Radio Ink Magazine

JEFF SMULYAN

There aren’t enough pages in this magazine to fit all the nice quotes we received about Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan. To those we had to leave on the cutting room floor, we apologize. Jeff Smulyan is one of the most well-liked radio executives, arguably of all time. He’s had quite a radio career, and while he’s focusing mostly on businesses other than radio these days, and on restructuring Emmis, Jeff still loves the radio industry and has loved every day he’s been in it.

Smulyan’s first deal was in 1979, when he paid $1.2 million — $200,000 cash and a seller note for $1 million — to purchase WSVL-FM in Shelbyville, Indiana. The contract was signed, subject to moving the tower closer to Indianapolis. It took two years to clear all regulatory hurdles and build the tower. They launched the station, WENS, on July 4, 1981.

Here we are, nearly 40 years later. Until this year, Jeff Smulyan was the only radio executive to make Radio Ink’s 40 Most Powerful People in Radio list every year since it was launched back in 1996. Smulyan was 17th on the list that year (Mel Karmazin, Lowry Mays, and Randy Michaels were 1-2-3 respectively). Smulyan made it all the way to number 6 in 2010 and 2011, and he’s been on our cover many times over the years.

Jeff Smulyan’s career is peppered with radio deals, format launches, technology startups, baseball ownership, and many, many friends. Perhaps Hubbard CEO Ginny Morris says it best: “Jeff is not only a broadcaster’s broadcaster, he also happens to be one of the best human beings to be walking the earth.”

Here’s our interview with the recipient of Radio Ink’s 2020 Lifetime Leadership Award, Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan.

Radio Ink: How has the pandemic impacted your life and the company?

Smulyan: It has changed everyone’s life dramatically. We are fortunate because we don’t have any debt. The last time the economy collapsed, we had $600 million in debt and our leverage went from 4 to 13 times in 16 months. Now we have money in the bank, so we haven’t had to lay anyone off, no furloughs, no benefit cuts. It is clearly a monumental disruption.

“I am honored to call a Jeff a good friend and colleague. Jeff’s expertise and success in the broadcasting industry are only surpassed by his generosity and his depth of character.” Peter Smyth
“Congratulations to Jeff on being honored with the

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