Why Mentors Matter


(By Deborah Parenti) A recent Radio Ink Magazine focus on tomorrow’s radio superstars included a roundtable discussion with managers about mentors who had influenced their careers. That feature reminded me of some of the professionals who have left a lasting impression on me and impacted my career. A few you may know, some you won’t. Some have been bosses, others associates and peers. Learning comes from many people who collectively write your personal book of wisdom.

A smile will open doors. Home from college for the summer, I was looking for an internship at a radio station. Someone put me in contact with the late Ray Spahr, who at that time was the sales manager for WHIO radio in Dayton. They didn’t have any openings, but I will never forget his parting words: “Keep your smile. A smile opens doors.” And Ray was right. A sincere, warm smile helps open not only doors, but minds, almost every time.

I believe you can do it. From my first day in radio, the late Jim Bennett, general
manager of WING in Dayton and my first mentor, encouraged, nudged, and inspired
me to develop and grow my career. In doing so, however, he didn’t just say, “You can do it.” He took it one important step beyond, telling me he believed I could do it. There’s nothing like someone you respect telling you they believe in you. It changes everything.

Don’t take no from someone who can’t say yes. I’m not sure if he coined the phrase, but this was a mantra of the late Bill “Be Fabulous” Burton. And it dovetailed with another saying of his: always “Sell at the top.” Getting to the ultimate decisionmaker is not always easy, and in some cases, seemingly impossible — but you have to try. The more deeply and broadly you are engaged up and down a client’s chain of command, the better the chance of not only establishing a strong partnership, but maintaining it in the years to come.

Make the numbers dance. Shortly after being appointed to a newly created station post of research director, I was sent to our national rep firm, Eastman Radio, for a crash course in everything from calculating GRPs (before computers) to reach and frequency (before the slide rules). Maddie Schreiber told me something I never forgot and always incorporated in every subsequent presentation. “Make the numbers dance.” In other words, bring them to life with examples that create pictures in the mind of the audience.

When magic walks in — make room for it. Glenn Bell, president of Stoner Broadcasting (later part of American Radio Systems), counseled, “I never regretted paying someone too much. I did regret not being willing to pay them enough.” Glenn was right. The best
organizations have the best talent pool — people who can help drive success. Like many things in life, some come in by chance. Out of nowhere, someone walks through the door whom you instinctively know can add a new dimension or take the company to the next level. It may mean stretching and even going out on a limb, but if your gut says it’s right, do it.

This was something else Glenn Bell told me, on a drive to the airport one sunny afternoon. Again, he was right. Most people in radio are good people. They are compassionate, decent, and giving. They care about their communities, their people, and their peers. Be that kind of person, and set an example for others to do the same. Take a minute and encourage that new rep or air talent. Offer an ear to the one who just lost a job or found out they have a medical condition. Give to the Broadcasters Foundation. Plug that local charity or community event on your station platforms.

You’ll not only feel better for it — you’ll be better.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]


  1. That’s awesome Deb! We meet special people along the way who make our experiences not only different but better. It’s important to impart that information or experience to those we work with and so on. Especially during these times, these words and moments, although done selflessly, are hardly forgotten and can help you in the future.


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