Bruce Mittman and Jim Leven are partners in Community Broadcasters. They met in 1986, when Mittman was visiting a station where Leven was working as the manager. Mittman eventually purchased that station in 1986 and the two have been close friends ever since. Their radio careers wound around and back together again. Along the way, like many creative and Type A personalities, they were both fired. It’s how you deal with being fired along the way that makes you who you are.
Mittman and Leven are on the cover of the current issue of Radio Ink Magazine. Our interview with the guys is only available in the print issue of Radio Ink. If you do not subscribe, here’s just a sample of what you’re missing.
Twenty years after they met, and several jobs and recessions later, Mittman and Leven launched a new radio company and called it Community Broadcasters. As you can imagine from the name, they set a goal to superserve small- and mid-sized markets by being live and local as often as possible. The vision of Community Broadcasters is to be “a voice for the community.” They’ve committed to local programming in all the markets where they operate, with a focus on local news, sports, and events.
Jim Leven is a 30-year radio veteran and owned a highly profitable 15-station radio group in five markets in the Northeast. When the company was sold, he provided a 38 percent internal rate of return to investment backers. Mittman, who currently owns the 15th-largest advertising agency in Boston, also had a 30-year radio career. He served as a successful marketing and station group manager and owner, and as vice president and general manager for Entercom Boston, and had a long track record of success in troubleshooting and turnarounds. Together, Jim Leven and Bruce Mittman have owned and operated more than 70 radio stations.
As of this issue, Community Broadcasters, which launched in 2006 with the purchase of stations in Watertown and Ogdensburg, New York, is now up to 46 signals in eight markets and poised and ready to grow even more.
Radio Ink: You were both fired. How did that make you feel, and how did it help your careers?
Leven: I tell people I’ve been fired from more jobs than they’ve had. When you’re an on-air guy, it just happens. A few times I deserved it, and a few times not. At one station, KWNZ, I was [sexually] harassed, and it caused my dismissal. I was leaving the radio station with my little box in the back seat of my Honda Accord and drove to the nearest pay phone. My dad was a lawyer, and I told him in tears how I felt. He said, “How much do you make?” I proudly said “$30,000,” and he said, “I could get you triple that in damages.” He asked if I thought I would make more than $90,000 the rest of my career. I said, “I hope so,” and he said “Me, too.” He was one of the kindest people, but he gave me two pieces of advice and then hung up. He said, “Grow up and get a job.”
Obviously, we were not going to sue the company. In radio, people get fired a lot. It’s incumbent on people to look at it as a learning experience and that as one door gets shut, another opens. It gives you an opportunity to go to the next step, and if you have planned your life properly, the next step is always a better step.
Mittman: My career had been successful except when I had to fold my tent down and get back into the workforce. That failed entrepreneurial experience allowed me the courage and belief in myself that I will make something work. I had just been nominated General Manager of the Year by Radio & Records. I had the highest growth in ratings and profit, and I got fired. I walked away saying, “I’m too good for this to be my final chapter.” You have to believe in yourself.
My wife said, “You have not been happy since the purchase.” They had a different agenda. We had been purchased three times in four years, and the last purchase I got a bullet. If you bounce me, I will bounce higher next time. I don’t like losing.
I went back and got a job as the president of FNX Radio Network and did that for a year. We had five stations. I had a good profile in the Boston market. After a year, I resigned. I realized I wanted to be back on my own as an entrepreneur. My failure was a good learning experience for success. I started Mittcom — I sat alone in an office and decided I would start an agency again. I picked up a number of accounts, and the rest is history.
Leven: When I’m in buildings, I encourage people to consider themselves rabid dogs. You never give up. I don’t know anybody more resilient than Bruce. You need to be to be successful. The world doesn’t hand you things.
Mittman: You don’t learn a ton from success, but you do with failure. I think everybody needs to fail to grow — at least, most human beings. Some people can get through and learn to make their mistakes without burning themselves in the process.
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