Peter Smyth won't be the only recipient of this year's Golden Mike Award from the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
Smyth, president, CEO and chairman of Greater Media, will share the honor with the Bordes family, owners of the company. The award will be presented Feb. 23 at a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Greater Media is one of the largest family-owned communications companies in America, and while Smyth, 56, is not a family member, he has spent more than two decades at the company, absorbing and then perpetuating its family- and community-oriented ideals.
The company's values are especially vital now, Smyth says. As his employees go through the current economic chaos, they know their boss worked his way up through the ranks and once had the view from their chair: “I never ask them to do something I haven't done.”
Praise for the boss is effusive at Greater Media. Heidi Raphael, VP of corporate communications, singles out Smyth's commitment to tradition, and to maintaining “the family atmosphere in the workplace, a tight-knit, warm community.”
That approach was part of Greater Media from day one in 1956, when Peter Bordes started the company with his Yale classmate Joseph Rosenmiller. Over time, the company built an empire of national radio, cable, printing, publishing and telecommunications operations. (It has since sold some properties, including the cable business in 1999, and today owns 23 AM and FM radio stations in Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia and New Jersey; weekly newspapers in central New Jersey; and telecommunications towers nationwide.)
As the company grew, however, the Bordes family never lost sight of its values, stressing local management with an emphasis on quality and community. And Smyth inherited that notion—if not in name, then in deed.
Born to be in radio
Smyth seemed destined for a career in the radio business. Growing up in Tarrytown, N.Y., he recalls listening with his mother to the fabled WOR New York, becoming entranced by “this powerful medium and the theater of the minds.” He started as an account executive at WROR Boston, working his way up the ladder there until parent company RKO General made him an offer he couldn't refuse: general sales manager at WOR.
“That was the first time my mother told people what I did because it was the first time, in her mind, that I worked for a real radio station,” says Smyth, who was then 29.
He was thrilled, but several years later came the job offer that transformed his life. In 1986, Peter Bordes asked Smyth to join Greater Media as general manager of Boston's WMJX-FM. The station was a perennial money-loser. “It was known as Tragic Magic, and people told me it would be the end of my career,” Smyth says. “That intrigued me even more.”
Still, Smyth was nervous. “I told [Bordes], 'I don't know how to do this,' and he said, 'But you know how to think; you'll figure this out.'”
Within a year, Smyth was VP of the company. Through his corporate ascent, he never stopped admiring his entrepreneurial, innovative boss. “People said Wayne Gretzky always knew where the puck was going to be,” Smyth says, “In radio, Peter Bordes always knew where the puck was going to be.”
When Bordes died in 1999, the company put itself in Smyth's hands. He became board chairman last fall.
Today, Smyth lives in Milton, Mass., with his wife, Kathy; they have three grown children, Nancy, Colin and Kathleen. To escape, Smyth loves the peace of the beach near his second home in Cape Cod or to be on the golf course (“I play, but poorly”). He also serves on the board of directors of the New England Baptist Hospital and the Police Athletic League while also getting involved with Camp Harbor View, a Boston summer program for underprivileged children. That's no surprise: When it comes to the Bordes mantra of community involvement, Smyth—at work or at home—always walks the walk.