Climbing the management ladder is no easy task. The competition is fierce, and there are only so many jobs in radio management to go around. What’s going to make you stand out? Who teaches you the ropes and rules when you are on the way up, so you don’t come crashing down before you make it to the top? Mentors do. And nearly every manager we speak to tells us that if it weren’t for a mentor, they would not be where they are today. So we reached out to some of Radio Ink‘s Best Managers from 2017 and asked them this question: Who mentored you, and what did they do to help you succeed?
General Manager, WHUR/Washington, DC
First of all, my parents, who stressed hard work and pursuit of your dream, fully supported my dream to become a broadcast engineer. They provided transportation to and from the radio station where I worked as a teenager and were adamant about the fact that there was no such word as “can’t.” They repeatedly stressed that there is always a way in which to succeed or to accomplish a given task and that you must give it your all and then some when pursuing your dream(s).
Later, I had three mentors: Dr. Owen D. Nichols, vice president for administration, Howard University; Bryant G. Harris, director of Architectural and Engineering Services, Howard University; and Crawford McGill, technical manager, WETA-TV. They gave me great advice and encouragement regarding my career as a “manager.” It wasn’t until much later in life that it became obvious to me that they all saw in me what I could not see in myself. All three stressed the importance of teamwork; of bridging the gap between the technical, operational, and administrative worlds; of taking calculated risks; and of being transparent.
John Borders and Don Turner, the CEO and COO of Sunburst Media, took a chance on a 29-year-old me, promoted from sales to sales manager to market manager. They taught me every aspect of the business, setting high expectations to, first, deliver the very best radio stations. Next, to set a culture of high accountability to deliver revenue accordingly by hiring, training, and retaining top sales talent. Finally, they let me try new things, leading to the lessons only failing and learning the process can teach.
After selling the group, Jay Meyers, Dave Crowl, John Laton, and Jon Pinch were next-step mentors who gave me additional opportunities, pushed me just beyond my comfort zone, held me accountable, and collaborated to help. The same is true with our current leadership team and mentors Dave Milner, Bob Walker, and Mike McVay. They walk the talk and model the leadership foundation Mary Berner is building that is turning Cumulus around.
I was fortunate to have Rolf Pepple bring me into this business and get me started in sales, which led to my first management position. Willie Davis gave me a shot to manage stations in Milwaukee when I was 29. I was recruited to CBS by Dan Mason, and learned a lot about major-market radio from Bill Figenshu. Kim Guthrie brought me to Cox, and taught me a lot about culture, content, and systems. Weezie Kramer brought me to Entercom and introduced me to the systems, a wealth of resources, and allows me tremendous freedom to oper- ate our market-leading Greenville cluster.
Edie Hilliard was my mentor at American Comedy Network. She was smart and passionate about the industry and very demanding. She also empowered me to run ACN the way I saw fit. Every time I have managed to turn something around, it was because the bosses allowed me to do it my way. Every time I was micro-managed or stifled, it backfired. I never stayed at jobs like that for long.
During both of my tenures with NRG Media, my boss, COO Chuck DuCoty, has been my most important mentor in radio. He loves the business, he knows every aspect of it, so his counsel is always valuable, and he has a novel idea: hire good people and then let them do their jobs, with full corporate support.
He has a similar relationship with our president/CEO, Mary Quass, the visionary leader of our company. Come to think of it, I have spent a lot of time in radio working at woman-led firms, and I’m all the happier for it. This is a company where everybody has a chance to rise.
Early in my career, it was Merrell Hansen who mentored me and taught me to really listen to a customer’s needs. Midway through my career, Barry Drake taught me to creatively problem-solve. For the past 15 years, Drew Horowitz, president and COO of Hubbard Radio, has mentored me on the tenets of focus, discipline, execution, and urgency. Drew’s passion for consistent top performance is now part of my muscle memory.
Answer: It is really several people. My first GM, Bob Fromme at WREN in Topeka, got to the office by 6 a.m. every morning. The guy taught me to get in early and hit the ground running every day before anyone else. At Susquehanna, Dan Halyburton taught me that a great GM or market manager had to learn how to listen to the prod- uct constantly and know when it was off the mark. Susquehanna VP Nancy Vaeth taught me patience and to think about every decision and not be impulsive.
Susquehanna President Dave Kennedy taught me a lot about analytical thinking and to be measured in all deci- sionmaking. SVP Larry Grogan taught me that this business will always change and to be open to change. Most recently, SVP Dave Milner and CEO Mary Berner at Cumulus. They both realize that most great ideas start with your people at the local level, and they really encourage that.
In the course of my career I have worked for many great managers who provided guidance and support and belief in me. At Susquehanna, Russ Schell was the PD who really believed in me as an air talent and gave me the opportunity to succeed. Dave Kennedy and Louis Appel were living role models of servant leadership. Larry Grogan showed us how to be deeply supportive while setting high standards of accountability.
At Emmis, Jeff Smulyan was and remains to this day one of the most caring and passionate broadcasters I have ever met. Pat Walsh is one of the brightest leaders I have had the privilege of working for. The danger of making lists is that you inevitably leave people out, but these names all played meaningful roles in my success.
Victor Sansone was a great mentor for me throughout my career at ABC Radio Atlanta. He taught me the basics for sure, but like any great mentor, he taught me things you would never find in a management manual, like the nuances of managing a team as individuals, and the importance of constantly reviewing revenue and ratings metrics used to predict the future instead of lamenting the past. He taught me the keys to understanding how you are perceived by clients and co-workers and how to modify those perceptions when needed, and the value of having consistent and clear expectations. He also taught me how to order a porterhouse steak and the perfect bottle of cabernet. #LifeCoach.
I have had a number of mentors, but none more influential than Jim Brewer Sr. and Dave Strycker. Jim’s family-owned WTCJ in Tell City, IN, and he was the GM when Dave (PD and morning guy) hired me as a 19-year-old jock. WTCJ was a very professional radio station that happened to be located in a small town. Jim and Dave set the bar high for a lot of us getting into the business. As they say, “They walked the walk.” Contemporaries who passed through WTCJ include Milt McConnell, Denny Nugent, and a very young Greg Strassell. I worry that young people interested in the business today don’t have a point of entry like WTCJ.