Don Curtis and the Curtis Media Group

Written By Richard Carney

Although Don Curtis founded the Curtis Media Group in 1968, he started his media career ten years earlier.  In 1957, 15 year old Don began working at WKMT in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.  The station owner sold Curtis one hour per week, which Curtis then sold to merchants in his hometown of Bessemer City, North Carolina.  His first broadcast was “Bessemer City Time” and was sponsored by local merchants, such as Carolina Appliance Company, Bessemer City Lumber Company, Kincaid Pontiac, and Home Savings and Loan.  Richard Curtis, Don’s father and owner of Curtis Pharmacy, was also a sponsor.  Shortly afterward, Don acquired a daily one hour show on WLTC in Gastonia in addition to his weekly show in Kings Mountain.

When Curtis finished high school in Bessemer City, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1965, and studied in the School for Journalism and Mass Communication.  Five years later and three credits short from earning a bachelor’s degree, Curtis left UNC, returned to Bessemer City, and resumed his communications career. 

From the start of his professional career, Curtis was successful.  In 1967, Curtis acquired a permit to construct his first radio station, WCSL, a 500 watt AM daytime station in Cherryville.  That same year, Curtis purchased WEWO AM/FM in Laurinburg and Greenville’s WPXY.  Also in 1968, at the age of twenty-five, Curtis convinced investors to support his new company, Cablevision, Inc.  The new company purchased cable TV franchises in Gastonia, Bessemer City, Mt. Holly, Dallas, Cherryville, Lincolnton, Belmont, Dunn, Lumberton, and Valdese. 

During the 1970s and 1980s, Curtis’s company continued to grow substantially.  In 1974, the WEWO-FM station in Laurinburg started transmitting 100,000 watts and relocated between Laurinburg and Fayetteville to serve a wider audience.  The station’s identification was also changed to WSTS-FM.  By creating a separate FM station, Curtis joined the trend of establishing FM stations separate from AM stations.  In 1984, Curtis sold WEWO and WSTS to the Durham Corporation.  This transaction made Curtis one of the largest stockholders in the Durham Corporation, and as a company officer, he reorganized and rebuilt the corporation into an extremely profitable business.  In less than two years, the Durham Corporation overcame a $300,000 deficit to make over $1.7 million.  Curtis renamed his company Great American Media in 1986 and expanded its broadcasting to include the Raleigh-Durham and Morehead City-Atlantic Beach markets.

In 1991, the company’s name was changed to Curtis Media Group.  Also, that same year, Curtis Media purchased the radio division of Durham Life Broadcasting.  The transaction brought several new stations: WQDR and WPTF in Raleigh, WMXF in Fayetteville, WEWO in Laurinburg, and the Southern Farm Network. Prior to 1995, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibited ownership of multiple stations in a single market.   However, when the FCC loosened its grip on the market, the Curtis Media Group, attempting to operate five or more stations in each market, sold stations WAZZ, WEWO, and WFBL in Fayetteville and Laurinburg; WTAB and WYNA in Tabor City; and purchased new stations in Raleigh, Durham, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount, Wilson, and Chapel Hill (the new law allowed a single company to own up to eight stations in a single market).  In total, over $18 million dollars was involved.

Don Curtis is known, according to former Assistant State Treasurer Tom Campbell, as a “classic entrepreneur.”  He transformed his weekly broadcast in Bessemer City into one of the largest single shareholder companies in the United States.  Early in his career, Curtis realized the benefits of buying small AM stations, trading up to larger twenty-four hour AM stations, expanding to FM stations, and selling for a large profit.  Today, station sponsors include national corporations, such as Cingular Wireless, Outback Steakhouse, and Home Depot, as well as local stores and small businesses.  Also, the company’s growth allowed it to accommodate a wide audience.  Curtis Media Group owns and operates WPTF-AM and WQDR-FM, two of Raleigh’s largest, most popular, and entertaining stations.  Curtis Media also operates the Triangle Traffic Network (TTN), State Government Radio, Triangle in Touch, and the Southern Farm Network (SFN), and its broadcasts can also be heard over the Internet on  Today, the Curtis Media Group owns and operates fourteen stations and serves over one million listeners across North Carolina.

Curtis experienced a widely successful career in communications without earning a college degree.  However, in 2002 the University of North Carolina held a special ceremony to honor Curtis.  After passing an oral examination, Curtis earned his bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.