The Futurist

Clear Channel TV chief Perry leaps onto new platforms

Don Perry’s approach to the TV business boils down to the same mantra that guides the lifelong skier when he’s out on the slopes: attack. “When you attack,” he says, “you can control your speed and your experience.” Since January, when the 30-year broadcast veteran was named president/CEO of Clear Channel Television, Perry has definitely been on the attack, charged with improving his stations’ ratings and revenues.

The country’s 15th-largest station group, Clear Channel TV owns and operates 41 stations in 25 markets, and the company is aggressively pushing into new online and wireless businesses. At the same time, Clear Channel’s TV division is trying to strengthen ties with its massive radio group, which operates stations in 300 markets. With viewers flitting across mediums and consuming more media on the go, Perry hopes the company’s diverse portfolio will strengthen his TV stations.

“Consumers want information on-air, online, from radio and TV,” he says. “The content is king, and we have the ability to draft off each medium and create a seamless brand.”

Learning to Swim in GE’s Pool

Perry draws from experience in both TV and radio. As a student at New York’s Ithaca College, he produced programs for the local campus TV and radio stations. After post-grad stints as a ski instructor in Vermont and upstate New York, he settled into his first TV job, as a sales trainee at WRGB Schenectady, N.Y.

The NBC affiliate was part of a small group of radio and TV stations owned by General Electric before the company purchased the NBC network. To build its stations business, GE started a management training program, and Perry was one of the first entrants.

Over the next five years, Perry shuttled between GE-owned TV and radio stations in Schenectady, Denver and Nashville, Tenn., sampling different departments and positions. He was an executive producer for the Nashville daytime TV show Morning Watch and later served as promotions manager for a Denver radio station. Perry also held several positions at KOA Denver (now KCNC), from creative-services director to local and national sales manager.

“That’s the GE way,” he says. “They throw you in and see if you can swim. Then they throw you in the next pool.”

The experience, Perry says, taught him how to run a TV station from top to bottom, and proved invaluable when he became general manager of Viacom-owned WNYT Albany, N.Y., at the young age of 32. “I wasn’t an expert in any one area,” he recalls, “but I could speak the language of every department head.”

WNYT was a lowly third-placed station, but Perry revamped the station’s news and branding and focused on sales. After about eight years, WNYT climbed to No. 1, where it remains today.

“Brandon Tartikoff used to say it takes forever to turn around a station—it’s like an ocean liner,” Perry says. “But once you do, it will stay that way forever.”

When WNYT was sold to Hubbard Broadcasting, after Viacom merged with Paramount in 1995, Perry headed to San Antonio, Texas, to run KMOL, hoping to find stability at the Chris-Craft–owned NBC affiliate. But six years later, Chris-Craft sold out to Fox, which swapped KMOL for Clear Channel’s Fox affiliate in Minneapolis. When the dust settled, Perry was running San Antonio-based Clear Channel’s flagship station.

Clear Channel reinstated the station’s original call letters, WOAI, to match its sister radio outlet, WOAI(AM). Perry sought to strengthen those ties further, with co-branded Web sites and greater collaboration on news stories, as well as on sales and marketing.

On the Attack

Perry rose quickly at Clear Channel. In 2002, he became regional VP for Clear Channel TV stations in the Southwest, and moved up to executive VP of the group last year. When Clear Channel TV chief Bill Moll was bumped up to corporate chairman in January, Perry was tapped to head the group.

The biggest challenge, Perry says, is coping with rapid-fire changes affecting the local TV business. Viewers are now platform surfers, he says, jumping from TV to Web sites to portable devices. “Bill [Moll] and I say that any speeches we wrote about the industry six months ago are now totally dated,” he says.

But Moll says Perry knows how to stay ahead of the curve. “He is a futurist,” Moll says. “He sees new technologies as opportunities, not as threats. He is strongly committed to adapting our business to the new technologies, embracing them to serve our viewers and advertisers.”

Perry is once again in attack mode. He is focused on building Clear Channel’s online business, with a new interactive division to manage emerging platforms, and he wants stations to promote across those platforms. “We want to drive people to the Web and from the Web back to TV,” he says.

Perry has another mantra shared by many in the industry: localism.

“Localism is the essence of what we do,” he says. “We have a brand and an emotional connection with our audience that very few mediums have the power to do. We’re trying to capitalize on that.”