A Foundation To Build On: Carl Butrum Is Finding, Nurturing Tomorrow's Industry Leaders (07/23/07)
By Editor-in-Chief Joe Howard
He’s been in radio for 35 years, but Carl Butrum says nothing he’s ever done in radio has been as rewarding as serving as president of the John Bayliss Broadcast Foundation, which awards scholarships and internships to college students who aspire to careers in radio.
“This is the finest thing I’ve ever been involved with in my life,” he says “This is changing people’s lives, it isn’t just paying their mortgage. It’s creating a path that didn’t exist before.”
Just a few years ago, the foundation — started over two decades ago to honor the memory of longtime broadcaster John Bayliss — was settling into an uneasy pattern. Attendance was slipping at its annual black-tie dinner, which each year roasts a different radio luminary — and by Butrum’s admission, the organization needed a shot in the arm. At the behest of foundation Chairman Gary Fries and Katz Media CEO Stu Olds, Butrum answered the call to revive the organization.
One of the first moves he made was to create an internship program. Envisioned as an ideal complement to the group’s scholarship program, which each year provides financial assistance to students studying to enter radio business, the internship program connects students on the tail end of their studies directly with radio groups that oftentimes have needs these aspiring radio professionals can meet.
“It may well turn out that the most valuable thing Bayliss is doing for our industry is locating the great talent and putting them on site in these internship programs,” Butrum says. “At this year’s dinner, one company said they want to double the number of interns they’re taking. If we continue to do this — and my goal is 100 internships and 20 scholarships a year — at that point we’ll really be firing on all cylinders.”
Butrum adds, “If you look at it from the school’s perspective, they now have access to the great corporations. Their professors have an opportunity to do something very special for their students.”
Through his work with the Bayliss Foundation, Butrum, too, is doing something special — not just for these students, but for the radio industry, as well. His efforts, and the efforts of those connected to the foundation, may very well pay dividends for radio for years to come.
Radio Ink: Give us a brief history of The Bayliss Foundation.
CARL BUTRUM: This is the foundation’s 22nd year. It was created in honor of John Bayliss, who died tragically 23 years ago. He’d done a great deal to help people who wanted careers in radio or to buy stations. Paul Kagan and some of his friends wanted to honor John’s memory after all he’d done for others, so they started the Bayliss Foundation. The concept was to award 20 scholarships a year to 20 worthy students interested in a broadcasting career.
RI: How did you get involved with the foundation?
CB: About four years ago — I don’t if know the industry just got tighter, or if it was because of consolidation — but support was waning and the foundation needed a shot in the arm. I had been in the rep business for 30 years, and was working at Katz when [Katz CEO] Stu Olds and [former RAB President/CEO] Gary Fries asked me if I would be interested in leadership of the Bayliss Foundation, to try and re-energize and re-fund it. I told them I’m a salesperson, not really a fund raiser, and I wasn’t sure I could do that job. But I thought about it, and came back to them with a few questions.
RI: How did the idea of the internship develop?
CB: Ninety-five percent of the foundation’s money came from the annual dinner, and attendance was flagging a little. So, I suggested the possibility of an intern program as a money generator. We’d start a program and work top down; I’d tell the presidents and/or the deans of the great radio schools — institutions like USC, the universities of Georgia and Miami, Michigan State, Southern Illinois, Syracuse — that we want their best and brightest students who want careers in radio, as selected by their professors. This isn’t a television or cable initiative, it is a radio initiative. And they were ecstatic; in fact, three of the presidents flew to New York to find out what they had to do to participate.
I then went to the presidents of the radio corporations — we currently have 21 corporations supporting this — and laid on them a very simple concept: We’re competing for tremendous talent in a competitive world, and nine of ten kids who are introduced to radio never choose it as a career. We have to be more proactive, and make them want to see us. A number of these corporations thought the intern program was a fabulous idea. They pay Bayliss $5,000 for each superstar we find, and then pay the intern 10 bucks an hour or so for their six-week internships.
RI: What were some of your concerns, and how did you address them?
CB: A friend of mine commented that he can get all the interns he wants for free, so why would he pay $5,000 for one? Because these kids are hand-selected by their professors. The disciplines will be engineering, on-air, programming, marketing, and sales. We mesh the talents of kids coming out of these universities with the corporations’ needs, within the markets they give us. This initiative is actually better than handing a kid $5,000, because they wouldn’t have access to such opportunities at these great corporations. Clear Channel has a weekly conference call with their interns because they have their own university, and they have found Bayliss to be a very good partner to help direct talent into the industry.
Let’s say a kid wants to be a baseball player, and you want to inspire him. Do you send him to a high school, or to Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox are in town? Take these students into a building with seven or eight radio stations, and it’s like the difference between a World War I fighting plane and the Starship Enterprise. They come back saying, “I had no idea how sophisticated radio was”; “I had no idea how exciting it was.” We were also having trouble getting kids interested in sales and marketing. Say the word sales, and you’d get a dial tone. We weren’t showing them the excitement, the income potential.
RI: How is the intern program working out?
CB: We started this in March of 2005. Since then, we have awarded paid internships or scholarships to 160 students, more than the previous 10 years of Bayliss scholarships put together. We did 14 scholarships last year and another 14 this year, and we’re doing 40 to 45 paid internships. We’re impacting almost 60 kids a year, which is up from between 10 and 20.
We’ve had absolute rave reviews from the corporations. We’ve had very, very few flame outs; I would say that 98 percent of these kids have been absolutely terrific. And because we insist on juniors, seniors, or grad students, a number of them have been hired at the end of their internships.
As good as this program is, it may well turn out that the most valuable thing Bayliss is doing for our industry is locating the great talent and putting them on site in these internship programs. At this year’s dinner, one company said they want to double the number of interns they’re taking. If we continue to do this — and my goal is 100 internships and 20 scholarships a year — at that point we’ll really be firing on all cylinders.
If you look at it from the school’s perspective, they now have access to the great corporations. Their professors have an opportunity to do something very special for their students. Also, these students’ parents are paying six figures for them to get an education in radio.
RI: After the schools send their candidates, how does the foundation then narrow down and place them?
CB: Bayliss and the corporation whittle down candidates based on the skill sets they’re looking for, and interaction with the students. Let’s say a school sends us 10 intern candidates. We may only place four, because it’s very difficult to merge the markets with the schools, and these kids can’t afford to go 200 miles from home and live in a different city in the summertime. So, we’ve got to match them up with where they live or where Aunt Betty lives so they can stay for free.
I’ve also learned that 10 schools isn’t enough; they can’t provide the number of interns to match up with the corporations, so we’re now increasing the number of Bayliss schools to 20. I held it to 10 because I’ve got to create the relationship with the school, and I’m trying not to spend $100,000 a year on a travel budget. So, I’ve got to do it systematically and economically, because we need more schools. Yet, I want to be able to give the schools five to ten internships and one, two, three scholarships every year so they know Bayliss is a partner for the future.
RI: Have you reached out to more schools?
CB: The University of Nebraska approached us and said we would like to become a Bayliss radio school. As a matter of fact, they offered to put together a marketing program if we allowed them to be a member, so we said let’s do it. [Bayliss Chairman] Gary Fries has a very strong relationship with that university. Penn State has also approached us, so the word is out. We’ve also parted company with one school and we may part company with one or two others; they simply haven’t given us the kinds of radio candidates that we’re looking for.
RI: Which areas of the business are of most interest to students?
CB: Obviously, there is a lot of on-air interest, but as students get into these corporations, they are introduced to all the jobs available. It has changed people’s minds. I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve read where they say this is life-changing; I now know what I want to do with my life.
RI: Of those pursuing on-air jobs, do they want to be jocks, or Talk hosts?
CB: Primarily jocks, but certainly both. A number of our students are in the industry as news directors, and one young man in Flint, MI, was hired at the end of his internship last year into the sales staff. They were so impressed with his ability to communicate. We’ve covered the gamut.
RI: How are scholarship recipients selected?
CB: We have a three-person committee including [Executive Director] Kit Hunter Franke. We’re looking for at least a B average and a very impressive resume, and we try and examine the personality and the accomplishments of these students. It’s very hard because it’s hard to say no. But until we have multiple millions in the bank, we have to say no to any number of the applicants.
RI: How strong an interest in radio are you seeing? Is the number of students looking to enter the business fairly high?
CB: We had two schools give us 10 candidates this year — that’s a lot of interest. A number of these schools also have 200 people working at the radio station, rotating through their jobs. We want juniors, seniors, and grad students, because we prefer somebody who will be out of school in 12 or 24 months and want to do this for a living.
When I ran Eastman Radio, I had offices in 12 cities. I didn’t know who the next superstar young salesperson was in Los Angeles, but my LA manager certainly did. If you think about it, we have a huge, free employment service at these universities, funneling talent in our direction because they value the relationship with Bayliss and what it does for them. Nothing succeeds like success; the schools love to be able to print and distribute a list of the people who have gone on to careers in radio and television. They’re very proud of that.
I remember when Bill Burton hired me in 1972. It may sound a little bit trite, but I went to his house and thought this is the kind of house I want to live in. He hired me in his family room on a Sunday afternoon and, to some extent, I think that was a Pygmalion kind of a deal. I didn’t know which suits to buy or which shoes to wear, and he took me under his wing. It’s exactly the same kind of a thrill when you help a student discover radio and put them in hands that can help to mold their dreams. I don’t think there is a better thing you can do.
RI: What can the industry do to continue inspiring young people to get into radio?
CB: The 21 corporations who are currently paying for the intern program are making a statement: We want young talent to come into our industry. What I want is another 30 corporations to step up to the plate and say they want to be in. It’s funny, some corporations are out there billing $100 million dollars but throw nickels around like they’re manhole covers. It amazes me how somebody can say, “$5,000! You’ve got to be kidding!” when this is a rifle shot, a charity for radio. This is directly aimed at helping radio find the next generation so we can compete with the brilliant young people running the Googles of the world. We need those people, and as we get older it’s more and more difficult to identify them. We have got to embrace and make these universities realize how much we care, and nothing says how you care like stepping up with your check book.
RI: Has the $5,000 per intern really delivered that shot in the arm you hoped for?
CB: It’s an extra quarter of a million dollars a year that pretty much goes right to the bottom line. That has almost doubled our income, and we’ve found this entirely new way to help endow these scholarships. We have also been discussing a matching funds program, or perhaps another event to grow our revenue streams and make us that much more important.
RI: Is another event something you’re seriously considering? Can we look for that?
CB: I don’t know which form it is going to take — there is a lot of competition for people’s wallets and attention. We have 18 people on our board of directors, and each is committed to doing something to encourage young people to come into our business. Another thing I am doing as we go from 10 to 20 schools is asking our board members to adopt a school. This way it’s not just Carl and Kit who are interfacing with the school; perhaps on a quarterly basis the president or the dean gets a phone call. [Former Granum Communications president] Herb McCord is a perfect example; he’s on the board of directors of Monmouth University, and we visit them in the middle of the summer and get to see that whole team. I need each of our board members to create that kind of relationship with the schools.
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