A typical image of a general manager - of any firm - is Type A, stressed and not particularly empathetic. But if you follow the dulcet strains of Beethoven over the air to 10 Harrison Street in Seattle, you'll find that KING-FM's Jennifer Ridewood is about as nice as nice gets.
Just ask Peter Donnelly, Ridewood's former boss and president and CEO of Artsfund, which is one-third owner of the Seattle classical radio station.
"Jennifer is one of the nicest people I've ever met," says Donnelly, who was once her boss, "but she's tough as nails also. And I mean that as a compliment."
This year marks KING-FM's 10th anniversary as an accomplished provider to the arts community through its unique ownership structure. The station is equally owned by Artsfund, Seattle Opera and the Seattle Symphony and pays an annual dividend to the arts that has cumulatively resulted in donations of $5 million to area arts organizations.
The classical music format has been retained because of the sheer persistence of the original owners, the Bullitt sisters, and Kirklander Ridewood.
The KING radio and TV dynasty was founded in 1947 by Dorothy Bullitt, who felt it was important to have free classical music in the Seattle area. Before her death in 1989, she sold the station to her daughters, Priscilla (Patsy) Bullitt Collins and Harriet Bullitt, who were then in their 70s.
There were opportunities to sell to a larger broadcast station, but then "we would have been hip-hop or country," says Ridewood. The sisters were steadfast in their commitment to free classical music, and in 1992 hired Ridewood as the station's business manager. She gained the sisters' confidence and in 1999 was appointed general manager.
Ridewood grew up in Bellevue, went to the University of Washington as a history major and then got a job at KING broadcasting as a receptionist.
But she knew she wanted a business career. So from 1985 to 1992 she worked for a radio station in San Francisco as an accounting manager. She got her MBA at night and true to her goals, "learned the operations of radio and management."
In 1992, the sisters decided to take their curtain call and sold their broadcasting empire. Ridewood says that they were very civic minded and wanted to donate the station to the community. So they sold KING-FM to the aforementioned triumverate and set up the unusual ownership and dividend structure.
At this point, the Bullitts brought back Ridewood as business manager. Seven years later she was running the station. "Patsy met with me regularly," she said. Ridewood worked with the station's attorneys, strategic planners and the board of directors. They knew Ridewood was committed to their mission. "They were both huge mentors for me, they gave me opportunities. They chose me to keep KING-FM classical."
The sisters were a force to be reckoned with. Donnelly recalls,"I was on the board of directors for the station and Patsy was chairman of the board. One day she called me and said 'I think we need a new president, Peter. Congratulations.' I loved that about her."
Donnelly was president of KING-FM for six years and Ridewood was his direct report. "What you see with Jennifer is what you get. She's very, very nice, polite and has an almost passive demeanor. But she can be very strong when she needs to be. When she's passionate about something, she's fearless about going to the line for it.
"I'm a great fan of hers. KING-FM is very fortunate to have her."