Why is Keith Lawless One of Radio’s Best Leaders?


On Thursday, September 22 at The Radio Show in Nashville, Radio Ink magazine will be introducing the industry to radio’s most successful Sales Managers, General Managers, Digital Sellers, and Account Executives. Thanks to the Radio Advertising Bureau, we are able to recognize these industry greats every year with awards named in honor of Wayne Cornils, who worked for the RAB for many years and was one of radio’s greatest ambassadors.

The Radio Wayne Awards are the only industry awards that recognize those people who are in the trenches, responsible for bringing in the revenue for the industry they love, all over the country. Over the next month we will be recognizing finalists from all of our categories so you can learn just how they became the best at what they do and how they represent the industry. One of this year’s finalists is CMG Tampa Market Manager Keith Lawless.

Keith Lawless has been the Market Manager in Tampa since 2010, after moving up the radio ladder from GM in 2005, GSM from 1999-2005 and National Sales and Account Manager prior to that. CMG Tampa D.O.S. Jason Meder tells Radio Ink Keith Lawless is one of America’s best Market Manager because he is constantly innovating for the future of his employees and for the radio industry. “He believes in people first and hiring the best and most talented people delivers the greatest results. Keith strives everyday to create an environment where success breeds more success and his tenure as Market Manager, General Manager, General Sales Manager, National Sales Manager and Account Manager at Cox are a testament to everyone about his willingness to provide a career path for all employees.”

Here is our interview with 2016 Radio Wayne Market Manager finalist from CMG in Tampa Keith Lawless.

Why did you choose radio as a career?
Lawless: First, RESULTS… as a 13-year-old my parents had a “bolt on” promotion at their business. A remote broadcast where the DJs bolt a radio station license plate on the front of your car for you. There were lines around our building. I was blown away. The crowds radio drew… The passion that those crowds had for the radio station and DJs. This was a something more than just a destination to listen to music… This was a community. A community that was mobile and loyal, and most of all, willing to do what you asked them to do. Including, going to my parents silly little arcade.  Second, radio SAVES LIVES… Growing up in Florida, I knew the frightening power of hurricanes. I was one of those kids hunkered down in a closet in their home with their family with the battery-powered radio, listening to where the station said the storm was headed… All along praying that it wasn’t going to blow our home away. Radio was the warm comforting voice to tell us what to do and that everything would be alright. Without radio in times like that, we would be completely blind.

What lead you into management?
Lawless: Observing great managers and pretty bad managers motivated me to get into management. The great managers inspired me to innovate, help, and make a difference. I had loads of ideas and their leadership told me that if I got into a role like that, that I could make a difference. A difference in my station, in my company , and possibly in my industry. Those great leaders include Jay O’Connor, Rich Reis, Kim Guthrie, and Bill Hendrich. The bad managers just made me want to push them out of the way and take the steering wheel. I saw the impact poor leadership had on a culture, and on people individually. This was probably the most powerful driver to raise my hand and declare that I wanted to lead in this business. Those bad managers included… sorry, can’t do that.
How does someone become a successful leader of so many people in radio today?
Lawless: 1. Great people make it easier. I have amazing managers that treat this business, our cluster, as if they own it. They are smart, responsible, and disciplined.
2. Strategy. If you don’t have one, then you are flying blind. Our business is evolving quickly, and having a sound strategy for engaging your listening customers, advertising customers, and internal customers, is critical.
a) A deeper and richer conversation with our listeners is critical. You have to be on the cutting edge of how they choose to communicate and not just how you are used to communicating with them. So, this part of your strategy requires you to be nimble. For some of our younger-targeted formats, social media is a leading driver with this… And now we are evolving into the augmented reality apps (Pokemon Go) to stay up to speed. If you speak their language they will listen. If you don’t keep up with them, then when you talk, you just sound like their mom or dad.
b) Advertising customers depend on you to point the way. The media-option landscape is moving at lightning speed. Digital provides new targeting options every month that advertisers need to consider, but they can’t keep up with it. The advertising community will trust in those media executives that best demonstrate their understanding of the media options and those that make sound integrated recommendations. Even if you are a veteran in this business with a loyal client base, keeping up to speed with those options and continuing to proactively educate your customers is critical.
c) There are less team members in our clusters these days and more is asked of them than before. Keeping a high level of engagement is critical. You may not be able to create utopia, but as a leader you can take a proactive role in creating a culture that has open communication, innovation, and keeps radio fun.
3. Follow your strategy. Pretty simple… If you take the time to create the plan, follow it. Too often people create complicated plans, only to keep them in their desk drawer.
What is your digital strategy and is it working?
Lawless: Our digital business is growing faster than we forecasted, every year for the past Radio Wayne Logo200three years. We are forecasted to finish 2016 over our stretch goal of $6.5M in revenue and far surpassing our impression goals. The strategy is detailed. For content it includes a social media strategic action plan for each of our six brands and sometimes varies by daypart, ongoing App development, consistent branding and communication across all distribution channels, and distribution “everywhere” (Tunein, iHeart, App, Desktop, Apple TV, X-box, etc…). This past year we started a 24/7 video stream of our HOT Talk radio station. For 2016 it comprises 70% of all video starts across any “radio” platform in our company nationwide. This idea won the first CMG Innovation of The Year award, this year.
For sales… education, education, education. Educating our sellers enables them to educate our customers. That increases advertiser confidence in their Account Manager and generates results that grow their business. All of our sellers and sales managers are Google certified resellers and 80% have received their IAB certification. We have also increased our number of Digital Campaign Specialists. Support/fulfillment in the digital advertising space is mission critical. I anticipate we will grow by at least 27% (or to $8.25M) in 2017.
What motivates you to walk into your radio station every day?
Lawless: First, the people I get to work with. I’ve been in my cluster for 20 years this year, and a VP/GM/MM for 10 of those years. They are absolutely part of me. I feel as accountable to them as they hopefully do to me. Second, the impact we can have on the community. Last year our cluster helped raise over $3.5M for local charities. I continue to be amazed and abundantly proud of the power of radio. This also includes the results we continue to drive for our advertising partners. “Radio” done right, can be the most powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal. And third, I love music. I still get geeked out when we break a new song or when an artist comes into the station. I love sitting with talented programmers and reviewing research and discussing our programming strategy.
What keeps you up at night?
Lawless: Driverless cars. We have a lot of competition now. With the changing dashboard, it’s even more competitive than ever. However, radio still has that local and free audio option on the dash that others just can’t compete with. Now, the driverless car will expand those options to include other media. I could watch the Today Show on NBC on my way to work if I don’t have to drive my car myself. That presents a new kind of competition. We must work as hard as we can between now and when this becomes a common everyday form of transportation, to make “radio” as relevant as any other form of media. Losing the captive audience in the automobile could be the biggest disruption that our industry will every see.
How do you educate yourself so you are always on top of your game, and should other managers?
Lawless: Having other mangers that stay on top of trends is actually how I most stay on the cutting edge. So yes, other managers should continue to educate themselves. Managers should be on every social media platform option and communicate how our listeners communicate (e.g. – I’m level 9 on Pokemon Go right now). It sounds silly, but something as simple as that is important. I ask all of my managers to stay up to speed on these trends. In addition, I have a Digital Content Manager, Sr. Director of Digital Audio, and and engineering team that continues to feed me new data and drive us in the right technical direction. Our Director of Marketing Services, Digital Sales Manager, and DOS keep me and our sales department up with the current marketing trends. In addition, I am currently enrolled to take my IAB certification test this November. If I’m going to ask my entire sales department to be certified, then I should be as well.
Reach out to Keith to congratulate him on being a 2016 Radio Wayne finalist [email protected]
Learn more about the Radio Show in Nashville HERE
Radio Wayne D.O.S. Finalist (Beasley) Jenna Land
Radio Wayne Sales Manager Finalist (WIP Philadelphia) Vince Gambino
Radio Wayne Market Manager Finalist (Federated Media) Jim Allgeier


  1. Somebody would be doing the industry a great service if they found and synthesized “The Essence of Keith’, bottled it and started shipping it out – STAT! 🙂

  2. I’m blessed to have worked with Keith Lawless on his multiple levels of Management over the past 20 years. He truly innovates, inspires, works the hardest to achieve the best results for everyone. He’s not afraid to get down in the trenches because he’s been there and has fought those battles. He’s honestly the definition of a LEADER! He has created this culture that we all work together as one. All of us are connected and we all play a vital role to our success. Keith Lawless is an Industry LEADER and we are the lucky ones, here in Tampa, to call him ours!

  3. I’ve had the pleasure to work with Keith Lawless for almost 20 years and he is a great example of a manager that values people first, which leads to inspiring our staff’s best performances every day.

  4. There is no question that Keith Lawless is one of our industry’s very best! The success of his Tampa cluster is a direct reflection of his ability to get the most out of his employees in every corner of the building. The culture he has created in Tampa is focused on winning and is dedicated to making each employee feel like they are a part of something special. Radio is lucky to have a leader like Keith.


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