Lester Lowry Mays was born on July 24, 1935 in Harris County, Texas, United States to Lester T. Mays and Mary Virginia Lowry. Mays attended the A&M College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), where he received a B.S. in petroleum engineering. After his 1957 graduation from Texas A&M, Mays joined the Air Force, where he served as an officer. Upon his discharge from the Air Force, Mays earned an MBA from Harvard University. He became an investment banker, rising to Vice President of Corporate Finance during his ten years at Russ & Company.
In 1972 Mays founded the San Antonio Broadcasting Company, which became Clear Channel Communications. The company purchased its first radio station, KEEZ-FM in San Antonio in 1972. He and his business partner Red McCombs bought a second San Antonio Station, WOAI in 1975. This station was considered a "clear channel" station because no other station operated on its frequency and its 50,000 watt signal could be heard hundreds or even thousands of miles away on a clear night. Over the next several years, the company bought ten more struggling radio stations and turned them profitable, usually by switching their formats to religious or talk programming. Their first non-San Antonio acquisition was 1250 KPAC and 98.5 KPAC-FM in Port Arthur, bought from the then Port Arthur College, now Lamar-Port Arthur. KPAC-FM was upgraded by Clear Channel in the early 1980s to be their first "Houston" station when the company built a 2000 ft tower near Devers, TX, hoping to cover Houston. The effort failed to meet expectations and the station was sold after Clear Channel bought radio stations with in-town Houston signals. The company went public in 1984. In 1988, the company bought its first television station.
By the mid-90s, Clear Channel Communications owned 43 radio and 16 television stations. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996 significantly deregulated the broadcast industry, Mays and Clear Channel purchased 49 radio stations and an interest in New Zealand's largest radio group. A merger with Jacor Communications, based in Covington, Kentucky (who had bought the former broadcast side of Nationwide Insurance a year earlier) brought the operation of 450 stations to the Clear Channel portfolio. Within eight years, and with an influx of capital investment from the private-equity Griffith Family, Clear Channel had accumulated ownership of over 1200 radio stations and 41 television stations in the United States, one of the nation's leading live entertainment companies, and over 750,000 outdoor advertising displays.
In 2003 Mays testified before the US Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, "We're not in the business of providing news and information. We're not in the business of providing well-researched music. We're simply in the business of selling our customers products."
Mays was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2004. After suffering a stroke in 2005, Mays relinquished his position as CEO of the company to his son, Mark.
Mays served on the Texas A&M Board of Regents from 1985-1991. He was reappointed to the Board of Regents in 2001, and served as Chairman of the Board of Regents from 2003 - 2005. He was also a chair of the Presidential Library Committee and a member of the Committee on Buildings and Physical Plant, and is the Board's special liaison to the Texas A&M Foundation. His latest term on the Board of Regents expired on February 1, 2007.
Mays has donated a substantial amount of money to the school to improve the business department. In 1996, A&M rewarded him by renaming their business school, now Mays Business School, in his honor.
Mays has served as a Chairman of the United Way of San Antonio. He was a member of the Associates Board at Harvard Business School. He was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1999.
Mays and his wife, Peggy, have four children, Kathy Mays Johnson, Mark Mays, Linda Mays McCaul and Randall Mays, along with sixteen grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. They live in San Antonio, Texas, where they oversee the operations and giving of the Mays Family Foundation. His son-in-law, Michael McCaul, is a Republican congressman from Texas's 10th congressional district.