“I did it on a kind of a whim….”
What got you started in radio? My mother says that even when I was little, I would play records for the other members of the family. She swears I did this when I was 4 years old. It’s always been something I wanted to do.
How did you get into ownership? I made the move from on-air to ownership very early. I was 20 years old and used money borrowed from my parents and Grandparents. I picked up how to do everything along the way. WMYQ AM & FM/Newton, MS were the first stations I owned. Kept if for a couple of years, but I couldn’t make any money; it was just too small with only 3,000 in the town.
When you’re in a small town, and have no money, you learn to do things yourself. Now, I can keep a transmitter on the air. The last FM we put on the air in Samoa, I built myself. Wired the transmitter, wired the studio, the whole works.
After I sold my first stations, I got the opportunity to go to Pittsburgh to do major market radio and be on-air. That station sold so I lost that job. I moved back to my hometown of Atlanta, and I ended up working on-air again. But then the ownership thing kept pulling at me, so I got back into that.
This is your 2nd go with Delta Radio? Right. I had built up a group of 8 stations in the Delta, and sold them all in 2003. I ended up having to take 2 of them back, and have sold one of those. I’ve added 6 stations that weren’t part of the original group – they were owned by my former competitor, actually. I got a good deal on those, 3 years ago. Today, the biggest challenge is finding decent sales people.
The biggest town is 42,000, the smallest is 12,000. They’re not tiny markets, but it’s just about impossible to find people to work and sell. We’ve got an incredibly good product, but we could be much better if we had better revenue coming in.
All of my radio buddies tell hiring sales people is hard, but the Mississippi Delta is the toughest place to hire. Even when the national economy is booming, the Delta is lethargic. When the national economy is down, the Delta goes to hell. I wish I could find more sales people in Mississippi. That would make my life better.
How did the stations in American Samoa happen? I did it on a kind of a whim. I just thought it would be great to have a radio station on a tropical island somewhere. We built the thing in ’99, put it on the air, and it’s done extremely well ever since. We’ve since added a 2nd FM. There are 2 other commercial competitors, both of which are kind of family hobbies for the owners; they’re not serious competitors.
I’ve got a good team running those stations, so I don’t get to go down there that often. When I go, it’s usually to put in a new piece of gear to make everything groovier.
What’s the population there? The island population is about 60,000. It’s an isolated island in the middle of the South Pacific. It’s a US Territory.
You live in Las Vegas, away from both of your operations. How do you do that? At the moment, I’m doing traffic for all of the stations. I also do the bookkeeping for all of the stations. Partly because I like to have control of it, and partly because I like to save money … and so I just end up doing it all, and it pretty much takes me all day every day.
So you’re doing traffic for 9 stations? Yes, 9 stations. That’s a fulltime job. I visited one my buddies here in Las Vegas. They’ve got 4 stations in the cluster, and they had 3 fulltime traffic people. I couldn’t believe it!
I try and wind down the day around 3:30 or so … but I’m often back at 7:30 in the evening. I’m dealing with a 4 hour difference with American Samoa, so they call me at 4pm their time, and it’s 8 o’clock here, so I just go back to the office and get them whatever they need.
Who have your radio heroes been? From afar, John Records Landecker. Up close and personal, Dale O’Brien in Atlanta, who worked at Z93 & WSB. Skinny Bobby Harper, also from Atlanta.
Your ownership has been in small markets. How do you make that work? The main thing is for the radio stations to be involved in the community. Get involved in the Walk for Life, get involved in any kind of fundraiser that’s going on. When I’ve lived in the same market as my radio stations, I’ve always been a member of the Rotary Club and gotten involved in things personally. I don’t do that now, but my people do.
I’ve been lucky in Samoa. Most of the people have been there a long time, and will probably never leave.
Have you found it different operating in Samoa? A lot of things are the same, but the laid back attitude is different. The “island mentality,” the slower pace … when somebody says, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” that might mean 3 weeks from now.
Samoa is unusual in that’s it’s still like a third world country. The US influence is very strong … they all speak English, they use the US dollar, but it’s not like you’re in the US. I’ve been to Guam, Saipan, Virgin Islands … those are pretty much developed. Samoa is not.
Operational problems? Electricity is a challenge. It costs us about 4 times more per kilowatt hour than it does on the mainland, so our overhead is considerably higher. The electrical service is not terribly reliable. Listeners have the same problems.
What are you doing on the tech side? In Samoa, both stations are voice tracked most of the day, but we have live shifts on both. We have good equipment. We found it’s important to have a backup for everything: transmitters, antennae, STL, exciters … if something goes down, and there’s nobody there to fix it, then you’re off air until we can ship it in.
HD? No. There’s a lack of receivers. I just don’t see them out in the marketplace.
Streaming? In Samoa, we stream everything.
Website? It’s important to have a website for promotion, but they don’t make us any money. We use them to have a presence on the web. In both of the groups, we’re dealing with local people that just don’t see the value on the website. The internet’s still something our customers just don’t use. We do sell web ads, but it’s not a big business.
Social Media? We just started using Twitter in American Samoa a couple of years ago. We had an approaching hurricane, so we told people to sign up and we would tweet them hurricane alerts. We got 2,000 sign-ups in 24 hours.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I’m trying to remember the last time I left the office…. I do enjoy the trips to Mississippi or Samoa. Going to Samoa, you have to fly through Honolulu, so I always manage to spend a day sitting on Waikiki Beach.
I don’t really like going to the beach; I don’t like sand between my toes. But sitting on a bench up above and looking at it, I love that.
What’s next? I’m getting to the age where I could sell everything, but I’m still having fun doing what I do. Samoa’s a lot of fun. I love going down there.