JJ-365 Salutes Shawn Smith
November 9, 2018
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on Shawn Smith.
Shawn is the President of Momentum Media Marketing which includes a number of endeavours including the Broadcast Dialogue publication. I heard about this fellow way before I met him. His was working with best buddy Steve Young in Seattle and in our talks, Steve would always mention the up and comer’s he knew of including a young guy who was working with him in the same company, in the same building. He said “keep your eyes on Shawn Smith, a young Canadian who is going places. He works his ass off, ask’s a lot of questions and man can he dray!” I met him at where else, a conference and already we had some common ground to open up the conversation and I found him to be everything Steve had said and more.
Shawn’s parents forbade him to pursue a career in radio, because all radio people were ‘drunks and layabouts’. Their impressions having been formed in 1969 by an incident involving a local DJ who, while courting the tenant downstairs, allegedly drove drunk up over their lawn leaving ruts that remain to this day.
Like many, Shawn’s love affair began in front of his father’s classic 60’s cabinet-style stereo. Transfixed by the sounds coming over the radio. He could hear his calling which lay between the records. 92/CJCH Halifax was a powerhouse. Brian Phillips, Sunshine Stephanie, Steve Murphy on the Hotline, John Harada, Dave Cochrane, and so many more.
Later in his teens, he would become smitten with 365’er Q104’s Brother Jake Edwards, Hal Harbour, Bob Powers, Andy K, The Shadow… and later talents like JC Douglas, Anna Zee, and a cast of dozens.
By the mid 80’s, he was, balancing marketing degree studies at Saint Mary’s University, and spending more time at the campus station than in class. A chance meeting with producer Pete Travers, led to full-time work as a production assistant and on-air personality, working among many of the talent he grew up idolizing. CJCH/C100 GM Bill Bodnarchuk and PD Murray Brookshaw led an amazing team at C100, including John Biggs, Peter Harrison, Earle Mader, Matt Northorp, and later Kelly Latremouille. Terry Williams arrived on the scene and imparted invaluable wisdom, zen, and karma. Shawn says he was green but full of piss and vinegar.
After seven years, he longed for the experience of a larger market and had fallen in love with Vancouver a few years earlier. In a move that Terry Wiliiams told him would be either the worst or the best decision of his life, he left Halifax and drove all the way to Vancouver, without a gig.
Within six weeks he was working, heading up syndication with Rogers, at 2440 Ash street, home of 97 KISS FM, CKWX News1130, Satellite Radio Network, and Rhona at Night, complete with the satellite uplink facility on the roof and surrounded by mega-watt talent. Fred Latremouille and Cathy Baldazzi, Wayne Cox, and 365’er Tom Jeffries, and so many more led by VP/GM Chuck McCoy and PD Dale Buote.
National syndication was ultimately overseen by the incomparable late and great Gary L. Miles, who had no compunction about meting out invaluable lessons to him from across the time zones. One time, he was having some frustration or another and leaned on Gary for help. His response: “Shawn, I walk to work during winter in Toronto and step over homeless people living on grates. I don’t care much about them, I care about you.” “Touché, Gary! I got this. Nevermind”, and he managed just fine.
Another time, Gary responded to his issues about managing performers. He said, “Do you suggest I run all our radio stations without talent!?” Shawn developed a thicker skin.
At that time, a private Canadian radio show had never been syndicated to the US from Canada. Shawn checked the Anik E satellite coverage contours, circled the stations he wanted within 500 miles of the US border. Call it naivety or just plain bold he says, he picked up the phone and cold called a guy he’d never met at a station he knew well in Seattle. Tom Clendening picked up on the first ring. Shawn announced to him that the evening Dr. Laura repeat he was airing on KIRO-FM was just no good, what he needed was a live open-line show on love, sex and relationships, featuring Rhona Raskin. To which he responded in a resonant American accent, “I love Rhona. I live in Everett north of Seattle and hear her all the time on 97 KISS FM out of Vancouver. The station plays at my local car wash. I want it, but I warn you I’ve got no money.”
Shawn fills in from there: “Damn it. I didn’t expect a yes! I hadn’t even thought about pricing, so I pulled the biggest number I could conjure up out of my tuchus. ‘How about $3500 a month?’ He said, ‘I told you have no money, so $3500 sounds just about right’.”
The trajectory of Shawn’s career changed in an instant. Rhona went on to almost 30 US stations and he ended up as director of marketing at legendary ‘Broadcast Programming’ (BP) in Seattle, led by beloved Radio Ink’s Most Influential Woman in Broadcasting (MIW) Edie Hilliard. BP, in addition to stellar consulting and music programming services, syndicated the monster smash, Delilah, and country superstar Lia, and later Alan Kabel, Danny Wright, and Dave Wingert. Shawn was now breathing rarified air. The Les Smith-owned building, originally a dress factory, built circa 1899, oozed history. It had served as THE Steve Miller’s office for a time. Not least of which were the legendary programmers: LJ Smith, Mike Bettelli, Ken Moultrie, Bwana Johnny, Walter Powers…and the other Canadian, the late and great Steve Young.
He says his time in Steve Young’s midst was entirely too short, and he speaks for all on that one. Hard to believe Steve has been gone 10 years. He was hugely inspirational for so many of us.
Steve was a true mentor and champion of the programming staffers at BP, and a veritable pied piper to the young. He helped Shawn navigate the most tumultuous and daring period of his career, by reassuring him, helping him acknowledge his worth and being there, unconditionally whenever shit hit the fan. They traveled to conferences together, Steve introduced him to ‘his’ New York, and they hung out in the smoking areas together, Shawn taking all the second-hand smoke and the radio stories he had to offer. Like all close to Steve, Shawn thinks of him often, and when going gets tough, he asks himself WWSD?
Steve had regaled him with many Winnipeg stories and as fate would have it, they actually got to return to the ‘Peg together, albeit unexpectedly. Unbeknownst to one another they had both flown back to Canada for a long Labour Day weekend. They bumped into one another at the gate at Pearson, as they boarded the ill-fated Seattle flight. Somewhere over Indiana, things started to go very wrong: electrical systems and lavatories failed, and flight attendants became stressed. They descended to 10,000 feet and then landed hard at the nearest AC hub, Winnipeg. At one point he leaned forward to the row in front and whispered one word in Steve’s ear, “Gimli” (a small runway outside of Winnipeg). A shared Canadian moment and the belly laughs continued to YOW where they compared notes and eventually found another plane to Seattle.
Shawn often describes working in the USA like this: “In the time it takes Canadians to conceive of a project, weigh its merits, tweak it, then launch… the Americans have launched eight projects, killed off four dogs, green lit three for a second year, and have had one runaway hit. I got twelve years of experience in four.”
One of his first wins in Seattle, was making the introductions that put Delilah on Q92 in Montreal. “That’s a heck of a way to start a new gig!” exclaimed boss Jim LaMarca. Not long after that, he found himself escorting Delilah to Toronto on a market visit to EZ Rock. The trip got off to an unfortunate start when he drove over Delilah’s prized leather carry-on garment bag while backing out of her driveway. It’s a testament to that bag that her key TV outfit escaped damage. The bag was a write off. Things got worse when they arrived at YYZ and he steered her unknowingly towards an unsanctioned limousine that made for a sketchy ride into the city. “Are you trying to get me killed,” she exclaimed every few minutes. Despite his missteps, his fellow Canadians at Standard Broadcasting/Sound Source and Canada AM at CTV did him proud and saved the day with a welcome and national media coverage fit for a queen. Delilah loved Toronto and they loved her.
In the Closet with Rick Dees? Shawn explains: “It was one of those times where you ask yourself, how did I end up here? I stood with Rick Dees surveying the contents of his walk-in closet trying to spot something, anything in his wardrobe with a spot of colour in it, for a photo shoot we were doing with him the next day in Hollywood. He had rows and rows of perfectly pressed identical black pants, black shirts and blue jeans. We’ll have to do some shopping, I thought. But not before touring his palatial Toluca Lake mansion, complete with awesome Latino maid who called him Meester Reek. And his epic ‘his and hers’ en-suite bathrooms, his with – I shit you not- a gold urinal! In the time we worked for him, I got to know Rick as a wonderful guy, and got to sit in on the recording of the RDWT40 (and react to his funnies with his crew!). He once left a voicemail for me, as a station promo “This. Is Rick Dees. With Shawn Smith. On C100. Halifax.” He remembered the call letters!!
Shawn sums up: “Momentum Media Marketing” is all about providing broadcasting and its vendors (our community) with the very best in marketing, content, tools and information, and business momentum possible.
Over the years, I became known as the launch guy—the guy you come to when you’re getting a project off the ground. That meant a lot of syndication and trade publication marketing. So, when the great Pat Bohn was looking for a home for his syndication company, Sparknetworks, it was logical that we acquire it.
Nearly simultaneously, when Howard Christensen and Ingrid Christensendecided to retire, I could not imagine the industry in Canada without Broadcast Dialogue. I told Howard that no one would honour the integrity and legacy that he and Ingrid had built together. After three weeks of tough negotiation (Howard is no shrinking violet!), Momentum published the first completely digital edition of BD. I hope we’ve kept our promise.
We currently work with best of breed companies: CBS News and Sports Radio, National Association of Realtors, Benztown, Westwood One, and many, many more. We are also honored to manage the Radioplayer app on behalf of the consortium of 500 radio stations in Canada.
I want to shout out to our amazing team: Michael Olstrom, James Wallace, Christian Lind, Connie Thiessen, Tai Lee, Ema Nympton, and all our collaborators, contributors, and clients.
I’ve had a unique opportunity to work fast, coast to coast, and throughout the US. Lived in two countries.
At 49, I now have the bandwidth to enjoy my 5-year old daughter Charlotte and wife Dominique. Living in and loving Vancouver. Looking forward to what’s next.”
Shawn’s always been an entrepreneur and is loving what he is doing. He’s had the smarts and courage to go alone hanging out his shingle and his company is doing well. He’s a fair, easy going lad who reminds me of Steve Young in demeanour and many other ways. He is creative, hard working, respectful, has the highest regard for talent and is good for our business. As Steve would say, “he’s a mensch!” Keep it going Shawn and Atta be!
Thank you, Shawn Smith for being one of “The Good Ones”. Feel free to like and share Shawn’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries.
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