Rex Morris’s Incredible Journey into Regional Radio Ownership

Part Two of Peter Saxon’s chat with Rex Morris.

Despite some doomsayer predictions that the days of old fashioned terrestrial radio are numbered, commercial stations very rarely come up for sale. And when they do, they still cost a bomb.

But are the returns still worthwhile? “Our belief is Yes,” says Morris emphatically. “We put our money where our mouth is. Provided you have the right people in place, you can run a very profitable business.”

After a life spent working for others Rex Morris and his partners Sally and Guy Dobson were determined to become station owners. Which is a pretty big step – particularly for people who have well paid, high profile and relatively safe positions within, arguably, Australia’s biggest media organisation.

While Dobson remains Chief Content Officer at SCA, last year, after 23 years with the company, Rex Morris severed his employment to concentrate full time on his own organisation, Resonate Broadcasting.

Not only did the regular pay cheques stop coming, but his own assets were now on the line.

Morris recalls having to come up with the cash for the first duopoly Resonate bought in Charters Towers, Qld. “We put what we had on the line to buy it, the same way you buy anything. You go to the bank and you say ‘We’d like this much money to buy something.’ And the bank says, Okay, where’s the equity coming from?’ 

“Because I’ve always wanted to do this, what I’ve done is made sure that I’ve saved money. I’ve bought real estate.

“We put all our cards on the table. As a group of people, the one thing we have is absolute trust in one another. If you don’t have that, it’s never going to work because you end up knowing absolutely everything about each other,” says Morris.

As he explains, they could have raised money easily from a number of sources. Keeping control of the company would have been the hard part.

“Interestingly enough, when we bought Charters Towers, we received a lot of approaches from people with a lot of money. There are a lot of people in this country making a lot of money but they’re not necessarily doing anything interesting on the way to making that money.

“We were surprised that people were approaching us saying, wow, that looks interesting can we be a part of that? As we were just starting out we thought two things; firstly, we’ll just risk our own money and not anyone else’s. And secondly; why would you start up a company just to straight away hand over control to share holders? So, we respectfully declined all offers but we were very flattered with the attention we received,” says Morris.

Moving out of a city based national network job and into ownership of a tiny regional network has, he admits, been a steep learning curve. “I was so humbled to sit in a CRA regional radio committee meeting. It’s actually about learning an entire side of the business that I’ve never been exposed to, but on a regional level. 

“Regional broadcasters have lots of opportunity and lots of challenges. And to hear the experience in the room every time I sit down with them is a massive learning curve for me.

“I was listening to Ron Camplin (Bathurst Broadcasters owner) speak last year and I thought, ‘wow’ this bloke’s easily the oldest bloke in the room and he just nails the topic we’re talking about brilliantly. 

“I was sitting across the table from Kevin Blyton (Capital Radio Network owner) a couple of weeks ago at the CRA offices (in Sydney) and we were debating something – and here’s a bloke with a wealth of regional experience and he owns a capital city station (6IX Perth) and he was talking us through an issue around financial reporting. And I thought it was amazing to be picking all this stuff up in board room with my peers. Admittedly, I’m probably the youngest there and probably got the most to learn on several levels when it comes to regional radio,” says Morris.

While station ownership is thrilling, there are some things about the old job at SCA for which he retains a fondness. 

“What I miss the most is the coaching aspect of what I do,” says Morris “I still do that from afar with team members in our company, but certainly the level I was coaching at (directly) with team members is what I miss the most.

“It’s interesting who maintains contact. I’ve been surprised at the people who’ve reached out and only disappointed at a couple who haven’t. I now know that when you leave a position like the one that I had (at SCA) the calls that you’ll get returned are generally from people whose calls you returned when you were in a position to return calls and help other people. It’s just doing the right thing in a business sense. A lot of people still return my calls, which is great.

“I still have a creative outlet, I’m looking at music logs in Hawaii pretty much every week. I’m still doing things like writing packaging for Hawaii which I really enjoy. I enjoy coming up with sales solutions and working with the guys in programming in our regional markets. So, I do have that outlet and I’m very fortunate with that.

“At the same time, the benefits of doing what I’m doing now clearly outweigh where I was. I get to be an attentive father to a five year old and I’ve got to tell you, that’s amazing. I’ve dropped into the right place at the right time in my life for everything what I’m doing,” says Morris.

It’s taken six years for Resonate Broadcasting to acquire five stations in three small markets in Australia as well as six call signs on The Big Island of Hawaii. Clearly, there are still plenty of challenges yet.

“The challenge is scale,” says Morris. “For a network like ours, the challenge, purely and simply, is scale. It’s taking what you know and taking what you know works and applying it to your business. And trying to grow that small business into a medium business and then, hopefully into a large business.

“I’m still as excited about radio now as I was when I was that dorky little kid listening to skip frequencies in the bedroom.”

Read Part One here. Subscribers only.

2008. Resonate Broadcasting founded and purchased 4GC and Hot FM Charters Towers, along with 3GG Gippsland.

2011. Resonate Hawaii purchases KTBH on Hawaii’s Big Island. (Station is “dark.” Not on the air.)

2012. Resonate Broadcasting adds 4LG and West FM to it’s Australian network.

2012. Resonate Hawaii purchase KHWI, KHBC and KIPA on Hawaii’s Big Island. (Stations are “dark.” Not on the air.)

2012. Resonate Hawaii combine KHWI and KHBC to create the “island-wide” CHR “The Wave @ 92FM”

2013. Resonate Hawaii launch KTBH Kurtistown/Hilo as “The Beach.” The Big Island’s Alternative station.

2013. Resonate Hawaii achieve a number one result with “all people under 50” on Hawaii’s Big Island with “The Wave” in the Eastlan survey.

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