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Chris Oliviero Wants To See The Sports Radio Industry Evolve

“Just try something new every once in a while. Throw an idea against the wall. Hire a host who is off the radar and off the grid. Be confident enough to be ridiculed for such moves.”

Ryan Maguire

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For many New Yorkers, the launch of WFAN in 1987 changed their lives forever.

That certainly was the case for a young Chris Oliviero, whose fascination with the new station and format sparked a love affair with radio that caused him to make it his chosen profession.

Oliviero spent 23 years with CBS Radio, including the last five as the company’s Chief Content Officer. He was a key figure in helping CBS build the top news and sports audio platform in the country, as stations in those formats dominated in audience and revenue. 

Shortly, CBS was acquired by Entercom (now Audacy), and he walked away from his corporate programming position to work in consulting.

Naturally, it didn’t last long. As has been the case for so many talented radio professionals who decide to “step away,” the industry finds a way to pull them back.

He was recruited, and soon accepted, the position of Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Audacy’s cluster of brands in New York City. For Oliviero, it was a homecoming of sorts since he’s had oversight over former CBS all-news Brands 1010 WINS, WCBS 880 and, of course, all-sports WFAN.

Oliviero will be attending the BSM Summit in New York March 2 and 3 and was gracious to speak with us about his career and thoughts on the industry.

Why radio? What got you into this industry?

WFAN’s birth in 1987 fascinated me as a kid with an aura and gravitational pull that only an around-the-clock, personality-driven live format can have when done right. Hard to grasp in our technology utopia today but it was just so new and different at a time when if you wanted the box score from a West Coast baseball game, you needed to actually put shoes on, leave the house and walk to the corner to buy a printed paper.

Plus, the personalities, including the callers, seemed to be right out of central casting, if that casting office was, of course, not in Hollywood but in Queens or The Bronx. I listened (a lot), I recorded hours on cassette tapes, wrote letters to the hosts, and I would even call in to attempt to sidestep the age restrictions imposed by the phone screeners. I was hooked. And I wanted to one day try and be part of it in any way possible. 

You worked on The Howard Stern Show. What did you learn about working with Stern and his team?

You need breaks in this business, especially early on, and luckily, I got a huge one. To be an intern in the late 1990s at the Stern Show and just to have a chance to witness complete mass media domination from radio to TV to film to books was the best education you could ask for. So many career lessons I have carried with me from those days.

The importance of the team, from top to bottom, and everyone knowing their specific obligation, no matter how big or small, and performing at their maximum level consistently day in and day out. That sense of mutual responsibility amongst employees really made a mark on me. If I don’t do my job well, it makes it harder for everyone else to do theirs. Oh and, of course, I learned don’t just win, win big; that’s always more fun. Run up the score on the competition. 

Who do you consider your mentors and why?

So many over the years, but your first is always the most impactful especially in the formative early days of a career. Gary Dell’Abate, hands down, will always have my appreciation. Gary paid attention to me, took the time to listen, then he actually followed up on the things we would discuss. He generously shared his experiences and his connections. All of this to me is a pretty good description of a mentor.

Fact is, I don’t know if I would have even gotten the chance to walk in the door at WFAN as a board-op if Gary did not take the extra step of calling Mark Chernoff to introduce us and vouch for me. But I am really glad Gary did and that even now, decades later, he still is someone I know I can call on for guidance. 

During your career, you’ve worked with and managed a LOT of very headstrong talent. What’s the secret sauce of getting them to perform well and play nice with others?

Well, I will whisper it so hopefully no one hears it. Though this flies in the face of the organizational chart and titles, I have always viewed it as if I actually work for the talent and not vice versa. My job is to get the best out of them and eliminate anything that prevents that. It is also about playing a role in helping them actually see what their best potential could be.

To start, though, you must have genuine empathy for how difficult their jobs are. Do you think it is fun getting a ratings report card every week judging the alleged “value” of your content? If you can build a mutual trust, and that does take time, then it is actually pretty easy going.

You also must be honest, in good times and bad, with each other. Empathy, trust, and honesty are the building blocks of any healthy marriage, and that’s how I view it, we’re married in this endeavor. I do laugh, though, when I see an executive come in and try to heavy-hand a talent and basically say ‘do this because you work for us.’ That never works and those management types usually are not long for the creative world.

If you could construct the ideal talk radio talent, what characteristics would this person have?

Intelligence and humor are the foundational pair of essential traits for a talk show host. Sprinkle in some self-deprecating awareness, along with a unique voice delivery and that always helps. And the ability to know when to be silent is key. A great host does not have to talk all the time, some of the best know when to be quiet and give others around them the stage to dance. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but being silent can make you a great talk show host.

What advice would you have for PDs and content directors?

Just try something new every once in a while. Throw an idea against the wall. Hire a host who is off the radar and off the grid. Be confident enough to be ridiculed for such moves. What is your equivalent of playing records backwards? But of course, just don’t lose the license. Short of that, have fun and stand out.

Radio has been going through a massive metamorphosis. What do you think the industry will look like in the next decade?

If I had a crystal ball, I’d say that local content actually increases in value for radio as much of the entertainment world looks to scale up nationally and even internationally. People will still live in communities and have unique experiences, especially with news and sports. We have a foothold in this space, so double down on it. If everyone zigs, sometimes there is a value for those who zag.

Plus, I think many of the industry content norms will expire and fall by the wayside. Why must a radio show be in a three- or four-hour block? Maybe it is only 37 minutes. And finally, who knows by 2032, maybe audio will have killed the video star. 

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

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Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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