R.A.P. Interview: Ed Brown

JV: You’ve been at one station for 21 years. How does a person do that?
Ed: I’ve got to tell you, I can’t imagine that this would’ve happened if I worked with any other company. Emmis is just one of those companies. I  haven’t worked for Infinity and I haven’t worked for Clear Channel, but Emmis has this bottom-up philosophy of empowering the employee and encouraging participation and rewarding loyalty when possible. I say when possible because there are times when you have to let people go. We just sold a signal, and when we sold that signal, many of the people who were working at that radio station that doesn’t exist anymore wound up losing their jobs. We took who we could, but we couldn’t keep everybody. So, a certain number of salespeople and a certain number of air talent and support people wound up losing their jobs. But that’s not the typical Emmis. Emmis gave those people incredible severances because of that. That’s how Emmis is. It was like, “You know what? If we have to lose you, we want to make sure that you’re taken care of well for a significant period of time so that you can find something else.” In fact, we even tried to find those people jobs at other places. I know that our market manager will call other market managers and say, “Look, we’ve got these wonderful people. They’re great at what they do. We just don’t have a place for them anymore. If you have any opportunities….”

And so Emmis is just one of those places. I remember when I first came here, Jeff Smulyan said, “I would love to see the day when Emmis is retiring people,” because radio just doesn’t. At that time, back in ’84, people didn’t retire from radio. They went to sell shoes or something else because, unless you were maybe in sales, there weren’t that many old DJs, and there still aren’t, really. It was always deemed a young man’s business, and you went from market to market till you got to a place where you were making a decent living. Then you worked there until somebody younger and faster and better came along, and then you were out of work. But Emmis has sort of changed that, at least the way this company works.

So I’ve been able to be here this long because of the way Emmis thinks: “Well, you have something to offer and we want that expertise in our company. Instead of always having young people who’ve been in the business for four or five years doing it, we like having some people who have seasoning and who’ve been around and who have more experience to offer.” But the company also encourages you to keep growing. Every year in my review there’s a goals thing that’s involved with growing: “How do you want to continue to grow? What can we do for you that will help you continue to grow,” so that I’m not stagnating after 30 years in radio and saying, “Well, you know, I know it all. I’ve been there,” because that’s not true. In fact, I know less now than I knew before because things change so fast today that trying to keep up with it is a job. So anyway, I think the company’s been a lot of my longevity.

JV: What are your thoughts on the talent of tomorrow? Where are they? Who are they?
Ed: I’ve had probably 50 or 60 interns over the years, and I would say that a lot of those people are working in the business right now, very talented and doing pretty good. I feel like I was fortunate enough to be able to be one of their mentors coming along. Jude Corbett was one of my interns. I remember when he came along… a young guy. Obviously he really loved production and was just fascinated with it. He went out after the internship and got himself a job in, I think, Terre Haute, Indiana or some place like that and was doing nights there on the radio and doing production whenever they’d let him. He was sending me tapes all the time and would say, “What do you think of this? What do you think of that?” Then one day I look around and he’s coming back to St. Louis as the Imaging Director for the Point when alternative first hit with that filtered voice effect and everything. It was right down Jude’s alley. He came in and from there went on to Chicago, and now I think he’s doing imaging work around the world. He’s gone on to be a phenomenal success.

Guys in the smaller markets are always telling me, “We’re having trouble finding talent,” and I keep telling them, “It’s not that the talent’s not there. It’s hard for us to kick the talent out of our markets!” I get a lot of talented interns, but everybody wants to start in St. Louis. They don’t want to go to the smaller markets. Whenever I get somebody who’s really talented, I kick them out of the nest. I say, “Listen, you have got to leave town. Here are five guys’ names to go call right now in smaller markets. Of those five, somebody’s bound to have something.” And I’ll make phone calls and say, “Hey, listen, I’ve got a guy here; he’s just going to explode. You get him now and he can be working for you as he explodes, or he’ll go some place else.”

We should always be encouraging the young talent because, you never know, next year I might be calling one of those guys looking for a job. One of them is a Program Director right now here in town. Who knows, I might be looking for a job one day and I can call and go, “Hey, remember when you were my intern?” 

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