“We’re not in the radio business,” insists Ed Levine, President/CEO of Galaxy Media Partners. “We’re in the entertainment business, and the distribution of local content business.” That includes over the air, station apps and digital platforms “and for us, more and more experiential, face to face events,” he says in the latest Radio Advertising Bureau “Radio On Main Street” podcast.
The family-owned Galaxy operates 13 radio stations in Syracuse and Utica/Rome, NY. Looking back, Levine tells RAB President & CEO Erica Farber in the podcast, “We knew this was going to be a local company, and we were competing against huge companies like Clear Channel. I didn’t want to sound local, I wanted to sound bigger, I wanted to sound universal.” Levine’s wife Pam (they’ve now been married 38 years) “looked at me and said, ‘Galaxy.’ she named the company in that moment.”
Levine’s start in the industry was in programming. In the late 1970s, he secured a permit for the first live FM station in Syracuse: “The fact that I owned it felt incredible. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” He later joined Infinity Broadcasting in Houston and Washington—for the iconic Mel Karmazin. Some 40 years later, Levine explains that the events business has become a significant part of the group’s bottom line—but not so much concerts as “experiential” lifestyle-focused events. He explains, “Events started happening over time. We would do the typical concert and the promoter would make a $3,000 buy, and we would get to hang a banner crooked on the stage and maybe introduce the opening act but never the headliner…” Recognizing that while the promoter had the risk, they also were making bank.
“Maybe we can get into that game,” Levine wondered. The company’s concert business continued to grow—as did its risk—and one year it misfired. “We had decided to go all in. We went from 16,000 in attendance the year before to 8,500,” ultimately losing $200,000. “Once you’ve been charred like that, I realized we had to pivot.”
That led Galaxy to its “sweet spot,” he says: lifestyle events like food festivals, wine & chocolate festivals, and marketing events with sports teams it is affiliated with. “We’re not in the concert business anymore. We moved into something where we’re not putting crazy money like that at risk.”
The business has become a signature for Galaxy. It now sponsors 30 events a year, including at least one event in every city in New York State, allowing it to grow scale with signature events. It has also now moved into North Carolina.
Regarding his career in broadcasting, Levine says, “You’ve got to want to do it more than anything in the world. And you’ve got to be optimistic. You want to be realistic but optimistic. If you listen to the naysayers, don’t even get out of bed in the morning. If I had listened 29 years ago, I would never have started with one radio station. So you’ve got to believe in the medium, you’ve got to believe in yourself—and be optimistic about the future.”