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Friday, January 30, 2015

Achieving The Dream. Managing Your Own Station


Back in December, Shane Sparks was named market manager for NRG's seven-station cluster in Northwoods, Wisconsin. Sparks spent a decade in sales management for NRG in Fort Atkinson, also in Wisconsin. Since he was 15 years old, he has worked in radio, first on the air, then in sales. NRG COO Chuck DuCoty said, "Sparks understands all facets of the business with a successful track record in operations, sales management, and on-air work, as a successful play-by-play announcer and sports show host." What lit Sparks' fire for radio management? Let's find out...

RI: When you got the call you were promoted to GM, what was your first thought?
Sparks: I made it. I did it. I say that from the standpoint of it's been a goal. I made a commitment, probably back in 2001, that I was going to continue to do some on-air stuff, but I wanted to make the climb to GM. Not having a background in sales at that time, I knew I had a lot of work to do. So, I slid from an operations manager into sales, starting as an account executive and then eventually becoming a sales manager. Then, I just waited for an opportunity, the right opportunity, to become a GM in the right market. I have a lot of people tell me it's a pretty neat story. You don't get here without a lot of hard work and good people around you. It's very neat.

RI: Why was it a goal of yours to become a general manager?
Sparks: I got started in radio doing sports play-by-play. I knew that those jobs were going to become harder and harder to come by. I thought I did an ok job as a play-by-play announcer. With that, I was really fortunate to see some people that were in the general manager's chair. Scott Trentadue was my GM at the time. I saw the job he did and the impact he could have on a radio station and in the local market. That was something I wanted to strive for and try to achieve.

RI: There can be a lot of negativity in radio, there's a lot of people getting laid off these days. How did you not let that bother you and still want to be a manager?
Sparks: Well, we are fortunate in that where I work, there was very little turnover. That outside negative influence didn't really affect me at all. I will say, I found in this industry, at least for me, if you keep your nose down and you keep just grinding it out and working hard, I think the people above you see that. They acknowledge that. They know that you are an asset for the corporation or for the radio stations you're working for. I'm just trying to grind it out and not only be better myself, but try to build a sales staff.

RI: What is your philosophy on managing people? How do you plan to make them successful now?
Sparks:  I'm big on being fair and trying to look at what's best for each individual. And trying to keep the interest of the station and the company in mind. I find that while sometimes the individuals aren't always happy with the decisions you make at a certain time, when they take a look back and reflect on various things at various times, they know in the big picture what you were trying to accomplish. If you set that tone and you are consistent in that regard, I think it leads to a successful vibe in the radio station. The other thing that's really important is trying to build a family atmosphere. Sometimes the programming side can be separate from the sales side and it can lead to hard feelings. If you can bring those departments together so everybody's looking out for one another and everyone's willing to pitch in a little more, that leads to everybody being able to achieve the best they can for the radio station and the company.

RI: How important do you think it is, and how often will you interact with clients?
Sparks: Often. I'm a guy that's going to want to travel around with our sales reps and be at events and get to know them, especially now from the standpoint that I'm in a new market. I need to learn about the area and learn about our clients. One of the best ways to do that is to be present and on sales calls on occasion, going to business functions and meeting people. I've always been a involved in the community, whether it was doing play-by-play or as the booster club president for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater basketball team.

RI: Have you had a chance to think about what any of your challenges will be, and put a plan together?
Sparks: The biggest challenge here is we cover such a large area with our six stations. In this day and age, the sales staff is not necessarily in the office each and every day. There's so much driving. It's a matter of finding a way to manage them on a day-to-day basis. The first thing I've got to do is to develop trust with them and make sure they know I'm there to help them and make them realize I'm trying to make them better on a daily basis.

RI: So, here comes the new guy, the new GM. What did you say to the staff to try to start that bond with the people that will now be working for you?
Sparks: I think there's a respect that is gained when people hear my story from the standpoint of how I kind of climbed the ladder step by step. I think people realize that I've earned this opportunity. At least that's what you hope. It's a combination of that, and when you can look at the programming side and talk to those people and say "You know what? I've done what you've done. I have had to splice tape on reel-to-reel. I've bulked carts. I've been in at 4:30 in the morning taking phone calls for school cancellations." They know that you are one of them to a certain extent. On the sales side, you simply lay out the successes that you've had in the past and hopefully they buy into the fact that you believe you can bring those success stories here to the North Woods.

RI: Why do you love being in radio?
Sparks: It's fun. I'm not sure what else I would do. Every day is different. There is an energy in a radio station every day. You are not in radio unless you're creative. You're usually a little outgoing. You're fun. There is just an energy in a radio station that you don't find in many other work places. There is rarely a dull moment in a radio station.

RI: Overall, what would you like to see the radio industry do better?
Sparks: I wonder if Shane Sparks who got into broadcasting as a 15 year-old could do the same today and grow into this spot. That's the part that's a little disheartening at times. Working a live overnight shift, cutting your teeth, doesn't happen much these days, if at all. Interning?I don't think there are as many intern programs out there today as there were 25 years ago. I always worry?I know it is a theme I've read in Radio Ink?how are we going to continue to grow talent, most notably on the on-air side? That's the part that concerns me. I'm blessed here in the North Woods to have an on-air staff that has over 100 years of service in radio. These are radio veterans. But, I am not sure where that next group of radio veterans is going to come from.

RI: What is it like to work for Mary Quass and Chuck DuCoty and the NRG team? Two of the most well-respected broadcasters in the industry.
Sparks: They are spectacular. Mary Quass and Chuck DuCoty are why I continue to work for NRG Media. They talk about great local radio and I've seen their commitment when they bought the radio stations in Fort Atkinson. The money and the resources they put in to build new studios. It's impressive. You go in and talk to your counterparts in different markets or friends that you have in different areas, and I can't say that this is always the case. I'm very fortunate to have them as bosses and I owe them very much for the opportunity that I have today.

Reach out to Shane to congratulate him on his promotion and enthusiasm for radio

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