He's a Fury on the Airwaves
By Geoffrey Leavenworth
Fort Worth -- The radio commercials often begin with a voice asking, "Eddie Chiles, are you still mad?" To which Mr. Chiles replies: "Yes, I'm still mad! I'm mad about..." --and off goes Mr. Chiles on another tirade.
H.C. Chiles is the 69-year-old chairman and chief executive officer of the Western Company of North America, a prosperous oilfield-services concern that he founded. It has given him the wherewithal to broadcast his opinions far beyond his Fort Worth base. Each day he takes to the airwaves on 320 radio stations in eight Southwest and Rocky Mountain states, lambasting big government and mourning what to him is the demise of the free-enterprise system.
"We've got to put a fence between the hog and the trough!" he roars. "We've got to stop all sorts of foolish, wasteful government spending!"
Mr. Chiles's company, the largest in the business, performs acidizing, fracturing, and cementing services for oil companies and is in the offshore drilling business as well. Mr. Chiles has amassed a considerable fortune. His immediate family owns 31 percent of the company's stock, worth better than $79 million. And like many another energy company these days, the stock has been climbing.
Mr. Chiles says that he spends more than $200,000 a year of his company's money on the advocacy advertising because he "got so damn mad at the government perverting our our economic system, destroying opportunity, and creating a socialist state."
He also says that the radio advertising is good for business. Western has received more than 3,000 favorable letters regarding Mr. Chiles's radio commentaries since he began them in late 1977. He writes off the cost of the commercials as a business expense on the theory that his company will go to the dogs unless government intervention is reduced. The deductions have not been challenged.
Mr. Chiles records the ads in a folksy Texas drawl. His exposure from the ads has made him something of a populist hero. He is a sought-after public speaker, and Howard Jarvis, the architect of California's anti-tax referendum, Proposition 13, calls him a "terror of the bureaucrats" and "a champion of the people."
Frequent topics include government spending and regulation, government ineptitude, deficit spending, and energy policy. Of President Carter's latest energy pronouncements, Mr. Chiles says they haven't done anything to produce more oil and seem to have been manufactured by Gerald M. Rafshoon, the President's media adviser, "purely to build the President's image with no regard for what it would do for the country." Mr. Chiles says he also believes that "this big deal of the Cabinet and other officers offering their resignation was a staged affair to build the President's image."
Western's corporate advertising is as unorthodox as its advocacy advertising. For 12 years the company has bought television advertising time, a rare practice in an industry that has no consumer products to offer. Sports fans in the Southwest are accustomed to seeing a leggy Texas brunette during sports broadcasts who urges, "If you don't have an oil well, get one. You'll love doing business with the Western Company."
Mr. Chiles says that when the company began the campaign it could not afford expensive trade-journal advertising. Western found it more cost effective to buy local commercial television time within the three-state market it then served. "Most oil people seem to be sports fans," he says.
Mr. Chiles's activities in the public arena seem not to be a significant distraction from his chores at Western. He is still very much its chief executive.
The company's net income in 1978 rose 43 percent to $18.8 million. But earnings in the first quarter were down 9 percent, a decline attributed to severe weather and uncertainties over energy policy. Mr. Chiles says second-quarter earnings, which have not yet been issued, shold be "acceptable, but not strong," but he expects the company's final quarters to be "barn burners -- unless the pale of confusion in Washington continues." The first-quarter decline has not hurt the company's stock. A week ago Monday it jumped four points to anew high of 40, prompting two phone calls from officials of the New York Stock Exchange who wanted to know if the company's management knew something the public didn't. Mr. Chiles says he is bewildered by the price leap. The price has since eased, closing Friday at 35 1/2, up 1/4....
Mr. Chiles, who runs a mile before breakfast, is an avid supporter of his alma mater's football team and owns a piece of the Texas Rangers baseball club. Occasionally he departs from the philosophical topics addressed in his daily broadcasts and, at his own expense, lashes out at specific issues or candidates.
He has grown disenchanted, for example, wiht the House Majority Leader, Jim Wright, also of Fort Worth. Disturbed by what he perceived as Mr. Wright's increasingly liberal voting, Mr. Chiles warned his old friend that he was "voting the country down the drain." Come the eve of election day, Mr. Chiles personally paid for large newspaper ads with the headline, "Jim Wright Come Home." The ad went on to list Mr. Wright's recent alleged voting blunders and urged him to "hang up your spikes."
It's rare, though, that Mr. Chiles goes after candidates for political office. His target is Washington. "The government," he says, "should defend our shores, deliver our mail, fire half of the bureaucrats today, the other half tomorrow, and leave us alone."
July 22, 1979