10 Questions with ... Zak Burns
June 12, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I began my career as the "Breeze Boy" on The Breeze 107.1 (Monmouth/Ocean, NJ). Worked the dump button (the worst job in the industry) for The Radio Chick on Free FM in NYC. Became Executive Producer for The Doghouse with JV and Elvis before we all got let go for offending damn near everyone. Moved on to Salt Lake City to Executive Produce The Doug Wright Show (KSL) before leaving for Portland.
1. First off, what drew you to radio? What was it that got you interested in doing radio in the first place?
I knew I wanted to work in the media. I knew print was not the way to go. TV holds little interest for me. It's so regimented and overly polished.
So radio emerged as the leading candidate. I became addicted to Ron and Fez. They really made me want to pursue this career. I wanted to do what they did. WNEW at the time really helped me make my decision. Ron Bennington is brilliant.
2. You've worked primarily behind the scenes before now, producing some high-profile shows, but now your name's on the show and you're sharing top billing. Did moving to a larger on-air role require any adjustment in your approach to producing a show, or was the transition easy (or both)?
It just added an extra element to my work day. I love producing. I love assembling a show. The part I grew weary of was handing over the show to someone else. It's not that I want the notoriety of being a host. I just like to do everything myself. I don't have a producer in Portland and I don't want one. I like the burden of seeing everything through from start to finish. I have trouble handing off tasks to other people. I am an egomaniac that way, I suppose.
3. You're from the east coast (grew up and went to school in New Jersey) and worked in New York before heading west to Salt Lake and now Portland. Does the different attitude and atmosphere in a place like Portland as opposed to, say, New York make a difference in the kind of radio you do? And is Portland really Portlandia -- how far off is the TV show's satire from real life there?
"Portlandia" is incredibly accurate. I am still learning about this city. It has a different ethos than anywhere I have ever lived. Abrasive, yet passive. Salt Lake taught me how to fake politeness. New York taught me to be rude. I don't know what Portland will teach me quite yet. But, yeah, it's different here. I love it.
4. Your personal political outlook and those of shows on which you've worked have sometimes differed (as in, say, Doug Wright at KSL). How difficult is it to put your own thoughts aside when you're working with someone with whom you don't agree? How have you dealt with that?
Doug and I did not always agree on things. But this is what I loved about my experience with him: we could vehemently disagree on issues and still remain incredibly close friends. I adore the man. A lot of my friends and co-workers in Utah were very conservative. But I never felt the need to put things aside to work with them. It became something that made the show stronger. We weren't adversaries. Ever. I like to think we helped each other improve as people and broadcasters because we disagreed.
5. Who have been your mentors, inspirations, and/or influences in the business?
So many to name... John Mainelli has always been a great help. Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay. Kevin LaRue. Doug. Brian Jennings. Scott Mahalick. Lauren Pressley. Ray Wagner. All have helped me in countless ways.
6. Of what are you most proud?
Doug and I, I believe, really contributed to overturning a piece of awful legislation in Utah. It made me really believe that what we were doing was important. That we were meaningful. It was a good feeling. I carry it with me still.
That, and Doug winning the Marconi. It was a rough year for him and it was good to see him get a victory.
7. You were born in the waning days of your father's NHL career (Orest Kindrachuk, center for the Flyers, Penguins, and Capitals). How aware were you of his fame as you grew up -- was being the son of a former pro athlete something that you perceived as coloring others' perceptions of you? Was there an expectation that you'd go into sports as well?
Ha! No, he never thought I would play. If you knew the activities I was enrolled in as a child you would be shocked I had any connections to a sports figure. Tap dancing, for one. Yep.
I think I had some friendships that were solely based on who my father was. I was aware of his fame. But it was always just normal to me. He's not as famous as he thinks. I tell him that often. He just points to his Stanley Cup ring.
8. You've had a parallel career of sorts in music, as leader of Salt Lake City band The Toros. Is music a hobby or something about which you're more serious?
I sometimes thought The Toros would get me fired from KSL. It's a provocative band. I wish I could do more with it. It will most likely remain a hobby because I don't know if anyone wants to me pay me to keep doing it. Oh wait, I do know. No one does. It's a great outlet, though.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _____________.
...copious amounts of Coke Zero. It's gross. I try to cut back, but I might as well just accept my addiction. Maybe Bloomberg has a point in banning big sodas.
10. What's the best advice you ever got? The worst? (And what advice would you give someone starting out in the business right now?)
The best advice I ever got was "Be Interesting." Honestly. Ray Wagner said that to me really early on when I was interning at Ron and Fez. It has always stuck with me.
The worst? Probably anything from one particular consultant I dealt with at KSL. I won't name names but just dreadful.
My advice is worthless at this point. I will dispense some when I can actually afford a mortgage.