Ed Christian – An Appreciation

I’ve written a lot of things about the fools who have ruined the radio industry by losing their local focus, firing staff, plugging in cost-cutting measures and devolving to selling ads at whatever they had to do to screw their competitor out of the buy.

This was not Ed Christian.

Ed was a radio junkie – listening to all his stations, regularly chatting with his market managers, insisting on rate integrity, local content and old school ideas.

My friend Tom Taylor, the fine journalist who covered the radio industry for decades remembered the person who lived the local radio life:

  • “Ed Christian was all about being (and appearing to be) local. The Norfolk stations aren't marketed as owned by Saga, but by "Tidewater Communications." The stations in Coastal Maine are "Portland Radio Group," etc.
  • “And when Ed came to town for a visit and there happened to be a client party, he didn't want the focus to be on him - but on the local market manager. Because that person was the one the business community was interacting with, and not The Big Out-of-Town Boss. 
  • “Also - Ed was insistent on the local facility looking business-like, and ready for a client visit, at any time. None of this stuck-away-in-the-back-of-the-strip mall stuff. (Jerry Lee was the same way - B101 had a prominent room up front for client/ad agency visits, and it was impressive as hell. It was like Mad Men, updated. I don't know about the liquor cabinet).”

Different in every way

  • Saga actually owned the buildings (with few exceptions) from which their stations operated – this in a world where larger group owners were rushing to get out of town.
  • A few weeks ago, he told me that he bought iHeart’s building in Norfolk for a little over $1 million – iHeart happy to get out, Eddie thrilled to get in saying within a few years the move would save them on rent.
  • He was kind in very private ways – I know of circumstances where he helped employees through health issues by opening up his wallet and being supportive and never looked to publicize or take credit for it.
  • He was right about Nielsen and when they sued him for what I believe was a trumped-up charge of stealing ratings, his ‘punishment’ was to become a Nielsen subscriber but when the mandated ‘punishment’ was over, he cancelled that day – years later he subscribed in a few larger markets at his price and terms.
  • Ed was a pioneer in the use of translators to cover a market and also reluctant to spend on streaming where he didn’t think it contributed to the bottom line – different, unheard of but apparently it worked for Saga.
  • He used to tell me some of the old school promotions that his local clients were eating up that helped Saga return profits for their shareholders and marketing help to retailers.
  • We talked about teaching – he shared his experience as a visiting professor.

Eddie loved reading me unless I got out of line and then in the earlier days we would have at it but as the years went on we agreed on the sorry state of radio and the importance of local radio in reality not just name.

And when he got mad at me, he let me have it.  But I always loved him – we didn’t have to agree to be friends.

His death caught me by surprise – as I’ve said, he seemed to be doing fine – but I have this empty feeling for the loss of a friend who had a great sense of humor, who kind of admired what I did and how in the end, he turned out to be the only beacon focused on authentic local radio.

A saga is a long story of heroic achievement.

To those of us who are proponents of local radio instead of hedge fund shortcuts, Ed Christian’s Saga and (small ‘s’) saga was completed with consistency, dignity and sense of purpose and profitability.

As Tom Taylor says “They don't make 'em like Ed Christian any more” and therein lies the reason for the mess radio is in today.

Saga After Ed Christian