Entertain people, engage with people, make a difference in their lives.
It was a radio station that
just absolutely pulled you in.
And I think that's what we
have not done enough of.
VO: Welcome to BRANDwidth On Demand,
your guide to rebooting radio.
If you can make a difference in somebody's
community, and make a difference in their
life, that's when you have a chance to
really create a special relationship.
Bandwidth on demand.
Rebooting radio with a different
take on all radio can be.
Now your guides through the metamorphosis.
David Martin and author of
the book, BRANDwidth Media
Branding, coach Kipper McGee.
Dave: This time, our guest really needs
no introduction, so we'll keep it brief.
Jeff Smulyan is a radio broadcasting
pioneer who has helped to shape
the industry for over 40 years.
Founder and CEO of Emmis
Communications, a diversified
media company, often regarded...
As one of the best operators
in the history of radio,
Kipper: ...Not to mention, he's got
a great book for any broadcaster.
It's called Never Ride A
Rollercoaster Upside Down..
It's the Ups, Downs, and
Reinvention of an Entrepreneur.
Dave: We can't wait to learn more.
BRANDwidth on Demand is
proud to welcome Jeff Smulyan
Jeff: Thank you.
So Emmis was founded on
the Hebrew word for truth.
So we're going to start
with a truthy hardball.
Smulyan, what's your favorite
radio station of all time, and in
your opinion, what made it great?
Well, it's funny.
Obviously I should say some of ours.
Power 106, K-SHE 95,
our first station, WENS.
When I was a kid, my favorite
radio station was KHJ Los Angeles.
My friend Dick Ferguson sent me an air
check of CKLW, and I was on a plane the
other day, and then I was listening to
KHJ, and I remembered how big an impact
that had on my life when I was in college.
, Robert W.
Morgan, and the Real Don Steele,
and Scotty Brink, and it was just,
it was a magical radio station.
Of the ones I never owned, that was
the one I was the most excited about.
Kipper: Yeah, and obviously
that was the Drake format and
Ron Jacobs and all those guys.
But in your opinion, Jeff, what
could radio today learn from
what KHJ was doing back then?
Jeff: Entertain people, engage with
people, make a difference in their lives.
When I thought about it, it
was a radio station that just
absolutely pulled you in.
, and I think that's what we
have not done enough of.
You, if you can make a difference
in somebody's community and make
a difference in their life, that's
when you have a chance to really
create a special relationship.
Dave: You know, Jeff, you've created and
maintained some tremendous radio brands,
and, Emmes is often thought to be one
of the best operators in the business.
What are some of the traits that make a
great radio company, and how do you see
those traits evolving in the coming years?
Jeff: I think it's
always about the culture.
I really do.
I think that it's about the
relationship you have with your people.
That's the most important thing, a
culture where everybody collaborates,
a culture where everybody has a
stake in the outcome, a culture where
everybody respects one another, I think
is the single most important thing.
Kipper: So looking at the entire
world of media right now, you've
seen a lot of things come and go.
You've seen evolution from probably
records to carts, to CD, to MP3s, to
WAV files and all of that kind of stuff.
But we're just in the middle of it.
In fact, people have said we encountered
the slowest change last year that
we'll ever see in our lifetimes.
So I guess my question is from your
vantage point, what do you think is
one of the most important things that
a radio broadcaster can do today to
really be ready for what's down the pike?
Jeff: Again, I think fragmentation
has changed all of our lives.
It's changed the radio business
dramatically that, when I grew up, you had
five or six radio stations in a market.
, Today you may have 25 and
you have podcast and you have
streaming, and you have Sirius XM.
So they have so many more choices.
Again, I go back to providing
content that matters to people.
If you're an air talent, relate to your
audience, be involved in their lives.
Nothing substitutes for that.
The localism, the ability to be engaged
makes all the difference in the world.
Dave: And what do you see as the role
of local radio in the years ahead, Jeff?
, Jeff: I think as a practical
matter, everything is probably
going to diminish a bit.
Because there are so many more choices,
and because we have a generation of kids
who have not grown up with it this much.
It was a, when I grew up, radio
was a major part of our lives.
That's not quite the case, but I
still think there'll be a place
for stations that are doing
content, that resonates with people.
And I think radio's unique
selling point is it is local.
, none of the streaming services
are, none of the satellite services
are, whether local podcasts or
just as many that are, universal.
So I think if you can be the place
in the community where, , I sound
like a broken record here, but
that's how you resonate with people.
Kipper: We absolutely agree.
But one of the things that we keep
hearing from our client stations, and
I'm sure you've encountered in your
markets as well, is there's that kind
of push between maintaining budget.
The budgetary needs versus the reality
needs and so many stations are just
cutting staff and really past cutting fat.
They're cutting the bone and in many
cases, they just aren't able or don't
choose to have local people, and in some
cases, even local salespeople there, how
would you recommend that that be balanced?
Jeff: Well, the problem is
companies took on too much debt.
And when they took on too much debt,
they did two things that I think are
very, very harmful to the industry.
One, they added a lot of inventory because
they said we got to make our numbers in
an industry which isn't growing, five or
seven percent a year like it did forever.
They said, okay, the only way to
make that up is add inventory.
That harmed the
relationship with audiences.
And then they said, you know what , we
can pipe in music from a thousand miles
away, cut the local air staff, cut
the local sales staff and while those
things may be necessary for companies
that have leverage ratios that are
sky high, I find it hard to believe
that those enterprises could succeed.
And I think the proof's in the pudding.
I think the excess inventory and
the decline of local air status.
I have a friend who runs two
markets for a major company.
I think there are less than, I don't
know, 12 people on the staff in each
market for four or five radio stations.
I don't have the problem
with their balance sheets.
, One of the things if you read the
book is how we tackled the debt of
the industry, but we were fortunate.
We paid it all off.
We have no debt , but when you
have that kind of debt, it's
just, it's a death spiral.
And I think that's what you're seeing with
a lot of the companies in the industry.
Dave: Yeah, no doubt about it, Jeff.
Now, you've done some amazing
things in your career from heading
up a media company to owning
a major league baseball team.
What's been the most challenging job?
Jeff: The most challenging job, I think,
was the one I just alluded to when
your company is awash in debt and the
economy's collapsed and all of a sudden
one day you think you have a manageable
debt level and the next thing you
find out you're technically bankrupt.
We were fortunate.
I'm surrounded by a bunch of
great people and we rolled up
our sleeves and we solved it.
Now I've also said when you own a
major league baseball team, instead
of making your mistakes in private,
you make your mistakes some
days in front of 35, 000 people.
So that's a little bit of a
problem, but I think surviving
the economic crises, which every
human being is going to go through.
My favorite saying is, I think
that's why I titled the book, Never
Ride a Rollercoaster Upside Down
because life's a rollercoaster.
And nobody has a straight line
to go from success to success.
Kipper: So if you were to offer one key
lesson from the book that every radio
person should really take to heart, what
would be the big moral to the story?
Jeff: I think the big
moral, I'll give you two.
One, my late mother used to say, and
I believe it and we practice it here
every day, in life you gotta laugh.
Have fun and laugh all the time.
And the other thing is never
jeopardize your integrity.
I have a favorite saying that if your
word is good, nothing else matters.
And if your word isn't
good, nothing else matters.
So be somebody that people believe.
Kipper: So As Dave mentioned,
you have done just a lot of
amazing things in your career.
So are there any moments that really
just made you realize that, boy, I am
in the sightline of a lot of people?
Jeff: Well, we've done
so many crazy things.
I talked about David Letterman was
my first midday guy at the first
station I ran before I started Emmis
and of course, learning with David.
And you know, I always
tell the story about.
David was a talk station and you
were appealing to an older audience.
And I'll never forget.
I came back from lunch one day
and a listener called and said.
Letterman's a communist.
And I said, why do you say that?
He said, well, I called him
and I said, they're definitely
communists in Carmel, Indiana.
And you know what he told me?
And I said, gee, I don't know.
And he said, he told me you
got to give them Carmel.
The football team's lousy and
there's never a good place to park
and they're tearing the roads up.
So give the communist Carmel.
That was the kind of stuff Dave did.
I mean, we had ever, we had Don Imus,
we, yeah, K-SHE, we started the world's
first all sports station at WFAN.
And they called it Smullyan's Folly.
Jim Lampley called it
the Vietnam War of Emmis.
And I have another favorite
saying that's in the book.
The line between being a genius
and an idiot is very fine.
And, , I have a chapter idiot to
genius, which is the birth of all sports
radio that nobody thought would work.
People have asked me , did you think
someday there'd be 700 all sports
radio stations when you started this?
And I said, I didn't think there'd be one.
Cause I didn't think he'd take it.
But it worked.
So I went from idiot to genius.
And then the next chapter
is genius to idiot.
Where I bought the Seattle Mariners.
And I was kind of the boy wonder.
And one of my friends came
to the ballpark one night.
He watched me sign autographs
for 30 minutes after a game.
And he said, any society that wants your
autograph is a society which is doomed.
Which may have been fair.
But I, I became the boy wonder.
And then and then.
The roof fell in and we
didn't, we lost lots of money
and we put the team for sale.
So I went from genius to
idiot on that project.
So that's life, that's
what makes life fun.
Dave: That's terrific.
Kipper: So looking at it, , you've
surrounded yourself with
some really great people.
Rick Cummings, and down the road, you
mentioned a lot of them in the book,
but just clicking back a notch, we know
there's truth, but are there other traits
or characteristics that you look for in
people that you want for positions of
responsibility, whether it's a GM or a PD
group guy, whatever, what do you look for?
Jeff: You look for number
one, you want smart people.
You want people who are self starters.
You want people who are collaborative,
who work well with others, what
people that are upbeat, happy.
, you want people that are not political.
We have a culture where I always
say one of the commandments of
Emmis is commit your mistakes.
I found that if I can say to
people, hey, I screwed up, I was
wrong, it empowers everybody else.
Companies where everybody says
it's not my fault, it's the other
guy's fault are usually companies
that are destined to fail.
So I take great pride in the fact that
at Emmis, it's very collaborative and if
people screw up, they say, I screw it up.
Dave: We're with the CEO of Emmis
Communications, Jeff Smulyan.
Hey, somebody you'd love to hear from.
We'd love to hear your suggestions.
Just email show at brandwithondemand.
com or reach out to us on social.
BRANDwidthPlus on Insta,
Facebook, and Twitter.
That's BRANDwidth P l
u s BRANDwidth- plus.
Kipper: Hey, if you're new to the
podcast, we'd love to say welcome
and please be sure to hit the
follow button wherever you get this
Dave: Coming up, Jeff offers
advice, an opportunity that
may be hiding in plain sight.
Spot: Musicmaster, less stress, more.
Hey, this is Dave Tyler.
And maybe it's just me, but I love uptempo
songs coming out of the legal ID at the
top of the hour, as well as out of my
stop sets, it's kind of like saying,
all right, we're done with business.
Let's get back to the party to do this.
I use clock filters in these
positions that only choose
medium up or uptempo songs.
Sounds great every time.
Easy to set up.
If you have any questions, just shoot
me an email at Dave@Musicmaster.com.
Music Scheduling the way it should be.
VO: Opportunities...hidden in plain sight.
BRANDwidth On Demand
Dave: We're with the CEO of Emmis
Communications, Jeff Smulyan.
Jeff, what's the one opportunity.
That you think station
people can take advantage of.
It's maybe something that's
hiding in plain sight.
Jeff: Well, I'm not sure if there was
something that was hiding in plain sight.
I would have, I wouldn't
have already found it.
So maybe that doesn't exist, but again,
I think it's creating a culture, uh,
where you have fun and you, and you
relate to the people you deal with.
I've said it before, but , creating an
environment , that resonates with people.
That's out of the ordinary, that's
sometimes, you know, out of the box
thinking, but that resonates with
your listeners and your advertisers.
It's as simple as that.
, I'm not sure that's not always been there.
It's harder to find in fragmented
times, but the reality is you
know, that's still a secret.
Dave: You bet.
Jeff: Thanks guys.
It's great to spend
time with Jeff Smulyan.
Links to Jeff's book, the Emmis corporate
site, and more, all in the show notes.
Just scroll down on your phone.
Kipper: As always, thanks to
exec producer Cindy Huber for
making this all come together.
And to our associate producer, Hannah
B for booking and coming up next.
Erica: Hi, I'm Erica Mandy
with The Newsworthy podcast.
I'm going to be sharing how you can
make your newscast more objective and
gain more trust from your audience.
That's coming up next
on BRANDwidth On Demand.
Dave: That's a wrap, kipper.
Patience is important.
We'll talk about that in the one minute.
Find it in the show notes
I'm Dave Martin.
Kipper: And I'm Kipper McGee.
May all your BRANDwidth be Wide.