John Kennedy: Radio’s Still Here

First Radio Job: WKLO/Louisville. I was just out of the service, and I had a choice to go sell Yellow Pages, or sell radio ads. I decided to go to the radio station. My dad thought that was a terrible idea, but I knew everybody listened to the radio, and so that’s what I chose.

Current Job: Owner, Bond Broadcasting

WGEL-FM/Greenville, IL

Your school? Texas Tech

Typical work day: I’m a little less involved than I used to be. I still get up to hear the first newscast, to make sure everything is right. I work through the day, and then I’m done around 4 or 5 o’clock.

Best vacation you ever had: In February, I decided to practice for retirement. We went to Florida, but I only got to play golf 26 times in the month. It’s a short month, or I might have gotten a few more rounds in. When I came back, my son had really set March up to be great, sales were great. I think I should probably go back to Florida, because April fell off a bit once I got back in March.

What are you reading? I’m re-reading the 3rd book in the series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson. I was so fascinated by the 4th book:  that whole 4-book series by Robert Caro is excellent. I was so fascinated by the new one, the 4th one that just came out, I had to go back and read the 3rd one. It’s about when he was the leader in the Senate.

I read the Small Market Radio Newsletter, and I follow the Idea Bank emails, too.

Favorite restaurant: Lu-Bob’s Family Restaurant. It’s right here in Greenville, and they’ve got the best breakfast sausage in the world. I can eat it breakfast, lunch or dinner. And they are an advertiser, too, so I love eating there.

Favorite beverage: A nice frosty beer is a great thing.

Website: www.wgel.com

Contact Info: john@wgel.com, 618-664-3300

“I wouldn’t be happy if it was that easy.”

How did you get started in radio? I’m glad that they were having trouble selling time on WKLO. If everybody wanted to buy, then they wouldn’t have needed a sales guy. I know newspapers have had classified departments where reps just sit on the phone and take orders, but I’ve never had it that easy … and I wouldn’t be happy if it was that easy. I like the challenge.

We moved to Illinois, so I could take the General Sales Manager job at WMBD-AM and WKZW-FM/Peoria. Those stations were very successful … it was a hot FM, so it was really an exercise in how to raise rates for a couple of years. My biggest challenge was figuring out a way to get all of the spots on-air. That was a good problem to have.

John KennedyI learned while I was working in Peoria that to be successful in small market radio, you just need a lot of good farmland around the community. It doesn’t matter how big the community is, if the signal reaches enough farmers, there will be a lot of farm advertisers that will support the station.

Why Greenville? My wife Ellie had been traveling on business, and she told me that there was a nice little town in Southern Illinois named Greenville that she thought was great. A couple of years later, a new station was built in Greenville, and we bought it.

There was a banker here in town that had helped finance a radio station in another town, and he really helped us get going. He introduced me to a lot of business owners in town. I joined the country club … I figured there had to be some people there that needed to advertise on the radio. It all worked.

Everybody in my family has worked at the station. My daughter Sarah was a great DJ for a while … she trained some people that are still here on-air. My oldest son, Dan, worked at the station for a while, but then he decided to move west and start his own internet company. He now lives in Golden, Colorado so he can ski almost every day. My younger son, Tom, started out as a school teacher, but I convinced him to come to the station one day when he decided teaching high school wasn’t his favorite thing to do. He’s gotten more and more involved with the station. He now does a little bit of everything … he does the morning show, he sells the newsletter and helps run the place.

Small Market StoriesWho have your radio heroes been? There have been so many. Dean Sorenson has always been a big help.  Hal Winston, who was my boss in Peoria, was a great help. Also Dean Spencer in Bedford, IN.

How do you serve your community, Greenville, IL? The station does a little bit of everything for the community. We’re in the parades, and I’ve been active in the clubs & organizations in town.  The station does local news, and we broadcast the high school football and basketball games.

A few years ago, we started a daily email newsletter, and it is doing great … we have over 3,000 subscribers, and over a 50% first day open rate. Those are great numbers for our community; no one can match that.

WGELWe have a Classic Country show that we broadcast on Wednesday and Sunday nights. With those nights, we never have to change the show because of the high school games, and the show’s one of the most popular things we do.  The phones really light up when we do that show. There’s nothing else like it.

HD? We’ve won a translator for Greenville, and I’m now looking at broadcasting the station in HD, and putting the 2nd channel on the translator. There’s a lot of expense doing that, and I know some think that there are not enough HD receivers in small towns like Greenville. But I know the people that have been successful with HD operations in small towns are the ones that have tried it. They’ve found a way to make it work, and I’m very interested in doing that when we have everything worked out.

Streaming? We stream all of our high school games. That’s popular – people love home town sports.

Social Media? We really haven’t done much there … our daily email newspaper is very popular, but we haven’t done much with the national sites at this point.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Golf, of course. I’d be playing today if the weather was better. And I do enjoy playing my guitar.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Radio is going to be around a long time. People keep thinking radio is going to go away … TV might have had a shot 50 years ago, but radio’s still here.  We still have about 2-1/2 radios per person, and computers can’t say that. Radio’s free. You can listen to more stations that you probably want to, right on your dashboard without having to pay $10/month. No one else can say that.

Smarts Broadcast System

A long-time customer! Smarts Broadcast is proud to be a part of WGEL-FM. John’s station uses our Skylla automation system, Second Generation Traffic & Billing system, and Digital Program Director music scheduler.

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 Radio-Info.com, he became Director of Marketing for Smarts Broadcast Systems.
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