I just watched "The Company Men," an emotion laden film about the overqualified unemployed, talented people suddenly cut adrift when corporate game playing screws with lives, careers, and self-image. It reminded me of the Great Braiker Radio Services Debacle.
Ivan Braiker, once named Billboard Magazine’s “Trendsetter of the Year," and current CEO of HipCricket, has deleted this venture from his professional resume as if it never existed, as if 60 broadcast professionals from across America were not hand picked to create and present the ultimate satellite delivered radio programming service.
Perhaps I'm being harsh, perhaps there were things in play that escaped my perception — but my perception in the realm of radio broadcasting is pretty damn acute. All 60 of those handpicked professionals, from Rick Sklar to Pat O'Day, were kicked to the curb with an announcement by Ivan Braiker that went something like this:
"At midnight Sunday, we are going off the air. Everything is being repossessed. There will be no severance pay paid, and those of you with personal service contracts, those contracts will not be honored. Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to Mexico."
At midnight, chairs were pulled out from under DJs saying their final goodbyes.
While it lasted, my position was a dream job: "Special Advisor to the Vice President of Concept and Development." The Vice President whom I advised was my good friend and former employer, Pat O'Day.
I always loved working with Pat, and my first day on the job I was eager to jump right in. The best way to develop special programming for our affiliates was to know those affiliates, their markets, their needs, and their expectations. My first act as Special Advisor was to walk into to office of the corporate secretary and request a copy of every affiliate's contract.
"I'm afraid I can't give you that," was the cold reply.
"Yes you can," I responded cheerfully, "I'm Special Advisor to the Vice President. In order to give good advice, I require a firm foundation of factual information. As I'm being paid a handsome sum (and I was) to perform these duties, I assure you it is in our mutual best interest, and the best interest of our affiliates, for me to have this information, and have it promptly."
"No," she said, not looking at me, "I'm afraid I can't give you that information."
I turned, and walked down the hall to Pat O'day's office. When I walked in , I told Pat what she said. He looked at me silently for either a fraction of a second, or maybe longer, before I stated my interpretation of her communication. "She can't give me that information because…it doesn't exist."
"Burl," said Pat as he closed the door, "you have rightly decoded a bottleneck at Braiker Radio Services…." That phrase, and Pat's distinctive phrasing, are forever embedded in my mind. We had no affiliates. No sales. Yes, everyone was doing radio to an empty room.
Pat and I consulted, and came up with an action plan. Next stop: the office of Ivan Braiker.
I walked in, plopped down in the chair and said, "Ivan, you have a lovely office. How about we knock out that wall, move that expensive couch and the equally expensive coffee table, put it a bank of telephones, give me five people with great telephone skills, an M Book, and let's make you some money before you go f***ing broke!"
Ivan didn't knock out the wall, but he did authorize the telephone team — and in the next few weeks/months, they managed to garner multiple affiliates — but it was too late. Under financed and over spent, all of us were on the street within the year. Hey, a market can absorb one or two pros suddenly out of work, but no market can absorb sixty top notch talents.
It was painful — far more painful than being let go because of a format change, or ownership change — this was a dream job, and the most wonderful work atmosphere you can imagine. Sixty people who all got along, mutually supportive, doing great radio in multiple formats. It was fun, creative, and affiliate friendly — but the financing was inadequate, the sales plan non existent, and the specs for the flooring were that of a bank, not a satellite radio service.
It was more tragic for others than for me — some had bought homes based on their contracts, moved across the country…it only gets worse when you go into the details. I always give people the benefit of the doubt, assume the best, and all that. I'm proud of what we did, while we did it, at Braiker Radio Services. I worked with wonderful talent, including Billboard Award Winner, and dear friend, Allen Goldblatt, John Posey, Pat O'day and, well…the list is 60 people long so I won't recite them all.
If Ivan Braiker reads this, I hope he will put Braiker Radio Services back on his resume. It was a damn good product, an excellent service, and affiliates broke down and cried when we folded. It's a shame that it didn't work out financially, but there is never shame in providing top quality programming, service, and talent. From the standpoint of product delivered, Braiker Radio Service was a complete success...
…and yet, in my inmost heart of hearts…..I still feel that we all got screwed. But hey, that's radio.
Disclaimer: This was all twenty years or more ago…so if I have conflated events, I'll stand corrected…but the dialog is accurate.