John Catsimatidis, Chairman and CEO of NYC-based Red Apple Group, an employer with a payroll of more than 8,000 people, is hiring a few more folks. His wholly owned subsidiary, Red Apple Media Inc., is buying the Cumulus Media station for $12.5 million in cash. No stranger to the Forbes 400 Richest People in America, Catsimatidis is a man of few words. Just hours after Thursday’s blockbuster news, he took some time away from running his diversified portfolio of companies that post annual sales of approximately $6 billion, to talk with Radio Ink.
Radio Ink: How does a guy who started in the supermarket business end up buying one of the premier radio stations in America?
Catsimatidis: You know, everybody calls me the supermarket person but supermarkets represent only two percent of our sales. We are in the oil business, the real estate business, the investment business; and supermarkets represent a very small portion of our sales.
Radio Ink: Why 77 WABC?
Catsimatidis: I grew up with WABC. I think it’s an iconic station, it’s a station that all Americans remember. Going all the way back to Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram, and Don Imus; that whole gang. I’m looking to put it back on top.
Radio Ink: Any changes planned for WABC? Format, staff, management, or branding and marketing?
Catsimatidis: We have no changes planned. I’m going to sit down, break bread, and have lunch with all of the employees and get their input on how we can make it better.
Radio Ink: Do you think you can increase sales?
Catsimatidis: Absolutely. We do a lot of business with people who like to advertise. Just our relationships alone will help us.
Radio Ink: So this is the next step in building a new broadcasting business. This is quite a step. Is this an indicator of similar or bigger things to come?
Catsimatidis: We are looking at a few other assets.
Radio Ink: What type of markets are you interested in?
Catsimatidis: We are open to suggestions. Don’t forget I’m an old grocery buyer; I look for good deals.
Radio Ink: Radio is quickly becoming an industry dominated by giants, sort of like the petroleum industry. You are now an independent player in both industries. What needs to be done to keep radio alive?
Catsimatidis: Let’s get it back to common sense, it’s very important. News has to be about real news and not opinion. Opinions have to be opinions; you have to separate the two.
Radio Ink: How is it working with Cumulus?
Catsimatidis: They are tough to negotiate with. It took about three weeks to work out the deal.
Radio Ink: Did you get a good deal?
Catsimatidis: I got something I always wanted.
Radio Ink: A purchase like this shows that you believe in radio. Where do you see radio fitting into Red Apple’s media mix going forward?
Catsimatidis: We are going to work hard at it. We are looking for other acquisitions and radio is going to be the cornerstone.
Radio Ink: The radio show and podcast you host, The Cats Roundtable, currently airs on WNYM in New York and WRCN on Long Island. Will it be moving exclusively to WABC?
Catsimatidis: No we are going to stay where we are and we might use WABC in the future. We are currently on radio stations in 14 states. I think podcasts are going to expand the radio business because they give people the opportunity to listen to a radio show whenever they feel like it, not when they have to.
Radio Ink: How do you find time to host a radio show and do a podcast?
Catsimatidis: I steal 10 minutes here and there. I could be in the middle of a staff meeting and my producer says to me, “You’ve got so and so on the line, a U.S. Senator,” so I tell my staff meeting to take a 10-minute coffee break.
Thanks to John Catsimatidis, Red Apple Group