Cliff Gardiner • Clifton Gardiner & Company, LLC
This interview was conducted by Sandi Bergman
Sandi: What did you do before becoming a media broker?
Gardiner: My career in radio began in 1956 as a part time weekend announcer at an Alf Landon-owned station in Liberal, Kansas. That led to a morning DJ slot at a new AM station in Alva, Oklahoma, where I attended my first two years of college. I also had an opportunity to work with the consulting engineer on the construction of the four-tower antenna system, including the pattern calculations (using a slide rule!). After a couple of years I migrated to Oklahoma City and a DJ spot at KOCY, then the only rock station in the market. Starting with the overnight shift, I graduated to afternoon drive time on the station with about 85% of the audience out of 13 stations.
While at KOMA, I applied for a construction permit for a new AM in Liberal, Kansas, built and launched it, and sold it to a local businessman. Then back to Oklahoma City and on to a sales slot at the Storz Broadcasting station, KOMA AM.
After a couple of years with Storz, I joined with a partner to buy a suburban OKC AM station in El Reno. As a daytimer, it was a struggle competing with the metro stations, but it certainly embedded the necessity for radio stations to be local. Cable television was an infant and I was granted a franchise for a new cable system in Weatherford, Oklahoma. No one was around to do the construction, so I climbed the poles and built the system. It was a struggle to get customers to pay the $6.00 monthly fee for all of five channels. I started Cablevision Construction Corporation to do engineering and construction and became the first company to build cable systems nationwide, growing to about 1,800 employees.
When satellite delivery of programming for cable appeared to be on the horizon, I started Gardiner Communications Corporation, bought a bankrupt company that made spy satellite equipment and grew the product line to include all of the components, including dish antennas.
After selling the satellite company, I saw the beginning of the consolidation of the cable television industry and decided to put together a brokerage company to handle the onslaught of deals that was to come. That was the beginning, in 1983, of the current brokerage company. We grew to 18 professionals and completed over 300 cable television transactions and a number of radio deals.
When the 1990 downturn slowed business to a trickle, I put together a group of seven radio stations in the Colorado resort communities and started a network to provide programming to them from a central location. That company, Radio One Networks, grew to about 50 full time affiliates, all programmed with local information from each market.
Then, in 2003, after selling the radio stations and the network, I returned to full-time brokerage, primarily for the radio station market. While very diverse, all of these activities have given me the background to be effective in the media deal business.
Sandi: What influenced your decision to become a media broker?
Gardiner: I felt I had the industry background, the financial, programming and engineering experience to quickly understand what it would take to get a deal completed. A great enjoyment has always been bringing entities together to a common point. Plus, after all those years doing startups, I grew addicted to punishment!
Sandi: Where do you see station sales today?
Gardiner: We are beginning to see station sale activity awaken a bit from a long sleep. The industry has changed and seems to be embracing a new reality, one that will likely remain in the future. While no one is happy with a much lower EBITDA multiple, the reality is that this has always existed for most other business categories. This adjustment is happening as well as the seeing the necessity for sellers to carefully consider, and embrace, realistic carrybacks for buyers, especially in smaller markets.
Sandi: Highlight three or four listings that would be good opportunities for displaced station personnel and/or first-time entrants:
Gardiner: We have several properties available that would be great for first-time owners, including a fulltime AM in a great West Texas agricultural market; an AM/FM combo in a small market in the Florida Panhandle; a two station AM duo in Northwestern South Carolina; and a great small market in North Carolina.
All of those have the potential of some seller financing for a qualified, experienced buyer.
Clifton Gardiner & Company, LLC
2437 South Chase Lane
Lakewood (Denver) Colorado 80227