(By Ed Ryan) Every once in awhile a press release floats into your inbox that, after seeing the headline, you say to yourself, “Well….that’s a bummer.” And that’s exactly what happened Tuesday when a press release headlined: “Chuck DuCoty Announced His Retirement” arrived.
Chuck DuCoty is truly one of radio’s good guys. NRG CEO Mary Quass said of her COO, “I have come to admire and respect the positive impact he has had on so many over the years. We are all better for having known him. I can only hope to leave a legacy half as meaningful to this industry as he has.” Those are powerful words from someone this industry also respects and admires tremendously. DuCoty, now 70, and a two-time throat cancer survivor, has blessed this industry with over 50 years of his professional life. He’ll try retirement in 2018. Here’s our extended interview with probably the most famous person ever to come out of Coshocton, Ohio, NRG COO Chuck DuCoty.
Radio Ink: Why are you retiring and how tough is it to walk away from NRG?
Chuck DuCoty: Leaving NRG Media is easily the toughest thing I’ve ever done. There was a lot of soul searching, anxiety, gnashing of teeth, and a couple of hysterical moments as I weighed the decision. Poor Mary Quass had to put up with me while I went through the process but she was great, as she always is.
Fifteen years ago, I had throat cancer and thankfully came out of that healthy and cancer-free. At the beginning of August this year, on a routine checkup with my ENT who was part of the original oncology team, she discovered a new tumor near my larynx. She did surgery four days later. Once again, I am fortunate that she was able to remove the tumor, things are great and I’m once again cancer-free. However, when you walk over to the edge of the abyss and look down it changes your outlook on things. When you are led to the abyss for a second look down it changes how you view the landscape completely. Coinciding with the latest “look” I celebrated my 70th birthday and the runway looks a lot shorter than it did when I was a young pup. So while my health is really good and I’m very active, I took this as a sign that it’s time to get to the next chapter in my life and enjoy my family and friends. Before the first of August my plan was to work another one or two years, but I’m reminded of the old Yiddish proverb “Man plans, God laughs.” My plans changed.
Radio Ink: Looking back, what do you think of the very successful career you’ve put in the books?
Chuck DuCoty: I’m blessed. I have had the pleasure of working for some incredible companies, Hearst, Emmis and, of course, NRG Media. Along the way I’ve gotten to work with some amazingly talented people, many of whom I still call my friends to this day. I’ve had a career doing what I love, in an industry I love, working with people. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Radio Ink: What do you consider your biggest success in radio?
Chuck DuCoty: Clearly being able to build NRG Media with Mary Quass and Jim Smith. We set out to make this a destination company in an industry where there aren’t enough of them these days. I honestly believe we succeeded in that and I’m really proud of the team and culture we have created. NRG Media operates in small and mid-size markets, and while I’ve had experience in the major markets I like to say that in our size markets these days we still get to do the kind of radio that we all got in the business for.
Radio Ink: You climbed the ranks from the programming side to management to COO. Can that be done today and what advice do you have for anyone with that goal?
Chuck DuCoty: I think it’s harder but it’s still very possible. I was blessed to work for David Barrett at the Hearst Corporation who wasn’t afraid to take a guy from programming and give him his first General Manager’s position in Milwaukee. I think I prepared for that position by expanding my horizons outside of programming. Learning the sales process, learning from our sales management team, immersing myself into the complete budget process and learning how to read and manage P&L’s were all things I had the opportunity to do in addition to my programming responsibilities that prepared me to take the next step. I still believe that’s possible for anyone to do that in 2017 if they have the right management and mentors. One other thought. When I first expressed to David that I wanted to be a General Manager, he said, “You need to begin by dressing the part”. That didn’t mean I started wearing suits to programming meetings but I did put the jeans and t-shirts in the back of the closet. Parenthetically, I would add that it was in Milwaukee that I first got to work with Mary Quass when the stations were sold to Capstar. That was the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
Radio Ink: What would you like to see radio do differently right away and do you think radio is in a good place?
Chuck DuCoty: I believe radio is in a great spot and it’s an exciting time to be in the business. Our digital footprint opens up tremendous opportunities that we couldn’t even imagine as little as a few years ago. We have new distribution channels to reach people in new and exciting ways and further enhance and solidify our brands. With that, however, come new challenges and responsibilities. I am very concerned, for example, that the audience is paying closer attention to our digital streams than the programmers are. I recently was listening to a station streaming out of New York run by a major radio company. They played the same PSA nine times in a row. It happened the next hour. And the next. Then it happened again the next day. And the day after that. I kept listening to see if anyone was going to correct it. I finally gave up, figuring no one cared enough, so why should I. As more and more people use streaming as their distribution option for our stations, it’s critical that our programmers make that experience every bit as good as the over-the-air experience. If not, we’re killing our brands at a time when this distribution method can grow our audiences. Listening to streams will only grow as more and more people adopt smart speakers.
Radio Ink: What will you miss the most about the radio industry and what will you do with your spare time now?
Chuck DuCoty: There’s so much I will miss, starting with the people. I’ll miss working with Mary Quass and the corporate team in Cedar Rapids. Mary has been a great partner, mentor, and friend over the years. And I’ll miss working with the managers and teams in our individual markets. They are a talented group of broadcasters that I’ve watched grow and succeed over the years. I’ll miss the excitement and the adrenalin rush of a great ratings book, hitting a budget, seeing a member of our team grow to the next level. I’ll miss that a lot. And I’ll miss my colleagues in the business. I will stay connected, however. Mary and I have agreed that I am available for special projects that may arise, and I plan to continue to represent NRG Media on COLRAM and the Nielsen Advisory Council, which I think is critically important as Nielsen moves to continuous measurement in the diary markets where NRG resides.
In my newfound spare time, my wife and I hope to travel a lot. I know everyone says that when they retire and not a lot of people follow through on that but we have always traveled a lot and I already have three road trips in the works. And we intend to spend more time with our daughter and grandchildren. Having said that, 60 days into this my wife may be calling Mary and begging her to find something for me to do to get me out of the house.
Send Chuck a note thanking him for all the years he’s put in to make radio a better industry than it was when he entered the business, at [email protected]
And please leave your comments or memories about working with Chuck below.