The Opportunities Are Limitless
What got you started in radio? I grew up in the New York area, listening to people like Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie, Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, all of the WABC jocks back in the 60s. Later, it was 99X on FM, owned by RKO at the time. Bumper Morgan … people who resonated with me sounded like they were having so much fun.
I started playing radio in the basement of my house at age 12. I spent a lot of my hours practicing, talking, and from that I got my first job. I had a couple of jobs in the beginning outside of radio, but otherwise, it’s all I have ever done.
After High School? I worked at my college radio station, WXCI. My last 2 years there, I was GM. While I was in college, I got an afternoon drive shift on a local daytimer, WINE, 940 AM. That was an AC station. Since it was a daytimer, my shift in the summer was long, and my shift in the winter was non-existent, so it was great for going to college.
While I was there, I started working as MD of the sister station, WRKI, and then became PD of WINE. I worked there for 6 years, and then transferred within the company to their station in Kingsport/Tri-Cities, TN, WPFM, and took that from an automated beautiful music station to a Live AC. I was the PD there for about a year and a half, and then went to program WIVY-FM, a Hot AC in Jacksonville, FL.
I was there 2 years, and then ended up partnering with the consultant to my station in Jacksonville. He was getting together with some friends and buying an AM/FM in Adrian, MI, and needed someone to operate it. He asked my wife and I, who he had known from Jacksonville, if we would be willing to do that.
My wife has been in sales through most of her career. She was the GSM and I was the GM in Adrian; we were there about 7 years. Then, in 1997, we bought our stations in Jackson. She does all the sales and marketing, and I do the exciting stuff like health insurance and 401Ks.
You have both been active in the industry nationally, as well. Sue and I have both been past chairs of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. I was on the Radio board of the NAB for 6 years; today I’m on the Board of Trustees for the NAB PAC.
Who have your radio heroes been? I wouldn’t say I have heroes … they are inspirations; people who have for a variety of reasons were inspiring to me. After my first wave with the guys on WABC, the next wave started with Don Imus. When I was around 12 or 13, Imus was doing an appearance in Connecticut while he was on WNBC, promoting his “1200 Hamburgers To Go” album. I was first in line to get the album signed that day. He pulled into the parking lot … and I’m pretty sure he had already been imbibing that day.
He kind of staggered in … and I remember at that time I was disappointed that my radio “hero” was a mortal guy. He’s fought those demons all of his life. Now, of course, he’s still got an amazing career going, and he got his life righted. In those early days, though, he’d be the first to admit it was rough sledding. I was so enamored of his talent, though, I was willing to forgive anything else that was going on.
Howard Stern was another one. When I was at the college station, WXCI, I worked with a guy who was part-timing at WCCC/Hartford, and would talk about this jock who was doing mornings and was just unbelievable. This guy spent the rest of his career with Howard: Fred Norris. On the air with Howard, he’s Earth Dog Fred.
Whether you agree with the content or not, I’ve always found that people who are cutting edge, or take the medium into something it hasn’t been before are inspiring. Those are two that I’ve run up against personally.
A lot of other inspiring people I’ve run into aren’t on the air. I have a great deal of admiration for Ed Christian at Saga.
You and Sue have been together a long time? 23 years
How does that work? She might give you two answers, but it really works amazingly well. For a long time, we had offices in opposite corners of the building, but now we actually share an office.
We worked under the same roof in college radio, then we worked together at WINE/WRKI in Danbury. In Jacksonville, she got a promotions job, and then her first sales job. We started managing together in 1990.
We have one son, and for him growing up it was a lot of promotions, United Way events, community activities, charity auctions, live remotes … you name it, he went with us. We would grab him from day care, and then we would do what we had to do.
Sue and I got into a rhythm. Some things are hers, and some things are in my area … the only time we have any friction is when one jumps into the other’s domain. After 23 years, we’ve pretty much figured out how to avoid that.
You were a move-in management team. How did you become a part of your community? When we took the first job in Adrian, we were minority investors, and the people that represented all of the owners in the community. We got in to everything.
We were chairs of the United Way. I joined Rotary right away. My wife got involved with the Chamber of Commerce.
Then we bought the stations here in Jackson, 40 miles away … and we had to do it all over again. If you want to do local community radio, you have to be a part of the community. Our philosophy has always been that we do what’s right for the community. Become a part of the community, and then the community will do right by you.
In my mind, all small market businesses operate this way, not just radio … and the non-profits can’t afford to hire much staff, so they rely on business leaders to do a lot of their work.
What are you doing on the tech side? We have 3 studios co-located where one of our AM stations has its transmitter and towers. We have 2 remote transmitter sites for the other AM & the FM.
The News/Talk & music stations are live and local in the mornings. The FM is live in the morning, then voice tracked with local talent throughout the day. We have 20 employees in house. We don’t use voice tracking to eliminate staff, but to time shift and make them more efficient so they’re not just sitting, waiting for a record to end. We do a fair number of remotes, so we need to have talent to do live broadcasts from wherever we may be.
We have a contract engineer who comes in at least weekly to make sure everything’s OK. We update our equipment regularly; just got the Omnia 9 from Telos.
Broadcasting in HD? We are not. I just got my first car that has HD. The only 2 HD signals in our market are the public radio stations. I was on the NAB Board for many years when Bob Struble of Ibiquity would come in and talk at some length about HD … but the problem is that now with digital taking off, I think it will be a race that streaming wins.
HD has some things going for it, but with the cost of adoption for the number of people that have receivers, it hasn’t reached the critical mass that I would have liked.
Streaming? Our FM station has streamed for 3 years. Our AMs run a lot of syndicated content, so we can’t stream everything … so we share a stream that switches between the live morning show on the News/ Talk, and then over to ESPN. We do a lot of local sports, so that helps with nighttime coverage.
Do you sell it separately? We don’t sell the AM stream. On the FM, we do.
You carry a lot of sports? We have every Detroit franchise. The Lions, the Tigers, the Pistons, the Redwings. We carry University of Michigan football and basketball, and Michigan State football and basketball. We also carry the full NASCAR schedule from MRN radio. We carry local high school football & basketball, a full schedule. We spread it around the community. There are several high schools in Jackson County. We’re exclusively Jackson County. We’re the only 3 commercial stations to do that.
How do your websites work? We have 3 distinct websites, even though the AMs share a stream. Most of the ESPN site comes from the ESPN feed, but add local sports on there.
For the News/Talk station, we have 2 full-time people who are experienced news guys, and they are posting stuff all day long.
The FM has its own dedicated website for concerts and local entertainment news.
How about events? We do 3 major shows every year.
The Outdoor Expo is in January, the Bridal Show is in February, and the Chili Cook-off is in the winter, too. The Cook-off last year got over 1,200 people from Jackson County to sample chili from 30 vendors. The local newspaper used to do that event until about 5 years ago, and then they stopped because it was taking too much of their time and resources. I don’t think they could figure out how to monetize it.
The community wanted it back, so we grabbed it and made it work. It’s a lot of fun. People in Jackson are clamoring for things to do – in the winter, especially. We stage it at the county fair center, and we’ve maxed it out. We’ve grown it as large as we can.
We’re the exclusive stations for the Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. That walk will get 500 or 700 people. We play music, blasting it over the length of the course. We’re there for 24 hours. That’s the kind of thing we do.
Do you make money on your digital media? Yes. We’re selling a big variety. We sell promotional Facebook blasts and text blasts. We have a Bargain Board online – a half price Bargain Board. We sell ads on the site … we have a bridal page that supports the bridal show in the winter, but it is year-round advertising.
We have a “Show Us Your Rack” in deer season, where hunters post pictures of their bucks. We have outdoor & hunting clients that advertise there.
We use our regular spot sales team to sell the site. We sell 12-20 sponsors for our high school games, too.
Twitter? Social? Not currently. It’s not a big leap to go from Facebook posts to tweeting … we may be doing that very soon. The emphasis so far has been on Facebook, and we’re happy with our constant activity there.
Apps? The FM has its own app, through AirCast.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Travel. Rotary is a lot of fun; we just came back from a conference in Virginia. We’ve hosted 7 youth exchange students over the last 20 years. I’m speaking at a conference in Taiwan in May. Our passion is travel, so if we’re not at the radio station, we’re out.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? This business is thriving. It’s exciting. It continues to thrive in the online/digital world.
Pandora is interesting, but at the end of the day, the content that local radio stations provide is unrivaled and unparalleled. Anyone getting into this business today needs to have a flare for how the content should be distributed in as many different formats as possible.
If you can navigate without effort in the digital world, the opportunities are limitless. If you are somebody who isn’t comfortable using your phone to get information or communicating with your audience, then it’s going to be a rougher go.