General Manager Brisbane Radio 4BC and 4BH
Who’ll play Bill Caralis in the movie?
Like legendary millionaire, Howard Hughes, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator, Bill Caralis has built a reputation as an eccentric recluse. No-one yet has been able to snap a photo of him.
Leonardo DiCaprio, playing another eccentric millionaire in The Aviator
And while most network operators would jump at the chance for publicity in the quality press, this week Caralis has emphatically refused interviews with several big dailies who are intrigued as to the identity of this man who continues to confound his critics by buying more radio stations when most expect – and hope – that he’ll sell.
With 33 stations in 19 markets plus 21 translators, the Caralis’ Supernetwork is the largest privately owned network in Australia and the second largest overall behind Macquarie Regional Radioworks.
Despite radioinfo’s vast resources and deep connections (yeah, right) even we are unable to reach the man himself for a face to face. However, after a little digging we've come up with a few insights into his background.
Most industry observers are aware of Bill’s Greek origins. But Bill himself insists his family hails from Sparta, which might explain a lot about the way he shuns opulence and prefers a simpler lifestyle. His attitude to both business and life can be described as “old school” - a description, we're told, Caralis would take as a compliment.
Bill’s father, George Caralis, first came to Australia in 1910 and as a young man worked in the Sydney Markets before returning to Sparta in 1930. It wasn’t until the end of World War II in 1945 that George brought his wife and young family back to live in Sydney permanently.
Bill idolised his father, a hard working man, who from selling fruit and vegetables at the Sydney Markets progressed to owning his own green-grocer outlet in the Queen Victoria Building. The acorn, they say, does not fall far from the tree and his father's work ethic rubbed off on Bill, who from a very young age put in long hours of back-breaking labour each week to help his dad support the family. Bill still recalls as a youngster how he and his father delivered fruit and vegetables along George Street by horse and cart.
The markets is where Caralis got his life’s education. It toughened him at a tender age for a harsh business world that routinely spat out many young immigrants from poor backgrounds.
One of Bill’s proudest moments was when his father, George, was made treasurer of the Greek RSL in Australia. But soon tragedy struck, and as a young man at the age of 16, Bill was devastated when he lost his Dad to illness. Bill recalls his father as a real life hero. He has never quite recovered from the loss and to this day he still places red roses at his graveside.
Now on his own with a family to support, Bill continued to work in the markets for a time and then took a job at the Sydney Masonic Club where he learnt the liquor trade. He was only there a short while before venturing into the building trade as a developer - something he has a passion for to this day. From that point on, he has always been his own boss.
He soon combined his newly acquired skills by building a small shopping centre in Marrickville and as part of the complex, established Marrickville Cellars Drive-In. With the help of wife Pam he built it into one of the largest liquor outlets in Australia.
He then founded Camperdown Cellars another huge import and retail outlet and continued to play the property development market with great success.
During this time he became a great supporter of Rugby League and was president of the Newtown Jets, narrowly beaten by Parramatta in the 1981 Grand Final.
In 1982 he sold up and moved to the Gold Coast and retired at quite a young age, but Bill found it hard not to work.
Following a lunch with John B. Fairfax in the early 1980’s, he developed a fascination for radio and the prospect of entering what for him would be a completely new business.
His first purchase was 2RG Griffith, soon followed by stations in Dubbo, Parkes and Mudgee. Then came Lismore, Murwillumbah, Taree, Toowoomba, Gunnedah, Gympie, Tamworth, Armidale, Moree and Grafton.
In 2000 he bought 2HD and New FM Newcastle from the NSW Labor Council and 2SM Sydney from Chris Murphy (INXS). He built a new four-level facility at Pyrmont (next to the Casino) to house the 2SM Supernetwork.
2SM is the hub station for the network and a satellite uplink dish on top of the building distributes programs to his stations in NSW and South East Qld.
With last week’s purchase of another 3 stations at Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Orange, Bill Caralis has gone from a fruit stall at the Sydney Markets to the largest independent owner of Commercial Radio Stations in Australia – a remarkable journey that isn’t over yet.
Sources tell us that Caralis has turned down kings’ ransoms for his network – perhaps worth as much as $200 million. Yet, the man with the Spartan background simply isn’t interested in a second retirement at any price. Without his stations, he’d have nothing to do.
Of course, he could invest it in a movie – a classic rags to riches story about an individualist who worked hard and beat the odds. But who would Bill cast in the lead? Gibson, Neeson, DiCaprio. He could afford any of them. Either way, his father George would be a very proud man.