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“Everyone should be a pariah once in their life”


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Entrepreneur, sports owner and executive and the founding father of sports radio on the AM dial Jeff Smulyan tells Nestor how he founded and fought for the concept of WFAN in the late 1980s and the mistakes he made as a leader in owning the Seattle Mariners. His new book of wisdom tells his journey.


sports radio, people, book, radio, sports, baltimore, thought, indianapolis, walked, rip, called, life, years, proudest, entrepreneur, lessons, long, game, week, sold


Jeff Smulyan, Nestor Aparicio

Nestor Aparicio  00:01

W and S T Towson Baltimore and Baltimore positive or positively taking the Maryland crab cake tour out on the road, hence my fakely gear. It’s opening day next week, we’re gonna start the Maryland crab cake Tour presented by the Maryland lottery in conjunction with our partners with donation. At Costas, we’re going home we’re starting on Wednesday. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Maryland lottery. And our friends are window nation at 866 90 nation. We’re going to be joined by John Mark for the Maryland lottery on Wednesday. Then on Friday morning, we are opening our first arena here since 1961. Bruce Springsteen’s in town it’s gonna be big deal wins on Friday the seventh that they after me they will be down to fade these in the morning from nine until noon. Opening the new arena with the boss than the Eagles are in the Orioles are here the Yankees are here. Baseball season, I got a great guest wait a long time to have this fell on never worked for him. Even though our hearts are in the same place of media and radio. He’s got a book out about being an entrepreneur. Never ride a roller coaster upside down. The ups and downs on reinvention of an entrepreneur. It’s perfect to have you on Jeff Smalley and because I’m reinventing myself every day, you’re 31 year as in, we’re celebrating 25 years. You are obviously an entrepreneur and a thought leader in sports radio and wfh N. And I followed a very small Lee in your large footsteps, to try to create something here in Baltimore that emulated what you did. So it’s been a lifetime of work here. It is such a pleasure to have you on the program today.


Jeff Smulyan  01:32

That’s true. It’s great, great being with you. Well, it’s the 1990s

Nestor Aparicio  01:35

in there, they’ve got a ham radio. We’re all listening to Yankees games or Orioles games here, John Miller. And after the game, they had postgame radio. And what do we do with that? Well, we read the newspaper the next day. I was an old newspaper guy in the 80s. I knew of the thirst for baseball. My last name is Aparicio. And this marketplace. Seeing opportunity is where it kind of all begins as an entrepreneur, right?

Jeff Smulyan  02:01

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, it was an idea. I have a favorite saying Nestor, the the line between being a genius and an idiot is very fine. I’ve been on both sides of one chapter, the book called idiot to genius, the start of all sports radio, which started out everybody thought it was a disaster and incredibly stupid idea. And it was it was very tough for a while and then it turned around. So I went from media to genius. Then we bought the Seattle Mariners. And I went from genius, idiot. So I’ve seen all sides of everything.

Nestor Aparicio  02:30


Well, from your perspective, and I walked this path, right I had I had long here, which I have again in 1992. We lost our football team. Camden Yards was opening, they were selling free point, I saw this opportunity having worked in the sports department of the paper, that they’re that I started my show with Kenny Albert Kenny was hired during the Skipjacks games, waiting for his turn in life and he’s added his run. But when I started the format of sports, radio as a station in 9798, it was controversial. The guys at VA yell I, Jeff Beauchamp, and it was in the paper said that we would never survive. It’d be 25 years in August, but he publicly went on the record as saying Sports Radio not a good idea.

Jeff Smulyan  03:18

Yeah, well, and when I did it 87 Everybody thought insanity. JIM LAMPLEY called the Vietnam War of Emma’s, you know, it was called Somalians folly. And when we when we bought the NBC stations, we we did it we bought the double day stations in Washington in New York, to FM’s, and we had the aim to come along with it. And you said, I always said let’s do all sports. And it was an idea I’d had when I was in college at USC a long, long time ago. And all of our guys thought it was stupid. They sort of said,

Nestor Aparicio  03:49

Why don’t come to advertising? That’s what I do for what why would cars and bars and beer not want, guys? I mean, the thought of that.

Jeff Smulyan  04:02

You couldn’t listen to sports for 24 hours a day. That was the idea. You could have sports after the ball game before the ballgame.


Nestor Aparicio  04:09

Are these people ever met a guy at these people ever met a guy? Yeah, well, and that was, like 24 hours a day in the 1980s. It was.

Jeff Smulyan  04:19

And now you know, it’s like, there’s 700 of them. I will tell you one funny story because I got in baseball afterwards. One of my dear friends in baseball, you know, sports radio changed the relationships with owners and teams and players. Because, you know, you started the newspaper business I actually was was a sports writer as a college 1000 years ago. And if you got a bad column, and they ripped you in the paper, you know, you read it at eight o’clock in the morning, and you’re done with it. But with sports radio, you could get attacked 24/7 And so it always changed the nature of the game because if you’re a player you get Your car after the game and you’re horrible you were you got up the next morning and you hear you’re the manager, stupid decisions you make. So one of my dear friends Jerry Reinsdorf was in Seattle one day, and he’s driving in town, he’s listening to sports radio station attacking some decision I had made. And he said, You know, I’m not a religious guy. But the fact that the guy who invented this format who wrote all of our lives, because it put us under a microscope, 24/7 now owns a major league baseball team, and he’s getting ripped by his invention personally, there’s a guy but but it was it didn’t change everything. And I’m very proud of it. And you know, people said, Did you know there’d be 700 radio stations? I said, No, I didn’t know we were gonna make week to week in the beginning.

Nestor Aparicio  05:48

You know what’s amazing? Just samolians here the book. I can’t wait to pour into it. I got a PDF copy because I like learning things for people like you that had been down the path. But the notion that I was on the newspapers, I work with Ken Rosenthal, I was his sort of boy wonder in the 80s when his radio shack trs trash at didn’t work and the couplers didn’t work right. So I will be taking the dictation when he’s getting mugged in the in the in the in the phone booth in San Francisco after the earthquake in 87. So, you know, I come from it on that end. When Ken Rosenthal rip the Orioles rip Eddie Maria Ripper Weaver rip whoever. Cal Ripken senior he had to go into locker room the next day. Right. So that was the 80s. And that’s the my background. I covered hockey in the 80s. And, and the NBA. I covered Dr. J’s last year in 8687. So when 9192 comes in happens, I’m doing sports radio and I’m accountable in locker room. Right. So Rafeal Palmera chased me with a bat one time, so but sports radio in general. By the time I got syndicated by 9899 When I worked at Sporting News Radio One on One on Chicago by then J Marriott he worked with me and he was sort of the king of this Chicago. But columnist became radio guys, whether it’s Peter schmuck in Baltimore, whether it’s Steven a Smith at this point, right, like all these years later, but there was a point where the sports radio fire, the coach guy was just a bartender, it wasn’t it wasn’t a columnist, it was just the fabulous sports. It’s just somebody yelling, that never had to look at an athlete or Jim Rome, and the gym, everything happened. It was just this Fu Fu back and forth. That never really existed between venerable columnist like my dear patriarch John Steadman, who can rep you, but you had to respect him because he knew the game. And he was here every day. Right? Right. That was different sports radio, where anybody can rip you,

Jeff Smulyan  07:45


anybody. And when we started with fan, you know, what we found is the relationship between the guys on the air like Mike in the mad dog, where they had that relationship with people in the market. And they were very knowledgeable. But it clearly you know, the the idea, you know, Karl Marx once said, religion is the opiate of the masses. Well, today, the opiate of the masses in the United States, sports, this is what people care about is the I always say, as the world gets more complicated. And it’s hard to deal with all the other issues we face. It’s, it’s easy to just drift into sports, where you can just escape.

Nestor Aparicio  08:26

Well, you’re a man after my own heart, you fall in love with this thing, and you fell into it and you weren’t silver spoon, and here you are, and you’ve owned a baseball team, and you got hated by the whole place. And like, So, give me the root of all of this. I mean, if I’m having a long form, sit down with you. Where did all this things start? Because the book is about this. But I mean, I have rarely been with someone of your stature. And I’ve interviewed them all that really followed this crazy sports radio path. And I’ve waited a long time to wait a long time just to make sure I got your pronunciation right, because I never,

Jeff Smulyan  08:58

you know, and by the way, you know, I mean, I started this as a kid I loved I was from a generation Nesta where, you know, we grew up with transistor radios in our ears, listen to ballgames and rock and roll. And, and I always love it. When I went to college, I loved the radio business thought I’d be wanting to be in it. When I went to I was gonna get a graduate degree in, in telecom and somebody said, you want to be an entrepreneur go to law school, I have to laugh today. They’d say, get an MBA course I always said if I got an MBA, I don’t understand the risk of starting my own company probably wouldn’t have done it. But I but I loved it. And you know, when I came back, my dad from Indiana


and by the way, that football team, football team


Jeff Smulyan  09:44

honest with you, and in 49 states we sold the Colts in Indianapolis, we say we liberated the cold. So it’s just all a question of you’re perceptive.

Nestor Aparicio  09:54

Hey, Jake, you might be liberating us on Lamar by the end of the week, right?

Jeff Smulyan  09:57

Well, you know, I’d say there It never would be worse things. If you’ve seen our quarterback in the last four years. I have to tell a funny story. My next door neighbor’s Andrew Luck. And one of the great guys. If you look at the book on the back, Jack and Andrew and Jerry Reinsdorf and the Griffeys and Dave Letterman gave me liner notes, because they’ve all known them all. And is one of the great people of all time. But boy broke his heart when he retired. Yeah.

Nestor Aparicio  10:22


Oh, yeah. And his dad, I was an old oiler fan. So like, I got to Warren, Moon jersey. Jeff Smolin has written a book and about entrepreneurial ship and learning. So from your perspective, all these years later, and putting finally putting a book, I mean, come on, man, how many guys have come to you? It’s you should write a book, you should write a book. How does this happen?

Jeff Smulyan  10:42

I you know, so I have a daughter? Well, I have three. I have three wonderful children. But my youngest, who is a freshman up the road at Georgetown, why would drive her to school every day from kindergarten until I until she fired me when she got her driver’s license. And we would talk about life. You know, I’m kind of a lesson guy. Here’s what I learned here. Here’s the story here. And she said that you got to write this down, nobody would ever believe it. So COVID came, and I thought, You know what, I’m gonna do it. And I wrote it up, like 300 pages writings always been easy for me, Senator off a couple of friends. And they said, you know, you really got a good book here. And the next thing I knew, I had a wonderful, wonderful editor, who would go back and forth and say, this moves it along, amplify this, cut this. And then we got an agent and a publisher. And it’s been more fun than a I’ve ever had. A done and the response has been gratifying. I think people find it very funny. Some of the stories are hard to believe. And people say, you know, the lessons have been, you know, the life lessons have been had been gratifying to hear how helpful they’ve been to people.

Nestor Aparicio  11:47

I haven’t read the book, you certainly have walked the kind of I don’t read a lot of books, but I’ve committed to reading more books to share it. A friend of mine challenged me to read books this year. So well. What what do you hope I learned? I mean, you know, might you know a little bit about me, you know, because he came off the boat. I was born here. I’ve done sports, radio 31 years, I wouldn’t be as interested in this book. Is anybody I would say,

Jeff Smulyan  12:07

Yeah, I think what you learn is number one, you heard some interesting stories, about you know, I was kids say, you know, the reason I call it never ride a roller coaster upside down is life’s a roller coaster ride. I think when I was a kid, you thought life was just a straight line up and you go from success to success is exactly. And we certainly had more successes than I could ever imagine. But it’s a roller coaster ride, and you see what happens during the downs. I was everybody should be a pariah once in their life. And if you own the Seattle, mariners, you’ll get that chance. But it’s just a lot of the lessons and the things I’ve learned and how you treat people. We’ve had, you know, a lot of great people work with us, David Letterman was my first midday guy. And we’ve had you know, Don Imus, and we’ve had big boy, we’ve had just about everybody in radios workforce at one point, and just the lessons of how to deal with human beings. I think the biggest lesson is the last line of the book where my mother, my late mother always said in life, you just have to have fun. And I think I have been surrounded by people that I’ve laughed with for years and years. And I think that’s, that’s the lesson and you know, and never jeopardize your integrity. You know, it I’ll tell you, I told my daughter, if your word is good, almost really nothing else matters. And if your words not good, nothing else matters. So those are a few of the lessons. But the most important thing you’ll say is, I think people have read it, and they’ve laughed out loud. And they’ve learned some stuff.


Nestor Aparicio  13:35

Well, I hope to laugh out loud. And I hope to learn some stuff. That sounds good to me. I’ll be checking out the book. I want to ask you just in the modern era, right? So I had a media pass for 27 years with the Ravens PR guy hates me throws me out. I can’t ask questions after. So it’s this fight that you talk about from an ownership standpoint. And by the way, everybody laughs but it’s not funny to me. And I think they broken the law on amongst other things, but first amendment and criticism and where you were and even me, you just said David Letterman. I mean, I know of your affinity and relationship with him. He went on every night and said stuff that could you know that that was designed it to raise people’s awareness in some way. And we are really in a weird space here, where as I said to you, Ken Rosenthal would have to walk in, they won’t even let me after I rip the manager. They don’t they don’t they don’t want accountability anymore.

Jeff Smulyan  14:34

Yeah, I mean, I, I have dear friends who own teams, and I think, you know, the reality is, you know, the number one, it sells tickets if you want to be, you know, just the crass economic level, the controversy, the interest is what sells tickets but the other the, you know, we got a first amendment that I think is sacrosanct. I listen, I’ve had talk radio guys, you know, people always tease me I am not a rush limbaugh fan but we carry rush limbaugh we carry people I didn’t agree with

Nestor Aparicio  15:01

the reason you even mentioned as you said, Don Imus and he was always in hot water, which always Could you not water?

Jeff Smulyan  15:08


Yeah, always and you know, but people always ask what what do you you know, what’s the key to managing people I said, remember the key to managing people. I’ve never met a human being who walked in the door in the morning and said, How do I screw my job? So our job is to managers is to give them the tools, understand the issues, try to work with them. There are times when people, especially on the air crossover lines, you have to work with them on. And you know, there are things you can’t always say. But But understanding the process and understanding, you know, how to relate to people pretty important.

Nestor Aparicio  15:41

Give me the bottom. Yeah, because we, you know, we’ve all had some bottoms in our life. And so So

Jeff Smulyan  15:49

that’d be the bottom is when the industry collapsed, and your concrete company is technically bankrupt. And you’ve got wolves at your door. And everybody says, put the thing in bankruptcy because you can’t survive. And I’m surrounded by some wonderful people who rolled up our sleeves, I had personal financial crises. And we rolled up our sleeves and we solved it. And I think that’s the thing I’m proudest of the thing I proudest of as we got through it. And we do surveys of our people that say, you know, the company, you know, we had furloughs and we had benefit cutbacks, and we had, you know, all sorts of things, but the company was honest with me, and we got through it. And I think that’s what I’m proudest of, but I mean, we survive, and that and that’s life, you know, a master you’re never going to find anybody who has just success to success. I always say, if somebody tells you, they have never failed at anything, that they’re making it up. We all do. And I think the proudest things is when you come back from adversity, and get through it.

Nestor Aparicio  16:47

We came back from adversity you stole our football team, we went got another win it got two championships.


Jeff Smulyan  16:53

And now we’ll want your quarterback. What is good for him?

Nestor Aparicio  16:58

I know what there’s some people in Owings Mills and Mike saying you can have him at this point. So just Molina has written a book about entrepreneurship and his legacy in life and media and, and ownership. Never ride a roller coaster upside down the ups and downs of reinvention, and reinvention of an entrepreneur. That’s a long title, Jeff, but I got it out.

Jeff Smulyan  17:19

The real title is never ride a roller coaster upside down, but they put that on the jacket. And people can buy it at Amazon and type in my name or whatever. The title of the book and that my they always tell me you gotta plug the book, tell people how to buy it. So But it’s been fun. I’ve had more fun with this. This is my agent said, What do you want to do for your next book? And I said, Are you kidding? I’m never going to do another book. But But I loved it loved.

Nestor Aparicio  17:43


The kid from Baltimore. We used to go up to Hershey Park in the summer, and I go up there to winter see the Hershey bears play. I covered the Hershey bears and Skipjacks back in the day, and they had this thing called the super duper looper. And it was the you know, you went and you went upside down in the roller coaster. And you look at that damn thing. And you’d say, I’m not doing that, you know, not gonna do that. And you would actually go into it. And you’d find out that you could be strapped in in the right way. And it was really kind of something fun.

Jeff Smulyan  18:12

What if somebody had said to me, these are the four. These are things that are happening in your career, I’m gonna go I hate going through that I want one of my best friends when we are going through the worst times. And we’re we have a wonderful building, overlooking that the monument in Indianapolis. I always laugh when when David Letterman’s early days, he announced that the monument had been sold to Guam in exchange for a 300 foot salary stock. And, you know, people would call in and say, Well, you can’t get rid of our minds. And he said, Do we need more greenery downtown and I’m looking at that monument now. And a friend of mine during the toughest days said, Well, if I were you, I’d walk out the balcony and jump off the building. But I mean, you know, that’s the time when you really learn about yourself. And when you’re surrounded by great people, you can survive any deer downtown

Nestor Aparicio  18:58

Indianapolis right now. Yeah, I walk out and go down to St. Elmo is right now get a bowl of that stuff and mix up my sinuses is what

Jeff Smulyan  19:06

you eat. Yeah, if you have the shrimp cocktail at St. Alamos, you do not need sinus surgery.


Nestor Aparicio  19:12

There’s no question about that. Hey, really appreciate the wisdom. Appreciate you writing a book like this. I’m gonna make a promise to you. I don’t make this the many authors on the air. I’m gonna read your book. I promise. I’m gonna read your book. I hope it makes

Jeff Smulyan  19:24

you laugh. I hope you learn some things. And please let me know. This has been delightful.

Nestor Aparicio  19:29

Well, I don’t get to Indianapolis much since the combine. And I hope you guys at least get to keep that a little bit. Next time I come to Indianapolis. I’m gonna be I’m gonna be looking for you. And

Jeff Smulyan  19:39


I’m right in the circle. You can visit the Emma’s building. We’re right there and you just let me know.

Nestor Aparicio  19:43

I know where the brewery is their repeater. King throws this little thing there. Right right on that. I stated that with the Sheraton right on that square there too. So

Jeff Smulyan  19:51

you let us know we’re here. I appreciate your

Nestor Aparicio  19:55

testimony. And out in Indian et Cie, I thought I didn’t like people in Indianapolis and I’ve died I fall Only with all these friendly Midwestern folks who are connected to David Letterman.


Jeff Smulyan  20:04

It’s a wonderful town and in spite of what we did now, I can’t believe I just saw the the culture in Baltimore for 30 years. They’ve been here over 40 years. So we’re Other than that, other than that act of desperation. I think it was, I think it was 84 right about this time was

Nestor Aparicio  20:21

March the 28th. This was the morning that the May flowers were going out. So yes, march 28. And it

Jeff Smulyan  20:28

finished with one thing I one of my one of my favorite movies is diner. And I said, you know, very Levin’s, we’re going to have to rewrite diner, because we gotta be talking about the Colts of walking along the White River. See, that’s

Nestor Aparicio  20:40


not we don’t like that kind of talk here. That that is. That’s blasphemy. So I’ll say this to you. I’ve been on here 31 years. So in 91 we had no prayer of getting a team here, right? Like Jack Kent Cooke was not gonna allow it to happen. You weren’t in ownership at that point. You know this. So I go on the air 91 And I’m on the radio nasty nasty I said I would run naked down Pratt street if we ever got a team your I did my underwear and raise money. So I mean, all that chicanery we had in the 90s of doing sports radio and having a good time. But But more than that, I I took that angst with me for a long, long time. Right. Like I did some awful things I called the hospital that they are say died to make sure he was dead. I mean, I did awful, like sports, radio stick things in the 90s. Right, that I’m not proud of, you know, as as an older man, but I will say this, I came out for the Super Bowl. When you guys had it. It should have been us. Billy Cundiff missed the kick, right? We would have been there cost me a phone number as an entrepreneur that our team didn’t go to several. I came out there the weather. And I had been Indianapolis a bunch of times, I decided that week I woke up in the hotel, I was in the Marriott block, and I walked down to radio row and I wrote this giant long column about how I needed to stop hating Indianapolis. And I get and I promise you I stop. I really don’t have that. But I let it go. And it was like 29 years I carry that thing. And it’s across and that’s that’s a life lesson for me that I let it go and I have people in my life here in Baltimore that are says a four letter word and all that I’m friendly with Jimmy I attended his rock and roll soiree in New York and Pete Ward, I I’m not a hater anymore. I’ve let it go.

Jeff Smulyan  22:19

I mean, Peter, genuinely nice people. I didn’t know his dad. Well, I knew him a little bit. His dad had his challenges in light. Let’s just say that. But this is a really nice town. I was I was very involved in the Super Bowl. bit here. And it this is a really nice time when I first came back here from USC. I said What have I done, even though my family’s been here over 100 years and I love it. I’m proud of it. We do. It’s a nice town. It really isn’t. You have to forgive us and you got to better quarterback now.

Nestor Aparicio  22:49

I did it publicly in front of the whole world had a million hits. It was all over the Indiana and like I literally just said I can’t I’m not going to hate the OC family. It’s over. We have our own team. And you know what I really thought and I wrote this you grew flowers. They’re like Bob was a thorny, but what has become for the community and Final Fours in the dome and the combine that that it’s a beautiful contribution to what and we got our own gig here. We got Lamar problems. Jeff, take care of yourself. Good luck with the book. Thanks, Esther. That’s Molly and joining us here on the roller coaster riding upside down go check out the book. He really kind of invented sports radio as a format and paved the road for people like me to feed my family all these 31 years we’re celebrating 25 years of our partnership with the Maryland lottery and a friend window nation. We’re starting to crabcake tour next week at Costas on Wednesday, opening day on Thursday. And of course on Friday. We’re down at fayed Lee’s in the Lexington market eating their delicious crab a lot of crab cakes next week is gonna be good time. I am Mister we are WNS da and 5070, Towson Baltimore and we never stop talking Baltimore positive

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