Kent Sterling – Happy Self-employed Free Agent by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

Life is good.  It took some time to get here, but the view from the other side of having your professional identity defined by those you don’t really know is really good.  There is a confidence that can only exist when you get to steer the ship for yourself.

Being able to define success for myself has been very liberating.  I generally hate a term like “liberating” because its use allows the inference that power had been ceded to others, but in this case, that’s exactly what happened.  I liked looking at the money I was making and the houses that my wife and I might buy.  Looking back, I was a moron.  Buying a great house will be a very pleasant experience, but my philosophy in doing it was driven by a lack of control at work.

There is endless fun to be had out here in the wilderness and quiet.  The best part is the occasional quiet that never existed in radio.  The next thing was always right there – in fact, the next dozen were right there.  I tried to work a to-do list at various points during my time with Emmis, and when I did, writing the list was an almost never-ending challenge.  There were so many things to do that the maintenance of the list wound up being an omnipresent item on the list.

The freedom to be creative and welcome new ideas for how I might be able to do something interesting, profitable, and/or helpful gives me hope that my life will be about more than keeping the needle bouncing with only one source of audio in the dark studio of a nearly empty building.  Don’t get me wrong, I love radio.  It is the medium that I think might be best-positioned to survive the turmoil surrounding media.

Radio is capable of great agility.  TV is not, and newspaper is decrepit.  I still buy a paper, but I’m the youngest person I know who does.  Local TV is local TV.  It’s not capable of adapting.  It is what it is.  They continue to do idiotic things like breaking into programming to spend five minutes showing the rotation inside a storm.  I’m trying to watch “Hell’s Kitchen”, and while I like Brian Wilkes, I’m in no mood for him to interrupt chef Gordon Ramsey with trivialities about rain in Mornoe County.  I’m in Fishers, and not to be an isolationist, but there are much more efficient ways for people in Monroe County to get information about a storm than by watching Brian point at a green screen.  For one, radio is better at making severe weather entertaining.

My dreams about work have all but stopped, which is a good thing because they are rarely happy.  Generally, I’m stuck in meetings much as was the case in real life.  Only when I spend a lot of time with someone from work do the dreams return.  The night after Dave Wilson and I spoke for an hour, I dreamed of work.  I’m glad every time it happens because it means I’m still working through some separation issues.  Work at a place for 17 years and run past and through hundreds of co-workers, being told to pack a box and get out stirs some emotions.

Julie and I are having a party Saturday night, and we’ve invited any and all the current and former Emmis folks we could easily get ahold of.  That means all who are on Facebook.  The party will be a celebration of friendship.  One thing I figured out through all this nuttiness is that friendship is important, not just a professional convenience.  So we’ll have this party, and welcome anyone who will have us as friends without the professional courtesies.  If you Emmis/Today’s Dentistry folks or anyone else would like to stop by and enjoy a beverage or two and some laughs Saturday email me at kentsterling11@yahoo.com, and I’ll send you the directions.

Business is good.  This website is a load of fun to contribute to and maintain.  We’ll keep growing and evolving.  The site will become more college sports oriented in the fall, and there will be some audio interviews and use of video that will make it more vibrant.  As it is, we are growing each month by 5,000 to 10,000 page views.  Some days are great.  Some aren’t.  No matter the traffic, we keep writing.  The news cycle can be good or they can be bad.  We keep looking for fun and truth in sports.

There are eight or nine other things I am doing, and all have their challenges.  I’m writing a book about fatherhood, and the tough part is remembering what the hell I’ve already written.  Wouldn’t it be a bitch if I wrote a 300 page book that was 15 different versions of the first 20 pages?  I’m a little more organized than that.  Using an outline helps, but still I feel this strange sense that I’ve written a lot of it before.  The first draft should be done in two months, and then move on to organizing and pruning.  Writing all the memories of my dad and raising my son is oddly emotional and exhausting.

I keep writing some radio tips of the week, which never fail to make me laugh.  It’s not that what is written is funny.  It’s just so pretentious to opine about the state of radio like I know more than anyone else.  Being inside radio, it’s hard to think about the state of the business or see the direction it needs to take.  The more distance between me and working in radio, the easier it is.  Radio will need to be agile and nimble to survive, and management will need to stop trying to hang on to the listeners it has, and start concentrating on producing unique programming across all platforms that will engage.  Not repelling was enough 10 years ago.  That’s no longer true.

The dominant delivery system for media – all media – will be the web.  Without the scarcity of AM/FM/VHF/UHF frequencies and Cable and Satellite bandwidths to limit competition, the quality of the product will drive popularity, ad rates, and ensure success.  The bold and unique will be rewarded and the redundant will go out of business.  Maybe I do know more about radio than a lot of people.

Anyway, I’m happy.  My Wife is happy.  My Son is happy.  My Mom is happy.  And I’m improving as a friend.  Whoever thought listening would wind up being something I enjoy?  That’s all the success I need.

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Kent Sterling – Recovering Program Director by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

An interesting thing happens when you focus your attention on moving in a direction.  The first is that you move farther away from being the person you were before you started moving.  The second is that you get somewhere else more quickly than when you stood in one place.  That sounds elementary as hell – so simple that it barely deserves to be written down.

Learning instead of doing is wonderful.  There is freedom in admitting that I don’t know everything.  The pursuit of the knowledge that has avoided me has been very rewarding.  So much of our time at work is spent trying to prove that we are worthy of our position – or the next rung on the corporate ladder that we become impervious to the notion that we have so much else to learn.

The last year has been a time of ridiculous change.  My boss and friend died quickly of cancer – six months from diagnosis to the grave.  I was fired by the new manager for the place I had called my professional home for 17 years.  This was the place I thought I would retire from.  He told me when I was fired that he was probably doing me a favor, which is the kind of trite bullshit that most of us hope is true when we fire someone, but so seldom have the stones to say out loud.  Oddly, he was right, but he gets no credit for that – at least not from me.

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Kent Sterling Finds His Inner Anger, and Lets It Go by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

My decision seconds after getting the boot at Emmis Indianapolis was to move on, get busy, and find another challenge.  That process was made easier a few days later when my wife said we had been hurtling toward unresolvable domestic issues if there hadn’t been a change in my approach to work.

Delegation was not at the top of my professional tool box, and I knew it, but thought I could figure it out over the next year or so.  It wasn’t that I felt I had to do everything, but that I couldn’t let go of my investment in the result.  Given two radio stations to sweat, I was up to my ass in emotional investment.  That left little room for Julie.

Okay.  Good.  Move forward.  Don’t whine.  Work at something, and if you didn’t get paid, who cares.  Keep moving.  Self pity is always wasted energy, but sometimes it might be good to reflect for a second or two.  That is something I did not do.  I had lunches with dozens of friends that served as cheap therapy, but my focus was more toward convincing everyone that my unceremonious dumping was not the end of anything, but a long-overdue beginning of uncharted and undreamed of new challenges.

The only problem with all that was the dishonesty – not in the conversations with friends, but with myself.  As time has gone on, I’ve come to the realization that I am pissed.  In my mind, my firing isn’t just a slap in my face, but in the face of the Emmis culture I have been a part of for more than a third of my life.

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Indiana Pacers – Mired in Mediocrity, They Need a Change of Culture by kentsterling
April 7, 2010, 8:57 am
Filed under: Indiana Pacers, Kent Sterling Fired | Tags: , , ,

by Kent Sterling

In business, in life, in college basketball, or any other sport, the first question that needs to be asked is “who are we?”  Once that is answered, the rest is execution.  Define your culture – teach to it, and hire to it.  If you don’t have a ready answer to that first question, get one or resign.

1070 – The Fan radio host Dan Dakich always says, “You have to know who you are.”  At The Fan, I knew who we were because I got to make that decision before we ever launched the station and brand.  We were going to search for truth and fun in sports.  Dan fit perfectly into that culture, as did Kravitz & Eddie, as well as ESPN.

There is a huge advantage in developing a culture from a blank slate, rather than inheriting one.  When I took over as program director of WIBC, I knew what I wanted the culture of WIBC to be, but needed time to bring the image I inherited over to the culture that could be successful.  The difficulty there is that by far the most successful ratings magnet for the station was and is Rush Limbaugh, and there is no PD so entirely secure that he would ever cancel the station’s most successful show in order to enforce a specific image that didn’t include him.

That leaves three choices – leave Rush be and view him as a very successful three-hour island around which you build the station you want, conform to the Rush culture by hiring a bunch of hosts similar to Rush, or keep everything the way it is and work within the margins to achieve the best result you can.

It’s kind of like being the general manager of an NBA team that had the 2003-2004 version of Allen Iverson.  You might not want an offense that has a point guard who dominates the ball and takes 28 shots a game, but you can’t change him, and the $20-million you have invested is going to do nothing for you from the bench.  The only chance you have is to play Iverson and try to get him to evolve a little bit toward being the kind of point guard whose play can win you championships.

This is why a trip to the bottom is the best way to get to the top.  As painful as it is, a total deconstruction is sometimes necessary not because of better draft position or cap room, but because it allows a total divorce from any current culture that isn’t working.  Trying to hold onto as much of the stuff that kind of works guarantees a mediocre result in perpetuity.

That is life in athletics and business.  If the current culture doesn’t work, fire it’s author and hire a new architect.

The Pacers are a great example of a franchise who simply does not know who it is.  Their two current defining characteristics are being willing to wait for the their slew of contracts that expire in 2011 to lapse, and their total lack of willingness to let go of mediocrity because they so fear being worse.  The fear of terrible is mediocre’s best friend, and that is why the Pacers continue to win meaningless games.  They call it pride.  I call it a generation of finishing with the 10th-13th worst record in the NBA.

They see victories as victories and losses as losses.  They allow the results of games others are willing to lose as validation that a two-legged table can stand just fine if you hold onto it.  Sometimes, the table needs to fall and break so you can can that a three of four-legged table is can stand on its own forever without anyone propping it up.

Keeping happy the 7,000 people who show up every night to watch mediocrity is not the first step toward filling Conseco Fieldhouse.  It’s a act of foolishness that only serves to perpetuate the culture that has kept 11,000 seats empty for three years.

Instead of looking at their assets and deciding how best to utilize them to be as good as they can be today, the Pacers need to decide what great looks like and devote their energies to getting there regardless of the amount of time or the cost.  Then go do that.  Anything and anyone standing in the way has to go.

I believe Larry Bird knows all this, but is being pulled, prodded, and cajoled into putting as good a team as possible on the court tonight against the Knicks.  The people who are impatiently evaluating the franchise based upon wins late in a season that is already lost are cancerous and should be sent packing.  The Pacers rebuilding requires focus and clarity.  If it’s there, the powers within Conseco Fieldhouse are keeping it very well hidden.

Does Larry Bird have the stones to walk into Herb Simon’s office and say, “Hey, I know you’re losing your ass this year, just like the last 28-of-30, but we are really going to suck for one more year.  And I mean suck in ways you can’t imagine.  People are going to hate us, and think we are idiots, but after the next couple of drafts and getting rid of all the dead weight bleeding you dry, we are going to emerge as a championship contender.  Have you got the stomach for that?”  (This would have been better before the Pacers started beating teams willing to lose their way into a top five pick in the June NBA Draft.

If Simon agrees, go to work.  If he can’t swallow that, pack your stuff and go play golf.



Kent Sterling’s Life as a Radio Guest by kentsterling
March 13, 2010, 11:04 pm
Filed under: Kent Sterling Fired | Tags: ,

by Kent Sterling

Somehow, hilariously I have become an occasionally sought after guest on radio talk shows.  Super Bowl week, I was a semi-regular on a news-talk in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Today, I did an hour on Maureen Anderson’s Career Clinic, which is heard in Spokane, Portland, Fargo, and a town in Illinois.

I am not pursuing these odd opportunities.  People find this website and smell a guy with a lot of free time, I guess.  I do my guess to be concise and enthusiastic, while refraining from the obscene and completely inappropriate.  There is nothing for me to gain by participating in these interviews, but I’ve been on the other end of booking guests and because of that I can’t see myself refusing a request.  There is a reflex that makes me eager to ask just what they believe I am going to bring to a show, but that’s their decision.  I’m not knocking on their doors begging for a chance.

Being a guest is fun – much more fun that hosting.  Generally, the questions are about me or something I know very well.  That makes the process a little more self-indulgent than makes me comfortable, but I’m able to access the small part of my brain that is thrilled by my own self-indulgent rantings.  No host wants a guest who doesn’t find himself interesting, so I pretend.

Today’s interview with Maureen Anderson’s Career Clinic was about being fired and embarking on something new and risky.  Maureen is a good host, and she handles the formattics well.  My energy was split between critiquing her and responding to her questions, which could have made things difficult.  Every once in a while I slid off the point, and had to ramble on until I recalled my original point.

I can see why guests think that being a host is easy and something they might want to pursue.  Being on the radio is enjoyable.  The only tough part of hosting is talking about things about which you have little depth of knowledge and less interest.  The easy answer to that is, don’t talk about those things, but there are PDs who demand the talent be more versatile than they are capable.  That’s when hosts get uncomfortable and stop enjoying their performance.  The only tough part of being a guest is making sure your phone works.  The hosts are the people who do the heavy lifting.  Their job is to hit marks and ask you questions that make the guest sound interesting.  The guest just responds, hopefully concisely with a unique perspective.

I can’t imagine booking a complete stranger for an hour and trusting that I could make him or her interesting.  Fortunately, I have only hosted shows a couple of dozen times, and that means very few restless nights worrying about my inability to find anyone interesting for more than 32-minutes.  By the way, that 32-minutes is not an arbitrary number.  I had lunch with John Griffin two weeks ago, one of the best salespeople with whom I’ve worked, and a guy who has become a friend over the past year after 14 years of working together in an environment of polite (mostly) tolerance.  John told me that in meetings, I was good for 32-minutes.  If someone wanted my attention and energy, they need to get cracking within that time frame, or they will get nothing but sarcasm, mockery, and/or indifference.  When he said that, I was surprised I had matured to the point where I could make it 32-minutes.

Honestly, if John F. Kennedy came back from the dead, and I had the opportunity to interview him, I doubt it would run more than 30-minutes.  Marilyn Monroe, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and finding out whether the story of the PT-109 was a bunch of crap.  That’s about it.  How long would that take?

Maureen spoke to me for an hour.  I had no fancy stories about banging starlets, saving the world from nuclear war or inviting a life of backpain by rescuing shipmates, but I got an hour to tell my story.

Not sure whether my days as a minor AM Radio celebrity in Spokane, Portland, Fargo, a small town in Illinois, and any other place with a microphone and a stick are over, but I highly recommend it if you have an hour to kill.  There are activities that are less fun.  I would dedicate myself to becoming the world’s greatest radio guest, but there is no money in it, and I don’t need another hobby.

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Kent Sterling Fired – Final Chapter by kentsterling
March 1, 2010, 9:43 am
Filed under: Kent Sterling Fired | Tags:

by Kent Sterling

The number of times people Google “Kent Sterling Fired” leads me to believe that my timely demise as program director from Emmis Indianapolis reflects a level of interest that mirrors my own – none.  The quality of my life is so much better that it’s hard to describe.  My energy is much better.  My health is better.  My marriage is better.  My friendships are better.  People seem to be happier with me.  That’s nice.

For the first time in years, I’m relaxed.  While driving, I’m happy to just drift along at the speed of traffic (or at least not shout obscenities at every car or truck who pulls in front of me).  I don’t judge people quite as quickly, but I still have some work to do there.  The primary obstacle in my way is that I believe I am a very effective judge of people and systems.  It’s very difficult for me to hand money to slack-jawed boobs who are indifferent to my patronage.  Yesterday, I left two Arby’s before ordering.  At the first, all of the workers were way in the back of the store when I walked in.  The store appeared abandoned.  At the second, as I ordered a lady walked up, and interrupted my order by asking for two bags.  The man taking my order turned from me without a word and fulfilled the lady’s request.  Next stop, Burger King, where the lady taking my order nearly incurred my wrath by responding to my distinct request for a “Whopper sandwich” with the typical and annoying “sandwich or combo”.  I told her that I asked specifically for a sandwich, so my inference were I her would be that I want a sandwich.  She gave me a look that forced me to keep an eye on her to see whether she might defile my food or signal the cook to do so.  Clearly, I have some work to do.

February might have been the first month since I reached driving age that I haven’t used the car horn at all.  Baby steps.

The two businesses with which I am involved are moving in the right direction.  This website now has four writers other than me, and the page views more than tripled from the January (10,032) to February (32,105).  Part of that is due to a couple of posts being picked up at “Extra Mustard” at the Sports Illustrated website, but page views are page views.  In April, we will migrate this site to wordpress.org, which will allow us to sell some panel ads and start generating some cash.  It’s nice to make changes without writing a 30-page dossier designed to convince management of the need to make the change.  We have formed an S Corp called Moops Media to be prepared for the financial success that is inevitable.

The college search company Rob Nichols and I have started is moving along nicely with a beta test to be completed this month.  Then, we’ll be ready for customers.  Rob and I will be looking for a half-dozen high school sophomores or juniors this spring who are interested in participating in sports in college.  We will build the collateral materials helpful in making that dream a reality.  Both Rob and I enjoy helping kids, and that’s really the motivator for launching the business.  I’m roughly 50 pages into writing a book on dads.  That’s going a little slow going because I get a little emotional thinking about my dad or my son.  It’s kind of a five-page at a time ordeal.

I also send unsolicited radio tips to an email database of industry bigwigs.  It’s addressed from Sterling Media, as though I’m some kind of high-falutin’ consultant.  Of course, I’m not, but I have learned a shitload about radio over the years that I simply don’t hear on even the best stations in the country, so maybe I can help a little with a little perspective.  Maybe not.  Regardless, it makes me laugh to sit in my living room and write tips on how to better manage programming at sports and news talk radio stations when I was asked to not do that anymore at the place where I learned most of what I know.  Being presumptuous is fun when it brings no consequence.

Anyway, this is the last time I’m going to write about being fired because for that episode to be defined as an end of something is inaccurate.  January 4 was the beginning of three very enjoyable vocations, and a course toward being a saner and more attentive person.  Warren Buffett always says that rule #1 for gathering wealth is to never lose money.  He says that rule #2 is to never forget rule #1.  Being happy exposes a very similar dynamic.  Rule #1 is to avoid things that make you unhappy or bring stress.  If you only do what you love, you’ll never have a bad day.  Sounds simple.  It is simple.  I’ll write more about what I’m doing, but not in terms of being fired.

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Kent Sterling Fired – Chapter Five; Happy Birthday to Me by kentsterling
February 22, 2010, 10:17 am
Filed under: Kent Sterling Fired | Tags:

by Kent Sterling

There is a great scene at the end of the film “Charlie Wilson’s War” where Phillip Seymour Hoffman explains to Tom Hanks how good and bad fortune isn’t always good and bad.  There aren’t many of us who want to be fired.  I sure as hell didn’t.  Both of the radio stations for which I was responsible were succeeding by every metric available.  I was working my ass off, and so were the two staffs.  Good right? 

No.  My wife was miserable.  I was too concerned with work to know it.  There were issues at work that caused doubt in the staff, and so my work had more to do with circumventing internal issues as we tried to maintain positive momentum in all departments, so my focus was on trying to patch the emotional holes so our ship could keep moving.  All of that work kept me from listening to my wife when I got home.  I got fired.  Bad, right?

No.  That’s no way to live life, and definitely not a course for long-term success in marriage.  Okay, that’s the backstory for those who haven’t seen the first four installments of my post-Emmis life.

It is much more interesting and rewarding to build from scratch than it is to try to manage by committee.  I’m not against authority necessarily unless they are difficult to convince when I know that I’m right.  Here as I write, there is no one to convince of anything.  Rob Nichols is a very reasonable and smart man, so the business we are starting to help kids find the right college is fun and will be ultimately profitable.  This blog is nothing but fun.  Readership is three times greater this month that last, and with a little wind behind us we should exceed a threshold beyond which we will likely have to rent our own server space – a nice problem to have.

Distance from talk radio has provided perspective that I will either use in trying to correct the current evolution of a still very effective medium in conveying a client’s message, or utilize in building my own brands.

The internet is such an immediate and easily accessed conveyance of ideas that the parallels between it and talk radio are many and obvious.  The challenge with both is in aggregation of eyes and ears, and the solutions are very similar.

One of the interesting elements of the support I continue to get from people in radio and at Emmis is a continued expression of pity for my situation, as though getting fired is ultimately bad.  If I were less secure, I would be insulted.  There are a million little clichés about how life isn’t about getting knocked down, but how you get up.  To me, it’s much simpler than that.  You can’t be knocked down if you don’t fall.  Take the passion and intellect employed where you worked for others, and apply it to something else.  I’m not in the office anymore, but I’m out here working at something I’m proud of and enjoying life.  Not only am I not dead, sad, morose, emotionally paralyzed, filled with self-loathing and hate for those who made this change; I’m happy, challenged, and as emotionally right as I’ve  been in 15 years.

Keep the faith.  Believe in your talents, and support those around you.  Know that you define your workplace – your job does not define you.  Treat people well.  Have some fun everyday.

Today is my birthday, and that’s a pretty good day to be reflective as a friend suggested this morning.  This birthday, I feel better about life than I have in many birthdays.  I’m wiser, more supportive and emotionally available.  Last year to the day I was in Mexico with two friends.  I was laughing – really laughing – for the first time in so long I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed.  This year, I can remember the last time I laughed.

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