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Rod Zimmerman


In 1978, I returned to Chicago and started working for McCann Erickson. Although a native of Chicago, I barely knew anyone in the advertising business. One of the first salespeople to call on me was Rod Zimmerman, then an account executive for WBBM-AM. He was a striking-looking, 20-something guy who dressed like a general manager. He carried himself with a ton of confidence and was initially very intimidating. At our first obligatory Buyer-Rep lunch, Rods humor slipped through his power image: perfectly fitted suit and immaculately coiffed hair; and behind Mr. Perfect was a funny, funny guy who made me laugh. Now, 30-plus lunches later (Rod ran off to run KMOX for a few years), Rod still makes me laugh and I still enjoy working with Mr. Perfect. As much as he tries to be tenacious and the toughest manager in radio, he is one of the nicest guys I know, just ask his kids.

Now, in his own words, here's how Rod Zimmerman, SVP/Market Manager CBS Radio Chicago, got into radio

I grew up in Pekin, Illinois, which is about 10 miles south of Peoria and equidistant from both St. Louis and Chicago. I became a fan of the Cardinals and not the Cubs because I loved listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck broadcasting the games on KMOX Radio. And of course, the Cardinals won World Series Championships. But my real passion was listening to the disc jockeys on WLS and WCFL: Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Bob Sirott, John "Records" Landecker, and all the rest.
My father was a 7Up distributor, meaning he drove a truck and sold all different brands of soda. I worked the routes in the summers during my college years, filling in when the drivers were on vacation. There were many long days of much harder work than I ever imagined for myself but with all that driving from store to store, I listened to a lot of radio. I knew I wanted to be a disc jockey. I first went to Western Illinois University to play basketball, but when that ended I knew I had to go to a good school for broadcasting...Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. To my surprise and enjoyment, also a great party school at the time.
I worked as a disc jockey for three local radio stations during my three years in Carbondale: Country, Soft AC, and Top 40. A few months before graduation, I spent days in the studio putting an "audition" tape together, carefully editing every word, every song and every intro. Before sending any out, I gathered a number of my friends together for a serious listen and evaluation of my work. It was unanimous. I sucked! No one would hire me. I would starve.
Soon afterward I saw an ad in "Broadcasting" magazine for an Account Executive position at WISM in Madison, Wisconsin. I figured if I could sell 7Up to grocers, bars, and convenience stores, surely I could sell something I was passionate about, radio. So I called the station. They liked SIU and had actually been to the campus for some recruiting trips in the past. It was a highly respected radio-TV department back then. They agreed to give me an interview. So I went to a Robert Hall store, bought a bad suit, polished up my Dingo boots, and drove eight hours straight to Madison. The meeting was with the General Manager, GSM and LSM, who was Chris Lytle.

Either they didn't like my B- grade point average, my bad suit, or just me, but it did not go well. They were unimpressed and said they would call, but never did. After waiting a week, I started calling them. Two or three times a day for three weeks straight. Finally, I think I wore them down and they gave me the job. It worked out. Another salesman named Mike Hillstrom was hired a year later, also from SIU, and in a matter of a few hours we became fast friends. He now is a very large client of ours (Chevrolet Dealers and Chicago Auto Trade Association). We worked hard and played hard for about three months when he announced he was moving to Chicago to join the sales team at WBBM Newsradio. Amazing!  He eventually helped me get hired in the sales department at WBBM, March 1978. I've been with CBS Radio ever since -- including six years as GM of KMOX with Jack Buck as Sport Director, priceless!

Lisa Miller is the President of Miller Broadcast Management in Chicago. She's also one of Radio Ink's Most Influential Women in Radio. Miller can be reached at or 312-454-1111.

So, how did you get into radio? We'd love to hear the story about why you're passionate about radio.

Read more How I Got Into Radio's HERE

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