Looking back, and looking ahead

I am no longer with WarnerMedia. It’s been a while since I was first an anchor at CNN Radio and this felt like a time to pause and share some thoughts on my career, past and future.

I’ve been a fan of “audio” for a long time. I grew up in the Chicago area when radio stars were BIG stars. Larry Lujack, Steve & Garry, Johnny B, Kevin Matthews and others were masters at their craft. During college I got an internship and then was hired at WLUP. I was working with the people and walking the halls of the place I had been a fan of for a long time. It was an “anything goes” kind of atmosphere and there was a lot of creativity and fun.

Even at that early stage of my career when Evergreen Media was sold to a bigger company, the other lower level producers and I told each other “it’s over.” We thought consolidation was going to change radio and we were right. But I still had a great time in radio doing rock, sports and talk and news.

Fast forward past years of radio industry jobs drying up and creativity being stifled, to the internet and podcasts. It energized me to think that creators could be unleashed and do whatever they wanted.

CNN RADIO GOES DIGITAL

At CNN Radio the terrestrial radio business was in turmoil and we were on the outside. CNN Radio was a news service providing soundbites, newscasts and reporter live shots to stations around the country through Westwood One. We needed to have a direct relationship with our audience and produce content that would be relevant, not just commodity headlines.

We went through some difficult years of transition but added talent from public radio to our staff and switched to an all digital strategy working more closely with CNN.com. We had an interview show, a music show, a feed of daily feature stories, a political talk show, a really creative politics show called American Sauce and we launched a daily afternoon newscast called News Day. (we would have liked to do mornings, but there were reasons that wouldn’t work for us.)

I fielded calls from other people in podcasting wondering what we were thinking doing a daily news podcast. Conventional wisdom seemed to be that podcasts were to be downloaded and listened to later, not something people would do in a timely manner. But it made sense to us and we saw immediate growth.

It was one of the most rewarding periods of my career. We had an awesome team and we were all working together to build something new and develop CNN’s voice in the podcast space. We won awards for our journalism and audio production and did our best to measure success in a space that still has some measurement challenges.

I can’t say exactly why upper management made their decision at the time, but one way or another the powers at CNN decided the strategy wasn’t right or the return wasn’t big enough or whatever… and they shut down the Radio division. The last episode of CNN Radio News Day was published June 25, 2013. That was the LAST episode. That’s roughly 3 and a half years before the FIRST episode of the NY Times Daily.

TURNER & WARNERMEDIA PODCAST NETWORK

While working at CNN Newsource and CNN Collection I was allowed the opportunity to try and grow audio, but this time with no staff or resources of any kind. Really, it was just me. I partnered with Kris Smith at what was then Palegroove and soon became Knit and we started building audience with the TV audio podcasts. (now called “Showcasts”) It was a lot of work.

With a growing audience and growing ad market I formulated an idea that as a company Turner needed to work across the portfolio to support audio production and bring the inventory together for a scalable sales opportunity. The idea was approved and the Turner Podcast Network was born.

Over the next 4 years I hired a team and navigated cross-divisional goals, P&L’s and office politics to effectively measure current podcasts, support the launch of new content, sell ads and “operationalize” podcasts across the company. We became the WarnerMedia Podcast Network after AT&T acquired Time Warner.

I was an “intrepreneur” building an audio business inside of a gigantic TV and movie company.

Along the way, we did TNT’s first companion podcast for their series “Will” , engaged with fans of Steven Universe bringing behind the scenes stories to audio, launched Chuck and Ernie into podcasting, AEW and many more.

We made outside partnerships such as with Cadence13 for a second TNT companion podcast “Root of Evil” , How Stuff Works (now iHeart) for The Story of Animation, we revived the popular Politically Re-Active and worked directly with talent Lala Kent (and her then husband) to launch Give Them Lala.

Our biggest success was working internally with HLN to produce, market, distribute and sell “Down the Hill: The Delphi Murders”. Getting millions of downloads, Down The Hill was #2 on Podtrac’s list of new podcasts in 2020 and became a two night television special for HLN TV.

Along our journey CNN decided to get back into audio and launched CNN Audio. We were rolling with a Top 10 podcast network, transitioned sales from an outside partner to a newly hired internal team and integrated ad operations into WarnerMedia’s existing infrastructure.

That’s when as a victim of our own success and other factors, our corporate team was cut during a round of AT&T’s restructuring prior to the Warner-Discovery merger. (Which is still “settling” into it’s own.) A lot of what we set out to accomplish lives on at WBD as audio continues to have “a seat at the table” inside one of the world’s largest media companies.

I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish and continue to root for my former colleagues across the news, sports, entertainment and studios divisions as they continue to produce, distribute and sell audio content for their audiences. I believe the work I did with my team built the foundation for their current success.

LOOKING AHEAD

I’ve had a tremendous time in radio and at Turner/WarnerMedia. I’ve learned how to work collaboratively across divisions, how to build and grow a business and most importantly how to lead and manage teams.

More specifically to podcasting I have a breadth of experience and knowledge from how to EP a show to content strategy, deal making, marketing, sales, operations and even enough knowledge of ad tech to be dangerous :).

If you or your group – large or small – needs an experienced leader to help with your strategies and growth, please reach out and let’s talk.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s