Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Clear Channel Founder Lowry Mays Passes

Texas broadcaster built radio giant from scratch

The man who grew Clear Channel Communications into the largest radio group in the United States by the late 1990s has passed.

Lowry Mays died Monday in San Antonio. The former investment banker founded San Antonio Broadcasting in 1972 with business partner B.J. “Red” McCombs and later renamed the company Clear Chanel Communications. 

The radio broadcast group eventually grew to as many as 1,200 radio stations and approximately 50,000 employees. It was purchased for $24 billion in a highly leveraged buyout by private equity firms Bain Capital Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2008, where it was later renamed iHeartMedia. The broadcaster filed for bankruptcy by 2018.

Lowry Mays, second from left, at the 2002 NAB Show with journalist Sam Donaldson, then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell and then-NAB President/CEO Eddie Fritts.

Mays was a controversial figure to some who painted him as the face of unwelcome consolidation in the radio industry following the relaxation of broadcast ownership regulations in 1996. 

But there is no underestimating his lasting impact on the broadcast radio industry. NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said Mays was a “trailblazing icon whose historic career revolutionized and reshaped the broadcasting industry.”

LeGeyt continued in a statement: “(Mays) founded and built one of the foremost media companies in the world through bold and innovative thinking, while his philanthropic and generous spirit helped countless people during his lifetime of service. We extend our deepest condolences to the Mays family and the iHeartMedia community.”

NAB awarded Mays with its Distinguished Service Award in 2005 at its spring show. The award recognizes broadcasters who have made significant and last contributions to the broadcasting industry. In addition, Mays was bestowed the group’s National Radio Award in 1998.

At the time, former NAB CEO Eddie Fritts commended Mays, saying he had “built from scratch a media and entertainment company that changed the face of broadcasting and mass communications” and he complimented Mays’ “passion for excellence, his commitment to community and his support for civic causes.”

Credit: The Broadcasting & Cable Photo Archive.

Texas Association of Broadcasters President Oscar Rodriguez shared the following note with Radio World: “Lowry Mays was a titan of the Texas business community and respected by admirers and adversaries alike for his business acumen and financial savvy. 

“He left his mark across many great institutions within the Lone Star State and pioneered a transformation of the radio broadcasting industry whose ripples continue to be felt today. His civic and political contributions to Texas were innumerable and will long be felt and appreciated by all whose lives he touched.”

[Visit Radio World’s People News Page]

The San Antonio Express-News reported through the years on Mays’ philanthropic work. There are numerous reminders of his financial contributions across Texas, from Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio to the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. Mays graduated from Texas A&M in 1957 with a degree in petroleum engineering, according to the school’s website. 

John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, told Texas A&M Today this week: “A really big tree fell in the Aggie forest. We will never forget what he did for Aggieland.”

Credit: The Broadcasting & Cable Photo Archive.

Mays and his wife, Peggy, founded the Mays Family Foundation as a base for their philanthropy efforts. In 2017, the foundation gifted $25 million to Texas A&M’s business school, the largest single commitment in the business school’s history, according to the school’s website.

The Broadcasters Foundation of America each year honors a recipient with the Lowry Mays Excellence in Broadcasting Award, which is underwritten by the Mays Family Foundation. Former NAB CEO Gordon Smith received recognition in 2021.

“The Broadcasters Foundation of America mourns the loss of one its longtime supporters, Lowry Mays,” wrote the group’s Chairman Scott Herman. “One of radio’s most prominent leaders, Mays established the Lowry Mays Excellence in Broadcasting Award, which is bestowed annually at the Broadcasters Foundation breakfast to an individual whose work in broadcasting exemplifies innovation, community service, advocacy, and entrepreneurship. We send our condolences to the Mays family.”

Lester Lowry Mays was 87. His wife Peggy Pitman Mays died in 2020.

His obituary details his military service, work ethic and passion for Texas A&M University (read it here). It also describes a side of Mays probably less well known in radio circles.

He especially enjoyed spending time on the ranch near Spring Branch, Texas where, on most weekends, you could find him and Peggy driving the old Willy’s jeep amongst herds of zebras, kudus, oryx and other exotic species,it states. Nothing was more satisfying than feeding Saltine crackers to his pet bongos who Peggy named Big Boy, Amazing and Belle. The ranch was not only a preserve for animals to roam free, but also a sanctuary where his kids and grandkids could congregate and celebrate life and family.

[Sign Up for Radio World’s SmartBrief Newsletter]