Mike Martin: TV magnate, fundrasier and cowboy

TV programmer and broadcaster, cowboy-in-training, innovator, charity fundraiser and family man, Mike Martin wears many hats and touches many lives through his far reaching work and community efforts. One of his many initiatives was the Cayman 27’s Island Living Show, which opens on Friday, 29, July at the ARC in Camana Bay and is now in its tenth year. “People here are always looking for something new to do. I always wanted to do a home and garden show and this was a way to generate revenue and do something for our viewers,” explains Martin. Since he first came up with the concept the show has grown and evolved, incorporating other related services, becoming something of a lifestyle tradeshow, where home owners, buyers and even renters can find out about innovations and different industries can network and build relationships.  

 

Innovating, networking and building relationships are also descriptions that can be applied to  

Martin himself. He is not a man who likes to sit still or rest on his laurels. When he was in his 50s, he took early retirement from his job as vice president of Production and Broadcasting at Gannett, one of the largest media companies in the world, and moved to the Cayman Islands with this wife. They had always dreamed of living in the Caribbean, so when their children left home and the nest was empty, they decided to make the move – for two years. Nineteen years later they are still here and Martin continues to work full time as general manager of WestStar TV. 

He does have plans to retire “in the not too distant future” he says. Although judging by the apparent drive and energy this man has, when he does eventually hand over the metaphorical reins of WestStar TV, it is highly likely he will pick up some other reins – possibly some literal ones.  

A skilled horseman, Martin regularly rides along the beach in West Bay. Last year he spent several months training to get him up to speed to take part in a cattle drive in New Mexico. Along with one of his sons and two friends, Martin spent his vacation being put to work on a cattle ranch where he helped to drive 200-300 head of cattle about 100 miles over the course of seven or eight days. “We spent five to eight hours a day in the saddle,” he recalls. “We slept under the stars at night and cooked over an open fire.” Next up, Martin wants to go on a horse drive. “They move much faster [than cattle] so you’d move at a pretty good clip. It would be fun. I’d like to try that.” 

When he is not playing cowboys and Indians however, Martin is busy driving WestStar TV forward, keeping pace with global technological advances so that they can offer their customers the same level of sophistication one finds in the far larger North American markets.  

“When I first came here it was like Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1963,” says Martin, comparing the situation he encountered in Cayman in 1992 with the standards that were current when he began his career in TV almost 30 years earlier. “When we first started out [in Cayman], our viewers were happy if they could see something on the screen,” he says. “They were easily satisfied. Now they want the same thing here, the same quality, that they see everywhere else.”  

The standard available in the Cayman Islands has improved fast, putting it on a par with any small market in the US, he says. But one can never stop staying abreast of innovations and advances. And that is why in September this year, WestStar TV will start broadcasting in High Definition.  

For those who have HD ready TVs and HD cable boxes, they will be able to watch in Standard Definition on the regular channel or they can switch to a separate channel for crisp, clear HD viewing. Those who do not yet have HD equipment will still enjoy improved image quality on their SD screens.  

As well as keeping pace with global changes in technology, Martin makes community involvement a priority, both on a personal and a corporate level. “I learned early on that it’s the responsibility of the broadcaster to give back to the community. We have always used the TV broadcast side to help many, many charities and organisations on the Island,” he says. “TV is such a strong medium and has such a wide reach, we are blessed to be able to use this power to reach as many people as possible.”  

In addition to the numerous local charities that the TV station has supported over the years, a particular highlight in their community work was the telethon they held on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Ivan, when they raised $2 million for new roofs for damaged homes. Even Martin had not dared hope they would raise more than $1 million, so doubling this figure was an emotional but happy achievement. “After the hurricane, everyone worked together,” he recalls. “People were so nice to each other.” 

Although Martin says he misses the sense of community that existed in an earlier Cayman, small communities also have their downsides when one is trying to run a TV station. In addition to the business constraints of a small market, where resources and programming are limited and advertising revenue is restricted to local businesses, there is a very immediate reaction from viewers. “If people don’t like something, they let you know. I get calls and emails all the time,” says Martin. Those who know the general manager it seems, have no hesitation in calling him personally to let him know a technical glitch is preventing them watching the match they want to see. One wonders if Martin would have it any other way.