published on December 21, 2001
President News Westwood One
Bart Tessler always
had an interest in the spoken word. College
degree in hand, he was hired by the Mutual
Broadcasting Company in Washington, DC
and has had a professional home ever since.
Through mergers and ownership and management
changes, Tessler has continued to move
up over the years and is now Westwood
One's VP/News. He is responsible for all
of the company's news and talk programs.
Under his direction, the company's news
divisions have won virtually every major
industry award. The radio business has
taken Tessler on what he describes as
a terrific ride, and he is enjoying every
minute of it.
Getting into the business:
"I graduated from George Washington
University in Washington, DC with a journalism
degree and was looking for a job in the
news media. A friend of mine was writing
copy for the Wide Weekend of Sports show
on the Mutual Broadcasting System. They
needed another writer, and he told me
to come over. It was a lot of fun. We
had full autonomy to write humorous and,
hopefully, clever leads. I made $3 an
"After a couple of months a full-time
job opened up in news, and I moved over
there as a news editor. One of the first
big stories I worked on was Elvis Presley's
death. Earlier that day I was working
on another entertainment story. The day
Elvis died, Bing Crosby returned to performing
after recuperating for months from injuries
he had suffered in a fall from the stage.
About five minutes after the Elvis bulletin,
the phone rang. 'Bbbbart, this is Bbbbing.'
On the next newscast we had Bing Crosby's
reaction to Elvis' death. Not the first
person you'd think to call for a reaction,
but it turned out there was a connection:
Crosby's son was part of Elvis' backup
group, and Crosby knew Elvis well."
How news fits under the WW1 umbrella:
"We have CBS and CNN, which produce
terrific news product for us. It's been
particularly impressive since Sept. 11.
We also produce FOX News in-house, which
demand is growing for right now. We have
NBC under our umbrella, as well as MarketWatch.com.
We have the market cornered on news product,
and we're proud of it. It's very much
in demand right now."
What motivates him: "I'm
self-motivated, and I appreciate people
who are the same way; I love working with
them. I don't like to do somebody else's
job; I like to clear obstacles out of
their way so they can do their jobs well.
Working with talent has always been motivating.
I love working with Larry King, Charlie
Osgood and the stable. There's a reason
these people are where they are: They're
smart, passionate and, of course, talented.
Their work ethic is unbelievable. That's
a very rewarding part of the job."
How Sept. 11 affected his organization:
"On a personal level, it affected
me like it affected everyone else. I have
a lot of friends and colleagues who were
directly affected. At the office, security
has changed so much. We have a hazmat
team going through our mail, opening every
piece that comes in. We get it about a
day later. From a business standpoint,
it's a responsibility and an opportunity
to stay on top of the story and get the
facts out there. Every day we have dozens
of hours of news and talk programming
that can help our affiliates and listeners."
On music stations carrying news:
"I remember during the Persian Gulf
War, when the war actually began. To some
extent, that was repeated on Sept. 11.
Many music stations immediately dropped
format and went to all-news. We offered
CNN to every station in the country. Affiliate,
nonaffiliate, music format, whatever,
they all had the right to use CNN programming,
no inventory, no charge. Dozens, if not
hundreds, took advantage of it.
"The challenge in the long run is,
when stations go back to their regular
formats, to continue to produce compelling
informational programming that music-intensive
stations will want and that will work
for them and their listeners."
When a story is no longer a story:
"There used to be this unofficial
wisdom in news departments that the lifespan
of a story was two weeks. There's some
truth to that. Your general story seems
to have a two-week life. Of course, what
happened Sept. 11 is history. It has dramatically
changed our lives forever and is going
to run for years, with every possible
angle to it. I was just working on a project
with my 9-year-old son for his school.
He was supposed to interview me on the
two biggest things that impacted my life.
My first answer was television, video
and the Internet - the whole electronic
revolution. My second answer was Sept.
11. It will run forever."
Biggest challenge: "Keeping
all the pie plates spinning. I'm negotiating
six major talent and partnership deals
simultaneously right now. Finding good
people is always a huge challenge. We
have the right staff now, but it's important
to maintain that quality with future projects.
The ad market is also very challenging.
Our talent have been very involved with
clients, more so than ever before. Hopefully,
that benefits everyone."
Finding new talent: "That's
certainly a challenge. Right now we're
doing exactly that, looking to find the
next great success in radio. We're talking
to nationally known personalities, as
well as trying to develop our own talent.
We have a tremendous stable. Tom Martino
was in New York the week after the tragedy,
exposing consumer fraud. Laura Ingram
was launched in this past year. I'm looking
forward to both of them getting to the
next level and becoming two of the top
personalities in Talk radio. We have a
broad list - Gordon Liddy, Jim Bohannon
- and well-established shows, but you
can always innovate and gain new listeners."
State of radio: "Radio
is a resilient medium. TV didn't kill
it, the Internet didn't kill it, and terrorists
won't kill it. It's certainly been a challenging
year. Revenues could always be better,
but there's a lot of satisfaction on the
job. We're informing people, educating
the public and raising money to help those
hurt by the tragedy. My experience is
that when things are good, that's the
time to both innovate and to make sure
that you're efficient. I look forward
to a year from now, when radio will have
bounced back yet again."
State of business: "It
could always be better. We've taken a
lot of satisfaction in what we were able
to do on Sept. 11. News/Talk is strong,
particularly now. We need to continue
to draw younger listeners to the format.
They want real news. I'm not one to criticize
what Robin Quivers provides on The Howard
Stern Show or the news on Don & Mike.
I commend them for doing newscasts. If
you examine the content, it's frequently
not that different from what you hear
on more traditional stations. The trick
now, as formats return to normal, is continuing
to provide compelling programming that
works for them."
Most influential individual:
"On the personal side, my father.
It's amazing how you wake up one day and
realize where you got your values and
interests. Professionally, I learned early
in my career what not to do. I saw a ton
of mistakes and realized that I could
be successful by doing the opposite. When
I went to work for Norm Pattiz and, then,
Mel Karmazin and Farid Suleman, it was
a real eye-opener. I hadn't met anyone,
anywhere with that kind of intellect and
passion. They really got it and knew how
to help and motivate you. It can be really
humbling, but it's also invigorating and
satisfying working for them. And Joel
Hollander. He came from the most successful
station in the country and really gets
it. It's very different now from when
Mel or Norm was running the company."
Career highlight: "When
our news department won a Peabody Award.
Covering the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in
Reykjavic was really something. These
events are always very scripted. The leaders
met hours and hours past the scheduled
end of the summit, then it blew up, with
harsh words on both sides. It was real,
breaking news and stunning to see at an
event like that."
"Losing good people to consolidation
is tough on personnel. The rewarding part
is that the talent inevitably move on
to other good positions, and, time after
time, I've had the opportunity to work
with them again."
Favorite radio format:
"News/Talk. I've always liked spoken
word, from Day One."
Favorite television show:
"Curb Your Enthusiasm. I'm still
happy to catch reruns of The Larry Sanders
Favorite song: "'Something'
and 'Here Comes the Sun.' I'm missing
Favorite movie: "Broadcast
News. That's a very accurate movie, from
my experience. And you can add me to the
Godfather list, and Sleeper."
Favorite book: "We
Interrupt This Broadcast. It contains
CDs with mostly radio coverage of the
great events of the century. Much of the
sound is from our archives. I also like
reading collections of humorous essays.
Steve Martin, S.J. Perelman, Woody Allen
- books like that."
"Chinoise in Santa Monica, CA. The
sea bass is unbelievable. Ram's Head Inn
in Atlantic City, NJ and Red Sage in Washington,
Beverage of choice: "Fresh
brewed iced tea."
my softball team and my son's Little League.
I play second base and pitcher. Movies
E-mail address: "email@example.com."
Advice for broadcasters:
"Respect content. That's where it
was, is and always will be at. There is
no ad revenue without it. Respect your
employees. There are a lot of unsung heroes
out there making us look good. At the
same time, be passionate and demanding,
and require that of others. We can't afford
to be carried or to carry anybody else.
Come to work with new ideas every day.
Guaranteed, one of them is going to hit
and work for you or your company."