When we started Tanner Friedman, we started the company with values before anything. We look at that as our Constitution, guiding all of our business decision-making from hiring to deciding when to continue work with clients and every business decision in between. But I figured out this week that we shouldn’t be the best example of how and why to ground a business in values because I discovered a better example, in what may seem like an unlikely place.
Over the weekend, I was at the 29th annual gathering of alumni from student-run WJPZ Radio at Syracuse University. At this year’s event, the Alumni Association premiered a new documentary, “Greatest Media Classroom,” which chronicles the founding of the station on AM in the early 1970s (before going to FM 29 years ago) and tracks its rise as the birthplace of countless communications careers. Much of the film focused on the values behind the founding of the station – its commitment to a professional sound, a learning environment of students teaching students and a commitment to a Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) or “Top 40” format. Those values have been passed down, almost exclusively through word-of-mouth, for more than 40 years.
CHR is an unusual format for college radio but, as I was told when I started at the station as a freshman, it is the most difficult format to master because it is constantly changing as you program for a fickle audience. As a rock music fan, I was sold on the opportunity to learn at a station with a format that would provide the best educational opportunity. Remarkably, as unearthed in the documentary in a newspaper article in 1976, one of the station’s founders, Mike Roberts (who would go on to a legendary career in urban radio and station ownership) was quoted as saying “Anyone who can master Top 40 radio can get a job at any radio station.” With no knowledge of the newspaper quote, it’s the same thing I was told years later and the same thing current students were told at recruitment.
Scott MacFarlane, the WJPZ alum and NBC-TV Washington investigative reporter who produced the documentary, said during extensive interviews, he heard the same language describing the WJPZ experience from alumni who are now 60 years old and current students young enough to be their grandchildren. Think about that. Could that happen at your company? Would the founders say the same things about the company’s fundamentals that would be said by management and employees 20 years from now? 40 years from now?
Only with a strong “constitution,” does your company stand a chance at being the same at its core from founding to 40th, like WJPZ.