Inside Radio: Chuck Lontine

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Published on January 24, 2009

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Inside Radio: Chuck Lontine

www.InsideRadio.com Page 1 of 3 Monday, October 27, 2008 “ Personalities INSIDE RADIO ” Sponsored by Weight Carried A Lontine by Mike Kinosian, Personality Editor Autonomy he’s been given to program the resurrected “K-High” You wouldn’t have been completely wiped out when the market extends to the way music is rotated and how/when spots are played. cratered last month if only there were multiplicity in your “It’s almost like being back in radio in the 1970s when you could portfolio. walk down the hall and talk to the general manager who was usually [also] the owner,” Lontine states. “You could instantly That sentiment was undoubtedly spewed approximately as often as get an answer about [something that needed to be done] to make those maintaining a financial shellacking would have been averted the station sound better. [KKHI] is a blend of contemporary jazz, through rigid concentration on one specific investment. rhythmic Adult Contemporary and some eclectic soft rock. We do our fair share of voicetracking and satellite programming [but Take your 20-20 hindsight pick. we] integrate it in a seamless fashion so the listeners’ needs are still being met. That’s the trick.” Career wise, Chuck Lontine is clearly an ardent diversity proponent, having segued from an on-air talent to sales to the Primarily a mid- to upper-two-share (12+) station with a handful General Manager’s chair to owning a piece of a station. of upper-three-share books, the original “K-High” (KHIH) peaked in Winter 1998 (5.3) but gave way to Top 40 KFMD in Moreover as Marconi Media Ventures’ Owner/Managing Director, late-September 2000. he was able to help Colorado Public Radio get a second FM dial position this summer by engineering an $8.2 million transaction That was when Jefferson-Pilot (later acquired by Lincoln Financial) with Educational Media Foundation. stepped in with KJCD, which transitioned to Sports KKFN-FM this past March. “The overwhelming evidence is [Smooth Jazz High Hopes in Denver] always seemed to have an untimely death,” Lontine For the interim, the affable Lontine is Vice President/General comments. “There were reasons that had nothing to do with ratings Manager for Bustos Media Smooth Jazz KKHI “K-High”/Denver, or revenue. When [KHIH] went off the air, it was cash-flowing $1 a facility he should know exceptionally well since he brokered its million and ranked top ten [among 25-54s]. In the sensitivities of sale two years ago. “Listener reaction has been overwhelming,” he today’s radio economy, you’d be bombarded with inquiries about comments of the station which debuted four months ago (mid-June [a single stick that could do that].” 2008). “I went on the air as the local proprietor when we signed on. I thanked listeners for tuning in and invited them to let me know Crystal Clear Career what they think of the station and radio [in general]. Sometimes Noticeably pleasant speaking tones notwithstanding, radio you have to watch what you ask for [because] I stopped counting nonetheless had to find Denver native Lontine who in 1975 at age after 500 [messages].” 15 narrated an Easter cantata at his church. Some dispatched MP3 files of their favorite songs and airchecks of Attending that event was the owner’s mother of Denver’s then Denver’s original “K-High” (KHIH), an original late-1980s Smooth Beautiful Music KLIR (now CBS Radio Hot AC KIMN) who Jazz outlet when the format was referred to as NAC. gave Lontine her son’s (Roger Anderson) business card. “She said I had such a nice voice and I should contact [Roger] immediately,” Advertisers have been slow but steady to KKHI and as Lontine Lontine remembers. “By my 16th birthday, I was a fulltime [KLIR] remarks, “Clients are listeners and listeners are clients to booth announcer.” contemporary jazz formats. It’s much like Classical and National Public Radio. It’s a very loyal, engaged and interactive audience. Three years later, 560 KLZ/Denver General Manager Sam Having dealt with those formats in my career, I’m savvy and Yacovazzi recruited Lontine to be a news reader on the powerhouse sensitive to listener needs. In most cases, car dealership owners, MOR (at that time) facility. “Sam was a shrewd business guy who bank presidents, venture entrepreneurs, club owners, artists and really knew the ins/outs of radio and I ended up as midday anchor musicians not only support the format as listeners – they also back when newsrooms were real,” Lontine explains. “I did that ultimately become clients.” INSIDE RADIO Personality Interviews by MIKE KINOSIAN — Sponsored by ASCAP

www.InsideRadio.com Monday, October 27, 2008 INTERVIEW Page 2 of 3 all through college. Having already been in commercial radio, I It was then back home to Denver in the mid-1990s when Lontine politely bowed out of the student station and transferred [from the was named GSM of KHOW and (ironically) “K-High.” University of Colorado’s journalism school] to the economics and finance business school. That wasn’t out of disrespect to college radio. With some partners, he would several years later (1999) acquire I just didn’t feel that was where I wanted to nurture my skills.” Class D Boulder AM KWAB (“Radio For Change”) which was arguably an Air America forerunner. “I was born and raised During Lontine’s KLZ news editor/anchor tenure he also added as a [diehard] Republican but we wrote a business plan to put ABC Radio news stringer to his resume. “Massachusetts Senator progressive talk on dying AMs in [markets like] Boulder, the Bay Ted Kennedy came to town to address the teamsters about health Area, Austin and Madison,” Lontine explains. “Before we knew care,” Lontine notes. “I completed all the forms to get access to it, the Boulder station became so wildly popular we did what any him for a one-on-one interview. I fed the tape with my voiceover [other broadcasters] would do – we exploited its strengths. It was to ABC [but] wouldn’t cash the $25 check because the ABC logo pre-9/11 but at the end of the tech bubble and I was unable to grow was on it. I worked out an arrangement with ABC Radio where I’d the company into the other markets. We made the painful decision travel with the [1980 presidential] campaign as it came through the to sell our little AM to Colorado Public Radio.” Rocky Mountain west. That was an experience of a lifetime.” Given that Lontine and his partners paid $300,000 for KWAB Transitioning from on-air to sales enabled Lontine to spend six and then recouped over $1 million for it, there’s more than simple years at “The top of the rock from the bottom of the Bay,” San justification for him to comment, “Everyone was happy on the Francisco’s KOME where he handled all Bay Area agencies in the financial side.” northern peninsula. “That was a great job,” he enthusiastically Going For Broke states. “As much as I love Colorado, San Francisco was on my radar as a place I always wanted to live.” At the close of the sale, he was presented with a non-compete in Denver-Boulder. “I signed it for financial reasons [but] was By contrast though, the year he spent at WLS/Chicago proved to limited with what I could do in radio,” points out Lontine who be very tricky. “Tom Tradup had just been brought in to revamp worked on his golf game for six months. “My children were in it as a full-on Talk station,” Lontine recounts. “Between the grade school and I was able to spend a lot of time with them that interview process and the actual start, WLS went from being summer. My lawyer called and said he found something [radio [Larry] Lujack in the morning and the best songs on the radio to broker] I could do.” talk. It was tough - especially since I was involved with national sales and ad agencies.” Initially gun-shy about the notion, Lontine realized only a relatively few radio brokers built successful financial models yet he jests, “I Progressive Proposition was too young to retire and could only lower [my golf] handicap Following a stint managing WHTQ/Orlando, Lontine in the so far. The bank account also needed a few more zeros so I had early-1990s was entrusted to oversee what, until then, was family- to think of something.” operated WLAN AM & FM/Lancaster, PA as VP/GM. “David Sarnoff’s signature was on the license,” he gasps. “I hired and Over lunch at the peak of the Reagan revolution, Lontine’s father enlisted everyone I knew. [Z100’s] Steve Kingston helped me with suggested his son might want to look into selling station licenses the music; Scott Shannon did voiceover/imaging work; and Bill rather than radio commercials. “Charles Senior put that bug in my Richards [conducted] music tests. We turned the hip-hop station ear a long time ago. I researched it and immediately did a list of into a Hot AC and, in short order, went to #1 [among Women 18- pros/cons. Within six months of opening Marconi Media Ventures, 34] and top five 25-54.” I was on the top ten broker rankings. I’ve stumbled along the way INSIDE RADIO Personality Interviews by MIKE KINOSIAN — Sponsored by ASCAP

www.InsideRadio.com Monday, October 27, 2008 INTERVIEW Page 3 of 3 but by and large have done a pretty good job of being a [Merger Playing faintly in the background on the car radio (tuned to San & Acquisitions] guy.” Francisco’s KFOG) was “Carry That Weight” from the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. “I began crying,” Lontine emotionally In the last five years, his shop has brokered sales in excess of recounts. “I thought to myself, `My Lord, look what just $78 million and Lontine credits Elliot Evers for influencing him. happened.’ This will be part of me for the rest of my life. That “I watched the effortless way he interacted [among] broadcasters, was when I was in my 20s. The birth of my son came in my 30s bankers and brokers. He really is the template. I haven’t owned [100% and my company was born [when I was in] my 40s.” of a station] yet, but my wife and I are buying [one] in Telluride.” Vocal On Being Local Occasions where someone mortgages their house to purchase radio Economic downturns don’t dissuade ever-optimistic Lontine who stations are few and far between. “Today’s owner is beholden to quips, “When one Seattle coffee shop closed, another one opened shareowners, private equity bankers or some mix thereof,” Lontine and it was Starbucks. It’s as true today as it was yesterday. If you explains. “Pressures in today’s environment are breathtaking. You have something that’s unavailable anywhere else, you’ll always must over-perform on every signal you own and maximize every find an audience. In radio, that `anything else’ is local personalities resource. You can’t leave anything on the field and [must] use all communicating local events, local news, local traffic and local the tools in the shed. That’s the state of radio today.” weather. Remembering how we got here will keep us alive.” Funding options wildly available three years ago have all but Firmly believing Clear Channel Talk KOA/Denver “nailed” it vanished and Lontine remarks, “We’re on the end of a private during last year’s World Series when the hometown Rockies equity cycle that began roughly in 2004 [in which many] private played the Red Sox Lontine explains, “Everyone tuned in to hear equity firms, hedge funds and banks are looking for a strong local guys talk about the local team. It’s a matter of market and return. Broadcasters have to find format holes, niche markets and market needs. Many of my clients ask how radio is changing. maximize every revenue stream. That will be the playbook for the It isn’t changing - it’s already changed. The day Apple dropped next several years.” iPods into the market was the dawn of a new day for radio. My daughter’s favorite station is [Entercom/Denver Hot AC `Alice’] Family-Focused KALC - my son’s favorite is his iPod docking station.” As part of a mid-1980s marketing campaign to re-enforce a station contest where a car was the centerpiece prize, Lontine wrote, Although his training the last eight years has been that of a directed and shot the television commercial which nabbed a regional merger/acquisition broker/banker, Lontine declares, “My role as Emmy. “Our morning guy was the talent,” he notes. “We did another a transitional manager and dedicated part of the Bustos team is promotion where we locked up [one of our on-air personalities] something I serve with honor. Getting involved with something at the zoo [as part of a zoological society fundraiser]. I wrote [an such as `K-High’ with [Bustos Media Owner/President] Amador acceptance statement] for both awards and wound up giving the [Bustos] in my hometown has been a dream come true. I’d like `Thank-You’ speech for the wrong award.” him to sell `K-High’ to me. Then I’d have to convince someone to loan me the money [to purchase it].” Times away from “K-High” and his brokerage usually find Lontine on his mountain or street bike as he insists, “It’s a great way to cleanse body, mind and spirit. I also find sailing to be one of the most tranquil activities one could ever get involved with.” Living in one of the world’s most beautiful areas, he and his family take full advantage of the National Forest Service. “I always say if Colorado had an ocean, we would [have every other area beaten],” Lontine maintains. “You have to live a full and balanced lifestyle. In the final analysis, a person must be on top of the game in their personal, spiritual and physical life. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter what you’re putting out over the speakers or presenting to your WHO: Chuck Lontine clients or Wall Street. I tell that to my employees and those in WHAT: Owner/Managing Director partnerships with me.” WHERE: Marconi Media Ventures Also – Interim General Manager of Bustos Media Smooth Family is a top priority to the father of 22-year-old Lauren and 13- Jazz KKHI-FM “K-High”/Denver year-old Benjamin. When Lauren was born in Marin (CA) County, Published by INSIDE RADIO.com Monday, October 27, 2008. Written by Lontine painstakingly pulled up to the hospital’s circular drive to Personality Editor, Mike Kinosian for INSIDE RADIO and M Street Corp. All take his wife and newborn daughter home. rights reserved. No alterations to the content of this story are permitted. INSIDE RADIO Personality Interviews by MIKE KINOSIAN — Sponsored by ASCAP

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