June 15, 2022

Buzz Knight: Takin' A Walk

Buzz Knight: Takin' A Walk

This is year three of the pandemic. Three years of being stuck in our houses. When was the last time you went for a walk with your friends? One of the nest things that came out of the pandemic was reconnecting with the simople act of going for a walk. There's something magical and simple about wandering around with someone you love to talk to, tasting the fresh air, being immersed in nature, and checking out cool hidden spots you've never been to before.


This week we bring back Buzz Knight who was a guest on Episode 136 in February of 2019. Back then we talked about his previous podcast Healthy Paranoia. His new one is called Takin' A Walk, and it's themed around Buzz simply going for a walk with guests, and having incredibly insightful conversations about their careers and what they see on the walk.

Buzz is a radio veteran himself, having spent most of his career as a Radio Executive. As such, the guests are often connections he's made through his career, but they also include people like authors, athletes, musicians, and business owners. The show's website says the podcast aims to "embrace the mindfulness associated with walking along with the beauty of storytelling and conversation," and I'd say it's right on target.

In this episode, we reconnect with Buzz about what he decided to start Takin' A Walk, and he shares some anecdotes about the unique challenges presented by recording a podcast while walking around the streets of NYC, Boston, Chicago or wherever he finds himself. We backtrack to Buzz's time in radio, and his company, Buzz Knight Media, which works with other media companies to develop their business strategy.

To get in touch with Buzz, you can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn, or visit the Contact section of his website.

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Transcript

The Sound Off Podcast. The podcast about broadcast with Matt Cundill... Starts now.

You may recognize the name Buzz Knight, as he appeared back on the show in February of 2019. And then I realized that February 2019 was a lifetime ago. The episode number was 136, and we still had a year left before the Pandemic unleashed the biggest disruption of them all. Buzz is back with a new podcast called Takin' a Walk, where he interviews interesting people at cool locations anywhere on the planet. If there's one thing the Pandemic brought us, it was the opportunity to take a walk. With the gym closed, fitness routines disrupted, and with some extra time on our hands, taking a walk seemed like the natural thing to do. And if there's added conversation on your walk, that's a bonus, too. And what if that conversation can be bottled and sent around the world in the form of a podcast? Well, Buzz Knight would have been the person to do it. A longtime radio programmer and performer who is genuinely curious and interested in people and stories, Buzz has friendships and contacts with people you likely have heard of before, or at least should get to know. He's worked for CBS Radio, Beasley Broadcasting, and currently works with radio brands across America. And he joins me from his home office in Boston.

I think the last time I saw you was it in Minneapolis, possibly.

It's exactly where it was. It was 2019 and the last time we had a conclave. Yeah, that was it. I'm going to be going to Canadian Music Week next week. That'll be my first conference back, and then the next one will be Podcast Movement in August in Dallas.

Okay.

Yeah.

I went last August to Morning Show Boot Camp in Chicago, and I don't think I'm going to go this year, although you never know. But beyond that, I went to the NAB in April. In Vegas.

Oh, I have that question down.

Okay. Sorry.

It's all right.

I'll shut up here.

It's all good. Why did you start Takin' A Walk?

I realized that, at the heart, I'd always been involved with content creation, whether it was on my own when I used to be on the air, but certainly with teams that I managed, it was about creating things. So at the heart, as I was contemplating how to have some fun, I just decided that going back to some of those content routes was important. I've always enjoyed interviewing people and had done that throughout my career. So this sort of feeds that love as well. I had just read this book about- Called Decoding Greatness. Which was about reverse engineering ideas. And I was literally at the Morning Show Boot Camp in Chicago last August, and I had read the book, and I was considering where to sort of take the next part of my journey. So after reading the book on a long walk in Chicago, literally walked that day about 15 miles. I started thinking about Comedians in Cars with Coffee and thinking that that show was really not just about cars and coffee. It was really about this amazing host in Jerry Seinfeld, and his love of talking to people and interviewing them and engaging in that conversation. So I decided, let me give this a whirl.

Tell me about the technical set up, because you could do this from- the way we're doing it now, from the comfort of your home, which I really enjoy, but I just love the walking aspect of it. So tell me about the technical set up and how you got started, and how many takes did you have to do to get the first episode out?

So the Zoom H4 is the key to it. But also I work a backup mic through the iPhone with some lavalier mics as well. But there's been a lot of learning and there's been some trial and error certainly. Look, out of it, I really at the core want to also touch on how walking- obviously the health benefits the mindfulness of walking as well, thinking about my backyard where Walden Pond is, and Thoreau, and his journey of mindfulness, also thinking about the late Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and certainly his- how to walk and mindfulness while walking. So I really wanted to merge what I thought, especially coming out of or being in a pandemic and the fact that people were exploring the outdoors. That's where certainly my desire to actually go out and take a walk. The learnings continue in terms of the dynamics of sounds. People seem to enjoy the sounds and the authenticity of the sounds, but certainly I have to manage that. There's been a couple of instances, really, in post production. I've got a guy named Bob Malatesta who used to work for me some years ago with Greater Media and previously with Infinity and CBS. So Bob is really able in post production to really run some of these through and be a savior for me on some of those episodes that maybe I didn't correctly compensate for the outdoor conditions. But what I love about it is my continued learning, because at this phase of our lives, I think learning new things is so important.

Was walking part of your daily life in the before times, pre-pandemic, or did walking become part of your routine during the pandemic like it did for so many people who couldn't go to the gym or who were disrupted with their exercise routines? Was walking something that you did on a regular basis in the before times?

It was, yeah. It accelerated certainly during this time, especially with two dogs who need morning and afternoon walks as well. But it had always been part of my life. And going to big cities, the Chicago example, New York, Boston, San Francisco, I could kind of go on and on. Philadelphia. I just always have enjoyed walking, people watching, taking in some of these great cities, but also living in the suburbs of Boston. Very grateful for where that is. There's so many places to explore in the country that I live. I live in a town called Carlisle, which is next to Concord, Mass. And I had always seen these places and gone to many of these places. But during these last few years, I really either rediscovered some of them or found new places that I hadn't really had the time to see because I was working five days a week and traveling a lot. So my time to see these places was usually on the weekend. So I think a lot of people discovered new places and rediscovered places that maybe they hadn't visited. Yeah.

There's a real theater of the mind when I listen to the episode. So I think back to the one you did with Greg Hill. And first of all, it's great to get to know these people as you're taking a walk. But the way you'll stop and then look at a landmark, the way you would never do if you were working nine to five and, well, longer hours than that, of course, in radio, but the way you would never do if you were busy and inside a radio station. So that leads me to this question. Do you plan your route the same way you're going to plan your questions for your interview?

I kind of generally do, just for more site conditions, certainly, but also if there are some special places that we need to contemplate. I think as I try to evolve this, I like to have the person that I'm walking with have some connection, hopefully, to the place. Sometimes I'm doing it out of their convenience, certainly, but I'm also trying to do it where it resonates with them as well. And resonates with me ultimately, is a good thing when that happens. I started the first two episodes at Walden Pond, actually, because of where the Thoreau piece and the mindfulness piece existed. But I like the notion of finding places that someone can really enjoy themselves and maybe have a story to tell as well.

Do you consult with your guests on the route?

I ask them before if they have a particular place in mind, and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.

Have you ever had to postpone an episode because of weather?

Yeah, we've had a push through a few Boston winter walks where it was icy. There's a gentleman by the name of Topper Carew that I walked with who's a screenwriter and director. Really interesting gentleman. So we postponed that one two or three times, because he wanted to walk in the south end of Boston. And the ice on a winter day can be treacherous there.

I have a request, by the way, with each episode that you put out, could you please put the number of steps you took for each episode?

I like that. I will. Yeah. That's a good idea.

We can add it all up. And by the way, that goes for your guests, too, right? If they're carrying their phone, because isn't it really all about the steps?

It is about the steps, although sometimes I will say we're sauntering rather than walking, just depending on the individual, which is fine as well. A good saunter is a good thing. There's a gentleman- I go to this coffee shop in Concord named Sally Anne's, and the owner's name is Bill. And he goes, "I thought it was really funny how you and Greg Hill were walking. And I heard you huffing and puffing." And I said, Bill, because we're walking!

I heard that part, too. Congratulations on the excellent microphones. But then I think maybe they're walking up a hill.

It depends. I mean, listen, with Jorma Kaukonen, the founding member of the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, we took a walk on his Ranch, which is called the Fur Piece Ranch out in Pomeroy, Ohio. And Jorma is, I think, 82. But he's in a hearty condition and there were some trees and limbs down from a storm. So we took a hearty walk.

Now, I've mentioned two of the guests that are in radio because it's what interests me. But it took me about 10 seconds to send along the episode you did with Billy Payne to a big Little Feet fan that I know. Who are the guests who come on the show and how do you choose them?

So the guests range from musicians such as Billy Payne from Little Feet, Jorma Kaukonen, a singer songwriter, Peter Himmelman to some comedians. Bethany Van Delt from Boston, Steve Sweeney from Boston, to the historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, to Mark Chernoff, who I used to work for at WNEW FM. Listen, it's out of my love for this connection with people, either new friends that I'm connecting with or old friends. And that's the beauty of doing a project such as this. So I can kind of take that on this personal part of the journey. So I think I probably try to feed that first. Grace Gostead, who is another musician who's a singer/songwriter who's 20 years old from LA. I had learned of Grace's story and was just fascinated by her, not just her musical journey, but the fact that she's this wise 20 year old trying to be a voice for those who have challenges with mental illness and really be a safe haven for them. So I was so intrigued by her story. So I guess the choice comes out of where my intrigue for a story is maybe where there's a relationship or a passion that I have that excites me. It's really kind of a wide array. I'm able to hear from some people just through some connections. And now it's getting pitched. So next week, I'll be walking with a woman named Lydia Shire, who is a pretty prominent restauranteur in Boston. So what's cool about it is I would never really have access to a lot of these people. Maybe I would with some of the connections, but in some cases I would not have access to these people to this degree. The episode I released next week is Alan Kovac, who is a manager of bands over the years, Motley Crue, Blondie among them, but also owns Better Noise Music, which is a label as well, and he has a video division. I met Alan years ago, but I would probably not have access to somebody like Alan. Greg O'Brien, who wrote a book called On Pluto. He's an investigative reporter throughout his life, but his book is really about his personal journey with Alzheimer's and how as an investigative reporter, he writes about it in On Pluto. Once again, I wouldn't have access to this gentleman who- it's a terribly sad story, but it's so inspirational, it's so uplifting. So that's really what I'm so appreciative of, that I'm able to make these connections. Some of them I would never have had a shot at.

In just a second, more with Buzz, including his takeaways from the NAB show, how he stays focused while walking and podcasting, and his thoughts on the future of talent in radio. There's more. There's always more, including a transcript of this episode and links to blogs and Buzz's podcast, at soundoffpodcast.com. 

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As I listened to the episode with Mark Chernoff, and it was so nice, I listened twice, by the way. I'm beginning to think that you would not get all those stories if you are doing this by Zoom or just recording this face to face like we are right now. There's something about the walk between the two of you as you turn the corner that I think possibly jars memories, or brings up other feelings or passions in the stories. It really feels like a very authentic conversation. I just don't think that people would be telling the same stories through a microphone via Zoom.

I think some of them they would, but I think you're exactly right, Matt. The different stories come out. This is meant for that purpose, to actually get these stories out in maybe a different manner or a more revealing manner. Just like you're hanging out at the local bar, just talking to some friends and just BS'ing. Being able to really have that ease of it, and have people let their guard down. I'm not out to change the world with them. I want them to have a comfortable conversation and reveal of themselves something, and I like to try to think of it from the standpoint of being their fans.

One of the things that did come up in the conversation with Mark, and it was really towards the back end, but sort of lamenting about our talent pool in radio and how we're using it. What do you think personally about radio's talent pool and the opportunities over the next few years to develop it?

The talent pool aspect of radio deeply concerns me. There's not a strategy that's consistent for generating talent. There's not anything really strategy-wise for millennial growth. So I'm deeply concerned. I see more scenarios where the easy fix on talent is, well, let's let that large salary get away, and let's just advance people in the show who are already there and let them hold down the fort. Sometimes that's great, because it gives people a chance, in those cases, to be moved up the ladder. But generally those decisions are only made out of economics. So the talent piece concerns me. And also, as I think about it, just before we came on, I was thinking about this. I think broadcast radio companies and their existing talent have generally not done that much in the content creation, podcast, original space, because their talent that exists doesn't have the mental bandwidth and time to do different things because they're busy with 17 other tasks. So the talent pool piece concerns me. And as I was thinking about it, I was thinking, boy, my God, I'm surprised that podcasting has not been more of a generation of new talent that has existed for traditional radio companies.

Well, I think we both know doing podcasts that it's hard. It takes a lot of time to do it, and it's very technical. I sometimes think that when you're walking with somebody and recording your show, how much mental space is actually being burned, wondering about how this is being recorded and is this recording properly?

A lot. A lot. Deeply- I get deeply nervous over that. So listen, I mentioned Bob Malitesta, but when you're essentially the one man show, you worry about everything. You do. But I also feel like, I know you can appreciate this, that when you complete something like a walk and a segment, the lead up, where I'm going to find them, the anticipation, the anxiety, but the positive anxiety, it's this nervous energy that as someone who started on the air, I greatly appreciate and I'm spent many times after these for that reason, but in a really good way. It's one of those feelings I'm really grateful to have.

How did you spend the time between March 2020 and the launch of Takin' A Walk in November 2021? There's about 18 months in there. How did you spend that?

I was working with some guys on a startup, and it was a musician storytelling platform. Great experience, a lot of learning, a lot of new connections and reconnections with people. We had great ideas. We were horrible at the fundraising aspect of things. So we eventually ran out of time because we didn't have people and money and we just couldn't get the thing up. So I like to think about those things like almost a real-world MBA course. So that was really what I was consumed with. And I think we were close at many moments, but we just ran out of gas.

What did you see recently at the NAB?

I saw this collaboration that existed between this gentleman named Brian Biniak, who has a company called Connected Travel. He's done a lot of work around OEMs, so his company and a company called Radio Line, a streaming service out of France, and this company called Simple Bet, they have done a pilot with a major OEM around in-game, real-time betting that can be done safely while in a car. So that was very intriguing. That was different. That's what I respected about it. It was interesting because it was different collaborators, but it was also interesting because the applications around that technology have kind of existed before, but this was merging those with different partners. And it's not just an application that can be for the betting application. That application can be interesting for, if you think about public radio fundraising as well. So I thought that was one of the things that I thought was pretty cool at the NAB.

As we emerge from the Pandemic, what do you see that we lost in radio, that's now starting to come back, that's making you a little bit excited?

Well, I just think the live event piece is coming back, and that's so great to see and so needed for these broadcast companies, whether they be the larger events or just in general, the face to faceness that they can have in their marketplace, how they could engage with their audiences. So I would say probably that's the most significant thing because that's just been so hard for companies to, I think, really virtualize things and do that. And then additionally, I think the fact that these companies are then- some of them are still providing hybrid activities and solutions. But the fact that they can get their teams together and really collaborate, I think when you come down to that, that's necessary as well. I think there needs to be new forms of how to do that, and different takes the company should really be free to explore. But this is about a heart and soul necessity that radio needs, which has been difficult for radio during these last few years.

Is there something that is never coming back, that radio needs to let go of, from the last decade into this one because of the Pandemic?

I'm not sure. I mean, radio has to stop being so romantic about its past. So I think in the general theme of things, this romance for what the tower means and sort of radio's historical perspective in that regard, I think radio does need to let go of that. I'm not sure what specifically, though, beyond that aspect of things. Look, I think radio miscalculated some stuff during this period where, as you well know, a lot of companies under the guise of COVID took live bodies out and then started trying to nationalize bodies over multiple markets. The way that was done, certainly a few day parts in particular got really nicked. Midday is one, nights certainly another. That had been happening before, but nights certainly as well. And that's a big mistake, because no matter which generation we're talking about that radio listeners are, or that radio aspires to get, engagement is so critical right? It's a differentiator when you think about radio opposite other services, other streaming services and whatnot, and how do you engage with people if you don't have bodies?

How are you going to be spending the summer?

Got a lot of walks coming up, some trips that will be part of that. There'll be some New York going on, I just came back from Chicago, so there'll be some of that going on for sure. And some of it will be spur of the moment that I'll be able to react to. Just came back from Block Island, Rhode Island, took a week off there. We'll probably try to take some other trips as well. Going to try to enjoy the nice weather and try to build upon the Takin' A Walk series.

Well, I hope I run into you on a walk this summer.

Oh, that would be pure joy, Matt.

Buzz, thanks so much for being on the podcast again a second time, and congratulations on this. I really enjoy the show.

Matt, I appreciate the support, and thank you for having me on very much.

The Sound Off Podcast written and hosted by Matt Cundill. Produced by Evan Surminski. Social media by Courtney Krebsbach. Another great creation from the Soundoff Media Company. There's always more at soundoffpodcast.com.