“There’s only one thing that matters here, and that’s results.”
What got you started in radio? I was the shy kid in my Iowa high school class back in the ‘60s. I had one great teacher that encouraged me. He told me I needed to try drama, speeches … and then at the state speech contest in Des Moines, they introduced Radio. For this shy kid, it was perfect. Sitting in a room alone with a microphone … I found out I could do that. It didn’t make me nervous! Coincidentally, I had a cousin that had gotten himself a job as a DJ in Webster City, IA. I went for a visit, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world because he let me pull his records. I’m out there at 6a, and I’m drooling. It was the best thing … I knew this is what I wanted to do.
He told me there was a broadcast school not far from where we lived, and that’s where it began.
Who have your radio heroes been? Some of the rock jocks from WLS/Chicago; the Rock of Chicago was what I could listen to growing up in Iowa. Kris Erik Stevens, Larry Lujack, Superjock. I would sit there with my transistor radio at night wondering how these guys could get their voices to sound that way!
Locally, in Iowa, there was Dick Youngs: The Old Youngster is what he went by. He was one of those Midwestern legends and I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. He stayed at KIOA in Des Moines for many years. When I got to that station as the SM, Dick Youngs was still there. I was thrilled just to meet him! Then, I was surprised to find out that he was just a regular guy. After having him on a pedestal my whole life, and then to meet them … and I find out he can irritate me just like anybody else can. To those of us that grew up in Iowa, he was every bit as important as those big jocks in Chicago.
How did you become a part of your community? I live in the largest town in the Big Horn Basin. Cody, WY is just under 10,000 people. My reality for what a small market is just isn’t the norm. Maybe there should be the term of “micro market.” I’ve got a radio station in a little town of less than 2,000 people. Our largest market, Gillette, is less than 35,000 people and that’s a Top 5 market in Wyoming.
In my first job running radio stations as GM, I worked for Duke Wright out of Green Bay. He owned KIOA, and he bought an AM/FM in Lincoln, NE. I’d started my career in Nebraska, and I was a Huskers fan – I was quite fond of the state. He gave me my first job running radio stations. Then I moved to Great Falls, MT. I convinced my wife and kids to go on a great adventure, and we moved. It was 1990, and I went to work for Sunbrook Commuincations for 6 years. Then I went to work for Larry in Cody.
By some standards, I went backwards in market size. I grew up in a tiny little town of 700 people in Iowa, and I found I was perfectly suited.
The first thing I did when I got here in Cody was to throw a party for myself. We went to the Irma Hotel – a historic hotel in the community – and had a great party. Offered prizes and met clients … you know, people will turn up if there’s free food and an open bar.
The next thing I did was I started making calls with the sales people. Within 3 months, I met every client we had on-air.
Then I joined the Chamber of Commerce. I served 8 years, 2 as president, and that was a great experience.
Early in my tenure here in Cody, I did live remotes. We didn’t have many on-air announcers because almost everything was on the satellite. So, when we sold a remote, all of the times had to fit the satellite clock. I became fairly well known as Roger Gelder, the guy who runs the radio stations in town but also does car remotes.
I told my friends back in Lincoln and Omaha, and they were incredulous. It’s almost that they felt sorry for my career that I went so far backwards, but they didn’t get how much fun I was having super-serving my customers.
We don’t have ratings, people here could care less if we had an Arbitron number. There’s only one thing that matters here, and that’s results.
With all of the work we were doing in the community, everyone began looking to the radio station for help.
Larry and I both feel very strongly – very strongly – that you have to give something to your community. You absolutely have to be a part of it. When people are needing help with a promotion or a fund raiser, whatever it is, I want my radio stations to be who they call. Whether it’s a local church, or the Chamber of Commerce or a big client putting on an anniversary party, I want them to think of us first.
One night in Greybull, WY, there was a bad winter storm. Pipes froze at the high school, they had to cancel school the next day. But, it was late and no one was at the radio station. It was then that someone wondered if they could call me directly. They looked me up in the phone book – I’m listed – and so at 10p at night, I get a call from the principal asking if I can help him get the word out so he doesn’t have kids standing in sub-zero weather waiting for a bus to pick them up the next morning. We could absolutely help them!
Those are the little things you do in a small market that make you a part of the community, and I love it!
I truly feel after 15 years of being on every board and volunteer thing I could think of, it all does work. That’s when it does come back to you, because people look to you as a vital part of the community, and a result it’s perfectly natural to come to you for help, and it’s perfectly natural for them to want to do business with our company.
What are you doing on the tech side? I have 2 full-time chief engineers that work for us; we don’t use contract engineers. If something goes down now, I don’t want to wait a day for someone to start working on it.
I don’t need a degree in engineering; these are the guys I rely on; they make it work. We’ve had a lot of luck using cellphone technology, which works very well in our small towns.
We still use Marti. Our towers are on the nearby mountain, and we can get line-of-sight from anywhere in the Big Horn Basin and still deliver crystal clear studio quality. It’s just the best way to set up a broadcast that runs for any length of time. Sometimes the old stuff is still the good stuff.
HD? No, we’re not. I don’t see the market for it right now. Few people have receivers, and it’s something that if I see things starting to change, we’ll adapt. But for now, no.
Streaming? No streaming. So far, I just haven’t found a model to monetize it in our small markets.
Websites? The sites are promotional/news sites … news really drives people to the site. We’re growing, and it’s been slow. It’s improving now, and the 3 separate websites are definitely going in the right direction. Still a work in progress, though.
Twitter? No. Twitter is just not big in the rural areas out here. We do a lot on Facebook with contests and such, but no twitter.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I love to drive over to Yellowstone National Park; we’re not even an hour away from there. Just going into the park in the summer, taking pictures of nature … it’s my favorite thing to do. It’s really beautiful in this area. When the flatlanders come here to see us, they want to go to Yellowstone.
When I go to my other stations, I see wildlife every time. It is spectacular. It’s impossible to drive there without seeing moose, an occasional bear, lots of big horn rams. For this kid who grew up in the corn fields of Iowa with the cows, I genuinely love it. I never get tired of it.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? There are so many opportunities other than the obvious ones of getting on air. I often speak to local high school and college groups about Radio’s opportunities. They need to know their most important preparation for this business is to get computer skills, hands down. People with average voices can develop more Radio skills while working in production. Computers skills are the first thing they’ll need. Here, we’re a stepping stone station anyway, so they need to do the right preparation.
The other need we frequently have here is with sports. We do PBP for all kinds of little towns around here. We do games of the week during football season. You might be in a town of 300 or 400 people, but when you’re in town, those people are excited. We get game sponsors like the local bank in little towns all around.
There are opportunities in our business, but you need to lose the “I’m a big radio star” attitude. You may work your way into that, but you’re not going to start at the Rock of Chicago. You need to start in Cody and work your way there.