Leslie Fitzsimmons has been involved in commercial radio for more than 30 years. After a brief break from working in 2014 and much self-reflection, she decided to try something new. That challenge came in the form of underwriting at UNLV’s public radio station KUNV 91.5 at the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies.
There she teaches a course on integrated marketing communications and works with students through internships and other opportunities as she develops underwriting campaigns and strengthens relationships with the community. Her goal is to partner with local businesses and to show students and KUNV staff how they can generate revenue similar to the way she has brought in money for commercial radio companies, including iHeartRadio.
It’s an ambitious objective, but Fitzsimmons says she has “never been good at just coasting.”
How did your working at KUNV come about?
I have been working for radio stations and commercial stations, but I just kind of burnt out. The hard reality of working in a corporate environment is that it’s not about how you want to operate. It’s about how the company operates.
I thought maybe it was time for me to step away. I was at a point where I asked myself, “What do I want to do?” I started looking for a new opportunity for myself last fall. I started scoping out jobs at universities. I saw this job online. I was smitten. Everything I read about the university — of how it is trying to become a Top Tier university and the commitment they’ve made to the radio station excited me.
Was it difficult transitioning from the commercial radio station environment to an academic environment?
I think what’s more accurate to say is I was looking for a different way to use my skills and my knowledge. I’ve been in the radio business on the commercial side for 34 years. After I took a break and had a chance to reassess, I realized that I needed to be in a situation that felt good for me and where I can do something different. I love being part of that groundbreaking process. I didn’t see that opportunity in commercial radio. What was so attractive about KUNV was that they are getting to do something that is potentially groundbreaking.
In what way is KUNV doing something groundbreaking?
It means finding a way to bring in revenue beyond the traditional underwriting campaign. We are exploring what we can do as a public radio station at a university to bring in revenue. It’s thinking outside the box. In May, I worked on a campaign for National Nurses Week, which involved reaching out to local physicians to give a shoutout to their nurses. It’s not something we would normally do. I want to be able to show other college radio stations a better way of looking at and managing their inventory. I want to show them the assets they have that they may not be taking advantage of and do things that commercial radio does that will generate more revenue. In June, we’re running a campaign in partnership with the Mob Museum that highlights short segments on the history of the mob in Las Vegas.
We’ve created a campaign at KUNV called “High Notes.” The idea is that we’ll partner with restaurants and appropriate venues of interest to our listeners. KUNV gets gift certificates from the restaurants in exchange for the cost of a promotion and a schedule. We will sell those gift certificates to our listeners for a deep discount. All of the money generated from selling the certificates goes to KUNV. We’re doing what we were going to do anyway and now we’re making money doing it. My goal is to do that every week all year. That’s going above and beyond how we can make money through traditional underwriting.
What lesson are you trying to show students who are interning and working at KUNV?
I’ve been very fortunate in learning that sales is a partnership. It always incorporates a return on investment. By doing things like “High Notes” and other promotional partnerships we’ve launched, I hope the students see that selling things isn’t about selling. It’s about partnering for success and that it’s fun and that it’s creative. I want them to experience how terrific it feels for a customer to say to you, “This worked.”
I think this is an opportunity to show students that this is what underwriting is like. This is what it feels like to get a response from a business. This is the amount of emails I have to send before somebody is willing to talk to me or the amount of phone calls I have to make. I want to show them that that process of partnering is doable and yields results.
What is it like to make KUNV relevant again for the students?
First, it’s about student involvement but not necessarily about KUNV being the only radio station they ever listen to. Las Vegas has no shortage of radio stations that cater to young audiences. We play a lot of jazz. From that perspective, this may not be the music all students listen to. We do have our HD2 station, and we do nighttime programming that includes hip-hop, indie rock, and EDM. But I think the word will spread about KUNV as we have more students participating in areas including underwriting, production, and on-air. This semester we had more than 100 students involved in KUNV through internships and classes.
What’s been your experience being at UNLV?
I really like the people here. I’m so excited about the things going on at the university, like its goal to become a Top Tier institution. The premier hospitality program in the world is right here. The School of Medicine is opening. The fine arts program is phenomenal. There’s a lot going on. I feel like we are at the precipice of a great transformation right now.
Finish this sentence. If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to...
Have an art studio where I could sculpt and experiment with different mixed media.
Where did you grow up and what was that like?
I grew up in Great Neck, New York, which was a wonderful place to be a kid. I lived across the street from an inlet that was part of the Long Island Sound. We used to pick wild blackberries from which my mom would make jam and pies and my grandfather made wine. I don't think there was a better time or place to be a kid.
What are your pastimes or hobbies?
My pastimes are dabbling in art, and I love to cook and bake.
Describe a time when you have been daring.
I’ve been daring a lot. I’ve lived in more than 10 cities. I moved to Alaska. I left a corporate job. Life has thrown me a few curveballs. No matter what happens in life, if you surround yourself around good situations and good people, you can move forward — and that is your daring adventure. That's why I have a tattoo on my arm that has a partial quote from Helen Keller that states, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."