President/CEO, Cumulus Media
Last Year’s Rank: NEW
Mary Berner arrived at Cumulus Media with a strong background in print publishing, including an executive stint at Fairchild Publications, but no radio experience. Sixteen months after taking the helm of the struggling radio company — the second-largest in the United States with 447 stations and a syndication arm, Westwood One, that serves more than 8,200 affiliates — the doubters have gone silent. After four years of declines, Cumulus stations in Nielsen Portable People Meter (PPM) markets had a 16.7 percent uptick in 2016 ratings over the year prior. Berner, like the titular character of her favorite Broadway musical Hamilton (she has seen it seven times), has not wasted her shot.
You inherited what you’ve called a “toxic culture” at Cumulus. What’s one change you implemented?
It’s easy to get lost in facts and figures. Last year, we decentralized our programming functions and gave it back to our local markets who understand their listeners best. We saw an immediate lift in ratings.
At any point did you regret taking the job?
No, it was the opposite. I come from a traditional media that, in some respects, is in freefall. Radio is still quite solid. It’s a really under-marketed industry, [and] it’s the only traditional media that continues to experience audience growth.
IHeartMedia recently delved into a subscription model. What is Cumulus’ strategy as a broadcaster?
We’re the fourth largest streamer in the country. The focus is to deliver our content to our listeners wherever and whenever they want it, in whatever format. [But] we’re not a subscription business. We don’t see that as part of our future.