Grand Jury Confidential: John Hinnen

Since the 2016 New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards competition opened in January, NYF has profiled this year’s award-winning Grand Jury members for its Grand Jury Confidential series. As we get closer to our June 20th awards ceremony and the announcement of the 2016 World’s Best Radio Programs℠,  NYF will continue to share the wisdom of these award-winning producers, directors and hosts recruited from all facets of the radio industry. This week, NYF spends a few moments with one of Canada’s most powerful and respected news executives in the radio industry, John Hinnen.

John Hinnen

With 42 years of experience in the news and broadcast industry, John Hinnen is considered one of the leaders in Canada in news coverage on radio and television. John retired from Rogers Broadcasting at in 2014 after 39 years with the network.

During his tenure as Vice-President of News for Television and Radio, John Hinnen was responsible for the strategic direction for all Rogers Media television and radio news brands nationally.  He was the “architect” of 680News one of Canada’s most successful radio stations, as well as news content for the 55 Rogers Radio stations, including the four all-news radio stations. Under Hinnen’s leadership, the television and radio news brands operated under one vision but function as separate newsrooms.

Under his leadership Rogers radio stations have won hundreds of awards including RTDNA Murrows, New York Radio Festival awards and many more. The Canadian Music Industry has named Hinnen’s 680News Canada’s News Talk Sports station of the year ten years in a row.  Hinnen is also the recent recipient of the Radio-Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) President’s Award (2012), the association’s highest honor.

In the interview below NYF’s learns about John’s start and evolution in the Radio industry, his favorite radio program that he created, and early leadership lessons.

New York Festivals: Who or What were your early influences in your career?

John Hinnen: The first thing we did every morning when I was growing up was to turn on the radio to listen to the news and weather. It was so important to start ones day knowing what to wear etc that it impressed me from an early age that radio was a very important part of my life. I remember stocking shelves at a local grocery store overnights and putting a radio next to the microphone over which store announcements would be made.  Those days stocking shelves made me realize that there were many other, more fun things to do with one’s life

New York Festivals: What’s the most important thing you learned from your first job?

John Hinnen: Whenever you make a decision to follow your dreams you need to realize that nothing comes easy. There are 24-hours in a day, use as many of them as possible to help you chase your dreams.  For me that meant working 12-18 hours a day working, listening to radio

New York Festivals: What were some early leadership lessons for you?

John Hinnen: If you show initiative it comes back to you many times over.   People will notice and appreciate that you are driven and passionate about your occupation. If you’re not passionate then look for something else to do

New York Festivals: What qualities are the most important to have?

John Hinnen: As mentioned in the previous question, I think PASSION  is the key to any success. Passion drives hard work, dedication and the desire for success.

New York Festivals: Tell us a bit about your evolution in the radio industry?

John Hinnen: My first job in radio was a full time job in a place called Oshawa (just outside Toronto). There I produced remotes two days a week, spent a morning with the morning man learning how to do production each week and then on weekends they let me host a show Saturday and Sunday nights. While there I took on the role of Assistant Music Director and eventually Music Director. While there I took a song from a Guess Who album called “Clap for the Wolfman” and put it into high rotation, pretty much becoming the first person to run it as a single.  A few months later I had a visit from Wolfman Jack who autographed a copy of the single and wrote on it, “Thanks Golden Ears”.

Then one day while reading a Toronto newspaper they mentioned that a weekend sportscaster had left CFTR I called and was hired the following week to do weekend sports and weekend sports reporting. Three years later the News Director asked me to take on the role of Assistant News Director. Then when he left the company I was promoted to News Director.  Fast forward six years and I was moved to our FM station CHFI as VP of News. Six years after that, after consultation with management we changed CFTR to 680News. Thanks to folks such as Steve Swenson then Executive editor at WINS we were able to make the transition from music to news a smooth one.  Steve helped me train my staff etc. It took us four years to turn a profit, but in the last decade the station has been one of the top billing radio stations in Canada.

New York Festivals: What was a defining moment in your career?

John Hinnen: Being given an opportunity to start and build 680 is a highlight of my career. My bosses at the time let me run the station the way I wanted to run it, with little interference. The man who gave me the chance to run the station calls me the “Architect of 680News”.

New York Festivals: Will you share how the culture of your company encourages creativity?

John Hinnen: The great thing about smart companies is they hire the best people they can and then let them do their jobs. Sure they are always there to offer advice but having the trust of management was a key factor for me.

New York Festivals: What’s your favorite radio program that created?

John Hinnen: Without a doubt building 680News from an idea to making it the most successful station in Canada is my proudest accomplishment

New York Festivals: What are the hallmarks of award-winning radio programs?

John Hinnen: The one thing I find is that there are so many people in radio who try to make it so complicated.   Truth is radio is a very simple product.    Find out what people want and give it to them. As I always told my news teams, “Lead with the story that people are or will be talking about”.

New York Festivals will celebrate the World’s Best Radio Programs at their annual gala taking place at Manhattan Penthouse on Monday, June 20th. For more information on this year’s gala please visit: Here.


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