10 Questions with ... "Heavy" Lenny Bronstein
September 2, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Was the WMCA good guy music maven in the '60s
- Co-founded the Brooklyn College Radio Station in 1968
- By 1970, convinced EVERY label to start a college radio department & service stations
- Sept. 1970, hired by Lance Freed (son of Alan Freed) to cover NY/NJ/CT for A&M Records
- May 1971, became local A&M rep and youngest promo person in New York
- Aug. 74, moved to cover A&M Northern California (SF) - 8 months later became West Coast Regional
- Jan. '76, became Nat'l Promo Director A&M
- March 1980, started HEavy Lenny Promotions
- Jan. '90, helped launch Charisma Records - VP
- Sept. '92, merged into Virgin - VP
- April '93, Relaunched HELP
1. What got you interested in the record business?
Bought my first record at four years old and spent all my allowance on records and pens growing up until I eventually owned nearly 90,000 albums. I started listening to the radio in the '50s and never stopped.
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
While everyone swore by WABC, I was the most devoted WMCA good guy and woke up and went to bed with Fabulous 57. I started calling the request line and met all the jocks and kept unofficial stats on every record EVER played on the station for its entire existence. I'd sit on the hotline during the countdown survey and update Dandy Dan on stats about each artist and song. I eventually put together their all-time top 570 (actually 1,000) countdown with friend Barry Mardit and devised their fall book promotion in 1968. I'm still friends with a few of the surviving "good guys" 50 years later!
3. You have had your company for many years, how have things changed over the decades?
The obvious first response is the technology, but communication in general evolved from the one-on one-visit daily-to-weekly and knowing every jock at every station and every receptionist while walking in and turning people on to the music and artists to a slowly tightening corporate and then consulted control.
Lucky enough to be part of the earliest days of free-form radio; we were spoiled by the access, excitement, wonder and discovery. There were no boundaries or restrictions in the huge rock umbrella and Progressive Rock radio knew no niches. Over the years, layers of restrictions, rules, corporate edicts, narrowcasting and avoiding meaningful contact have diluted the relationships that were the foundation of the radio-record continuum. Exclusion replaced inclusion as the basis for music selection.
4. What was the first record you worked to radio and what has been the biggest change since you first began doing radio promotion?
My first records included Cat Stevens - Humble Pie - Free - Procol Harum - Sergio Mendes - Joe Cocker - Spooky Tooth and the Carpenters and the biggest change is that other than the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary stations, we worked ALBUMS. We have reverted in the last few years to singles again, except for the noncomm Triple As who still revere the body of work.
5. Were it up to you, what would you change in our "system" to give your bands a better shot?
With more and more stations as part of chains or with nationally "programmed" or selected music and less ability to influence their individual choices to expose and support new and developing artists, I find it ironic that the promotion mantra "but you played the last four records by ... so why won't you play this one?" has become a programmer retort "but I played the last four, so I GOTTA play this one" instead of a new and fascinating artist.
I've always proposed innovative paths to breaking artists such as the whole concept of "Dollar Concerts" with Ozark Mt. Daredevils and Joan Armatrading in the '70s for a company subsidized tour with radio listeners paying the station frequency (97 cents or $1.02) and a can of food for a food bank. I also started the idea of advance cassettes monthly with all the new releases which evolved into the Hard sampler and all the various monthly samplers still being sent out.
I put out the first Superstars concert album with Lee Abrams in the '70s to showcase artists in a radio exclusive recording. I still believe radio can find new ways or resurrect old ones to showcase new music and artists, and make appointment listening important again, such as an hourly song feature from a top album showcasing another song besides the single, especially with Alternative and other formats appropriating Triple A tunes and stealing our thunder by banging them to death. We need more excuses to "localize" and "personalize" the music experience -- not "nationalize" it.
6. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
I've always tried to select what I believe in and want to champion, and probably rejected records that could have paid well but brought little satisfaction. Every new believer and supporter, no matter what level, brings a big grin. It always was and will be about the artist and his/her art.
7. What is the toughest part of your job?
It used to be finding enough hours in the day since I am so driven and detail-oriented, and had to speak to over 400 stations a week personally. Now, with the proliferation of indies and smaller labels and fewer bodies in each station, getting through to people, including ones you talked to forever, has become a major challenge.
Also, returning to the idea of technology replacing the human element, forging new relationships is much tougher. I also have to come back to the issue that many stations believe they've run their course on a current record as it develops and takes longer to "break" nationwide. We stick to unwritten "rules" that we can only keep it current so long and we walk away from our biggest albums and multiple songs when we limit the weeks. You don't trade your MVPs for utility players and rookies.
8. What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Sadly, attrition is the #1 issue. Thirty bodies become three in some places. Keeping local and being unique is the key to victory. Creativity needs real people to discover new avenues and be able to implement it. Burnout and frustration are not conducive to great radio listening experiences.
9. How many people do you have in your "birthday" database?
Between four to five thousand people get annual greetings from me, including people I have not spoken to in 30 years but track down to keep their addresses current.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ...
(I hate to admit) the visual stimulation of television while I talk on the phone - I'm a news junkie and love Turner Classic Movies. I have to pay attention to music carefully and NOT in the background so I make special time for that in my day
Last non-industry job:
Main branch of Brooklyn Public Library
First record ever purchased:
"How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" by Patti Page when I was four years old!
Went to folk concerts in the early '60s and can't remember which was first...did see Cream and the Who and a few others in 1966 and saw over 95% of all the Fillmore East shows - mostly backstage
Favorite band of all-time:
HOLLIES are #1 with Yesand Tangerine Dream tied for #2
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Until I broke my foot for the second time in a year, full-court basketball with 20-year-olds.