ESPN 1000 Chicago John Cravens
The first time I met John Cravens was at a tag football game on a fall Sunday in Lincoln Park, Chicago. John was a young intern working at WLS. He was a pretty good sportsman, and when I inquired if he had played college ball, I was told that he was a cheerleader. "A cheerleader; what guy was a cheerleader?” But John was and he wore it well. We took a liking to each other and began a friendship that has lasted over 35 years. From intern to market manager for ESPN, I have watched John become one of the best in the business. And other than that one mistake where he dropped another cheerleader, he's pretty much perfect, at least in my eyes.
Now, in his own words, is how VP/ General Manager ESPN 1000 John Cravens got into radio…
My radio career began in the summer of 1975. As a student at Indiana University heading into my senior year as a telecommunications major, I woke up one summer morning realizing that the “real world” was just two semesters away. My plan up to that point was to replace Walter Cronkite. (When I subsequently met him and told him my goal, his response was "good luck kid.")
TV news was all I wanted to do. That dream changed that morning when I decided to walk into the lobby of WLS Radio to see what a summer internship might entail. My college nickname was “LS” – I grew up listening to the greatest radio station in the world. Larry Lujack, Tommy Edwards, JJ Jeffrey, Bob Sirott, Yvonne Daniels, John Records Landecker, and Steve King, to name a few, were my idols. Why shouldn’t I knock on their door?
Walking into the lobby of the Big 89 without an appointment and not knowing who the PD was didn’t seem to cross my mind as being a problem. I was told that John Gehron was the program director and that he was in a meeting. I took a seat and waited just a few minutes when John walked out with Neil Sedaka. I introduced myself to them both and asked for a few minutes of Gehron’s time. He agreed to spend a few minutes and took me back to his office which was cluttered with Arbitron rating books, charts all over his walls, and stacks of 45s. WOW, this day was starting out pretty well!
Gehron did not have an internship program at that point but agreed to allow me to spend the summer there if I could arrange to get college credit. I did and the rest is history. WLS was bigger and better than I could have ever imagined and it quickly made me forget about replacing Cronkite. This was a “mutha” of a radio station and I was on the inside! Every department was staffed with all stars, from Marty Greenberg in the corner office to the folks who did call-out research. I drove the Magic Bus along the lakefront, handed out hundreds of thousands – yes, hundreds of thousands – of WLS/Pepsi t-shirts, went to every concert, met rock stars, did music research, hung out with the sales department, and had the best summer of my life.
The sales department was an incredible group – all different, all very successful. Don Bouloukos, Simon T, G Michael Donovan, and Nick Trigony, to name a few. Hello radio, goodbye TV. I connected with these guys. They worked hard, they played really hard, and they seemed like they were having a lot of fun along the way.
Returning to Bloomington that fall resulted in a change of heart. After all, Cronkite wasn’t quite ready to step down.
Radio was now in my blood and I had to find a way to get back to WLS but I needed some experience. Upon graduation, I used Chicago ABC contacts to get me in the door at a couple of Indianapolis radio stations. While WNDE and WFBQ told me they had no sales openings, I convinced them differently. Nine months later I was on my way back to Chicago for an interview with Marc Morgan and ABC Radio spot sales.
Over 30 years later, I still call ABC, Cap-Cities ABC, Disney, and now ESPN, home. Every time I see my good friend John Gehron I thank him. He took the time to listen to my pitch and gave me my first break. I will never forget him for it.
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 Lisa@millerbroadcast.com 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.
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