It's mid-December, the time each month that Sun Microsystems creates a virtual recording studio in a conference room outside the office of CEO Scott McNealy. For the next hour, McNealy does a radio show. This month's featured guests are senior technologists Bill Joy and Eric Schmidt, two of the figures most closely associated with Sun's Java programming language. McNealy rounds out the program with business updates, pep talks, and surprise phone calls to employees. This month's "candid mike" segment is a hilarious exchange with an administrative assistant in Sun's product-development group. She urges the CEO to telephone the rest of her group at a restaurant, where they are in the midst of a long lunch, and summon them back to work.
If this sounds like a drive-time broadcast by a wacky FM deejay, it's not too far off the mark. In fact, the monthly show goes by the name "The McNealy Report" and it's broadcast over WSUN Radio. But it doesn't travel over the airwaves. In keeping with Sun's commitment to the Net, the show is digitized and stored on an internal Web server. Employees can visit the site, click on the show (or past shows), and listen at their workstations.
WSUN Radio is an important element in McNealy's energetic stay-in-touch style, which also includes regular appearances on John Gage's bimonthly television show. The format and tone of Gage's Sunergy broadcast couldn't be more different from his CEO's program. Sunergy revolves around earnest (and unabashedly futuristic) panel discussions on topics such as "Cyberjockeying in the 21st Century." Its guests include digital celebrities such as Apple founder Steve Jobs and Web guru Marc Andreessen.
It's PBS to McNealy's ESPN.
"Scott's view of the world is wins and losses," Gage explains. "It's hockey, it's fast-paced, and at the end you either score the goal or you don't. That's also the pace of his radio broadcast. Sunergy is the counterpoint to that. Th banner is: 'Here are some important technology directions. Learn to evaluate what is valuable among the innovations arising worldwide.'"
Sunergy is beamed via satellite to roughly 1,500 downlink sites in 40 countries and gets an average of 100,000 viewers per show. It's also transmitted via the Internet's Multicast Backbone to computers with the processing horsepower and bandwidth to receive live video over the Net. The broadcast is closed-captioned as well — not to assist the hearing-impaired, but to support an indexing system for people who want to review past Sunergy programs. Soon, interested viewers will be able to call up a tape, search it by keyword, and see segments on specific subjects.
The Sunergy Web site (http://www.sun.com/sunergy) already offers rich material from past shows — including transcripts, audio clips, white papers, and links to resources on the Net. It also includes a schedule of future programs and their satellite coordinates.
Why is Gage so committed to Sunergy? "Companies degrade when people like me, who have been in place for a long time, develop a 'not-invented-here' attitude," he says. "The moment you reject outside innovations, the company starts to die."
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.