Lowry Mays, founder of largest radio station owner in U.S., dies at 87

Lowry Mays, the founder of the radio conglomerate that became iHeart Media, appears in an undated photograph.
Lowry Mays, the founder of the radio conglomerate that became iHeart Media, appears in an undated photograph. (Graphic by The Desk)

A pioneering salesman who started what would become the largest independent owner of radio stations in the United States died this week at the age of 87.

The death of Lowry Mays was first announced Monday by Texas A&M University, whose business school is named after the broadcaster. No cause of death was revealed.

In 1972, Mays laid the foundation for the media giant that became iHeart Radio when he purchased a small FM station in San Antonio, Texas. His second station, WOAI (1200 AM), was widely heard beyond its broadcast market — a recognition that bestowed upon it the designation of a “clear channel” station by the Federal Communications Commission.

Lowry leaned into WOAI’s status as a clear channel station by naming his media empire after the designation. Clear Channel Radio would go on to acquire hundreds of radio stations across the country through outright purchases and mergers with smaller companies.

Today, Clear Channel Radio is known as iHeart Media. It operates more than 860 radio stations across 160 regions of the United States. It also operates a streaming music service and produces its own podcasts.

Mays was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2004. The Lowry family sold its stake in the business four years later, and in 2010, he stepped down as the president and chief executive officer of the company.

In the years since, Mays turned his attention to the Texas A&M University Mays Business School, which the university says has grown to become one of the most-prestigious business schools in the country. Before leaving iHeart Media, Mays made a $15 million donation to the university; in return, the university named its business school after him. Five years ago, the Mays family made a $25 million donation to the school, which a university spokesperson said was the biggest grant in its history.

“I can recall Lowry and Peggy hosting us for our prospective business honors students in San Antonio for years,” Eli Jones, a former dean of the Mays Business School, said in a statement. “They have done so much for Mays Business School in so many ways. I am blessed to have gotten to know Lowry.”