I owe a great deal of my success to R Dub! We met over 15 years ago in the halls of Clear Channel Los Angeles. I was the program director of KBIG and he was the newly appointed PD of Hot 92.3, inbound from Tucson, Arizona. The market manager was touring him around the facility and I stuck my hand out and said hello, and from that point on he’s been the yin to my yang. He was new to L.A. and a major market programming novice, so I offered up some advice and friendship. What I didn’t know at the time was what I would teach him would pale in comparison to what I would learn from him.
We’re both very proud of being PDs in market number two, especially at such young ages. I took the helm of KBIG in 2004 when I was 28, and Dub was 30 when he started at Hot in 2007. We were both young and single, and we had enough money to do pretty much what we wanted, when we wanted. We weren’t rock star rich, but we had nice houses in Los Angeles, which isn’t cheap. We drove nice cars, ate out at great restaurants, and we even had enough money left over to enjoy some luxurious trips to places like Panama, New York and Las Vegas. Today, an itinerary like that for R Dub! isn’t even worthy of a long weekend, but he’ll get to that later in the book.
Everything was going swimmingly. R Dub! had recently purchased a condo in Brazil, and we were planning a trip together so I could go down and check it out. Arbitron had introduced PPM to L.A. about six months earlier, and KBIG was doing tremendously in the ratings. I recall being in a celebratory mood at the Brazilian consulate getting my visa ahead of the trip. I had just received the biggest ratings bonus check of my life, and in just a few weeks I would be on the beaches of Brazil with one of my best friends. Looking back at it now, I was walking around blind without a cane. Even though the world’s financial systems were melting down, I felt immune, probably out of naivete, ego and the belief that ratings would save the day. On January 19th, just a few hours before we were about to leave for Brazil, we were both laid off, along with close to 2000 others from Clear Channel.
Up to that point, I would have classified myself as more the teacher in our relationship and R Dub! the student. I’m a bit older and I had programmed a couple years longer in L.A. so I knew the lay of the land; R Dub! would seek my counsel. However, in the blink of an eye, our roles reversed. I was devastated and shell-shocked after hearing the news. My whole identity and source of income evaporated in a second. Trembling while I was driving home, I got a call from R Dub! who had no idea I had been let go. As I answered the phone, I heard “Closing Time” by Semisonic coming out of the receiver; Dub was gleefully singing it. Here I am, panicked and distraught, sitting on the 134 stuck in traffic, and R Dub! is happy as can be, egging me on to get on a plane and go to Brazil with him in a few hours. It’s important to note that he had no idea at that moment I had also been let go. He was downsized just a few minutes after me, so I had left the building without telling him. After I told him, he was incredibly empathetic, as a good friend should be, but there was no doubt, he was in a much different place than I. Sure, he was bummed and no one likes to lose their gig, but the fact of the matter was that he had set himself up for financial freedom through the creation of his highly successful syndicated show, Sunday Night Slow Jams. Therefore, unlike most people including me, he had multiple sources of income, so losing one wasn’t going to be nearly as life altering to him.
As R Dub! jetted off to Brazil, President Obama was giving his inauguration speech. I sat at home on my couch like many others across the country, watching, while filling out an unemployment claim. Tragically, this is very similar to what’s happening right now to far too many people. R Dub! returned a couple weeks later from Brazil, tanned and relaxed. I, on the other hand, was fraught with anxiety about my future and frantically trying to figure out what to do.
Fortunately, about 18 months before this point, I had met my current business partners, Andreas Sannemann and Oliver Klenk, through a mentor of mine, Tracy Johnson. Andy and Oli were from Stuttgart, Germany (a.k.a. “Benztown”) and were in the jingle production business. They had come to visit the States with aspirations to grow their business, tour stations and learn about the U.S. landscape. During that trip we decided to form a production library company together called Benztown Branding. In 2008, Benztown was really a side hustle for me. My boss and CCLA Market Manager, understandably so, thought it would be a conflict of interest to launch the business in the States, so we were restricted to just an international agreement with Premiere Radio Networks. As R Dub! will attest, the international syndication business is incredibly difficult and slow going, so we were only making a few thousand dollars a year from the company at best. Now that I was no longer employed, I asked Premiere if they would represent Benztown domestically. They responded and said they would, but we had to have at least ten affiliates. At this point I had extensive programming experience, but I knew very little about syndication and how the network business worked. R Dub!, on the other hand, was very well rounded and knew both sides of the business extremely well, so I turned to him for help. In true R Dub! fashion, he was up for some travel, so we hit the road and he became my syndication sensei.
The first trip we made was to San Francisco to see our prior boss, Michael Martin, who was then head of programming for CBS. We sat down in his office and I made my very first official Benztown library pitch. I remember being nervous and most of the meeting is now a blur, but I do remember having a celebratory cocktail with Michael and R Dub! at a bar across the street. I called my partners at 3 a.m. in Germany to tell them the magnificent news! The feeling was exhilarating and I wanted another hit, so a few days later, Dub and I embarked on another trip—this time, a road trip from L.A. to San Diego to Phoenix to Tucson.
Our first stop was Clear Channel in San Diego. I was riding high from landing the deal in San Francisco, but in San Diego I was told no. That, in and of itself, was a great lesson. If you’re going to get into this business by launching a new show or service be prepared to be told no, a lot. You cannot let it get to you and, as cliché as it sounds, do not take it personally. The sales cycle can be very slow because timing is incredibly important. Do not give up too soon.
Our second stop was to see Tony Driskill, who was programming KSIQ in Brawley, California. I recall visiting the station and the three of us having lunch at a Mexican restaurant where I told him about Benztown. He signed right then and there, and my mojo was back! Next, we were on to Phoenix, where R Dub! was slated to host his annual concert (Sunday Night Slow Jams LIVE!) to a sold-out crowd. There, R Dub! introduced me to the PD of KNRJ, Beau Duran. Beau quickly became our third official station and put us well on our way to the ten affiliates we needed.
A lot has changed in the last ten years. We now have over 2700 affiliates on six different continents. We made the Inc. 5000 for five consecutive years in a row and have won the Worldwide Radio Summit Imaging and Production Company of the Year award three times. I will forever be grateful for R Dub!’s generosity, support and friendship. While I attribute our success to many factors including a lot of luck, there is no doubt we would not be where we are today if it weren’t for R Dub! and what he taught me early on. There are only a handful of people on the planet that have his knowledge and experience. When you take a moment to consider all he’s done, it’s quite remarkable. He has programmed in medium, large and major markets, as well as being on-air almost the entire time. In addition, he has built one of the most successful syndicated shows from the ground up and has traveled the world extensively, giving him an international perspective about the business. The fact that he’s putting all this into a book actually kind of scares me. It’s akin to the CEO of Coca-Cola opening their corporate vault in Atlanta and letting everyone see the secret Coke formula.
I have a tremendous amount of empathy for everyone who has lost his or her position over the last few months. R Dub! and I have been there and lived it and I do not mean to minimize the loss. However, it’s vital to not revel in the pain too long and to take stock in your talent. When we decided to go for it with Benztown almost 11 years ago, it was during a global financial crisis, which in a lot of ways is very similar to today. This is arguably the most opportune time to start your own business. Slack, Square, Venmo, WhatsApp, Pinterest and Instagram were all started during the Great Recession as well, and I promise you that a decade from now, we will look back to see this era had birthed many billion-dollar companies. Our industry in particular is in need of high quality, standout, affordable programming. If you’re passionate, talented and work hard, you will get a tremendous amount from this book and your odds of success will greatly improve. R Dub! has been incredibly instrumental in my career, and I have no doubt that he’ll be to yours, too. I hope this book is as fun a ride for you as the ones I have taken with R Dub! and that it will be as life-changing for you as mine have been.