By Mark Kiester

kiesterIt was 1971. There was a recession, a terrible recession. I was at the University of Texas, and I wanted to get into marketing and public relations, but there were no jobs for college graduates. My friend Steve suggested I talk to his dad. So I drove to Beaumont to meet John Hicks, Jr. He was a tough, gruff old guy who ran four or five radio stations, including KLVI, the AM station there. He spent two hours with me. Then he said, “If you don’t have a job by the time you graduate, come see me.”

Well, I graduated–and I got nothin’. No job, no car, no confidence. Ten dollars in my pocket. So I called John Hicks and said, “Is that offer still good?” He said, “Yeah.”

John Hicks

John Hicks

I moved to Beaumont, put on a coat and tie, and showed up at KLVI. I said, “What do you want me to do?” He said, “Get people to buy advertising for the radio station. And read the files. Read every file in the place.” I’d come in Saturday mornings, get a cup of coffee, and read two, three, four dozen files: memos, production orders, program clocks, personnel files. That’s how I learned the radio business. Soon I was running the FM “Beautiful Music” station, KBPO, which at the time, in terms of popularity, was just under the police scanner.

I was real green, real raw, competing with veterans in their sixties. One day a big dog from NBC in New York came in and asked, “What’s the kid doing here?” John said, “He runs your FM affiliate for you.” He just nailed the guy. When someone in a position of power defends you, that’s huge.

Working under John was like having my own personal business coach. I got day-to-day, you’re-okay reinforcement. Even now, when I start having doubts or concerns, I’ll hear his voice: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I met the right person at the right time. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.

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