Bloomberg Radio was launched 30 years ago today.
I was sitting in the room the day the station went on the air, having been hired as a junior reporter at the company two years earlier.
Looking back, the decision provides a few insights into Mike Bloomberg’s thoughts about media and technology strategy, as well as his management style.
The company had provided financial market data for more than decade, but Mike didn’t jump into the media business until 1990 when he launched Bloomberg News, his financial news wire.
Bloomberg bought the New York City-based radio station WNEW in 1992 for $13.5 million and replaced the call letters with WBBR. It was 1130 on the AM dial.
Mike hired a number of local on-air personalities, including Charlie Pellett, Denise Pellegrini, Kathleen Campion, Monica Bertran, Katherine Oliver, Mark Crumpton, Doug Krizner, Maureen Langen and Karl Kilb. Bob Leverone was the station’s first manager. Jon Fram oversaw the technical side.
The big surprise was the unique 15-minute format of pre-recorded segments that cycled through financial markets, national news, weather, sports and traffic.
Mike’s thought was technology could boost productivity since the news didn’t change every minute. You could use digital technology to record a component and put it in a rotating slot.
It was not the way radio was done at the time and my recollection was that some of the veteran radio personalities didn’t like it. It was, however, prescient about how technology could be used.
Mike envisioned a media company that included print, radio and TV. Bloomberg Television would be launched 18 months later.
It’s important to remember this was before everyone was a publisher. The idea of starting a new media company at all – much less one that integrated print, TV and radio – seemed bizarre. Reuters and the New York Times were founded in 1851.
The other thing Mike did which came to be a hallmark of his management style was to make sure he sat close to the new group so that they would have easy access to management.
The radio group was initially located on the 15th floor. Mike was on one side of the room. The two dozen or so newswire reporters were on the other side.
When television came along, Mike put the broadcasters on that floor, requiring the newswire reporters like me to move.
Mike did something similar when he became Mayor of New York City, locating the Department of Education right next City Hall.
One of the more vivid memories people have about the early days of Bloomberg Radio was the swag: they gave away these plastic radios that only tuned into one station: WBBR.
Anchors have come and gone and the format has changed completely. But WBBR is still on the on the air, the only world’s only global 24 hour business radio station.
Mike tweeted today to mark the anniversary. He attributed its success to “ignoring the sensationalism that defined radio at the time to focus on great news and financial journalism.”
Remarkably many of the WBBR pioneers are still with the company. Pellett and Pellegrini are still on Bloomberg Radio. Crumpton appears on Bloomberg TV. Doug Krizner left for awhile, but is back on radio. Oliver and Bertran still work with Bloomberg, but not in radio.
There’s one other legacy of WBBR that many New Yorkers may not realize: many of the anchors lent their voices to the NYC subway system announcements, including Pellett who voices the famous “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please” line.