With a $264 million purchase of Digity Media, Alpha Media—the Portland-based company with a dog for a logo—is officially a Top Dog with 251 stations in 54 markets. Inside Radio caught up with Larry Wilson, the chairman of Alpha, shortly after the company sealed the deal, to talk about how the acquisition fits his long-term growth strategy, his vision for a radio renaissance and whether Alpha will be the next radio company to go public.
What attracted you to Digity?
The stations they own in West Palm Beach have always been extremely attractive to me. I tried to buy a couple of them when they were owned by [sportscaster] Curt Gowdy. It was that initially, and also the two big Class B’s they have in San Jose. We have stations in the East Bay that we just bought a few months ago and those are a really good addition to it. As we studied the group, we found that [Digity CEO] Dean [Goodman] and his team have operated the stations really well. Their chief operating officer George Pelletier and [executive director of sales & marketing] Pat Combs are both very good and are going to stay with us. It’s not only adding radio stations but adding depth to our management team. And through the due diligence we found they have a lot of great radio stations in small and medium markets that will give us a fine diversification across our platform. Some of the stations are in smaller towns but they’re very community-oriented and they’re live and local. Dean and I share the philosophy that the key to doing great radio is serving your community. Our industry has kind of gotten away from that and we recognize that is our livelihood.
How does this acquisition fit your long-term growth strategy?
We wanted to get critical mass—there are a lot of things we can do if we have enough coverage. With the stations in San Jose and the East Bay we have stations embedded in the San Francisco market. This will let us be a major player. The Digity stations are not broken. As we did our diligence, we saw a lot of great people that work for them. It also became clear that this was going to be easier to assimilate than a company owned by a bank with a lot of debt.
What similarities do you see in the operating philosophies of the two companies?
They’re very similar in how they treat their employees, their stations and their communities. They do some things better than we do and we do some things better than they do. It’s going to be a meshing of radio stations and footprints and great people who can think out of the box. Dean has been very creative as the leader of the company and that’s what we’ve tried to do too.
How do you see building scale and cash flow as a way to get Wall Street’s attention to go public again?
We’re going to get their attention if we ever go public. Many have speculated about it. I’ve been public before, I don’t mind being public, it’s a good away to go. But most important is delivering for my shareholders and really being a great broadcaster. That’s what we do; trying to put in best practices across the country. We’ll take some of their best practices and mix them with ours. It will be just amazing. I would never rule out going public but we haven’t made any decisions.
Do you see this and other recent deals as part of a new wave of radio industry consolidation?
This is what I’ve done ever since I started Citadel. We’re going to be a player. Right now it’s time for us to digest what we’ve bought. We started this company with six stations in 1999. Two and a half years ago we started aggressively seeking opportunities and we’ve been very successful at it. There’s other consolidation coming on the scene but my stock in trade is I live off my reputation and I guard it very carefully. A lot of people like our operating philosophy. Dean was very thrilled to sell to us. He cares about his employees and he knows we do too. We don’t have a lot of turnover because people like working with us.
Dean has talked about how he and you have “a shared vision for the radio renaissance in progress now.” Can you elaborate on that?
As an industry we’ve made so many deep cuts that a lot of great people have been put out of work. To do great radio, we think you have to have great people. That’s first and foremost and we feel really good about that. We try to do things different than everybody else. We have built some live performance theaters that are very successful. We like bringing that to the community because people will just kill to get tickets to some of these artists in a small venue. We do town halls in these theaters. If there’s a mayor’s race we have a debate in there. When the [University of] Oregon Ducks are on the road, we have listeners in the theater and we show the football game on a big screen. There are a lot of things you can do for the community that way. It’s a nice innovation that our guys have made.