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Sunday, April 21, 2019
 

Originally published on December 21, 2001
Bart Tessler
Vice 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 hour.

"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."

Career disappointment: "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 Show."

Favorite song: "'Something' and 'Here Comes the Sun.' I'm missing George Harrison."

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."

Favorite restaurant: "Chinoise in Santa Monica, CA. The sea bass is unbelievable. Ram's Head Inn in Atlantic City, NJ and Red Sage in Washington, DC."

Beverage of choice: "Fresh brewed iced tea."

Hobbies: "Baseball, my softball team and my son's Little League. I play second base and pitcher. Movies and theater."

E-mail address: "btessler@westwoodone.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."