“Take ideas to people, and you’ll have customers.”
What got you started in radio? My grandfather operated a laundry and dry cleaning business, and they had citizen band radios. My first love with a microphone came when I was about 6 years old, and I was fascinated with the CB radio.
In high school, I got a job at the radio station I now own. I mopped, and I washed, and I cleaned the ash trays, and I watched the boys in the back.
To be on-air at the time, you had to have a FCC broadcast license, a Third Phone with Broadcast Endorsement, which I still have today. My mother drove me to Memphis to take the test, and I got my FCC license. I became a DJ, a part-time weekend announcer working the shifts that nobody else wanted to work.
I became a DJ, got to do local news, and then became a news director. I went to Kentucky for 5 years, and I humbly say I won every award that the AP in Kentucky had. I eventually started doing play by play, so I’ve broadcast a lot of ballgames.
In 1974, I was let go from a job on New Year’s Day. It was the most difficult day in my broadcasting career. The company had a change in ownership; they said they didn’t fire me, they just weren’t rehiring me.
I found other broadcast jobs, and was hired to work at WAKY/Louisville as a newsman, when my father died. I decided to come back home to Martin, Tennessee to take care of my mother, and I eventually bought the station I started in when I was 15 years old.
Who have your radio heroes been? Arthur Godfrey, when he worked for the CBS Radio Network: “The Old Red Head.” I grew up listening to WLS/Chicago on a transistor radio; Larry Lujack, Art Roberts, Dick Biondi. Lately, one of my heroes is Wink Martindale. He continues to do radio, on satellite now, holiday specials. John Marino is one of my mentors. He worked at WCMT/Martin, TN with me … he’s now VP Science & Technology at NAB, and he’s the ultimate gentleman. If I needed somebody to give me a boost, John would be that person. Larry Doxey is another guy that worked at WCMT, then went to Viet Nam … he’s the guy that showed me how to run the board. Today, he does voice tracks for me.
I’m a member of the Tennessee Hall of Fame, so I’ve gotten to meet some people that are important in broadcasting. However, nobody’s more important than the listener. Nobody’s more important than that person on the other side of the microphone that listens to what we have to say. Without them, we’re nothing.
You’re involved in a lot of broadcast organizations, too. I’ve been in broadcasting 43 years. I’m active in the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters; I’m a past President. We’re also involved with the Kentucky Broadcasters Association, because half of our signal is in Kentucky, and the other half in Tennessee. I’ve just been elected to the NAB Board of Directors to represent Arkansas and Tennessee.
We are also members of the International Broadcasters Idea Bank, and that’s opened up a lot of opportunities to meet broadcasters like myself, with the same challenges and same issues. We’ve been able to grow because of them; it’s a great organization.
How did you buy your station? I was at a turning point for what I wanted to do. I was the News Director here in 1981, but the opportunity arose where the station needed capital. I put my car up for collateral and bought 1% of the stock of the station, and so at 27 years of age I was an owner of the radio station.
Over the years, we’ve had a lot of great advertisers that helped us pay a tremendous amount of debt that we owed. The home town folks were very kind, and believed in what we were trying to do with local radio. We’ve won the NAB Crystal award (ed. note: The NAB Crystal Radio Awards are given to individual stations for their year-
We’re there for the community. We’re in parades. I still do the play by play for the high school football and basketball teams. People on our staff are involved in the Rotary and Kiwanis. We do a lot of fund raising on the radio stations. We do an annual can caravan, where we go to all of the school s and collect 5,000 cans to feed the hungry.
We have a coat drive at Christmas time, we have an Easter Egg hunt. We do a backpack program for kids whose families don’t have any money to buy their backpacks and so forth.
And it’s a family business? John Watts, my stepson, is our Sales Manager. My son works in Nashville for Cumulus; he’s a producer. He grew up in the radio business. My wife does some of the best voice work you’ve ever heard. Tremendous talent, she has an agency voice!
What are you doing on the tech side? That’s perhaps the most difficult challenge I’ve had in my entire broadcasting career. There’s no day that sits still for technology. To this day, we’re having a great deal of difficulty trying to keep up with technology, whether it’s an operating system, or new software, or making money off of the internet.
Technology today is moving so fast that many of us in small markets are having difficulty keeping up, because we’re so focused on our local communities. It requires more staff for us to do the things people want us to do. We have to decide which part of this business is the most important part. Do we want to focus on the radio side, the internet side, the web site … there are all of these different moving parts.
Here, for example, we have a fulltime news department at both of our radio stations. We put news on the air, we put it on our website, and then you have to decide how important is it to tweet it out, or how important is it do to an email blast.
We have found, though, that if we give our communities the local news, the high school sports, the swap shop, if we answer their phone calls, the local weather … if we’re there when they need someone to talk to, then they’re going to continue to support us. It’s those stations that are going to ignore the things I just mentioned that are going to suffer and will either go dark, or they’ll struggle and be bought by someone else.
Our staff is dedicated to the community. They believe in taking care of the ministers when they walk in the door, the church programs, the public service announcements, the bulletin boards … I had a guy that came to the radio station today. He wasn’t physically able to come up our front steps, but he found his way into the station and handed us $20 for the United Way campaign we were doing today. We have a great bond with our listeners.
HD? None of our stations are. I’ve got the tools, but there are expenses involved, and we don’t have the receivers out there.
Streaming? We don’t stream anything other than local ball games. There are so many hoops that small market broadcasters have to jump through to stream their stations, such as clearing commercials and paying the royalty fees. At the same time, when we have a St Louis Cardinal baseball game, we can’t stream that. We carry the Titans, but you can’t stream them, either. Those are the issues that we are yet to come to grips with. It’s not that we don’t want to stream, but we like to do things correctly, and we’re just not ready yet.
Do you use Twitter? Yes, for contests & important alerts; we only do it for important announcements.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I’m an investigative reporter. I enjoy genealogy. I announce Tennessee Walking Horse Shows. My wife and I travel; we love travelling. We get in the car, point it in a direction and get there.
What do broadcasters need to do better? Most managers don’t spend enough time training their sales staff. Most sales reps fail because they weren’t trained properly.
I liken this to LeBron James, Mark McGwire, Tiger Woods, pick somebody that’s very famous in sports … they didn’t get famous by going onto the basketball court and scoring some baskets … they practiced and practiced and practiced, going through the repetitions to get it right.
We have to continue to practice what we do here, and we have to look for things that are going to open our eyes, so we’re wiser and broader. Jim Williams, Chris Relando, Chris Lytle … there’s dozens and dozens of good trainers out there. Everyone has their own style, and I try to mold myself into being one of those kinds of people that recognizes that if you help somebody with a need, you’re going to be able to make some money.
Everybody’s got a need, you just need to find out what it is. Take ideas to people, and you’ll have customers.
A long-time customer! We’re proud to recognize Paul as a customer for more than 20 years. His stations use our Smartcaster automation system.