Milwaukee Talks: Milwaukee's ESPN Radio owner Craig Karmazin
Good Karma Broadcasting founder and president Craig Karmazin is living his dream. At only 30 years old, the New Jersey native owns eight radio stations across the country, with operations based in Beaver Dam.
But his Milwaukee station, ESPN Radio (1510 AM days, 1290 AM nights) is where Karmazin spends most of his time. In addition to running the radio group, he also has his own daily show with his childhood best friend and co-hosts a football program with former Packers tight end Mark Chmura.
We caught up with Karmazin to get the back story on what makes him tick, including how he landed Steve "The Homer" True and what role Craig's influential father played in launching his company. (Full disclosure: OnMilwaukee.com is a promotional partner with Karmazin and trades advertising on Milwaukee's ESPN Radio. OMC is also developing a soon-to-launch eCommerce Web site in a joint venture with Good Karma.)
Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks with ESPN Radio's Craig Karmazin.
OMC: How does a 30-year-old guy go about owning a bunch of radio stations?
Craig Karmazin: A 30-year-old goes out and gets himself $10 million in debt to buy a radio group, borrowing money and having a lot of good people who allow you to do what you need to do to continue to grow.
OMC: OK, really, give me the story on how you got here.
CK: Short story is the me and bunch of friends who had an interest in broadcasting were in Madison for a Halloween / football weekend. We had a lot of drinks and threw out the idea that high school friends who are getting together in college do: We should start a business in this city that we're sitting in right now. A year and a half later and nine trips to Madison later, we were able to accomplish that.
OMC: But you're not a Wisconsin native, right?
CK: I'm from New Jersey and New York, all Yankees and Knicks. In college, I worked at a radio station in Philadelphia.
OMC: So what were you doing in Madison?
CK: I had a friend who went to school here, and like so many Wisconsin students, couldn't start a sentence without saying, 'Well, in Madison, this is what we do.' We all wanted to come out and see if it was for real.
OMC: I have to get this out of the way. How does your dad, Mel Karmazin, play into this?
CK: My dad greatly plays into this. He is currently the CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio. He had managed and grown Infinity Broadcasting, had run CBS and Viacom, and he's a great mentor and person I can lean on. How he doesn't fit into the business is that he's not involved in any way financially, management-wise, decision making, or in any other way.
OMC: But did having Karmazin as your last name help secure your financial backing?
CK: I certainly think it didn't hurt, but it was still about putting together a business plan. We were really lucky that the first acquisition we made was in Beaver Dam of very, very successful existing stations with a lot of cash flow -- which is what banks are looking for when we made (the additional) acquisitions.
OMC: So what are you doing in Milwaukee?
CK: It's a natural extension. We're a Wisconsin-based company. We started almost nine years ago, and Milwaukee is the biggest market in the state with the most potential listeners and advertisers.
OMC: Yet, as an on-air personality for your other stations, you don't have much of a presence at ESPN Radio in Milwaukee, right?
CK: Our research has shown that Milwaukeeans like to listen to people who have a heritage and who are from here. When it came time to setting our Monday through Friday lineup, we were able to have some really powerful national names from ESPN Radio like Mike and Mike and Dan Patrick, and we've been able to supplement that with Steve "The Homer" True, Bill Johnson, Dan Needles, Steve Haywood and (OnMilwaukee.com senior editor) Drew Olson. The spot for my show, The Steve and Craig Show, wasn't here.
OMC: What's it like to do a radio show with your childhood best friend and business partner?
CK: It's a bizarre show, in that it has evolved into a show that airs in the obvious tri-state area of Wisconsin, Illinois and Florida, with very different psychographics and demographics. It's a combination of sports, entertainment and the talk that all guys have at the bar. I'm lucky enough to do it with Steve Politziner, who has been my best friend since I was four years old. He runs our West Palm Beach operations. I've been doing the same show in the back of car pools since about the age of six.
OMC: And you guys do this show every day from across the country?
CK: We are wherever we end up. With eight radio stations now in the company and different responsibilities, we have found a way to do the show wherever we are.Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
Dobie Maxwell said: I am a standup comic originally from Milwaukee and for whatever reason haven't received much love from the 'local media' over the years. Craig and his whole staff have treated me like a king every time I come back to perform and I predict he will continue to grow and become a media powerhouse in Wisconsin. He is a genuine guy and super smart and he is putting together a fantastic product. Homer and Drew Olson and Dan Needles and everyone else are great on air and off. He's got my total support and when I'm back in Milwaukee my radio dial is on 1510 ONLY. Thanks for having me on as a guest. Good luck!
Tina Williams-Smith said: I grew up with Craig and his older sister and my brother is currently under his employ. I would like to send my unmost congratulations on GKB's continued growth and success. My only negative is that Karmazin should return to his roots; good ol' East Coast! It's time to bring the love back home.
Kevin MacDougall said: Craig and his entire staff are a credit to the Milwaukee radio market. They show that radio can still be fun, informative and ethical all the while serving the public interest. I wish them continued success.
Jon Greenberg said: Craig has been an absolute pleasure to work with and has been a great partner to the Milwaukee Admirals. I see only great success in his future. He's a really sharp guy.
Brian Van Metcalfe said: Landing Homer was great for Craig...since the other sports station wasn't able to do it. Continue the good work....when are we gonna see a 24 hour signal for ESPN Milwaukee?
Show me the other 3 Talkbacks
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