As Buzz Knight’s career has blossomed and expanded at Greater Media over the years, one constant remains perfectly clear…he is and always will be a programmer at heart. However, along with his general programming expertise, he’s become equipped with the knowledge and skills-set of thinking in systemic terms. He’s long been a big believer in innovation and constantly challenging one’s self and his company. But his strongest asset just might be his ability to foster collaborative strategic decision-making efforts with the dozens of programmers and managers he interfaces with on a routine basis.
You typically start each year by attending the CES conference in Vegas to stimulate ideas and to open horizons. What were your tech application takeaways this year?
There are so many products that reinforce more than anything the need to highlight and foster innovation at all of our organizations. The growth of the automotive sector prioritizes the critical need to invest and protect great talent in a world increasingly driven by content and a thirst for media to stand out. As mobility and connectivity become a way of life, car companies are beginning to be referred to as “mobility companies.” I love attending the CES to be appropriately frightened by the future and to be correctly prepared for the present.
You’ve long been an advocate of innovation, the necessity of stepping out of the comfort zone, and challenging yourself. How do you integrate this thought process into your management style?
I try to encourage curiosity, collaboration and an open-minded thought process. My job is to encourage and facilitate the discussion and be an asset that will assist each team to see the possibilities. It helps when we have such great Market Managers that share that same philosophy.
Analytics and metrics have infiltrated every business these days, some deeper than others. How have these areas benefited Greater Media and are you making better decisions with more quantitative data?
In an era of so much available data we have to continue to grow our depth of learning while not becoming vulnerable to data overload. It’s a tricky balance and I believe we are all on a learning curve on how to maximize this approach. Whether its audience metrics to better understand the behavior of our audience so our programmers become stronger or qualitative data that shows our ROI for our clients we are all smarter today and more nimble. We have to continue to improve our analytic process.
Can this area also serve as a distraction and a possible path to the paralysis by analysis syndrome?
Yes it can for sure. It’s the “shiny objects” that can get in our way toward continuous improvement.
You’re responsible for 21 stations and all the respective content attached to these outlets. What’s your method to optimize your priorities when tackling such a diverse set of stations?
We are incredibly blessed to have such a talented group of programmers that lead our brands. It helps me to think of what is important to successful coaching, and remember what was effective reflecting on my days as a programmer. Always attempting to master the art of effective questioning, but also effective listening is key. I try to be conscious of motivating while providing them the tools and feedback to think for themselves.
Given the wide variety of brands you’re involved with, how do you find programming varying format to format, and what do you believe to be the most challenging format to program?
Great programming and great content is the foundation of a great brand. No newsflash there. What have changed are the methods of consumption and the path to engagement. The most challenging brands are the ones that have a deep need for regular talent management. That would be most of the Greater Media brands since we are so consistently investing in talent. Obviously stations like Sports/Talk or News/Talk with a more around the clock talent bank require a higher degree of coaching excellence.
How would you best define GM’s management style regarding programming, is the company more top-down oriented, or does it all start at the local levels?
From the beginning Greater Media has stressed the autonomy of our local management, commitment to local community service and leadership to improve the listener and client experience. As we begin to celebrate our 60th year that is still our core fundamental precept that we work to deliver to the Bordes family. The company focuses on product quality, customer service and internal respect for each individual.
Can you elaborate on the collaborative style of communication and decision making the company has perpetuated over the years?
When you start by offering employees a balance of professional growth and satisfaction and add personal fulfillment to the recipe it produces a much better quality of life for all on the team. Collaboration is so much easier when all of the members of the organization like and respect each other. Of course we aren’t perfect, but I think we are pretty good at “cutting to the chase” so a decision is made. In the end it yields great brands and formats that deliver positive results for our clients.
You report directly to CEO Peter Smyth. What have you learned from Peter that has enhanced your management style over the years?
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to continue to work for Peter Smyth and continue to learn from his leadership. From him I hope I have enhanced my skills as a business executive who also has the good fortune of being involved in show business. Peter’s respect for what talent means to a great brand is hopefully something I live up to. His continued deference for treating individuals with respect is an important style that I try to improve upon every day. I have also learned from Peter’s industry leadership and try to bring those same qualities to the industry work I’m involved with.
GM is a smaller, more intimate company than other radio groups. What are the distinct advantages of working in a company structure like this?
The advantages are clear and concise when it comes to communication and decision making. We consistently work to improve the process and we benefit from the local autonomy that our culture provides.
Of all the other multi-media options vying for your listeners’ time and attention, which options do you feel threaten the radio industry the most?
The list is endless which speaks to the challenge and the opportunity. There has never been a more robust time for audio consumption in our lifetime. Going back to my CES trip and specifically observing the “connected car,” the experience has gotten so much easier for consumers to use. Everything is available at their fingertips! We can’t control how and when people get restless for different content. If we cultivate great content and audience engagement, that is our best chance to win the audience vote.
If terrestrial radio is going to continue to be a major player in this wide entertainment and information arena, what must the medium do to insure a growth oriented future?
First and foremost we have to keep investing in talent. This is the lifeblood of our brands and a lifeline to every community we serve. Next we have to continue to experiment and innovate. Try something! Innovate around video or podcast content. Experiment with something that grows your social footprint. Do things that other forms of audio can’t do. Find new creative partnerships. Innovate ways to develop future talent within any of your channels of distribution. Lastly, we all have to be evangelists for what we do. That is another one of the lessons from Mr. Smyth. Let’s live it and love it and we can continue to be major forces in our communities!