That’s what former WGN Chicago (and now Entercom Chicago Market Manager) Jimmy deCastro called Todd Manley when Manley worked for deCastro as the WGN VP of Content & Programming. Now Manley sits in the GM seat, running one of the most recognizable set of call letters in the country. What’s his plan now that he has the keys to the WGN kingdom? To maximize the magic of the WGN culture. We recently interviewed Manley about his rise to the top, how he manages and leads his team, and why people say he makes it fun to come to work every day.
Radio Ink: Was it always your goal to run a radio station?
Todd Manley: Shockingly, the answer is no — but I think the word “run” might be the reason. I’m in a great position to fuel an amazing collaborative of leaders. From Jeff Hill, our Director of Sales, who is brilliant at developing non-spot revenue programs, to Tabitha Green, our Director of Marketing and Digital Innovation. She’s a genius when it comes to brand development. Then, there’s Stephanie Menendez who is thriving as our Director of News & Operations. Steph has a critical ear and is truly gifted when it comes to community building. My goal has always been to harness great talent, turn them loose, and merchandise it with passion. Our teams make this place run and I just blow wind in their sails.
Radio Ink: Why do you believe you were chosen to run WGN?
Todd Manley: I’m committed to eliminating silos. We’re all in sales and we’re all in content now. Talent and revenue teams need to collaborate constantly and I’ve worked hard to foster that environment. I like to think of myself as the point person at a very profitable think tank where many people are running their own success stories. I’m forever indebted to Larry Wert for what he has taught me over the past year.
Radio Ink: You have been given the keys to some legendary call letters. What’s your plan now?
Todd Manley: Maximize the magic of our culture. We’re a start-up with the powerful advantage of living in the skin of a 90+ year old brand. WGN Radio is really a 360-experience now. We’re about to hit our 100 millionth connection on our audio stream. There’s 30+ weekly episodic podcasts we produce that are on demand through the WGNplus platform. We’re also simulcasting 10 hours of AM and PM drive with Steve Cochran and Roe Conn on CLTV (Chicagoland Television). The overarching goal now for WGN Radio’s traditional distribution is to create an experience that’s better than EVER at “being in the moment.” It isn’t enough to be live and local 24/7 — you have to create a sonic landscape that keeps your from turning off the car or shutting down the stream. We also have designs on expanding distribution. WGN Everywhere.
Radio Ink: Former GM Jimmy deCastro said, “Todd Manley makes coming to work fun.” How do you make coming to work fun for people?
Todd Manley: That may have started the day we took the Polar Plunge in Lake Michigan. We’re family. We laugh a lot together. We cry a little together. Some of that began with weekly creative circles — a meeting of rotating groups of six from all departments in a huddle room we call Club 720. One of those chats gave birth to a billboard line dreamed up by one of our account reps: Delightfully Dysfunctional. We also have a regular circuit of outings call Radio Recess. A crazy list of team adventures that includes paddle boarding, alpine ski jumping, ax throwing, aerial training, curling, guided meditation, escape rooms, and more.
Radio Ink: What is your philosophy on treating people?
Todd Manley: You give people the pride of authorship. Hire great minds and trust them to be great. Teach and lead your mission and brand with such clarity people can invent and execute using their own sense of invention.
Radio Ink: Who were some of your mentors and why?
Todd Manley: deCastro leads the list professionally, because he’s a force of nature. I love him for his mantra “catch people doing something right.” He also operates from a place of great transparency. In a culture like that, you can build trust. My parents were great mentors. My dad just loves people. All kinds of people. I like to think I inherited that. My mom has a deep faith and that’s magic on tough days. Then there’s my wife, above all. She’s a student of Eastern philosophy — I still have a lot to learn from her. She’s fierce and kind and wicked smart.
Radio Ink: What advice do you have for young broadcasters who aspire to be managers?
Todd Manley: Surround yourself with people who know way more than you do.
Reach out to Todd and congratulate him on being a shining example of one of radio’s great leaders at firstname.lastname@example.org