“Brad Saul, Radio entrepreneur, Dies at 55” by Bob Goldsborough (Chicago Tribune)
Brad Saul channeled a love for media and a significant amount of entrepreneurial moxie into a career starting up media-related firms, including Public Interest Affiliates.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1990, Saul also created several startups aimed at helping those with disabilities, such as Chicago Disability Transit and the Radio Center for People with Disabilities.
“Brad was an entrepreneur at heart,” said Lorna Gladstone, a Chicago media consultant and former WGN-AM program director. “He continuously came up with new ideas, some good, some not, and some incredible. He was one of the earliest radio syndicators, the first person who had the idea to sell audio to airlines and the first person to develop a pro basketball radio network with the NBA.”
Saul, 55, died of pneumonia, a complication from MS, on Dec. 4 at his home in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, said his wife of 23 years, Debbie.
Born in Chicago, Saul grew up in Lincolnwood and Highland Park. At age 13, he attended a Saturday afternoon street fair in Evanston with his parents, where he saw noted broadcaster Chuck Schaden holding a live broadcast of his retro show, “Those Were the Days.”
Saul got to know Schaden, who allowed the teenager to host Schaden’s “Radio for Kids” show. Saul then hit on the idea to begin making cassette copies of old radio programs and took out an ad in a physician’s magazine. Orders quickly came in, and Saul began making cassette copies from his bedroom.
After graduating from Highland Park High School, Saul attended the University of Missouri for a year. He then transferred to Northwestern University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in radio, TV and film.
While in college, Saul interned at WBBM-AM and became general manager of two small north suburban radio stations, WEEF-AM and WONX-AM. He also was the graduate adviser to Northwestern’s WNUR-FM radio station.
Saul earned a law degree from Loyola University but remained focused on the media. During law school, he formed Public Interest Affiliates, which provided inexpensive public-service programming for stations around the country in exchange for allowing him to sell commercials.
“As a radio station general manager, Brad had recognized the challenges faced by local stations to provide quality public service programming,” said Cumulus Media Chief Marketing Officer Pierre Bouvard, a friend since college. “Per FCC regulations, every local station had to identify problems and issues in their market and then create programming to discuss the issues. This was a pain for local stations. Brad’s solution was to create public service programming that many stations could use as their own.”
Other entrepreneurial ideas followed. Saul began working with major airlines to sell in-flight audio commercials and then in-flight TV programming as well, and he also created a home-shopping radio program and placed a radio station studio inside Great America amusement park.
A major coup came when Saul realized that the NBA had no radio network deal. In 1989, Saul won the league’s approval to create the NBA’s first-ever radio network.
“Brad was a great salesperson,” his wife said. “He loved to talk to people and I do think for him it was really the passion of bringing an idea to fruition, of envisioning something that oftentimes was ahead of the curve and then making it happen.”
Gladstone recalled Saul’s constant use of the phone in his work. He used a mobile phone in the mid-1980s, which was “easily 3-inches thick, a foot long and must have weighed close to 2 pounds,” she said.
“It was all Brad,” Gladstone said. “Ahead of everything, reading about every new idea and always on the phone — even when his body and hands didn’t work anymore, even when it became hard for him to speak.”
Saul was diagnosed with MS in 1991, shortly after experiencing problems with his balance. Saul quickly fused together his entrepreneurial instincts with his love for radio and his desire to help those with disabilities by creating the Radio Center for People with Disabilities, a nonprofit group aimed at training and placing people with disabilities in off-air radio jobs.
Eventually needing to use a wheelchair, Saul worked with Yellow Cab Chicago to form another group, Chicago Disability Transit, after he found himself waiting three hours for a ride during a snowstorm.
Saul also was involved with the Museum of Broadcast Communications and oversaw the execution of several National Radio Hall of Fame broadcasts.
“Brad was a dynamite guy,” Schaden said. “He was very dynamic, and anything he wanted to do, I think he could do. And the physical handicap he had hardly slowed him down at all. He really did love radio, and he touched a lot of people through the years.”
“Even though he wasn’t able to walk, he was a great dad and he taught them how to express their feelings and how to advocate for themselves and to be good people,” she said.
Jeff Smulyan, Emmis Communications’ founder, chairman and CEO, recalled Saul’s “incredible courage in the face of adversity.”
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