Introduction by Publisher Deborah Parenti; Interview by Editor in Chief Ed Ryan
I first got to know Caroline Beasley almost 20 years ago, following conversations with her brother Brian about joining WXTU in Philadelphia. This was during the early stages of consolidation, and I was curious about the company’s long-term vision. Brian quipped that his parents had five children, and that one brother was a doctor who “cures the sick.” He laughed, saying the rest of the children got the “radio bug,” for which there is no cure.
Indeed they did, and none with more passion and focus than the woman who now leads the company. Caroline Beasley makes a distinct impression from the moment she walks in a room or steps on a stage. She is small in stature, but her soft voice is commanding all the same. She is, without a doubt, a woman of substance. When she speaks, you find yourself leaning in because you know what she has to say is going to be thoughtful and grounded — and you want to be sure to hear it. That she doesn’t choose to raise her voice to make a point is something others might want to emulate.
Although born into the family that gives the company its name, make no mistake: Caroline Beasley has earned every stripe and worked for every crack in the glass ceiling. Starting her radio career answering phones at a young age, she learned the business from bottom to top. And along the way, she has earned the respect and recognition of her peers.
I am especially proud that our editorial board has selected Caroline Beasley as Radio Ink’s Executive of the Year. It is well deserved. Not only does she represent a new generation in radio leadership, she also becomes the first woman to be recognized with this prestigious annual industry honor.
Beasley: I really never thought about doing anything else. We grew up in the family business. Vacations, we would be driving down to Florida or wherever, my dad would always stop and visit every radio station along the way. I guess, as in any family business, you just assume that you’re going to work there. That’s kind of the way we were all brought up. We just were around it.
RI: What was it like, stopping at every radio station?
Beasley: That was a little trying, especially when we were young. My mom would always find the nearest Dairy Queen so that she would have a diversion for the kids so we wouldn’t tear up the radio station. As you can imagine, five kids running around was kind of trying there. It was nice. We got to see a lot of different places. So it was good.
RI: You started out in the business answering phones.
Beasley: Yes, really just entry-level work. Answering phones, working with the office staff at the corporate office. I started in accounts payable and then doing bank reconciliations and doing payroll and the general ledger and financial statements. I just gradually moved from one thing to another, but really just started at the entry-level positions.
In my last year in high school, my mom did traffic at the local radio station. That was back in the day when logs were manual. I would help her with traffic, with the reconciliations and everything. And then I went to college. After I graduated, I came back and started work at the corporate office.
RI: When you were answering phones back in the beginning, did you ever imagine you would become CEO of one of radio’s biggest companies?
Beasley: No, not at all. When you’re 21, I guess you don’t really think about that. I really wanted to learn everything there was to learn about the business side. Fortunately, my dad was there, and that kind of opened the door and he let me work alongside him. My office was right next to his, at the very beginning. It was nice. I’ve learned so much from him.
RI: You’ve said many times that your dad is your mentor. How important is it for younger people getting into the business to have a mentor?
Beasley: It’s very, very important. There’s so much that you learn from other people that have experiences, having been in the business. There’s just so much that you can impart upon them, experiences and whatnot. You can’t be taught that in college. No professor, no textbook can teach you what real-life experiences can teach you.
RI: What advice do you have for people in the business on how to find a mentor?
Beasley: Pick up the phone. I would do research and look at various companies, and if you find a company that you admire, then pick up the phone and call the person. Most executives are happy to be a mentor, because they have a mentor or have had a mentor in their life.
RI: What’s it like working so closely every day with your brothers?
Beasley: In some respects it’s very nice, because we all have the same goal. Even though we are public, we hold a great amount of stock and we all have the same goal for our company. So that’s nice. But alternatively, just as in any business, you don’t always agree. That’s challenging in itself, but I think there is a fine balance there.
RI: When you’re celebrating the holidays, is there a rule not to talk about radio?
Beasley: I wish there were. Undoubtedly, it seems that is where the conversations go. It’s been that way from very early on; that’s what we’ve always talked about. That’s what we do, and that’s our lives. It always goes back to radio.
RADIO NEEDS TO FOCUS ON CONTENT AND WORK TOGETHER TO WIN
Beasley: Based on reports that I read, it seems like we are holding our own. I think that because of the new competition out there, it’s requiring us to do a better job. We are competing for our listeners’ time. They can go and listen to anything they want to, any time they want to. Or they can choose to listen to radio. That’s what we have to continue to remember and be focused on, and that is delivering good, local content.
RI: What do you want to see the radio industry do better?
Beasley: I would like to see us work together as an industry. I would like to see us market our industry. I would like to be focused on delivering good content to our listeners. Just the core values of radio. I think we can always improve, and we should be focused on that.
RI: Do you get the sense we’re not working together the way we could be?
Beasley: I think that we actually are working together, probably better than maybe in years past. As I said before, I think there’s always room for improvement.
RI: What is it going to take to get ad revenue growing, and how does 2017 look so far?
Beasley: 2017 is OK. It’s not banging down the gates at this point, but it’s OK. I think continuing to be out there telling our story and reminding everyone that the digital platforms are out there, they really are supplemental to radio and not a substitution for radio. Again, just telling our story — the fact that we have a very big reach, 93 percent of the U.S. population on a weekly basis — and we are very effective. Banging down the doors and telling the story.
RI: Where do you see digital revenue heading? What can the industry do to generate more from digital?
Beasley: I think that we will continue to grow. Some companies have done a great job of diversifying in terms of digital on their sales side and then just focusing on content as more and more listeners tune to streaming versus over the air. We’ve got that availability to sell as well. As we do more and more with social, I believe that we do have an opportunity to increase our digital revenue. I know we are focused on that, currently.
RI: Where is the digital revenue coming from?
Beasley: Our websites, our streams, our apps, our core products we’ve got that we’re selling. Third-party products — we don’t own our own digital service agency. We haven’t brought that in-house yet as others have. Just being a marketing consultant to our advertisers — that’s what our advertisers really want. In speaking with them, they say, “Gosh, if we had someone who could come to us and talk about digital, and we tell them what our needs are,” and then we are able to respond. That’s what they’re looking for. I think that’s a good place to be and a good goal for us internally with Beasley to strive to do.
WHERE IS BEASLEY MEDIA GROUP HEADED IN THE FUTURE?
Beasley: Yeah, it’s been a little busy here. The first half of the year we were really focused on negotiating the Greater Media deal and getting that over the finish line. We signed the deal in July. Then from July through November 1, we were focused on the financing and just getting ready for the closing. And now we’re focused on the integration. It’s been very, very, very busy. At the same time, while all of this was happening, you can’t forget your legacy stations. So we just have a lot of balls in the air that we’re trying to balance, if you will.
RI: How’s the integration going?
Beasley: I think it’s going as well as could be expected. Even though we are two family companies coming together, we are public, they are private; there is a difference in the operations. We’ve got more internal controls. We have more policies and procedures. It’s just implementing those changes within the company. I do have to say that the Greater Media employees are amazing. They’re embracing the change, and they want to do things the Beasley way. It’s very nice and welcoming to see.
RI: What is most difficult when merging two companies?
Beasley: It’s doubling our size. It’s just the sheer volume. It’s a mass undertaking. We were beefing up our corporate team in the earlier part of the year in anticipation of this deal happening, but still, when you double the size of the company, when you double the number of employees, the volume is just so big. When you think you’re prepared, you see that while we are somewhat prepared, we have work to do.
RI: How important is it these days to keep a close eye on debt? Are you comfortable with where the company is right now, on that side of it?
Beasley: Yes. On a temporary basis. I think it’s very, very, very important to keep an eye on debt, and we are laser-focused on that. The only way we were able to do this transaction was due to the fact that we kept an eye on our debt and we were constantly paying down our debt and deleveraging the company. That’s going to be our near-term focus, to pay down our debt and delever the company.
We had to sell Charlotte properties (to Entercom), and we wanted to get that done as quickly as possible. That is a deleveraging transaction for us. And with the synergies that we’ve been able to take advantage of with the Greater Media properties, we’re looking to reduce our leverage in 2017 as well and continue to pay down debt.
RI: In an interview in the Naples Daily News in August, you talked about how important scale is. Are you at scale now?
Beasley: Well, we have more scale than we did. Before, we reached about 8 million people, and now it’s over 20 million. I think we’ve significantly increased our scale. We’ve got good scale along the Eastern Seaboard.
Clearly we don’t have the scale that a Cumulus or an iHeart has, but I feel comfortable where we are right now. I think that we’ve been able to, or we will be able to, have opportunities come to us that we weren’t able to receive before doing this transaction.
RI: Do you see the company growing more at some point?
Beasley: Longer-term, that would be our goal, to continue to grow our company. Whether that’s diversifying into digital more or buying more stations, we will just have to see what opportunity brings. At this point, near-term, going back to the debt question and leverage, we’re focused on getting that back down and then also digesting and working through this transaction.
GIVING BACK TO THE INDUSTRY
Beasley: Because I love it. It’s the core of what we do. I would like to help the industry. I feel like I have to give back. We want to continue to have a strong industry going forward. If I can help in any way, then I want to be able to do that.
RI: What advice could you give others who may want to be a CEO of a radio company at some point in their career?
Beasley: Be focused on as much as you can. Surround yourself with very good people. Have a very good mentor. Know what your surroundings are in terms of what can impact the industry that you’re in. Just have a very broad perspective as well.
RI: What do you want radio to know about the company?
Beasley: I believe that Beasley describes what a radio company should be. We believe in delivering good local content, and we want to deliver entertaining content to our listeners. We want to help our advertisers grow. We want to provide a good place for our employees to work. We care about our employees,. We care about our advertisers. And we care about our listeners.
RI: What have you learned from George Beasley, your dad, that has helped you succeed in this business?
Beasley: First is not to take no for an answer. Whenever we would have discussions, from the very beginning, if he didn’t like the answer, he would ask in a different way. And then he would ask it again. He would have me go back again and again and again. Just to be very, very, very persistent, but yet patient. When you’re doing deals, just remember, each deal has to end in a win-win. Both parties need to walk away feeling like they’ve gotten something out of the deal. I try to keep that in mind in negotiating as well. I’ve learned a great deal from George over the years.