Station owner Gary cocola of Fresno pounded his fist into his palm, over and over, telling entrepreneurship students Friday how he got into business.

"I kept hitting the wall, hitting the wall, hitting the wall," said Cocola, owner of Cocola Broadcasting.

This is what you have to do, said Cocola, entrepreneur in residence this week in the program run by California State University, Fresno. He said later that he donated 30 to 40 hours to tell students how you do it, at least what you have to go through to become your own man or woman, a capitalist, an entrepreneur with something to sell.

Cocola Broadcasting now operates 20 stations, 19 of them low power, and the other, KGMC, Channel 43, a Fresno UHF station.

Cocola first got into television as a 17-year-old in 1957, broadcasting live in black and white in Fresno television's fledgling days. Before he knew it, he said, he was recognized as, "a local minicelebrity."

He checked into a television career but went instead into the produce business. He discovered something he didn't like about it: everything.

"Everybody in the produce business is having a bad day every day," he said.

Peaches decay. Prices aren't right. Shipments arrive late.

The solution? Do something you enjoy every day.

So it was back to television just short of his 40th birthday. He got his Federal Communications Commision permit. He met with a 350-pound Las Vegas hotel owner about financing but decided to look elsewhere.

"I thought, 'Oh my God. If he gave me the money, I would have been in partnership with Tony Soprano.'... So I hocked everything I had," he said, "but I had a piece of paper that said I could build a TV station."

Bankers said this was too risky, he told students, but he got his start-up money plus a mentor, Paul Bartlett, longtime Fresno broadcasting and railroad expert.

He also devised a broadcasting formula he thought would work.

He went on the air in July 1985. The rest is success.

Now he's into Internet business as well.

Cocola donated this week to students because he wanted to give back to his community, Fresno.

His parting words to students:

"You are here today because you are in a business or want to start."

"You must persevere. Keep hitting the brick wall. Maybe you will find a crack."

Fresno Bee article by Jim Steinberg
reprinted with permission

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