An international media company based in San Antonio, Texas, iHeartMedia, Inc. (formerly known as Clear Channel Communications) was founded by Lowry Mays and Red McCombs. Mays and McCombs started what would become Clear Channel Communications, a major force in radio, when they founded the San Antonio Broadcasting Company in 1972 and acquired the local radio station KEEZ-FM (now KAJA-FM) for $125,000. In 1975 they purchased their first clear channel (meaning it had its own designated frequency nationwide) radio station, WOAI-AM. They acquired Broad Street Communications in 1984, which resulted in the company’s total ownership of six FM and AM stations in seven markets. That same year, the company (renamed Clear Channel) went public on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1988 Clear Channel purchased its first television station—WPMI-TV out of Mobile, Alabama/Pensacola, Florida.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the company continued to increase its holdings through the purchase of more radio and television stations. Its total assets in 1995 included forty-three radio stations and sixteen television stations in thirty-two markets that spanned regions throughout the United States. The company also purchased a 50 percent interest in an Australian radio group. Clear Channel was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top ten highest performing stocks over the previous decade. When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed an owner to hold more than the previous limit of two FM and two AM stations in a single market, Clear Channel began buying dozens of stations, helping to make it the number one media company in the country. It further expanded its market to include radio stations in New Zealand.
Major acquisitions occurred in the late 1990s when Clear Channel purchased Eller Media Company, Universal Outdoor, and More Group Pic—major businesses in the outdoor advertising industry. It also acquired Dauphin, a European outdoor advertising company, and Jacor Communications, which increased its radio station holdings to 625. In 2000 Clear Channel acquired its chief competitor, AMFM, Inc., which was owned by the Hicks family. The merger brought more than 460 radio stations to Clear Channel and helped cement its position as the largest communications company in the United States and as a leader internationally, reflecting the trend of mass consolidation in the radio industry. Clear Channel Communications owned or had interests in more than 1,300 stations, operating in 65 countries, by the early 2000s. The company also expanded into the entertainment promotion industry with the purchase of SFX Entertainment, Inc., in 2000.
By 2005 Clear Channel consisted of three companies: Clear Channel Communications oversaw radio operations; Clear Channel Outdoor handled out-of-home advertising; Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel Entertainment) oversaw live event production and promotion. All three operations were under the control and executive leadership of the Mays family, which included Lowry Mays’s sons, Mark and Randall.
Clear Channel weathered its share of negative publicity, in part stemming from its perceived control of various markets, which led some smaller concert promoters and radio operators to accuse Clear Channel of monopolizing the industry. In 2001 a Denver concert promoter filed an anti-trust lawsuit which was settled out of court in 2004. The company drew more fire from critics in 2003 when many of its stations banned the popular country group, the Dixie Chicks, following the band’s criticism of the impending United States invasion of Iraq. Clear Channel executives responded that the activities of the stations were market-driven, stating in a memo, entitled “Know the Facts,” that, while some affiliates chose to “temporarily suspend” the Dixie Chicks, other stations actually played the group’s music more frequently, due to growing audience demand.
In late 2006 Clear Channel Communications worked on a buyout deal by a private equity group, led by Bain Capital Partners, LLC, and Thomas H. Lee Partners, LP, that would terminate its status as a publicly traded company. The merger, valued at more than $18 billion, was made complete by July 2008. At that time CC Media Holdings became the new parent company of Clear Channel. The company sold all of its television station holdings to Newport Television, a subsidiary of Providence Equity Partners. Clear Channel also reduced some of its radio holdings.
In 2010 Mark Mays stepped down as longtime CEO and president but remained chairman of the board. Clear Channel still operated more than 850 radio stations in approximately 150 U. S. markets reaching an audience of more than 110 million listeners weekly. The company broadcasted in 89 of the top 100 markets in the United States and in a variety of formats, including Top 40, country, rock, hip-hop, oldies, adult contemporary, sports talk, and news talk. Clear Channel, through its subsidiary Premiere Radio Networks, not only broadcasted a variety of musical formats but also carried popular syndicated personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bob Costas, Ryan Seacrest, Jim Rome, and George Noory as well as Fox Sports Radio. The company also broadcasted on satellite radio and the Internet, as well as supplied content through the use of mobile applications, such as iHeartRadio, and navigation systems.
On September 16, 2014, the company officially changed its name to iHeartMedia, Inc., as part of a rebranding effort to reflect the company’s commitment to “programming live content and entertainment across all media platforms.” Its wholly-owned subsidiary, Clear Channel Communications, Inc., became iHeart Communications, Inc., while the publicly-traded subsidiary, Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, Inc., retained the Clear Channel name. At that time, iHeartMedia owned 859 broadcast stations in approximately 150 U. S. markets with an audience of 245 million listeners monthly. By 2015 Clear Channel Outdoor had more than 750,000 displays in 40 countries as well as more than 950 digital billboards in 37 markets. iHeartRadio had more than 50 million registered users. The iHeartRadio Music Festival, which began in 2011, had become a major annual event as well as the iHeartRadio Music Awards.
iHeartMedia also had a philanthropic division—iHeartMedia Communities—with a mission to “galvanize local radio and outdoor resources to educate and inspire residents to make a difference within their own communities.” In 2015 Bob Pittman served as chairman and CEO of IHeartMedia, Inc. Richard J. Bressler was president and chief operating officer and financial officer. The company employed more than 20,000 people.