He’s a second-generation broadcaster. But you don’t learn everything from Dad.
What got you started in radio? I never intended to be in radio. After graduating from high school, I immediately went to work for my Dad. I went to college for a year, but kept working and found I really enjoyed this. First, it was the announcing part, and then learning to write good commercials. I enjoyed it! Eventually I became involved in the sales end of the world as well.
I worked with Dad for close to 6 years. He was a very good broadcaster and an excellent businessman, and he taught me the foundational principals of good leadership and financial management. But then I went to work for Paul Hedburg, Hedburg Broadcasting/Mason City, IA and I managed his stations there for 5 years.
Then I had the opportunity to buy these stations here in Alexandria, MN, and I was 28 at the time. It was a big risk, but WHY NOT? The time to do it is when you’re young! This was the opportunity to get into it. Our 25th anniversary is coming up this year. My dad has always been my silent partner in this operation. It’s been the best investment for him, and great for my family as well.
I’m still intimately involved in the day to day operations of the stations. My staff has been with me a long time. But, technology & networks have changed things for our business. You’ve got to be pretty technically savvy these days just to stay current. Today I’m involved in a lot of the programming and technical end of things as much as sales and administration.
Who have your radio heroes been? Not heroes necessarily. Certainly, when you think of Paul Harvey was, WOW, an incredible star. I have a tremendous respect for what he did and what he meant to broadcasting. Especially since we have a locally-focused News/Talk station, you realize how important those kind of people were, and still are.
There have been lots of broadcasters I’ve known over the years
Phil Mullen of Austin, MN, Paul Hedburg, my dad was terrific … some of these broadcasters were really sharp, worked hard, did whatever it took – and they were risk takers.
How did you become a part of your community? I was new to Alexandria in 1988.
There are 5 stations in town, and we own 3 of them. KXRA AM, 1490, went on the air in 1949, and it was the original station in town.
When we bought it, it didn’t carry the luster that it did originally. We believed it could be restored if we hired the right people, covered the city council and county government meetings, and did a great job with high school sports. We do run some network programming 6p – 6a, but during the day we are mostly local and live. That’s where we began to build it, and it didn’t take long for the community to respond to that because we were giving them local information in a way no one else was.
Then we began to build KXRA FM, which had done almost no business under previous ownership. We opted to use the Classic Rock format, and that began to go. It’s not that the first 3 or 4 years were much fun. We sure didn’t make any money! Even though our sales grew dramatically, the place needed an awful lot of things to be done. Equipment, health insurance, better pay for our employees…. It took several years to get everything on a solid footing.
Then in 2000, we bought another station in town that was doing a soft AC format and it’s now our HAC. We paid a lot of money for it, as others wanted it too, but now all 3 stations are doing very well.
What are you doing on the tech side? The technical side of the business has become extraordinarily expensive, complicated, and difficult. When things are working exactly the way they should, it’s incredible. I’m still amazed at how the technology can do what it does, but when you have a failure, that makes a real mess.
Fortunately, we don’t have much of that because I believe, and my team believes, that every 4 or 5 years you need to do upgrades. It’s kind of a continual upgrade process.
We’ve got the Skylla automation system, and the Skylla Producer software. The beauty of that is we’ve put it into a large number of computers: at sales people’s desks and announcer’s desks. After they’ve cut the rough audio in studio, then they can deal with all of the editing and finalizing at their desks and then zip back into the Skylla system, so we’re not tying up the production rooms.
We’re using Adobe Audition. Each of the studios has 2 computers in them plus the automation system. You can use the computers together, but when you have a failure, you still have the good computer in addition to the Skylla system.
We installed title & artist with a nice Inovonics RDS system. It has to get the information from the Skylla system when we’re live, and then switch over to Dial Global. It’s working great. More and more cars have RDS now, and it’s more important to have it.
We put our first hard drive system in ’94, back when they were peer-to-peer. When you lost one computer, they all went down. Then we had a Smartcaster and were happy, and then upgraded to Skylla, and that was more flexible and easier to use. Once the staff got through a couple of weeks, they were … yeah, this is better!
HD? I have already upgraded KXRA FM and KXRZ FM with new Harris transmitters that are HD ready. Even though we’re not using it, but they have the power when we need to and I won’t need to buy another transmitter. I’m doing the same thing with KXRA AM where I have a 22-year old Continental, which has been great, so I’ll install a new higher power transmitter so that when we’re want to go HD, I’ll be ready.
Streaming? We are streaming our News/Talk only at this point. We’re in the process of working through how we would stream our two FMs. The complicated part is you can’t run the agency and national spots. You have to cover all of that and do ad insertions … that’s a pretty complicated part of the puzzle. It isn’t just the cost of streaming; it’s also the technical challenges that you confront.
We stream all of our local stuff. Sports … people love that. They go south for the winter, but they want to hear what their grandkids are doing and they can tune the game right in. That isn’t particularly costly to do, and we’ve had very good response to that. We’ve been doing that for 3 years now.
Website? So many people punch into our website, and they want that listen live thing on the front page.
Do you make money on website, streaming, etc? Not much! We make a little. When you look at what we bring in for revenue, versus the cost of maintaining that site and the providers we use, the cost of streaming on the AM … it’s a few thousand dollars. We’re actually beginning to make money. One great thing is our Big Deals online store to buy certificates for local merchants and use them just like cash. It’s allowed us to go back to the small advertisers who really don’t have $20, 30 or 40 thousand a year, but you can get them to do this. And so it might not be big money individually, but at the end of the year, it’s significant.
Twitter? Not using twitter. Facebook, texting, emails … not twitter. I don’t use it personally, either.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I still love slalom water skiing. I like golf. I’m not particularly good, but it’s fun. We go to the Twin Cities for concert events, big games … anything on the water. We live in an area full of lakes, so anything on the water is good for us
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Make sure you’re working with people who are committed to their employees and committed to the business they are in. I still believe to be successful in small market broadcasting, you have to serve the community well. That’s not cheap, and it’s not easy. Make sure you’re working with people that are committed to serving the community in such a way that they can turn a profit.
A Long Time Customer! Smarts Broadcast Systems is proud be a part of Brett’s operation. His stations use both our Skylla automation system as well as the Second Generation Traffic and Billing system.