When a Good Friend Passes
That’s Jon Petrovich pictured above. My good, dear friend, my mentor- the man who took a chance on me 15 years ago and gave me a radio network to run. I owe this man everything. He died last night and I seriously need a drink right now.
Jon was so many things in his long and varied career but all too-short life. But, boy, did he live those 63 years. He was a Senior Executive and one of the early pioneers at CNN, an executive at Sony and the Associated Press; an academician, a visionary, a questionable golfer, the most loyal friend a man could have and a guy whose passionate love for his wife Karen and his kids and his grand kid knew no bounds.
When I first met Jon, he was a fellow member of the board of directors of the Radio Television News Directors Association. We became fast friends. In fact, it is with Jon that I had the single, most expensive dinner of my life. Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1993. Jon, then with CNN; Bernie Gershon, then with ABC; and me, then with CBS, invited three colleagues and we had the Chef’s dinner. This is where they set up a table for you in the kitchen, while the chef cooks and describes all ten courses and the alcoholic beverages that accompany each and every one of those ten courses.
The food was terrific, the company was divine, the drinks went down smooth and I want to personally thank CBS, CNN and ABC, who picked up the enourmous tab. What can I say? It was a different time.
Jon hit the longest drive I’ve ever seen on a golf course. Unusual for him, because his tee-shots usually averaged about 150 yards. But on this day, that damn golf ball hit the cart path in the air and bounced again and again and again until it finally stopped, some 350 yards down the fairway. I’m pretty sure he missed the putt.
So he hired me to run the CNN Radio network in 1996. You know, there are about four people at any given time in this country who actually run radio networks. They don’t write manuals on how to do this stuff. But Jon trusted me. Maybe saw things in me that I didn’t even know I had. And God bless’ em- we kicked ass. We turned that thing from a 300-station lame-o-network and ended up with 1,700 affiliates and went from breaking even to making millions and turned it into the 2nd largest radio news network in America.
And when I was down on my luck, just laid off, sitting in a Manhattan bar on a grey winter day a couple of years ago and wondering how the hell I was going to get my life together again, there was Jon, having a drink with me, giving me tips and urging me on and being a friend. Not feeling the least bit sorry for me, mind you. Son of a bitch didn’t even pick up the tab. But he was there. Fifteen years after he’d hired me and had put his own damn reputation on the line because he believed in me- there he was again, reaching out and making me laugh.
Jon was a big man. Great dresser. Classy. Funny as hell. Brilliant businessman. Wise friend. I loved this man. My God– I am going to miss him.
A more official accounting of Jon’s professional life from 247newsroom.com:
Jon was one of the executives who helped propel CNN into a world class news gathering operations. He was a guy who was part of a special group of characters who could dazzle you with their courage to experiment and make change – who could make you laugh for hours – and most of all, ‘Petro’ was one of the toughest businessman and news guys that I’ve had the honor to know and call my friend. Petrovich spent 15 years at CNN, including his time developing CNN interactive as well as responsibilities as the leader of Headline News and it’s airport network. He also served a stint as executive VP, international networks, for Sony Pictures Television, and president of the Turner Broadcasting System in Latin America. His list of career credits in broadcast news just go on and on. While many know Jon from his CNN days, he also spent a lot of time at local stations from Louisville, Detroit and Baltimore, where he was a News Director and to St. Louis as a GM.