Radio's Mount Rushmore


It is our honor to present the Radio Industry Mount Rushmore, at least according to us.

Why did CRN International set out to create a Mount Rushmore for the radio business in the first place? In truth, we didn’t. Here’s how it happened:

It started as a series of innocent LinkedIn group discussions in which we raised the question: “If radio had a Mount Rushmore, who would you put on it?” We felt it would be fun and thought provoking but couldn’t have anticipated the number of nominations or comments, some of them heated. As the debate raged, we already saw the inevitable finish—we would have to close the loop by offering our own version of radio’s Final Four, using the groups’ inputs as guide points.

What criteria did we specify? We didn’t. We intentionally left it vague and let people determine whatever Mount Rushmore meant to them.  As we reviewed the nominations, we tossed around words like contribution, influence, impact, good standing and popularity. Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of the real Mount Rushmore, picked the U.S. Presidents himself and said his choices “commemorated the founding, growth, preservation, and development of the United States of America.” Sounds good to us.

We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble by naming the “popular vote” winners: Paul Harvey, Edward R. Murrow, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. That would have been an easy cop-out.

The biggest question was: Should Rush Limbaugh make the cut? Whether you “love him or hate him”—stop right there: Those very words tended to overshadow the merits of the arguments for or against him.

It hardly stopped there. But in the end, we settled on these four for the CRN Radio Industry Mount Rushmore:

Guglielmo Marconi: The Italian electrical engineer known as the inventor of radio. Without him, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics “in recognition of contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.” An entrepreneur and businessman, Marconi succeeded in making a commercial success of radio by innovating and building on the work of previous experimenters and physicists. Interesting fact: The two radio operators on the Titanic were employed by Marconi.

William S. Paley: Flat out, the driving force who recognized the business potential of radio and acted upon it. He changed broadcasting’s business model not only by developing successful and lucrative programming but also by viewing sponsors as the most significant element of the equation. As CEO of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), Paley and his ability to recognize and harness the potential reach of broadcasting was the key to growing a small chain of local stations into what would eventually become one of the world’s dominant communication empires.

Paul Harvey: The conservative American broadcaster who became a friendly and familiar voice to American listeners for generations. Best summed up by his New York Timesobituary: “He personalized radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.” He was more than a storyteller, as the Times noted. He rallied around major issues such as “the national debt, big government, bureaucrats lacking common sense, permissive parents, leftist radicals and America succumbing to moral decay. He championed rugged individualism, love of God and country, and the fundamental decency of ordinary people.”

Howard Stern: The controversial “shock jock” who helped steer our communications system to a greater open-mindedness by pushing the boundaries of freedom of speech. While his career and his aura have extended to other media, it is radio that can take the credit for putting Stern on the map, drawing in a new generation of listeners, and creating a style of programming that can only be described as off the charts. As for his greater contributions, Rich Mintzer says in Stern’s biography, “Stern has been the focus of debates between censors and those fighting for freedom of speech… He has used his stature to redefine the FCC guidelines repeatedly, support or denounce politicians, rile celebrities, build careers, infuriate or gratify sponsors… and change the face of radio… He has played a major role in making it permissible to talk about once-taboo topics on the air.”

That’s our opinion—CRN International’s Radio Industry Mount Rushmore. Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think.