Who Made The Biggest Impact On Radio Over The Past 25 Years?


A lot has happened in the radio industry over the past 25 years. Some might argue that the biggest event was consolidation, and how that’s played out over two decades. Others might say it was the launch of the Portable People Meter. From the rules that govern the business to the technology that drives the revenue to the minds that create the formats to the hosts who innovate what comes out of the speakers, there are people driving those changes.

As part of Radio Ink’s 25th-anniversary issue, we took a look back at who made the biggest impact in our industry over the last quarter century. We held an online poll asking our readers. We reached out to industry executives, station owners, managers, and leaders who left the business after long and successful careers. Then we went back through 25 years of cover story interviews in Radio Ink magazine and compared that with all the input we received to come up with the list you are about to read (in alphabetical order).

Here are the 25 people who have made the biggest impact on the radio industry over the past 25 years.

Lee Abrams (Programmer)

Evangelical culture builder, a student of radio’s golden history, with the ability to teach and transform, and the vision to peer over the horizon. These qualities have marked Lee Abrams’ contributions to “America’s Soundtrack.” He started out as an 18-yearold program director at an ABC O&O, was an innovative format creator — most notably AOR — then on to satellite radio as the chief programming officer at XM. Abrams’ trademarks are indelibly etched into most every format and market. A passionate believer in radio, he’s aggressively embraced media’s Wild West.

Ed Atsinger & Stu Eperson (Salem)
For more than 40 years, Salem has successfully reached audiences interested in Christian and family-themed content and conservative values. CEO Ed Atsinger and Chairman Stu Epperson have worked together since the company was first formed. They took Salem public in 1999, and it continues to dominate the Christian formats today with 115 stations — 73 in the top 25 top markets, and 25 in the top 10.

Ed Christian (Saga/RLMC Chairman)
Ed Christian has been on the radio scene, running a successful medium- and small-market company, for 30 years. Saga launched in 1986 and went public in 1992, and Christian has been the CEO since day one. The company has been a steady success year after year thanks to his leadership. Christian also plays an important role for the radio industry as chairman of the Radio Music Licensing Committee, helping to negotiate rates with all the performing rights organizations for the radio industry. Christian has been part of the RMLC for 25 years, the last 10 as chairman.

Lew Dickey (Cumulus)
Lew Dickey moved from his job as president of Stratford Research to launching Cumulus with Richard Weening. During the age of consolidation, the company would gobble up stations in market after market that Clear Channel either couldn’t get or wasn’t interested in. By the time the buying and dealing were done, Cumulus had become the second-largest company in radio, with Dickey as CEO. That all came crashing down two years ago, when Dickey was pushed out by the board. There’s no doubt he’s been a significant player in the radio industry over the last 25 years, and it looks as though he’ll continue to be a player — in what way we don’t yet know — for years to come.

David Field (Entercom)
Before becoming Entercom’s president back in 1998, Field served in a number of positions with the company, including chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Over the years, Field has methodically built Entercom into what will, after the CBS Radio merger closes, become the second-largest radio company in America. Field has also been one of radio’s loudest cheerleaders for years and plays a significant role in trying to advance the industry in terms of its relevance with advertisers.

Ralph Guild
Ralph Guild, who founded Interep in 1981, remained at the helm of the then-second-largest rep firm until 2007 (the firm filed for bankruptcy in 2008). Respected by both company associates and competitors, Guild was an innovator in the national sales arena, launching the first independent rep firm dedicated exclusively to one broadcast group (CBS Radio). Guild’s Interep was innovative, implementing Radio 2000, a new-business development program requiring radio sales executives to call directly on advertising decisionmakers exclusively to grow the medium’s share of total advertising dollars. And the company formed Interep Interactive, an online advertising and streaming media division, all the way back in the late ’90s.

John Hogan (Clear Channel/iHeartMedia)
John Hogan joined Clear Channel in 1999 when the company acquired Jacor Communications, where he was SVP of radio. He was named COO of Clear Channel Radio two years later, and became president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio in 2002. Hogan rose to chairman and CEO of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment in February 2012, and retired from radio’s largest company in 2014. Hogan was at the helm when the “Less is More” initiative was launched — whether or not that worked is debatable, but it certainly had an impact on the industry.

Cathy Hughes (Radio One)
As founder and chairperson of Radio One (renamed Urban One in May of 2017), the largest African-American-owned and -operated broadcast company in the nation, Cathy Hughes has continued to break down barriers and create success with her perseverance, dedication, and guts. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to chair a publicly held corporation. As testament to her many accomplishments, Howard University announced in October it will name its new school of communications after Cathy Hughes, and in November 2016 Hughes she was the recipient of Radio Ink’s Lifetime Leadership Award.

Tom Joyner
After first gaining recognition as the “Fly Jock” for hosting mornings in Dallas and afternoons in Chicago, Tom Joyner debuted the first successfully syndicated morning show featuring music back in 1993. Today, The Tom Joyner Morning Show remains a staple in the African-American community. From sold-out annual consumer events, a foundation that has raised more than $65 million to support students attending historically black colleges and universities to thought provoking digital outreach on BlackAmericaWeb.com, Joyner’s “Party With a Purpose” mission is always top priority, easily finding a unique balance to empower and entertain. Joyner founded Reach Media in 2003 with partner David Kantor, creating the leading urban syndication group in the country

Mel Karmazin (Infinity/CBS)
He’s been away from the radio industry for the last 10 years, but he played a huge role with some of radio’s top properties for many years before that. A radio salesman right out of school, Karmazin rose through the ranks to become boss at Infinity Broadcasting for 15 years. When Infinity merged with CBS, Karmazin became CBS Radio’s chairman and CEO. Viacom absorbed CBS in the late ’90s, and Karmazin left for Sirius in 2004.

While in radio, he was known as a Wall Street darling and presided over some of the highest-billing radio stations in the United States. He also had a stable of talent that included Howard Stern and Don Imus, and brands that, to this day, are some of the most successful radio stations of all time.

Jerry Lee
One of the last remaining independent major-market broadcasters, Jerry Lee, chairman of WBEB-FM in Philadelphia, has earned a reputation as a visionary over the years. He’s a strong advocate of research in programming, and it was research that drove the decision to brand the station “B-101” in 1993. That move helped WBEB become a dominant player in the Philadelphia market — and Jerry Lee a widely respected leader in the industry. The close of 2013 brought with it another branding change, this time to More-FM, which remains WBEB’s moniker today. On a mission to increase advertising’s commercial effectiveness, Lee has also turned to research in that arena and made an investment others might want to imitate: In September, Lee offered free effectiveness testing for radio commercials to every Philadelphia-area advertiser that spends $12,000 or more a year on radio ads.

Rush Limbaugh
He’s the father of conservative talk on the national level — and probably responsible for saving the AM band. Rush Limbaugh not only became a radio success, starting in the ’80s, he became part of the political fabric of America and continues to this day to have an impact on national politics. He’s the most listened-to talk show host in America and has been for years. Much like Howard Stern, Limbaugh remains at the top of his game today, with no end in sight to a successful 30-plus-year radio career.

Dan Mason (CBS Radio)
Dan Mason served two terms as president of CBS Radio, first from 1995 to 2002, and again from 2007 to 2015. He is credited with encouraging the radio group’s aggressive Internet strategy and revamping the stations’ programming to adapt to electronic audience measurement. Not one to rest on his laurels, today Mason serves as chairman of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and senior adviser for broadcast relations for iHeartMedia. Additionally, he is living his dream as a freelance play-by-play sports broadcaster.

Lowry Mays (Clear Channel)
He founded Clear Channel with one station in the ’70s and grew it to over 1,200 in the 1990s. Lowry Mays ran Clear Channel Communications until 2005, when he resigned after suffering a stroke. History will decide whether deregulation was good or bad for radio, of course, but Lowry Mays played by the rules on the table at the time and created radio’s first true behemoth. To this day, as iHeartMedia, it remains the largest company in the industry.

Randy Michaels
Brash, bold, and brilliant would describe Randy Michaels. Considered one of the early strategists behind consolidated operations, Michaels served as CEO of Jacor Communications during the 1990s, and, after Jacor was sold to Clear Channel in 1999, became Clear Channel’s CEO and remained in that post until 2002. Since that time, he has remained active, although more quietly and behind the scenes the past several years following somewhat tumultuous stints as head of the Chicago-based Tribune’s broadcast operations and, later, Merlin Media.

Bill Moyes (The Research Group, Transtar/Moyes Research)
Moyes was the founder of The Research Group, the Seattle-based company that introduced perceptual audience research to the radio industry on a wide basis, serving clients in almost all of the top 100 markets and 22 countries. The company was also the first to bring auditorium music testing to the radio business, letting the target listeners pick the music. Moyes taught marketing strategy to many throughout the industry in the daylong “War College,” and, with his business partner Terry Robinson, founded the Transtar Radio Network, which grew to serve over 1,000 radio stations in the U.S. with satellite-delivered programming and specials. Along the way, he also owned 35 radio stations.

Stu Olds
Stu Olds began his rep career in Chicago at Katz in 1977. He became president of the Katz Radio Group in 1994, before advancing to president and CEO of Katz Media in 2000, a position he held until his death in December 2010. During his tenure, the firm became the dominant — and, ultimately, the only — major national sales representative in radio. The merger of then-Katz parent company Chancellor Media with Capstar Broadcasting in 1999 created what was at the time the largest radio station group in the United States, with 465 radio stations. Shortly after, AMFM and Clear Channel announced they would merge, and the rest is history. Today Katz, now owned by iHeartMedia, represents over 4,000 radio stations across the country.


Norman Pattiz (Westwood One/PodcastOne)
From Westwood One to PodcastOne, Pattiz has found himself at the cutting edge of audio. Starting from one program based in a single office in Los Angeles, Westwood One became a multi-billion-dollar network and syndication phenomenon. Less than five years ago, Pattiz discovered podcasting and launched PodcastOne, now the largest player in the game. Last year, the network’s 200 programs were downloaded more than 1.5 billion times.

Bob_Pittman16Bob Pittman (iHeart Media)
Bob Pittman joined Clear Channel in November 2010 as an investor and the company’s chairman of media and entertainment platforms. He became the CEO in 2011 and added overall chairman responsibilities in 2013. He’s led Radio Ink’s list of the 40 Most Powerful People in Radio for seven years running and has transformed the company, now iHeartMedia, from a radio company to a multi-media platform. He has tremendous sway with advertisers, understands and pushes big data, and gives the radio industry tremendous credibility.

Jeff Smulyan (Emmis/NextRadio)
Jeff Smulyan, founder and chairman of Emmis Communications, has emerged over the past 25 years as one of radio’s most visionary leaders. While Emmis has had its share of challenges, including a failed bid (the third) to take the company private last year, it has been Smulyan’s dedication and tireless advocacy for radio — most recently focused on getting FM enabled in smartphones — that has earned him the respect of the industry and a place in its book of innovators and accomplishers.

Howard Stern
Only a handful of people believed in Howard Stern when he first launched his shocking and groundbreaking broadcasts. He found a niche, excelled at his trade, and became the most-listened-to morning man in America until indecency controversy and fines, and the big-money lure of satellite, took him away from broadcast radio. Stern will most likely be remembered as one of the most successful radio hosts of all time, and he’s still going strong today on SiriusXM.

Farid Suleman (CBS/Citadel)
Farid Suleman served as CEO of Citadel from 2002 until its acquisition by Cumulus in 2011. During his tenure, which included the company’s 2009 bankruptcy filing and bitter board fights, he became a lightning rod for those criticizing everything wrong with major radio group management. Suleman’s reputation took another hit as, after ruthless cost-cutting at Citadel, roughly $100 million in restricted stock was awarded to him and some other executives shortly after the company emerged from bankruptcy. Following shareholder pressure, the recipients forfeited the grants, which were replaced by options. In 2012, Farid Suleman became a director of Fairway Group Holdings, a supermarket chain. That company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2016.

Mac Tichenor, Jr.
Mac Tichenor, Jr. was chairman, president, and CEO of Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, the largest owner and operator of Spanish-language radio stations in the U.S. before its merger with Univision in September 2003. Following that merger, Tichenor served as executive vice president of Univision and president of its radio division until the end of 2004. His career followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, whose decision to specialize in Spanish radio led to the merger of Tichenor Media System and Heftel Broadcasting and, later, the acquisition of HBC by Univision.

Larry-Wilson_portraitLarry Wilson (Citadel/Alpha)
Wilson excelled during the era of consolidation; he built up Citadel Communications and sold it to Forstmann Little in 2001 for $2.1 billion. After a little time off, Wilson returned with Alpha Broadcasting, which was launched in 2009 with six stations in Portland, OR. Today, as Alpha Media, the company has nearly 250 stations in over 50 markets. Throughout the past 25 years Wilson has been one of the radio industry’s best deal-makers.

Portable People Meter & HD Radio
Obviously these aren’t people, but this list would not be complete without listing these two pieces of technology. We consider the Portable People Meter and HD Radio to be the two most significant radio technologies to come along in the past 25 years. Whether or not they are a success will be debated for years to come, but there is no doubt both the PPM and HD Radio have played a huge role in how radio sounds and how it generates revenue.


  1. We’re hoping that the Radio community might in some way recognize the passing of our good friend, Bruce Marr. For the last few years, Bruce had been working on his documentary of the golden years of radio.

  2. From Here:
    With a fair number of notable exceptions, it can be easily argued that many of these “leaders” are the very ones who presided and continue to preside over the gutting of an entire industry.
    When is the parade?

  3. Since 1954. Brothers, Roger and Dick Bouchard at wnri.com added a FM station in 2017 95.1 fm to go along with 1380 am , livestream, Tune in and Simple radio, free Apps and others. John Dipetro from 11 am till 2 pm Mon Thru Fri. and 18 consecutive hours of Talk Programing every Monday. Top 7 programs in Southern New England and with Wayne G. Barber and his three different programs have dominated the ever growing radio market share in our part of the World.

  4. I would have included Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake for their inane “performance.”
    That pretty much changed everything…


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