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Radio's Rule Breaker -- CBS' Chris Oliviero


Chris Oliviero didnt follow the typical path to radio success. He didnt work in a small market for years, the way so many in our industry preach. He didnt move from city to city so he could take the next logical step up the radio ladder. And he didnt expect a job to be handed to him just because it was his turn. Oliviero worked harder than anyone else, he was more aggressive than anyone else, and when a job description didnt seem to fit, he created a new one and sold it to his superiors. And he says radio is ripe for more people like him. Oliviero is on the cover of the current issue of Radio Ink magazine. He paved his own way to the corporate offices of CBS Radio and it's a road he believes many others can travel, if they work hard, get the right opportunity, and break a few rules. Here's a portion of that interview.

Oliviero started his radio career in 1996 as an intern on The Howard Stern Show. That was after he was rejected for an internship at his dream station, WFAN, by Eric Spitz, now director of programming for CBS Sports Radio. Yes, I did reject Chris when he first applied for an internship at WFAN, Spitz says. Apparently, when Michael Jordan was a high school sophomore, he was cut by the varsity basketball coach. Mistakes happen. Both Chris and Michael used these rejections as motivation to excel in their respective fields and can now both say that they have graced the cover of a magazine.

As a diehard New York sports fan who was 10 years old when WFAN first went on the air, Oliviero was devastated and heartbroken when Spitz rejected him. He says, It was one of those typical stories where on one hand you get some bad news, then a couple of weeks later, you get good news. The good news? Oliviero was accepted for the Stern internship. When Stern producer Gary DellAbate asked Oliviero how many hours he could work, Oliviero said, As many as you can give me. So they put him to work five days a week, eight hours a day.

Oliviero gives DellAbate an enormous amount of credit for his career. I learned work ethic from him, he says. He was so influential, because after interning there and getting part-time hours, he gave me the best advice. He called me into his office one day and said, You cant work here anymore. I turned white. I was heartbroken. He said, You could stay here. Wed love to keep you here. But I know you want to do more in your career. You want to achieve more. You have to leave to achieve more.'" DellAbate helped Oliviero land a job at WFAN by placing a call to Mark Chernoff for him, and Oliviero was hired part-time, beginning what he calls his CBS Radio merry go-round in New York. He came through the door as an intern and advanced to work in various departments and stations throughout the New York cluster, gaining an enormous amount of experience. And seeing his hard work, CBS continued to give Oliviero more opportunities.

It was clear to then-CBS Radio CEO Joel Hollander that Oliviero was destined for greatness. Everyone thought I was crazy when we elevated Chris to a management position when he was so young, Hollander recalls. His listening skills, work ethic, and follow-through are unmatched for a young executive. In a business that has had trouble developing young managers, he is clearly a shining light. I would be quite surprised if he is not running a company one day.

RI: So many people in the radio industry think they need to pay their dues in small markets. How can people do it the way you did it? You started in the number one market in the country.
I think you are 100 percent right, and I have had this conversation with many people now especially with a lot of younger people, interns. You cant believe in those old wives tales. You have got to believe in yourself. Just because people say, This is the way it needs to be done, that doesnt necessarily mean it has to hold for you. If you force it on yourself, well, then, its going to come true. But if you take the approach that you can control your own destiny, and work hard enough, you give yourself a chance. That said, the critical component to it is something that is completely out of your control. I stress this all the time: You need the opportunity. You could think you are the most talented person, but if somebody, either an individual or a company, doesnt believe in you or give you the opportunity, you will never know. I, unequivocally, will state this till the day I die: I was blessed with people who believed in me and I was blessed with a company that gave me opportunities. Without that, I dont have anywhere close to the alleged 'success' that I might have. I give an enormous amount of that credit to those people in my life and the companies, specifically.

Would you say, when you talk to people in the radio industry, that there are more people like you, or more who expect a job to be handed to them?
I think, unfortunately, I see more of what some people might call an entitlement society, where people feel that they should get something for showing up. I showed up. I punched the clock. I did what I was supposed to do. Therefore, Im entitled to the next thing. I think that stops creativity. That holds people back. I think maybe its from growing up in Brooklyn, maybe it is some of that New York-type aggression I was just the opposite. It was push, push, push. Keep pushing. Keep going. Go up against the boundaries. Make people uncomfortable. I think that serves people better. There is a ripe opportunity for people in this industry to take that road, because the industry is starving for people to come up with new angles, new ideas, new business approaches. That is a golden opportunity for a young person coming up out of college. Come in and reinvent the wheel. Break the walls down. Break the rules. Reinvent the wheel. Do it right now.

You really have had meteoric growth, career-wise. What do you want to do, personally?
I think my personal goal is to contribute to an industry that is on a growth curve. I think the radio industry has gotten a little bit of a bad rap the last couple of years as sort of a slow-growth or an old-school, traditional form of media. I think people are underestimating the overall power and health of the industry. My goal, personally, is to make sure I am part of those agents of change who get radio its proper credit. If radio gets its proper credit, then all of us who work in radio will get our proper credit too, and we will be living good lives. That really is my goal, because I am proud of what we do and I am proud of our industry. I have no desire to work in any other industry.

So what does that mean? Do you want to run your own company?
The good thing about that is, remember, the sports network is just a portion of my day job. I am EVP of programming for CBS. I am responsible for programming the music stations, for the News stations, the Sports stations, the local network, you name it. I have got plenty on my plate to keep me diversified. I am also heavily involved in new-business development and business affairs. The company has given me a lot of avenues to stay busy and stay hungry. I just want to continue to grow. If you were to look at anything through the story that we just talked through, it is about constant growth, and constantly moving forward and not being stagnant. I have been blessed that the company has always told me when they felt it was the right time for something else. I am optimistic that when the time comes for something else, they will tell me about it.

To read the entire interview with Chris Oliviero order your own subscription to Radio Ink magazine HERE

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