10 Questions with ... Mick Anselmo
May 22, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
A 2016 Country Radio Hall of Fame inductee and most recently VP/Market Manager for CBS Radio Minneapolis, Mick Anselmo retired in December, 2015, completing a career that included the oversight of both Country radio powerhouses in Minneapolis: KMNB (launched in 2011) and iHeartMedia KEEY (launched in 1982). Before joining CBS Radio in 2008, Anselmo spent more than two decades at Clear Channel's (Now iHeartMedia) crosstown cluster, home to KEEY. During his time there, KEEY was honored with a "CMA Station of the Year" award and was a consistent market leader, which it remains today. Anselmo is a 2013 inductee in the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He'll be formally inducted to the Country Radio Hall on Wednesday, June 22nd at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville.
1. Mick, thanks for taking the time for "10 Questions!" Let's begin by asking what induction into the Country Radio Hall of Fame means to you, and what you think it says about your accomplishments in radio.
When I think about it, I think about leaving a mark of our legacy of my career work. I can't tell you how humbled and appreciative I am that my peers recognized my life's work, and that's really an overwhelming feeling. It's humbling. I'm appreciative. When I look at the previous Hall Of Fame inductees, many of them of course whom I know, and many I have admired their entire career, it's just kind of an overpowering feeling to think that I'll be placed on that wall with those great Country radio broadcasters, and I'm deeply touched. It's a big deal. I'm looking forward to it.
2. Of course, you are not a stranger to being in a broadcasting Hall of Fame. You are a 2013 inductee into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. I'm sure that's a tremendous honor too, and that leads me to my next question - You're one of the rare, fortunate people in radio that spent the majority of their career in one market. That must be very special.
My whole career was based out of Minneapolis, and by the way, that was by choice. Multiple times during my career I had opportunities for advancement in those different companies. I have a strong sense of family, and I've taken care of my parents since about 1990 - my dad has since passed but my mother is still alive. I think that old world upbringing and the need and sense to stay and help take care of family is the reason I never left. I really decided that if I was going to have a broadcast career, I could still do it, do it well, and do it based in Minneapolis, and that's where I wanted to stay.
3. You're also one of the rare and fortunate to have launched not one, but two powerful Country brands - K102 and BUZ'N. They're up and running and competing well with each other. Does that make you proud to see the success of both properties?
Well it does. I actually didn't launch K102. I started as an Account Executive there. I left a television job where I was a GSM at the ABC affiliate in Rochester- Mason City - Austin, and I had been in television for about six and a half years. I moved into radio in the Twin Cities, and K102 wasn't even a year old. I started off as a seller, became Sales Manager, and ultimately General Manager in about 1988 or '89. By the way, the AM at that time was WGDY, which was a traditional Country Western station. Ultimately, I turned that station into Sports KFAN, and so when I look at the Country side, I'm really proud. I had significant passion for the music, but what I really found when I got to K102 is the level of engagement with the listener was unlike anything I had ever seen in the media business. When I think about it or look at it, I remember selling t-shirts at the state fair, or wherever where I could just really connect with the listeners one-on-one. Some of the things I found just so amazing was how much they knew about the radio station: that they listened to it longer and more exclusively than anything else. They knew the jocks, they knew the artists, they knew the events that were happening, they wore the merchandise, and they came to the shows. They did all those things. It was such an unbelievable link to the listeners. I found it a wonderful and easy format to sell, because that's all you had to do - be smart enough to connect the advertisers to the great engaged listening audience. And they loved the radio station. I sold print when I first got out of the service, then I sold television and made my way to radio. The difference is nobody falls in love with a television station. If they do, it's because they fall in love with the show that's 30 or 60 minutes in length. Or print, they don't fall in love with. But when listeners engage with a radio station, they live it vertically. They live it, they love it, they come to it often, they stay longer, and they shop all the departments, as I call it. They love the music, they love the jocks, and they want to know more about the artists. They come to the concerts, they buy the merchandise, and they do all the things. That is such a unique thing with a passion-driven format like Country. I just loved that.
4. Let me go back to when you were growing up. Was there a personality or radio station that you most listened to, and in what way did that influence you into pursuing a career in media?
I think my exposure to music came early. My dad had a tavern in Northern Minnesota, and certainly Country was the format of choice on the juke box, so as a kid I was around it all the time. At night I had a little crystal radio and I could listen to the far away stations, and some of those stations I remember being absolutely engaged with were WEBC 56 in Duluth, MN, WDGY in Minneapolis, KOMA in Oklahoma City, and KAAY in Little Rock - I remember the jock was Clyde Clifford on Beaker Street, in Little Rock. I could lie in bed and listen to that. It was such an escape for me, and a reach out for a small Minnesota mining town. I got to listen to the rest of the world on the radio. So I loved it, but I never knew that I'd be in it. My world going into sales really came post US Air Force and marketing school. As I said earlier, I started selling print, and then I met some folks in radio and television. They were young and vibrant and passionate about what they did. I ended up going from the northern part of Minnesota selling print, to the southern part of Minnesota selling television, and I enjoyed that immensely. But as I started to have a couple of young sons, I was tired of being on the road. I had been a national sales manager at the TV station for a long time, and traveled to 17 cities about 40 weeks a year. I really thought about making the move into radio in the Twin Cities. At that time I thought if I liked it and got good at it, maybe I'd move back to a smaller town in Minnesota or Wisconsin, buy a radio station, and that all just kind of evolved. In the time that I've been in radio, I've had seven different owners and 17 presidents, and made it through all of those, so I was really fortunate. I was there at a time where you could grow your station with drive and passion and surround yourself with people that wanted to take the hill every day. And I feel really fortunate about that. I feel really fortunate that the people I worked with were really the catalysts to all the success I somewhat get credit for, and that's really not the case. It's about the team. It's never about an individual, and I'm lucky.
5. Speaking of people you work with, in the years that you managed those two stations there, you mentored so many people. Looking back, who were key mentors that put you in the right place, and gave you the confidence to feel that this was something you could be successful at?
Well actually, when I became General Manager I looked around the country to try to benchmark - I wanted to benchmark the best Country radio station in America. I thought if I could do that and find out what it is they do, I could maybe turn K102 into a significant radio station in the Twin Cities. Up until that point it hadn't been. It had been a mid-pack performer and mid-pack only. When I looked around the country, the one radio station that at that time stood out-head and shoulders above the industry- was Michael Owens at KNIX. It wasn't even close. I looked and looked, and thought, if there's a station I want to model after and a broadcaster I want to be like and do the right things, it's KNIX. So I reached out to Michael, and we became friends and exchanged ideas, but I always looked at him and that radio station as the pinnacle of success in Country radio. I always tried to be abreast of what was going on there. Michael Owens, in my opinion, was the best Country radio broadcaster in America at that time, and that's who I modeled after.
6. Well you get an Amen from me on that one, obviously. In between your stints at iHeart (then Clear Channel) and CBS Radio in Minneapolis, you worked outside the radio biz. What perspective did being away from it give you? And how differently - if at all - did you approach radio when you rejoined CBS?
I never lost my interest, so I was trying to get through my non-compete, basically. I wanted something to do - I couldn't just sit. I went outside the industry for nine months until the opportunity came with Dan Mason and Scott Herman to come back in. I had to learn a new corporate culture, much different than the one I had left, and it took me a while. I didn't have a Country station in my cluster. I did a presentation in New York, and I didn't know up until that point that CBS had never launched a major market full signal Country station in their history. All the Country stations they have, they had acquired. So, me going to New York saying, "I want to launch a Country station. I built the other one, and I believe there is room for two significant Country stations in Twin Cities," I didn't know how they'd take it. It was October 17th of the year that we launched the BUZ'N when I got the go-ahead from Dan Mason that I could launch the first of the year. At that time, Jeff Garrison was VP/Programing and Jeff Kapugi had just been named the VP/Country. Kapugi was in St. Louis and had never done Country before. I don't think his announcement was even dry yet when I called him and I said, "Come on man, we're going to go! Hang on, because I like to go fast!" With Jeff Garrison and Jeff Kapugi, we needed some temporary boots on the ground, and we brought around Kevin Metheny. Meanwhile I had Rob Morris sitting on a non-compete, and we were cocked, locked and ready to rock baby! Having driven and passionate people in the format is really significant. It's so important I can't even tell you. It's not only what we do over the air, but also it's what we do in the community, how we work the streets, and how the brand is seen, and I like all of that. It's one of the most passion driven formats there is. If you love it, and you're in it, and you surround yourself with great, passionate people, the sky is the limit. I'm proud of both those radio stations, both K102 and BUZ'N. When I look back on my career, I feel the significance that I've helped not only put Country on the map in Minneapolis, but make it a top level format in multiple stations. Minneapolis is a great city for Country, and I think I've had a significant role in that. I've been fortunate.
7. Having been in the format for a while now, you were around during the 90s boom and you've been around recently when Country is huge again and experiencing a shift in demographics from a 25-54 to more of an 18-34 contribution. What direction do you see this format heading - are the Pop, Hip-Hop, and Rock influences here to stay? Is Country going to keep shifting toward younger listeners driving the performance of a station?
Well, I think we're in a time where that's clearly happening; but as I look forward, I have to tell you, I think it's a meandering route. I think we came through a Bro-Country phase, and I'm not sure I hear that today as much as I did 18 months ago. I hear new and emerging voices, like Chris Stapleton and lots of new females on the horizon - not only Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, but I hear young artists like Maren Morris and Cam and all kinds of young aspiring females - and I think those artists are all young and vibrant. Another example is Sam Hunt. All kinds of great things are happening in the format, but I think it meanders. I think there's a segment of the audience that loves and will continue to love old Classic Country music, from Merle Haggard to artists that I would consider legendary that are still touring, doing well, playing casinos, and selling tickets. Then the new young artists from today are emerging and doing their part. So when I look ahead I don't think it takes any specific road or avenue. It's all based on the music. Wherever the music takes us, the format will go, and I think it's phenomenal. The river is wide, but the river changes. Nature makes the river change, and I think we've kind of witnessed that same thing in music. I think it is harder today with the conglomerates owning he majority of the radio stations. I think it's difficult in Country radio to be able to do, for example, what I might've done in my career, i.e. build stations based on drive and passion, because I was able to hire talented people that wanted to be the best at what they did. By the way, I think the lifeblood of all the Country radio stations are really the programmers. I got a chance to work with a lot of good ones, including you, over the years. They're what keep the machine going.
8. It feels like we've kind of gotten away from that in recent years, because, as you just said, with the big companies, there are initiatives -a lot of the stuff that programmers perceive as crammed down their throats -and it takes away a little bit of their autonomy and the local touch. Do you think it will return to an era where the programmer could put his or her fingerprint on the radio station?
Well, I hope so. I think great programmers still make that difference. I do believe Country radio is local. Radio is local, but I think Country radio is exceptionally local. I think doing the right things on the streets and in the community, having a staff that is engaged and wants to go out and contribute and do - I think all of that can still be done. I think all of that leadership starts at the Program Director level. I'm really lucky. I had people Like Lee Rodgers, Gregg Swedberg, Travis Moon, Rob Morris, and Lauren MacLeash. Then outside my sphere I had folks like Bob Guerra, and you, and Lee Logan in San Francisco. Then when I had the region for Clear Channel there were always good programmers in Minnesota and North and South Dakota, and all of them were the lifeblood of their stations; I think that's really the heartbeat.
9. Since you are now retired and have a sideline seat to the business, let me ask your perspective on a few things - how harmful is the imminent sale of CBS Radio, and the financial woes of iHeart and Cumulus, to the overall perception of radio as a business model? It already gets bashed for its content - now it looks like bad business?
Well, it's not irrelevant, and the medium works. I think radio's been under attack the entire time I've been in it. There are all kinds of different sources from all kind of different places, and is the audience still listening? I believe they are. They're not only listening, but they're really engaged and active. With the conglomerates controlling the majority of the radio stations, they're running their business - and I understand that - but I think there's still room for localism. I think there's room for Country radio to be strong and vibrant. It's got to be the leaders of those stations that stand up and lead. They have got to fight. Sometimes you've got to fight with the companies to do the right thing for your brand. If you don't do that, or can't do that, or aren't willing to do that, you're probably going to lose the essence of what your radio station was supposed to be. That's not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes people are wrapped up in trying to preserve their own job. I understand that, but at the end of the deal, if you're going to run radio stations today, you've got to run them. They don't run themselves. Even these conglomerates will figure that out. They can try and put it in a box with a spreadsheet, but until they're on the ground and working in that community, if they don't see it, if they don't know how to see the significance of those stations in those communities, they won't figure it out.
10. Do you have one or two moments that you're most proud of in radio?
I have so many of those that I wish I could catalog them because of their significance. I can tell you I'm really proud that K102, when I was there with Travis Moon and Gregg Swedberg, we set the all-time fundraising record for St. Jude, raising over two million dollars in three days in the radiothon. I think that that was unbelievably significant, and it was a wonderful thing that in 2002 St. Jude made me the National Volunteer of the Year. I got to bring my family down and go through the hospital when Richard Shadyac was still alive, and that was really a significant moment for me. At one time, I had a chairman that looked at me and said, "Hey kid you can't cure cancer with this radio station," and I bit my lip and thought, no, but I sure as hell can try. And so that was of significance. I think another one was being the first FM personnel- John Hines and I - to be embedded with an active combat unit in Iraq. We brought the Minnesota soldiers phone card minutes, and video broadcast back to their families at Mall of America, and that was during the holidays of 2004. I think that led to national recognition for the station for supporting the military families in Minnesota and the Twin Cities. That's still a theme today of BUZ'N and K102. I was really fortunate that at my retirement I was given the Civilian Service Award, which is the highest award given to a civilian by the military. So that was significant. The launch at BUZ'N, taking that one off the pad, was an unbelievable feeling and the success that we have had with that station and continue to have was really a mark for me as well. I feel so fortunate. I had a blessed career, and it wasn't me; it was the people that surrounded me that really deserve the accolades for running great stations and building great brands. John Thomas, who was my first station manager at The Fan, who went on to be the President of the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings; Dan Seeman, Rob Morris, Gregg Swedberg, Lauren MacLeash and Travis Moon, are some of the talent I had. And working with Program Directors like you, Tim Roberts, Jeff Kapugi - I love product guys and gals. I'm probably kind of a hybrid, coming through sales in my career but having such a passion for the product. I think I was fortunate to have that, and I think that's why I got along so well with PDs. By the way, I think part of winning is showing up, and I tried my best to show up wherever I could, whether it was in Nashville on Music Row or backstage at almost every concert I could go to. I think you lead by example. The pack only runs as fast as the lead dog.