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From Broadcast Engineer to Station Owner

A Q&A with Sugar River Media’s John Landry

Radio magazine: Sugar River Media owns WNTK, WUVR, WCNL, WCFR and WCVR. Additionally, WSCS is owned by a separate non-profit entity, Sugar River Foundation, and you and your brother Rob are the officers of both the foundation and SRM, which supports it. How long have you owned each of these stations and been involved in the foundation?

John Landry: We took over on Feb. 2, 2017. It’s been a year now and things have gone well for us. We are solvent.

Radio: How did you decide to add station ownership to your résumé, in addition to your work as broadcast engineers?

Landry: Ownership was something we were thinking about for a while. We both have over 30 years working in the business and have been actively involved with more than just engineering.

For example, when computers first were brought in for traffic, both of us took an active role in the deployment. We knew how the traffic systems worked. Both of us had computer programming experience on IBM mainframes — not something most engineers at the time did.

We also made it a point to understand what the programming and promotions departments were doing. Both of us had worked with some first-class GMs. In short, between the two of us, we had seen and experienced a lot.

We might not know everything, but we had been through enough bad ideas and campaigns to know what not to do. This opportunity came along at the right time.

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Radio: You are based in the New York and Boston metro areas, respectively, while your stations are in New Hampshire and Vermont. What’s it like managing them from afar? Do you have plans to change that situation?

Landry: It is not easy to manage from afar. We can’t effectively be a local station without being in the community. We do have a small staff of dedicated employees who helped during the interim, but as of now, I am in charge of WCFR in Springfield, Vt., and close enough at hand to help at the other stations as needed. Ultimately, both of us will be on site more.

Radio: Is it difficult to balance your “day jobs” with the tasks associated with Sugar River Media?

Landry: It was very difficult to balance that. It was a primary factor in my decision to leave CBS in New York, although the dissolution of the Westwood One/CBS partnership was a sign that the scope of my job was going to change radically — and it did.

I felt if I had to be a board-op… I have six stations where I can do that, on my own terms — and I since have!

Radio: How do you think your technical backgrounds affect your business/management decisions? What has the learning curve been like?

Landry: It has required a totally different approach. While I am still an engineer — in fact the only technician ready at hand — keeping all six stations on the air with programming and with commercial inventory requires less dwelling on technical issues.

Not that there aren’t still technical items that need attention — there are many. We have to prioritize. Since I am the GM as well as the engineer, I can let the light bulb in my office go out until I fix the transmitter.

[Read a Tech Tip submission from John Landry.]

Radio: What has been the most challenging part of station ownership? Have you had to surmount any technical difficulties?

Landry: Without a doubt time management. There are only so many hours in the day. There are tasks that have to be completed before others can start, and there are programming tasks that must get done or the programming will stop and there will be dead air. And also certain vendors must be paid on the due date.

Radio: Do you have any advice for other broadcast engineers who might want to make a similar transition?

Landry: I think most engineers — especially those who have been contractors and have run their own businesses — would be able to adjust to owning and operating a station. It helps if you have people you can go to for advice on issues outside of your area of expertise. However, if you aren’t an outwardly social person, it might not be the thing for you.

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