Kay Olin is Radio Ink’s 2017 MIW Legend

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Kay Olin’s long and successful radio career started by accident. She graduated from Agnes Scott College as a political science major and was working as a receptionist down the hall from RKO TV/Radio Reps in Atlanta. She asked what they did because they were having so much fun. The response was: “Do you want to work here?” She said yes and was hired. And the rest is history.

Olin would move on to radio, where her first job was at WIVY, where she was selling against The Greaseman on WAPE-AM in Jacksonville. “He was getting $600 a spot,” she says, “and we were begging people to buy WIVY-FM for $16. Years later, as a rep, I sold one of the first $1,000 spots on KIIS-FM/L.A. on the Rick Dees morning show.”

By the age of 28, Olin was the general manager at WANM-AM in Tallahassee, before eventually winding up at McGavren Guild, where she worked for over 30 years. Then she found financing and purchased the small- and medium-market division named Local Focus Radio out of the bankruptcy court.

Olin says, “We had started the division a year prior to Interep’s bankruptcy, and it was called Local Focus, in partnership with Phil Brown. When Interep declared bankruptcy, we had to rebuild the client list from scratch, since all previous contracts with Interep were null and void. All we had was a great team of employees and former clients who believed in us and did not want Local Focus to go away.

“We felt that keeping the name Local Focus was important, as it was our brand, and certainly our mission: ‘Selling and presenting national opportunities with a Local Focus!’ Keeping the focus on the story rather than just the sales was so important to the small and medium markets.” Eventually Olin and her team grew the business back up to over 300 stations.

Close friend Ruth Presslaff was charmed early by Kay’s “Southern-ness.” She says, “Then Kay and I started working together on various MIW projects, and I learned more about her career, determination, success, and unflappability. Kay is so smart, such a genuinely good friend, and knows only everybody in the business. Try walking through the Encore lobby some NAB evening with Kay — it could take an hour to walk those few steps from one end of the bar to the other. Everyone wants to say hello and get a hug. If legends are held dear by their friends, admired by their peers, and beloved by an entire industry, Kay Olin is the perfect legend for our time.”

Radio Ink: You started Local Focus in 2008, not a great year. How did it go?
Olin: It was difficult, from the standpoint of people being anxious to go to a new rep firm that wasn’t established. I had a great team of people around me and some dedicated clients who believed in us.

I have to say the MIWs were a big part of it. I turned around at some point at the first gathering we had in Orlando at the RAB and said, “I don’t know anything about marketing,” and that’s when Heidi Raphael said, “I will help you.” Others, like Valerie Blackburn, just stepped in and helped. It was such a wonderful group of women who held me up when I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When we opened, we didn’t have any stations. We ended with 350.

Olin with Mike McVay and Sylvia Strobel

Radio Ink: What was most challenging? What kept you up at night?
Olin: When I found things we could not compete on, and you want the best for your employees and clients and want them to feel they’re getting everything they deserve in terms of service and the amount of business. I spent a lot of time working on solutions to bring people the opportunities by way of partnering with other companies and people and bringing what we could to the table, so we felt big. Our hearts were big and our service was big, and that’s what we had to use to keep the business big.

Radio Ink: What was most exciting?
Olin: The energy. To start something new. To have the energy around me on a daily basis that I had with that Local Focus team and our clients — I never felt that before. I never felt so many people wanting us to win like they did.

Radio Ink: After Local Focus, it’s not like you rode into the sunset. You’re still so involved. How come?
Olin: It’s funny — I did a podcast the other day about the oyster business and I was asked the same question. My husband and I are oyster ranching now. But I have never left broadcast, and I hope never to leave it. I speak weekly to a lot of people, and I’m still very engaged in brainstorming and helping people.

I’m a good sounding post. I get a lot of phone calls: “I have this situation, what would you suggest?” I do some consulting. There are so many people out there right now that want to work, or companies that need someone to come in and solve a specific problem, but they don’t want to hire or can’t hire someone full-time. I love radio too much to leave.

Radio Ink: How important is the MIW Group to the industry?
Olin: If you look at why the group started, when Radio Ink first started calling it the Most Influential Women in Radio, it was an honor. The fact that a group of women were named — and I wasn’t on the first list, although I did eventually end up on it — they felt great to be influential but said, “What are we going to do with it?”

They are very highly motivated to go in and lift all boats, to help other women grow. They realize the value they have with their network. When I talk to students or lecture, I always talk about the importance of having your own “board of directors.” We recently named our four MIW mentees, and one of them said, “I feel like I got a scholarship to Harvard.”

It’s like getting access to anyone you want in the business. These women will pick up the phone and make sure you have an hour with whoever you want to talk to in the business. We help build a resume, look at the holes in their career, and make sure they’re ready for that next step. I can’t think of anything more rewarding. That’s something women are very good about doing, reaching back to pull others up with them.

Olin with Radio Ink Chairman Eric Rhoads

Radio Ink: Why do you think women have advanced more on the sales and management side vs. programming?
Olin: The MIWs have tracked the progress of women in the workplace since 2004 — through the M Street data we review annually, the percentage of women in all levels of media management, GM, sales management, and programming. While the percentage of sales managers has been above the 30 percent mark and GMs around 17-18 percent, programming has stayed flat at 10.7 percent.

Fewer women in the programming leadership role means fewer mentors and less opportunity. We’re working to grow this particular area, along with our mentoring programs, by being very conscientious regarding inclusion. As you will see in this issue, we are starting a program with Nielsen Music’s support, specifically targeting and mentoring more women in programming. Hopefully this hyper-focus, along with the recognition of on-air trailblazers through our Airblazer Award, will build aware-ness and access.

Radio Ink: As more women have entered the media sales ranks, what has been the impact on the profession?
Olin: I have seen an elevated service culture as a result of women entering the media sales and management ranks. Women by nature are more nurturing of their customers and their peers. We are communicators, problem solvers, relationship builders. These interpersonal skills all equal a stronger and more loyal customer base, internal customers (fellow employees) as well as the external customers.

Quality service begins “at home”! If you have happy employees and a service culture, they will in turn build the same relationships with the customers. Women have a heightened sense of responsibility to reach back and pay back. We are very aware of our blessings and what having support and mentors made possible for us, so we naturally feel responsible sharing our experience, influence, and resources with others.

Radio Ink: How important is mentoring?
Olin: It is beyond words. People who have not mentored don’t realize the economic value of it, and the personal value. As a mentor, you get as much, if not more, than the mentee. It’s proven that anyone who mentors is more likely to get promoted.

That was very big at Interep. We always had mentoring going on at Interep. It’s a reward and recognition. It is an honor when you are asked to help mentor someone. It’s a win-win for everyone. You are growing your own garden when you mentor.

Radio Ink: What would you like to see the industry do better?
Olin: When I first started in radio, one of the touchstones was, what do we do for the community today? Because that is when everyone had to keep files about what they were doing. I think the joy in local radio is specifically that ability to touch the local listeners and the local community and make a difference. They are so present and credible in their communities. I would like to see stations get back to that, and like farm-to-table, it’s local-to-ear.

Radio Ink: Talk about some of your other career accomplishments.

Olin and Valerie Blackburn.

Olin: When I was named one of Atlanta’s Top 25 Women to Watch — it is one thing to be recognized in your industry, but to be recognized in your community! I so enjoyed being part of the Georgia Broadcasting Board. That was an exciting time for me. I’ve been thrilled to be involved with American Women in Media. I’ve enjoyed that relationship and standing on the stage with all these magnificent stars.

It’s hard for me to separate personal from professional success. I live both my personal and professional life based on the same principles and values. I’ve always been proud of the courage with which I’ve tackled everything from the corrective shoes and braces to my fear of public speaking: head on. I hate realizing that I’m afraid of something.

In fact, I’ve learned to run toward it and just say yes. What’s the worst that can happen? More often than not, I’m a better champion for others than I am for myself. I’m proud of the family member I am, the friend and wife. I’m proud that I’ve always worked hard to give back and humbled when recognized — especially when it’s unexpected.

We work hard so that we can make a difference. Recently my husband and I have realized a dream together where we now reside in Florida. We’ve started oyster ranching, and in the process created a local co-op for the ranchers that will build a whole new industry, create new jobs, clean up the coastal waters, create a habitat for thousands of species, and generate healthy food for generations to come. This business was just recognized with a Small Business Award for “Out of the Box Business of the Year”!

Radio Ink: You’ve worked for big companies as well as been an entrepreneur and been successful at both. Not everyone can do that. What’s your secret?
Olin: I have always tried to lead by example and with my heart, not be a boss. My customers and fellow employees always know how much I care about them and their needs. Because people are important to me, they know I care and work hard to help them succeed both personally and professionally.

Being a creative entrepreneur is important whether you are working for a big company, small company, or yourself. If you embrace change, you will always be in the position to grow and stretch. I love to start a meeting talking about, “What if we blew it up and started over again? What would we keep and what would we change?”

“Perfect is an accident on the way to possible,” a dear friend once shared, and it is so true!

Radio Ink: What advice do you have for others in the radio industry to be as successful as you are?
Olin: I would say don’t be shy. No one is too important to introduce yourself to. Acknowledge they are busy, but ask if there would be a time you could sit with them. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to spend time with successful people in the business, and create your own “board of directors.”

You can never be too nice. That was one reputation I had at Interep that bugged me. There were a lot of men on the board when we were regional executives, and it would always bug me when people would say, “You are too nice.” As long as you’re effective, it’s never bad to be nice. I was diplomatic and could get things done in a nice way. People want you to win and they want to help you when they know you want the same for them.

Radio Ink: Name a few people who helped you along the way, that you admire.
Olin: George Pine. George and I were mutual Southerners at Interep. The MIWs, with Heidi Raphael, Ruth Presslaff, Denyse Mesnik, Sheila Kirby, and Valerie Blackburn. They have all been amazing. Ralph Guild was such a visionary. He really believed in women. He lifted every woman up. I could make mistakes and he would say, “Well, did you get a new customer?”

We were taught every day to go out and just say yes and we would figure it out later. He was such a great entrepreneur. Of course, Erica Farber, who used to work for Interep, that’s how I got to know her. Tony Maisano was wonderful to hire me in Atlanta. I have a plethora of people who have helped.

You can never be too nice. That was one reputation I had at Interep that bugged me. There were a lot of men on the board when we were regional executives, and it would always bug me when people would say, “You are too nice.” As long as you’re effective, it’s never bad to be nice. I was diplomatic and could get things done in a nice way. People want you to win and they want to help you when they know you want the same for them.

Radio Ink: Name a few people who helped you along the way, that you admire.
Olin: George Pine. George and I were mutual Southerners at Interep. The MIWs, with Heidi Raphael, Ruth Presslaff, Denyse Mesnik, Sheila Kirby, and Valerie Blackburn. They have all been amazing. Ralph Guild was such a visionary. He really believed in women. He lifted every woman up. I could make mistakes and he would say, “Well, did you get a new customer?”

We were taught every day to go out and just say yes and we would figure it out later. He was such a great entrepreneur. Of course, Erica Farber, who used to work for Interep, that’s how I got to know her. Tony Maisano was wonderful to hire me in Atlanta. I have a plethora of people who have helped.

Radio Ink: What’s the most important piece of advice you were given when you were just getting started?
Olin: Fear is your enemy! Make fear your fuel. If you are not stretching beyond your comfort zone every day, you are not growing personally or professionally. I came from a small town. I had not even written a formal paper when I got to college. I quickly learned that if I worked hard, I could do anything I set my mind to.

I have been blessed with a wonderful, supportive family. My husband, Rob, my biggest and most supportive fan, taught me that danger and opportunity are one and the same. If you replace the word problem with opportunity, you change your mindset, and you are thinking as a problem solver. Everyone seeks problem solvers! Enjoy them for the opportunity they present.

Reach out to Kay Olin and congratulate her on being chosen as the 2017 Radio Ink MIW Legend [email protected] associates.com

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