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Yacht dreams

Ryan Cameron first visited Fisher Island, Fla. a decade ago when he read about it in a travel brochure for Small Luxury Hotels of the World, an association of independent properties around the world. Located off the southern tip of Miami, Fisher Island has one of the highest per capita incomes in the United States. It also inspired one of Cameron’s favorite topics of conversation, his “yacht dreams.”

Cameron has returned to Fisher Island often. He has taken family there, and he has retreated there alone. He might sit at a cafe with a cappuccino to read The New York Times or sip a cocktail at the beach. His favorite view of the yachts that line the marina is from at La Trattoria pizzeria. Cameron rode a golf cart over to La Trattoria when he visited earlier this year. But as he often declares, one day he will arrive in his own yacht to grab a slice.

Cameron’s yacht dreams aren’t aspirations of wealth. Radio has already afforded him access to Fisher Island, just as it afforded him his $1.3 million house in Buckhead. Fisher Island can only be accessed by ferry from Miami Beach — unless visitors have a yacht, which means they can come and go as they please. To Cameron, “yacht dreams” means having even more control and autonomy than he already has.

“To anybody else working every day, they would say, ‘You’re crazy. This is the greatest living ever,” he says of his radio career. “But it’s not yacht living. It’s comfortable living. It’s a beautiful living. But it’s not yet living if you’re still an employee. To have a yacht dream is be able to go out there and realize your potential. Bet on yourself and then double down. You can’t do that as an employee.”

Cameron didn’t know it at the time, but meeting Peter Sorckoff in 2003 was the beginning of the end of his radio career. Sorckoff had produced games for Atlanta’s new hockey team, the Thrashers, for four years. Then his employer Turner Broadcasting asked him to oversee Hawks games instead.

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Cameron greets former Atlanta Hawks great Dominique Wilkins before tip off in 2015. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

The job had its challenges. The Hawks only ranked 16th in the Eastern Conference. Sorckoff’s first task was to boost morale. Sorckoff’s solution: Make Cameron the Hawks public announcer. Cameron was already hosting contests between plays. Sorckoff predicted Cameron could shift the tone of Hawks games in this more central role. His goofball humor lightened the mood immediately. His trademark “for three” chant has since been immortalized in the NBA 2K17 video game.

Cameron quickly became Sorckoff’s “cultural advisor.” When Sorckoff hired organist Sir Foster, Cameron suggested songs he should play — not hockey staples like “The Mexican Hat Dance,” but T.I.’s “Bring Em Out.” When Sorckoff wanted to feature acts like Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris as halftime performers, he relied on Cameron’s Rolodex. When former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson owned up to a 2012 email wondering whether “the black crowd scared away the whites,” Sorckoff conferred with Cameron.

“He was very generous with his time, in explaining to me why people were as hurt as they were,” Sorckoff says. “As a white guy from Canada, I hadn’t grown up with that. You can think you’re sympathizing or empathizing, but until someone takes you through the wayback machine, you can’t get what it really meant.”

For his part, Cameron says Sorckoff is a kindred spirit. One day he showed me a bar graph to prove it: the results of a moral foundations theory test, measuring how people prioritize morality. It shows whether someone values things like compassion over sanctity, or loyalty over liberty. No less than four times throughout the course of our conversations for this story, Cameron said that he and Sorckoff scored highly on all five of the test’s categories. Somehow, they are both the rare type who feels strongly that each of these values are of the utmost importance.

They also came to realize they were at similar career stages. In 2016 Sorckoff launched his branding firm Rakanter (pronounced “raconteur”). He had been itching to start something new. The month before Cameron’s V-103 contract expired, he began consulting Sorckoff for advice, but Sorckoff mistakenly thought Cameron wanted legal advice.

Dude, I don’t think you get it, Cameron said.

On New Year’s Day, they tried again. They met at Salt Factory in Roswell, and Cameron said he wanted to join Rakanter.

You know I don’t have a lot of money, right? Sorckoff said.

That’s not why I want to do it, Cameron said.

Cameron joined Sorckoff’s firm as a partner. Their clients include AT&T, Coca-Cola and the Australian rugby team.

Cameron’s average workday seems far less glamorous than hosting a morning show. He attends marketing conferences. He guides individual clients — athletes, media personalities — through media tours, where they knock out four to five TV interviews in a single day, and he orders coffee and Waffle House for them to refuel. Meetings also eat up his day.

“The very first day I went to work, we had a conference call with a company about to do a re-brand,” he said. “I used to be like, ‘Peter didn’t return my text, what the hell?’ But then I sat on a conference call for five hours. He was like, ‘You see?’” But the hours are better, considering his days in radio started at 3 a.m. Now, “the day don’t ever start until 10 a.m,” he said.

Marketing is an industry that still struggles with diversity, and that is something Cameron is eager to rectify.

When he decided to join Rakanter, he had a recent publicity crisis in mind. Clothing store H&M started an uproar when it posted a photograph on its website of a black child modeling a hoodie emblazoned with the words, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” As part of damage control, the corporation hired a diversity officer.

Working for Rakanter “is gonna be my way of making sure that H&M does not have the ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ shirts,” Camerson said on air.

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