Roger Utnehmer: Commitment To Local

First Radio Job: I entered the broadcasting business as the President and GM of a radio station that I co-owned in Antigo, WI. I was 26 years old, the youngest GM in the state of WI at the time. WATK/Antigo, WI.

Current Job: Owner, Nicolet Broadcasting, Sturgeon Bay, WI


Your school? I crammed 4 years of college into 7. I started in Catholic seminary, which I left after I realized the Pope would never negotiate celibacy. I then went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, working fulltime in the state legislature and going to school part-time. Today, I’m 3 classes short of a degree in International Relations.

I was asked to be an adjunct professor at St Norbert College, and I explained that I don’t even have a Bachelor’s. One of the Priests suggested, “Why don’t we just give you credit for your life experience?” I lived in a shanty town in Lima, Peru for a couple of years starting a job creation program for women. If I wrote a paper about that, they’ll award me a degree.

I really want to do it the right way, though. At some point I would love to go back and take the 2 or 3 classes I need to finish my Bachelors. It would be fun.

Typical work day: I get up about 4am. I love to work out for about an hour on a Nordic Track, and when I do that I pull out old tapes by Jim Williams, Chris Lytle, Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins… That’s truly a way to reinvigorate. It keeps me hungry for information.

We have a daily 8a sales meeting. After that, I’m busy doing a lot of research and writing, training sales people. I am also very active in the community, and serve on a number of boards of directors. I’m active on the NAB Board of Directors. I chair the legislative committee for the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and a member of the Board of Common Cause Wisconsin, which is a clean government, open-transparency advocacy group that promotes campaign finance reform and cleanliness in the political process.

What are you reading? Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches is on my desk. I just picked up About Face by Dan Hill. He’s done work for Jerry Lee at WBEB/Philadelphia; he’s the guy that says ads only work if they use emotion. Without that, they will not cut through the clutter.

Best vacation you ever had: My new, best and last wife requires me to go on vacation once a year, and we’ve had some pretty great vacations in France, Germany, a Baltic cruise …. We’ve had some phenomenal times in Alaska. About 12 of these vacations are all tied for # 1. I’ve promised my wife a vacation in Hawaii this year. It was her turn to pick, so that’s where we’re going.

I’ve had the good fortune to speak to several state broadcast associations speaking about the 99 Habits of Highly Effective Salespeople. Every time I’m invited to speak about that, my wife asks me why I haven’t been invited to Hawaii, and why don’t I take her with me? I’ve done Alaska in the dead of winter, and I’ve done Austin when it’s 115 degrees in August. That’s been a great opportunity to share our practical experience selling radio as a primary medium for a large number of great companies.

Favorite restaurant: L’Eau Vive in Rome. It’s a French restaurant, run by nuns from Africa. All of the proceeds go to support poor people in their neighborhood. Great cuisine that has a social justice component and it’s very affordable. It happens to be a place that used to be owned by one of the Popes, and the 2nd story has some 6th century frescoes on the walls. I remember listening to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli, doing a report from L’Eau Vive, saying that all of the Vatican politics are done on the 2nd floor.

Favorite beverage: a good Hungarian red wine, or a Budweiser. I have a Budweiser trade. One of the perks of ownership is having a beer trade.


Contact Info:



We can have incredible power to do good in our communities.

What got you started in radio? I had worked in the state legislature, and at the time, Exxon Corporation had discovered what was thought to be among the world’s 5 largest copper sulfide deposits in a community 35 miles from my home town. Exxon was projecting to employ 3-5,000 people. I remember visiting an FCC attorney, Sam Miller, and told him that I thought if I bought a radio station that could cover the Crandon area, it might be worth a lot of money. I thought if I could increase the power of the station and cover Crandon as this economy booms, it would be worth me getting into radio.

Roger Utnehmer

Roger Utnehmer

Sam Miller said he was a UW graduate, and his wife was from Crandon … so he took me under his wing. He called me a few days later and said he had good news: I could move from channel 285 to channel 287 and move from a Class A to a Class C. And I did not know what that meant. He could have told me the muffler bearings in my car were shot. He explained that that goes from 3kw to 100kw, a coverage area from 30 miles to 100 miles.

And you don’t have to be smart to make money when you have a 100,000 watt signal.

That made all of the difference in the world, and it prompted me to get into the broadcasting business. Exxon never developed the mine, but within a year of WRLO going on the air, we were billing more out of Eagle River, a community 60 miles away, than the local Eagle River station billed. I sent a letter to that station owner, saying I would love to talk if he ever wanted to sell the station.

He talked to his best friend, and come to find out he knew me from my time working in the legislature. He said, “Sell it to him, I know Roger, he’s a great guy.” I then got a phone call from the owner. Over lunch, we put together a handshake deal. I offered 10% down, at 10% interest, and we bought the station.

We bought the stations in Eagle River, and I was really lucky to be able to take an AM/FM simulcast, separate programming, and build a 50,000 watt regional FM station. The guy that owned that combo also owned a station in Park Falls. He called me and offered to sell it, “I’ll give you a really good deal.” I bought that station, and built a 100,000 watt FM in Park Falls.

And then over a beer, on a napkin in a bar, I bought the first 80/90 drop-in station. That was a 3,000 watt FM that I increased to 25,000 watts.

small-market-storiesThen, in 1996, I got the CPs to build 2 additional FMs, along with WBDK. About 5 years ago, I was the successful bidder to put a 4th station on the air in Door County, and that’s WSBW up in Sister Bay, so I’m now operating that 4-station cluster out of one facility here in Door County.

We have an online newspaper, an electronic newspaper that’s got an impressive circulation base, and it has been a real good fit. Having an electronic newspaper gives you the ability to be a primary advertising medium for your clients. We started that about 10 years ago; it grew out of the radio business.

Describe your daily sales meetings: Just the other day I listened to a 1991 cassette from Jim Williams on how to use audio to sell audio: how to use demo tapes. Dean Sorenson, a very good broadcaster in South Dakota, always says “It’s an idea that worked so well we quit doing it.”

We start every morning at the radio station with an 8am meeting, at which everyone on our staff shares three sample ads. We brainstorm how to make those ads better. That gives every salesperson at the station the ability to make 3 near-perfect sales calls by going into a client and saying, “Hey, I have an idea that our entire staff brainstormed at a meeting this morning, just for you.”

And then the sales person explains that we find our most successful clients run ads with 7 key ingredients:

  • A specific offer,
  • A price,
  • A call to action,
  • A sense of urgency,
  • A slogan, a theme or a hook,
  • Personalized by the client,
  • And they have emotion.

The sales person then says, “Can we see how we did coming up for an ad for you that has these 7 ingredients?” They play the ad twice, and then the sales person will say, “How did I do?” Hand the client the copy. Have each success element quoted on the bottom, like this:

  • Offer: T-Bone Steak
  • Price: $24.95
  • Urgency: Saturday night special
  • Action: Make a reservation now
  • Theme: The place for steaks in Door County
  • Personalized by the client? Yes
  • Emotion: Quote something from the copy that evokes emotion

The sales person then asks, “How did I do?” and the client says, “I guess they’re all there.” And the sales reps says, “Great, because the only thing that works in advertising today is what you say, times how many times you say it. The only thing that works in this market is what you say, times how many times you say it. And we’ve got a pretty good one here, don’t we? How many times you say it is the schedule” … and then you hand them three proposals , and say, “I recommend the aggressive plan, may I have your approval?” It’s a 2 minute, near-perfect sales call that makes radio tangible.

That 8am sales meeting is with your whole staff? Correct. I learned years ago that the prime sales time is 9am – noon, that 5 sales calls in the morning are worth 10 in the afternoon, and 85% of big orders are sold before noon. The typical client sees 5.3 sales people a day, and the later into the day the appointment is, the greater the resistance will be to spending money. We try and have a 9am sales call every day for everyone on our staff.

Prime selling time is 9a – noon. 1-3p, people come back to the station to put in their orders, take care of their paperwork, do their research, do their planning for the next day and put together their new presentations. Finally, 3-5p is the second-best selling time.

How many sellers? Six people on our staff are selling. They sell ads on the website, ads in our electronic newspaper, and 4 different radio stations. I end up acting as the GM and SM, both.

Who have your radio heroes been? I consider Jim Williams to be a very provocative and influential person in the radio industry. He taught me how to sell radio advertising and how to look at radio broadcasting not as entertainment, but as a business. I’ll never forget the first sales training program he put on in 1981 at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, OK. That’s where I really learned how to make ads work and how the business of broadcasting can help clients make a significant difference.

The power of radio is the power to help. Broadcasters who can serve their clients can make the difference between profit and loss, employment and unemployment.

An example? One of my standing ovations from radio is having a client buy a fairly large schedule on the very first call I made on him. Six weeks later, the owner called me into the back room. You fear he’s going to cancel. He closed the door and said, “I want to thank you. The night before you came in her 6 weeks ago, my wife and I had just decided we would have to close our restaurant, declare bankruptcy and lay off our 7 employees. But you offered me hope. We had nothing to lose, and in 6 weeks, we’ve gone from being 20% below prior year sales to being 20% above, making all the difference in the world.”

If we focus on traceable results for clients, a lesson I learned from Jim Williams in 1981, we can have incredible power to do good in our communities.

How did you become a part of your community? Door County is the peninsula, the thumb of Wisconsin, about 50 miles from Green Bay. It’s a community of about 9,000 in a county of about 30,000. I say it’s so small that McDonald’s only has one arch.

Utnehmer,-Roger,-logoThe foundation of our business has been the commitment to local news, with radio broadcasting 12 local news reports 7 days a week, and always being accessible. Early on, we committed for every station to give away one :30 an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, to a non-profit civic or service organization. We’ve got 6 non-profits running a minimum 4 spots every day on each of our stations. Each of those messages is personalized by someone in the organization.

Another powerful program is the Pledge of Allegiance recorded by high school students. You’d be amazed how often that gets on YouTube, and how that stimulates word of mouth and gets families tuning in and discovering our stations.

We’ve also started having high school correspondents from the 7 high schools in our area. Those correspondents report on positive, non-athletic, academic things going on in their schools. The high school correspondents take what they’re doing for our radio stations, and they spread that virally through all of their social media. That helps make radio relevant to a new, emerging Generation Y.

I think community service, local news, local sports and having clients voice their ads all combine to make us part of the community.

What are you doing on the tech side? We’ve contracted with vendors so we can use texting and smartphone apps to report weather alerts and school bus delays.

We handle the Facebook pages for our clients. We put fresh new content on their pages for them. We also do social media seminars for our clients, teaching them about smartphones & web compatibility. We help our clients with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Most of our business owners know they need to do something in social media, but they don’t know how. We can introduce them to 6 different social media elements, and help them move into awareness and implementation.

The ability to do digital editing and replace analog in production has been a phenomenal change for broadcasting in America. When you think about the savings in equipment alone, with what a digital recorder and an iPad can do versus buying $14,000 triple deck ITC cart machines 20 years ago … we have sales people doing remotes on their iPhones now. They have the ability to capture non-scripted copy during remotes that we can then use during their regular commercial messages, and it’s all possible because of the changing technology.

Everybody has a cellphone. Nobody leaves home without it. Some of the best news in broadcasting is what Jeff Smulyan and Bud Walters have done reaching an agreement with Sprint to have the FM chip activated on their cellphones. That’ll probably extend the design life of terrestrial radio by 50 years.

HD? I have no immediate plans to do so; we’re a long way away from the necessary receiver penetration we need in a market this size.

Streaming? We do not stream. And I don’t see how that will be monetized. I think the stations that stream have a cool factor, and there’s value from that. But when respected giants in our industry like a Jerry Lee … Lew Dickey recently said that they are not seeing how to monetize streaming.

The wiser alternative is information on demand. It’s podcasting. And we can avoid the royalty fee issue by podcasting things like our news broadcasts, high school sports and other special programing, without having to worry about confiscatory fees paid to the record labels for the right to stream the music.

Do you make money on your website? Everything we do on our news and sports is available on our website, along with fishing reports which are big in our community. We’re sending that out on our app now … people that want information don’t want it at the time that radio stations are going to broadcast it. They aren’t going to stay tethered to a radio for things like obituaries, local news, sports and fishing reports. We have to make it available to them on their time, when they demand it.

We don’t separate the money we get for the website from the station. I don’t think there’s much of a future selling $75 banner ads on a short term basis. We package everything for our good clients.

Radio works 2 ways, as taught by Roy Williams: short term impact, or long term consistency. We package with long term annual agreements other things like social media components, real estate on our website and real estate in our electronic newspaper. We’re not selling that on a short term basis.

Twitter? The station uses it, but I haven’t gone that far yet.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Travel, read, exercise. Engage in volunteer activities. I’ve got a social justice compassion.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Do it outside Door County! We’ve got enough radio stations in Door County!

Seriously, this is one of the most exciting careers, and as Warren Buffet said, I’m as optimistic about the future of radio as a mosquito on a clothing-optional beach. This is an industry where an individual can make a dramatic and measurable difference in the quality of people’s lives.

We can make our listeners, not only consumers, but also much better citizens and challenge them to engage in the activities to make their governments and communities better places to live.

Smarts Broadcast System


We are proud of our customers! Smarts Broadcast Systems is proud to recognize Roger as one of our customers. His stations use our Skylla automation system.

Smarts Broadcast - 30 Years

About Henry Mowry

Henry grew up listening to the World's Happiest Broadcasters on WHB/Kansas City. He found his way to Los Angeles, where he did radio promotions for Six Flags Magic Mountain. From there, he had a 22-year run with Radio & Records, doing everything from national radio buys to regional night club promotions to eventually becoming Director of Sales for R&R. After a couple of years working with, he became Director of Marketing for Smarts Broadcast Systems.
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