By Jodi Ackerman Frank
From company founder to CEO to overseeing the programming of the most popular radio station in town, Siena alumni are deepening their imprint in the radio broadcasting business. The following three alumni have ventured in other career paths and professional interests, but the radio industry has remained a mainstay in their lives.
Jim Morrell ’66, serves as chairman, president and CEO of Pamal Broadcasting, headquartered in Albany. Formerly called Albany Broadcasting, Pamal owns 24 radio stations in Albany, Glens Falls, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Westchester County and White Plains, as well as in Vermont.
Morrell, a Siena trustee, entrepreneur and businessman, founded Albany Broadcasting in 1986 after he and longtime friend John Kelly, director of Siena’s radio station, WVCR, acquired “the contemporary hit” station WFLY 92.3 and “oldies” music station WPTR 1540 AM. The two men became friends when Morrell owned the Albany Dodge car dealership. Albany Dodge teamed up with WTRY in a “hands on car-give-away promotion.” Kelly, who was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame in 2008, was WTRY’s general manager at the time.
After Albany Broadcasting began to readily expand in the other markets, Morrell created Pamal Broadcasting in 1996. The name is based on the first letter of the middle names of his four children. His son Joe currently serves as vice president of Pamal Broadcasting.
Morrell, who was born and raised in Albany and lives in Loudonville, earned his bachelor’s degree in administration and accounting. He credits a Siena accounting professor, Alexander Cruden, for launching his career in the accounting industry. (Cruden currently serves as professor emeritus at Siena.)
“Cruden was very informative and helpful. I was an undecided major when he encouraged me to work part-time for Walquist and Renodin, CPAs,” said Morrell, who worked for the accounting firm as a sophomore and throughout his senior year of college. Upon graduation Morrell went to work with, what is now KPMG CPA’s.
Morrell eventually took a job as secretary treasurer at the Albany Dodge car dealership in 1969. In 1975 he became the president and part owner of the dealership. By the end of the following year, in 1976, he acquired 100% ownership of the dealership. He and his son James currently own Destination Nissan, the successor to Albany Dodge, and Destination Kia.
Morrell and his wife Kathy have made significant contributions to Siena and to the community at large. In 1985, Morrell earned the Professor Egon Plager Award from Siena “for accomplishments in advancing the welfare of other human beings.”
The Morrells also contributed significantly to the Morrell Science Center, completed in 2001. Around the same time, the couple created the Morrell Family Scholarship Fund.
“I had to work four-to-six jobs during my years at Siena and take out student loans to pay for college,” Morrell said. “So, we know it can be difficult to pay for college and our hope was to make the load a little bit lighter for current students.”
In addition to Pamal Broadcasting and their car dealerships, the Morrells also own the Latham Holiday Inn Express, ABC Sports and Fitness, and various real estate holdings managed by their daughter, Amber.
Radio, though, continues to stir a particular spark in Morrell because of being able to give back to the local community.
“Radio is still a very important part of our daily lives – 93% of Americans listen to the radio every week. Radio provides emergency broadcast, amber alerts, local weather news, sports and activities — not to mention music,” he said. “I think radio will be part of many people’s lives for a long time to come.”
Neerav Patel ’00, associate trustee, is COO of Empire Broadcasting, which owns four radio stations and companion websites throughout the Capital Region. In that capacity, Patel oversees the daily management, corporate strategy and content programming of the company headquartered in Malta.
Patel started his radio career at Siena, working at WVCR 88.3 The Saint, the popular college radio station. He started as a DJ playing modern rock tunes for three hours on Friday mornings. He eventually would serve as the station’s general manager for nearly 10 years, during which time WVCR was ranked the 5th most popular college radio station in America for three years in a row.
Patel originally attended Siena to prepare for medical school.
“That was the plan. I ended getting involved in Siena’s radio station, and I had so much fun doing that, I changed my major to finance, and the rest is history,” he said.
While working as a general manager for 88.3, Patel pursued his M.B.A. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Toward graduation time, he decided to do some traveling to find out how business and accounting was done in different parts of the world. During his six-week trip, he visited multinational companies in Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. He also traveled to the Indian cities of Mumbai and New Delhi.
“I was in a different time zone every few days sometimes,” said Patel, who was born in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and moved to the United States when he was six months old. “The whole point was to take a year off, but that really didn’t happen.”
That’s because during his trip in Sydney, Patel became fascinated with a different type of radio work: teleradiology, a health care technology that has evolved into telemedicine, which allows doctors and medical personnel to share radiology images and other medical information remotely.
“If someone goes in for an X-ray or CT or MRI at night, many times there isn’t a radiologist onsite to read it. So, the scan is sent via computers overseas, where it is read by U.S. licensed radiologists,” explains Patel. “This telemedicine application was being utilized in Australia in a big way, and I became very interested in this.”
When Patel traveled to Mumbai to see if a medical group was involved in this technology, he found out that little was being done in this type of technology in the United States. Would you be interested in working with us to launch this type of service when you return home to the states? members of this group asked Patel.
“I said yes and returned home in October. By February, I had begun the process of starting a company,” Patel said.
As a result, Patel founded Scanris Teleradiology, a virtual healthcare platform that allowed doctors and radiologists to exchange information via the Internet in a way that ensured patient privacy. He also hired and oversaw the work of board-certified and multispecialty radiologists.
Patel, who ran the company for four and a half years, has also served as a consultant for other health care organizations and has invested in startups in the same field before he came back to the radio entertainment business as an executive at Empire Broadcasting.
“Working in the health care industry was great, but the radio bug knocked me in a little bit,” he said.
This year, the entrepreneur and businessman who lives in Clifton Park won a 40 Under Forty Award from The Business Review that honors ambitious professionals.
Patel said hands down his more than a decade of experience at WVCR paved the way to his current success in the radio business.
“At WVCR, I had every job in the radio business, and using those skills over the years has definitely helped me,” he said. “I can be in sales, programming, corporate strategy. I can even vacuum the floors.”
Patel is one of four Siena alumni who is involved with Empire Broadcasting Corporattion. Joe Reilly, a Siena College donor, serves as president and also has the on campus television studio named after him.
Anne Harrigan ’03 is the program director for the ever-popular FLY 92.3 radio station, which is Pamal Broadcasting’s flagship station. In her role, she manages the day-to-day operations of the radio station, including helping personalities develop their shows, selecting music that’s played on air and assisting with promotions. She also is on air on a regular basis, directly sharing music with her listeners throughout the Capital Region.
With its tagline “Albany’s # 1 Hit Music Station,” FLY focuses on the top-40 contemporary music of the day, which includes music that appeals to a wide audience, from the 12-24, 18-34, and 25-54 age demographics. FLY92.3 is performing as one of the most popular radio stations in market in all three of these groups, something that is rarely achieved by a top-40 station, according to Harrigan.
“FLY is what is known as a heritage station because of its many years of broadcast. It’s more than 30 years old. It’s ingrained in the community, and that’s part of our success,” Harrigan said.
Harrigan got the radio bug even before she started college. During her senior year in high school, she asked a DJ at FLY 92.3 if she could intern at the station for high school credit.
“After months of pestering him, he did finally offer me an internship,” said Harrigan, who spent her internship shadowing the DJ to learn how music is selected and played on air, how to edit calls and the like. After her internship ended, she was offered a part-time job at the station, where she filled in for on-air personalities while she attended college.
Harrigan, who went from intern to program director for FLY over the course of her career, has been in the radio business for the last 15 years, which included a three-year stint as an on-air personality at a radio station in Florida. She also worked as a program director for FLY 92.3’s sister station, 104.9 The Cat, a top-40 country radio station.
Harrigan’s broadcasting experience also expands into television, including working as a promotion writer for CBS6 in Schenectady. While at Siena, Harrigan majored in English and was able to focus on communications through experience and internships. During that time, she interned at WNYT-TV 13.
“Even though I was getting experience in the radio broadcasting field, I wanted to step outside my comfort zone, and the TV internship was an eye-opening experience,” said Harrigan. “It really exposed me to a kind of media that I was also fascinated with but never experienced before.”
Harrigan attributes her well-rounded college education to her career success.
“I took everything from creative writing courses to Irish literature to various communication courses. Having that English background, and a good liberal arts education in general, has been an important part of my professional growth,” Harrigan said. “It helped me to explore what I really wanted to do.”