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, if you do care, if you’re fair and you’re going to be somebody they can trust. They then make that commitment back to you, to work for you.
At the end of the day, people want to win, and people want to be affiliated with a winner. If you’re confident and communicate that you’re going to lead them to a winning record — that doesn’t mean you win them all, but that you’re going to have a winning record — and they can be a part of that and be benefited by that, then they want to be on that team.
I’ve been very blessed, because you don’t succeed by yourself. You succeed because of good fortune, hard work, and great people — either above that have helped you along, or people that you’ve hired and who work for you that made you look good. It’s truly about all of those components that people look for. People know a good leader and a bad leader. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to attract and keep some wonderfully talented, creative people over my career.
RI: In your opinion, do enough radio companies care about their people today?
Horowitz: Boy, that’s a loaded question. I hate to say anything negative about my compatriots in the business. I think that the landscape of our industry is very different today, and I think that the byproduct of the consolidation era has created situations that don’t allow a lot of the companies to be able to do that. Not that they don’t want to do that or wouldn’t choose to do that, but due to circumstance, aren’t able to do that.
RI: On the topic of consolidation, do you think it was good or bad for the industry?
Horowitz: That’s a difficult question. I don’t think consolidation is bad. When you look at industries, whether it’s the airline industry, the pharmaceutical industry, whatever industry, I don’t think the concept of consolidation is bad. What may be a little bit difficult and creates an environment of negativity is that the byproduct for consolidation to happen is that you then become a publicly traded company.
I don’t think we’re built to be part of a publicly traded world, because we were always most successful when we could be owned by individuals or families and run the business that way. When Wall Street, for that three- or four- or five-year window of time, was enamored with radio and the industry was going through a wonderful growth stage, and cash flows were growing at high single digits or low-double-digit numbers and it was a great free-cash-flow business, everybody thought, “This is the gravy train. Let’s invest in this and we will do great.”
The problem was that the market got so overheated. People were paying outrageous multiples, and there was no way they could ever justify those multiples. To justify and keep hitting the multiple numbers that you have to hit, our industry would have to have grown at high-single-digit or low- to mid-double-digit metrics for a very long time.
There is no history that supports that, in my 40 years of doing this. There may have been windows of time that we’ve done that, but consistently growing at those kinds of rates, it’s never existed. I think that got us into trouble as an industry, where people were paying 15- to 17- to 19-times multiples. It just wasn’t meant to be. Our business wasn’t built to do that.
Horowitz: We spend a lot of time, effort, and money both in investing in our assets and making sure that we’ve got great strategies. We are actually one of the few companies that does strategic planning. We have an outside strategic planner for our radio stations. Twice a year we sit down with the management teams of each station, and those teams build strategic plans for the next 90 and 120 days, six months, three years. That is an important component of what we do.
We expect our people to work hard, hire great, talented people, and empower those people to do their jobs to the best of their ability and beyond. We need creative and innovative thinking. We need great ideation. We have to have an environment that doesn’t make people fearful of experimenting and trying things. For us to keep growing and evolving and being relevant in this highly competitive world, we’ve got to make sure that we get the best thinking to the forefront, and execute the best thinking.
You have to have the ability to not be risk-averse. One thing about working for Ginny Morris and the Hubbard family is that they are broadcasters. It’s in the DNA of the family, and the DNA of what we do as a company. We will try things. We will take some risks. And if you’re going to fail, fail quickly.
RI: You were an AE who was then moved into management. Is that a good idea these days, to take a top biller off the streets and make that person a manager?
Horowitz: I have mixed feelings about that. You have to really look beyond the individual’s billing capabilities. Because some people are just really great salespeople, but they don’t necessarily possess the qualities that you need, which are very different, to be in a leadership position and running a department.
RI: Is Hubbard’s digital strategy as far along as you’d like it to be?
Horowitz: Our digital strategy is really ahead of where we had hoped it would be. The first year, obviously, was an implementation year. We did some good things, and we made a lot of mistakes. At the end of the first year, we evaluated that, made adjustments, and rebooted things where we made mistakes.
We have a great guy running 2060 Digital, Jim Bryant. Knock on wood, the results have been very, very strong. I believe we will overachieve our goals in 2016. I don’t want to look too far out, but I kind of like the plan for the near-term future growth of the company, because we don’t have the limitations of being a licensed broadcaster in how we grow that business.
RI: What do you think it’s going to take to get radio’s revenue growing consistently again?
Horowitz: It’s going to take a concerted effort by the industry to do a few things. One, to work with the client base to make sure we show the true value of our medium. We have always been a reach-and-frequency medium, at least since I started in the business. And we still are a phenomenally strong reach medium. We touch about 93 percent of the people in this country every week. That’s powerful. I think if we could get everybody focused on getting that story told to the people that matter, showing our viability, we certainly could see the business grow. That’s going to take a lot of effort. But to sustain the business in the future, we’re going to need to do something in that realm.
Radio has the ability to aggregate huge numbers of people, and take those ears and those eyeballs and get into other platforms to deliver audiences to clients, whether it’s podcasting, digital, or something new that we don’t even know about yet. We have to have a strategy to grow our business over multiple platforms and not look at it as a singular platform.
If we can do that, as an industry, the future is bright for radio. It may not be a high-growth industry, but it’s a sustainable-growth industry in its core business, which can then create platforms to grow in other areas that could be extremely profitable and good for the business. We are very well positioned, if we’re smart, and we’re strategic, and we approach it from the right perspective, to see radio be around for another 100 years. Again, it may not be what it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, but it will morph and evolve and still be relevant.
RI: Are you concerned about companies like Pandora and Amazon and the others that are getting into the streaming business?
Horowitz: I don’t know that “concerned” would be the right term. Certainly extraordinarily aware of their existence, that they are an alternative platform for people to spend time with, which takes them away from us.
But I think they have a place in the landscape. I don’t think it’s either/or, and I don’t believe that they are significant enough in what they do to usurp our business. I don’t think they’ve been around long enough. I am not clear what the life cycle of their business is, because it’s still fairly new and it’s still going through a lot of change.
At the very end of the day, that platform and that type of business has to show that it can make money and be profitable, which I don’t think they’ve done yet. You have great ideas and deliver a great product, but again, if you can’t take that value proposition and covert it into a bottom line and a cash-flow number, then how valuable is that really? I don’t think they’ve done that yet.
RI: What keeps you up at night?
Horowitz: Probably the biggest thing that keeps me up at night is if we are going to be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest talent to our industry. There are so many other things that are sexy and shiny and new in the entertainment, media, digital-delivery world out there that we’re having to compete with to attract people to our business, and we’re not necessarily the shiny new toy.
But we’re the toy that is still excellent and very viable, and we have to do a better job at making ourselves attractive to the millennials and the group below the millennials that are going to be the people driving our business over the next 10 or 15 years. So that keeps me up at night. I do find that we have challenging moments identifying and attracting really talented people.