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The Valuable Lessons I Learned In 2015

It’s common for each of us to take a few minutes each year to walk down memory lane and reflect on all we experienced during the previous 12 months. We re-live all of our trials and tribulations, and make promises to ourselves for the new year that we’ll soon forget, and hope to simply live long enough to do it all again the following December.

Except this time, I’m actually appreciating the process and taking the time to enjoy everything I endured in 2015. On the surface, it was a year which started with me working inside the halls of a radio station, and ended with me operating a business out of a home office. That normally doesn’t sound like a year full of growth and optimism. But for yours truly, it was everything I could’ve hoped for and it gives me great confidence that 2016 will be even better.

We all reach a point in our lives when we have to face a difficult situation and make a tough choice. Although I’ve had more than my fair share of them over the years, none were as challenging, stressful, important and satisfying as the one I made in 2015.

jbdaLast Christmas, I went home to New York to spend the holiday’s with my family. My contract in San Francisco was expiring in June 2015 and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to stay. Being separated from my son by 3,000 miles was emotionally exhausting, and after nine years of flying back and forth every other weekend, I finally had enough.

There were also some personal things developing in his life that I knew needed to be addressed and I couldn’t tackle those issues if I wasn’t nearby. I talked with my son and parents and listened to their feedback and then flew back to San Francisco to have the same conversation with my girlfriend. She knew I was mentally ready to return to New York, even if it meant a major change professionally.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I poured every bit of my heart and soul into building 95.7 The Game. There were many twists and turns and unexpected changes, but in the end we built a product that grew from 24th to 3rd in less than 4 years. That’s something I’m forever proud of and it can never be taken away from me or the crew that helped create it.

As I reflected on the previous four years, I felt like I had accomplished the goals I set for myself when I accepted the job. I had built a quality brand and earned the respect of my staff and executives inside the company and now it was time for the station to receive a new message and hopefully ascend to an even higher level. That challenge now belongs to Don Kollins and I know he’s excited about it.

parcellsOne of my biggest coaching influences is Bill Parcells. If you look at his resume, most of his stints were between 3-5 years. He’d join an organization, build them up, lead them to success, and then move on. The Giants were the only organization where he had a lengthy stay. While Bill Cowher, Bill Belichick, and Tony Dungy preferred working in one location, Parcells gravitated towards change and new challenges.

That’s sort of the way I am. I’m not the type of person who’s going to spend 15-20 years in the same spot. At times, I wish I was. There’s great value in consistency and knowing what to expect but what can I say, I enjoy new challenges and learning from different people.

It’s crazy how certain periods of your career end up resurfacing at later points. I remember having a conversation with Steak Shapiro in St. Louis in 2007 when he co-owned Big League Broadcasting with Andrew Saltzman. Steak was upset with me because he learned that I was talking with another company about a possible Programming opportunity when KFNS was going through some turmoil.

lbSteak asked me “Do you want to be known as the Larry Brown of our business“? I answered “If that means winning an NBA Title in Detroit, going to the Finals in Philadelphia, leading teams in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Indiana, Denver and New Jersey to the playoffs, and winning a National Title in Kansas, then yes I’d love to be Larry Brown.

He wanted to be pissed at me but he knew the response was pretty good and accurate and couldn’t help but laugh. He then reminded me that I better stay put! Which I did a while longer before we eventually went our separate ways.

When I returned to my office in San Francisco last year after the Christmas break, I had made up my mind and knew I had to alert the company. Hiring a Program Director takes time and I cared for the staff and wanted them to be in good hands. I made the choice to share the news with my bosses and they were gracious in the way they handled everything. I was asked to reconsider and take some time to make sure it’s what I truly wanted to do but I knew in my heart it was time to go home and be where my son needed me most.

Many of us in this industry bury ourselves in our work because it’s a highly competitive field. If you take your eye off the ball for a split second, someone else is right behind you ready to run you over. For nine years that approach helped me succeed, but what many of my colleagues didn’t see were the times that I had to share an upstairs bedroom at my parents house just to have a weekend with my son.

JBAIRPORTThey didn’t realize that every other Thursday I’d spend 13-14 hours at work, take a 30 minute ride to the airport, wait an hour to board an overnight flight from California to New York which lasts more than 5 hours, follow it up by renting a car in New York and driving 2 hours north to my family’s home, possibly grabbing a quick 3 hour nap before driving over to pick my son up from school and spending 2 days with him before doing the same travel routine again on Sunday.

They also didn’t see the pain and tears in his eyes when I had to get back into a rental vehicle and drive away, or the numerous texts and phone calls begging me to come home. I loved every bit of the ride professionally but personally it was a struggle. Although I sacrificed more than most people would to stay involved in his life, it still wasn’t fair to a boy who had grown up wanting his Dad to be around every day and could care less about what he did for a living.

I contemplated whether or not I could see myself in San Francisco for 3-4 more years and the answer was an unequivocal no. When you do this job and oversee a company, you can’t do it on a year to year basis. You’re either all-in or all-out. There is no in between.

IMG_2426At this point, my son was thirteen, not four, which was how old he was when this travel schedule began. I wasn’t going to miss his teenage years and development into becoming a man. I couldn’t picture myself not being there when he drove a car for the first time or started his first job. Those things mattered more to me than anything I might accomplish inside a radio station.

When it was time to deal with my pending departure, we collaborated as a group, and made the decision to alert the staff and radio industry of the news in February. Getting the news out in advance was important for attracting great candidates but it was also mentally taxing on me. You can attempt to do things the way you’ve always done them, but when others know you’re dead man walking, and your future is elsewhere, it’s tough to be as sharp, passionate and emotionally connected as you once were.

Luckily I had enough things to keep me busy and a staff which understood my situation, but during that process I learned that providing a five month notice and announcing it publicly isn’t a great idea. It sounded good at the time and was helpful to the company, but it’s impossible to not have the cloud linger over you each day when you walk through your office. It also leaves people unsettled for a long period of time.

957staffMental challenges aside, I was happy and at peace with my decision, more so than I even thought I’d be. It’s easy to second guess yourself when you’re running a great sports radio station in Market #4, in a gorgeous city like San Francisco, working with quality people, for a company like Entercom who believe and invest in the format and treat you extremely well.

Combine that with the fact that I was moving to New York where fewer sports radio programming opportunities exist, and a possible career change or trip to the unemployment line seemed certain. Despite all of that, I had no regrets and was eager to face the unknown.

May 29th then arrived and the long wait was officially over. I said my goodbyes at the radio station, and went to my last Oakland Athletics game where I proudly wore my New York Yankees cap and jersey and didn’t have a care in the world if anyone was bothered by it. My girlfriend Stephanie and I then packed up our home that weekend, and set out on a cross country road trip to get to New York.

A word of advice, if you ever get the opportunity to make a coast to coast drive at any point in your life, do it! It’s well worth it. We traveled from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah to Denver, Colorado to Keystone, South Dakota (drove out of the way to see Mount Rushmore) to Omaha, Nebraska to St. Louis, Missouri to Cleveland, Ohio to Niagra Falls, New York to home! It was a memorable trip which allowed me to unwind, have fun, and forget about what was in my rear view mirror.

Once we arrived home in New York, everything began to come together.

xmaseveMy son was elated to have me home and our bond has grown stronger since I returned. He now lives with me and is happy and healthy and I couldn’t be more happy than I am when we spend time together. That trumps every professional success I’ve had. We found a great place to live and decided after years of discussion to finally get a dog. Our English Bulldog “Trump” is awesome and the joy he’s brought to our lives has been greater than we ever anticipated.

After we got settled, I made a professional decision in August to start a new chapter for my career and explore a side of the industry I had been curious of but never had the nerve to pursue – consulting. I entered into it expecting it to be bumpy for a while and I had to remind myself to stay focused on the big picture, not the immediate returns. That’s easier said than done when you’re as competitive as I am and industry friends are constantly calling to find out when you’re going to return to work.

As I entered this space, I wanted to create a platform to showcase the format strongly. I was committed to writing, networking, and utilizing social media to promote great stories and I believed that if I executed well, new doors would open. Sure enough they have and that part has been exciting.

BSM_TwitterI’ve started forming new relationships and friendships but my friend and fellow consultant Rick Scott wasn’t kidding when he said this wouldn’t be easy. His support and wisdom helped me in my decision to head down this path, and my passion and stubbornness to succeed at it will serve me well entering 2016. I have a long ways to go but I’m committed to further building my brand and proving that my involvement pays dividends for those I do business with.

If there’s one part of the past year’s journey that has surprised me, it’s the way this website has grown and become a bigger priority. It began in June 2014 as a labor of love but I wasn’t producing content on a daily basis. Earlier in my career I wrote a lot but when you’re managing people and programming radio stations, it’s difficult to find time to put your words on a screen and showcase your creativity. This website grew organically and allowed me to reconnect with my creative side which has been personally and professionally rewarding.

In the past year alone, I’ve received compliments about the website from numerous industry people and when exceptional writers like Bernie Miklasz, Richard Deitsch, Ric Bucher and Jay Marriotti reach out and speak favorably about my writing, I’m blown away. Not only are they incredible at painting pictures with words, but they’ve also written for some of the most recognized and successful newspapers and publications in the world. If I can be 10% the writer that any of them are, that would be a huge victory.

Taking attendance inside a building may no longer be part of my routine, but my desire for radio has never been stronger. Because I have the opportunity to listen to shows all across the country and study trends and connect with people throughout the industry, I find myself more informed which helps when I’m creating content, talking with stations, and sharing my opinion.

armynavy2Two things I’m appreciative of are that some of the work on this website has mattered enough to people in the industry that they’ve taken the time to share it with their peers. A few weeks ago I traveled to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy experience and to hear the first thing out of people’s mouth’s be some form of praise for this website and the way it has helped them was very uplifting.

I never imagined that my words would have an impact on people, so when I see someone retweet a column, send me a Facebook or Twitter message, or shoot me a text or email to share how a piece connected with them, it’s very gratifying. Many of the columns I create take hours to complete because I want to be thorough and present good information. I’m also my toughest critic. I don’t concern myself with the word count of a column or how many pieces per day I create, only the quality.

The other part which I’m proud of is that I’ve operated this website as a one-man band. There are no ghost writers, interns, or account executives selling advertising for it, just me. Managing this site while trying to build a business and enjoy my family can be tough at times but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s inspired me in ways I never expected it to.

zach7The growth in popularity though wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of many others.

First, I was fortunate to team up with Zach McCrite who has produced an excellent weekly podcast. If you haven’t listened to an episode yet, make a New Year’s resolution right now to change that in 2016.

Secondly, my friend and former colleague Andy Drake helped me design a great logo and cleaned up some of the bugs that were limiting the website’s potential. And last but not least, I’ve had the privilege of connecting with numerous industry folks who have written some thought provoking opinion pieces for the site which have helped them raise their own profiles while providing a perspective that’s been beneficial to others.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the numerous programmers, talent, market managers, executives, and owners who have helped me gain the right information so I could showcase the format’s brands and personalities in a fair and objective manner.

I don’t fancy myself as a media critic because I know how hard it is to build a successful brand, connect with an audience, and create an amazing show for 3-4 hours per day. I also understand how ratings and negotiations work. While my opinions may differ on occasion from a few of my peers, the intent on my end is to provide quality information and an informed opinion, not embarrass or trash any individual or company.

As fortunate as I’ve been to enjoy some early returns on this new endeavor, I’ve equally learned that there are a few misconceptions about the role of a consultant.

schefter2Believe it or not, I’m not looking to become the Adam Schefter of the sports radio world. Yes I have connections and relationships which help me gain access to critical information. I’m proud of that, enjoy it, and it’s one of the perks from spending two decades in this industry.

That said, I often sit on stories because I’m not interested in hurting someone’s livelihood or damaging a brand. No story and increase in web traffic is worth violating trust. Some may not like that I operate that way, and that’s fine, but I’m going to work the way that I feel most comfortable. If all that mattered was being first to report a story on this format, I’d have no problem doing well in that setting.

Next, I’m a consultant and talent resource, not an agent. I don’t negotiate talent contracts and I’m not going to lead your job search. If I know of things going on and believe there could be a fit, I’ll reach out and mention it. I’m not going to evaluate your past ten airchecks and give you weekly updates or tell every Programmer why you’re the next big thing. I’ll have dialogue with you, provide an honest assessment and pass along updates when I hear of things that may make sense for your career, but I have many masters to serve and can’t focus solely on the needs of an individual talent. If you do great work, and network with the right people, they’ll seek you out when the time is right.

Finally, contrary to what you may believe, a skilled consultant is not expensive. Many operators assume that bringing in an added resource is going to hurt their budget and that’s not accurate. Of course we don’t work for free but if your brand can gain larger success across multiple platforms and your people can improve from an investment in their development, isn’t that worth it?

If I can offer one piece of advice to industry folks as we enter 2016, make a resolution to network more with programmers and executives. If the only time they hear from you is when they have a job opening, they’re going to have little chance to learn anything about you beyond a resume and demo. There’s no excuse for not connecting when most people are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin. Get to know people, interact with them socially as you would with your friends, and when that connection is built and future needs arise, they’ll touch base if you fit the bill.

sixpAs far as improvements are concerned, we’ve got to do a much better job of telling our format’s story. I never realized how protective and nervous many in our industry get when discussing their performance. It was instilled in me years ago to be in control of my own message and to not be afraid to promote the truth when it benefitted those around me. I’ve tried sharing that advice with those I talk to. Some may view it as shameless self-promotion, others may feel it’s breaking some secret code of silence, but from where I sit, if you have a powerful story to share, then why wouldn’t you tell it?

One of radio’s biggest problems is the negativity it receives from outside media outlets. The damage that has been done to the industry’s image has led to stocks plummeting and millions of dollars being lost. We can blame everyone else for not reporting our successes, but if we don’t do our part to address misleading facts and highlight the people who make a huge impact in the lives of the audience each day, then we’re equally to blame.

Maybe I’m naive, but I’d rather sit in front of an advertiser or CEO and answer questions about my work based on the information they’ve read, rather than have to educate them on who I am, what I’ve done, and why I’m worth investing in. You can have the highest rated show, station, or the most innovative idea in the format’s history, but if nobody knows it beyond your own walls, then don’t be surprised when you don’t receive the credit you rightfully deserve.

To those who have shared information and opinions, and been willing to do their part to help increase the awareness of our format, I’d like to say thank you! This website only works if people contribute and take the time to read and learn from it. It’s been great learning from all of you and I hope you’ve gained some insight from me as well.

JB at WTBQWorking inside a radio station has been a huge part of my life for the past 20 years but in 2015 I discovered a new way to help the business I love. I now get to work with different stations, companies, and people, while creating content on my own platform, and with social media a huge influence and big part of our lives, it’s made it very easy to promote so others can gain from it.

One year ago I made a decision for my own personal benefit, and by doing so, it put me in position one year later to do something for the professional benefit of others. It may sound corny but that’s pretty cool to me. But still not as cool as waking up each morning and seeing my son’s face before he heads off to school.

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