“I jumped in with both feet.”
What got you started in radio? I grew up on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. I spent a lot of hours driving a tractor in the summertime. We were 100 miles east of Colorado Springs, so the FM stations didn’t come in very well. I got obsessed with AM radio. I listened to all kinds of things of different things. It excited me, figuring out how it worked.
When I was a sophomore in high school, we had a career day, and they asked me what I would like to do, and I said be on the radio … and from that day forward, that’s what I worked towards.
I went to broadcast school. It’s always what I wanted to do, but then I got married and had kids, the radio on-air stuff didn’t wasn’t going to pay the bills, so I kept my natural gas job, and my wife was a school teacher.
I just kept my eye on the ball; I always wanted to get into ownership. I worked there until I gathered enough money to do what I’m doing now.
Who have your radio heroes been? Hal & Charlie out of Denver on KHOW AM. Steve Kelley on KIMN-AM. Those guys got me excited about radio. I was at the induction for Hal Moore at the Broadcast Professionals of Colorado Hall of Fame event and got to meet him. That was pretty cool.
How did you do the transition to ownership? I left my part-time radio job and my full-time natural gas job, and started in ownership. I had a couple of partners. We looked around in 1996, and found an AM signal in Fort Morgan. We bought it, and then we built an FM. I had them buy me out in 2001, and then in 2002 I bought my own station, and have been doing it ever since.
You started doing what? I did everything: programming, production, engineering…. I handled some accounts, and personnel. That was a learning experience.
Where did you grow up? I went to high school in Kit Carson, CO, but I grew up on a farm 8 miles north of Wild Horse, CO: a tiny little town of 8 people. The farm I lived on had 16 people living within a mile of each other, so that was bigger than the town.
When you settled in Fort Morgan as the owner, how did you establish yourself? I just love people; that was the easy part for me. It was very simple. I believe in that. You have to be a part of your community. For the most part, my staff agrees. Some of them do it reluctantly at times, but once they get out at an event and realize how good the people are to them, they love it. That was the easy part, transitioning into community.
What did you do? I got involved immediately, helping with Chamber functions, doing small business development, economic development. If they needed volunteers, I would volunteer. I became a member of the Rotary Club. I met a lot of people that way. I jumped in with both feet.
What are you doing on the tech side? I’ve got a good manager up in Sterling that’s been with me a long time. I’m headquartered here, but a gentleman that works with me here has been with the station longer than I have. My daughters keep everything working from here, with all of the audio transferred out of here though our Smarts system. We use Skype. E-mail. We simulcast our morning show on our two AMs, and they’re connected together. We call it our network. It takes some tweaking to sound local in both communities, but we make it work.
Do you have competitors? Yes. There are 4 competitors. There’s another group owning stations in Fort Morgan and Sterling, and another individual that owns stations in Sterling and Yuma. We’re all kind of intertwined with 3 or 4 stations in each community.
HD? No. I looked into it when I built KSRX back in 2007, and it was just cost prohibitive. We’re such a rural community. Our towers are out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t justify the cost for who would receive it.
Streaming? We stream our 2 AMs. They have a lot of sports broadcasts and are streamed most of the time. KFDM in Fort Morgan is streamed 24/7. KRDZ out in Ray we have to cut off on occasion, because we carry the Kansas City Royals, the Denver Nuggets and the Avalanche. And then on KATR we carry an area game of the week, and we stream that game when we do that.
How do you deal with remote broadcasts on the game of the week over long distances? We use cellphones, along with the Smart Touch system. We don’t have engineers in the studio, we do it all with the touch pad. We are in a good area with a fantastic local cellphone provider that has towers everywhere. Occasionally when we go to the front range we’ll have an issue when we’re roaming, but usually we’re spot on.
Website? All of the stations have a site. It’s a presence that you have to have. We also have another online newspaper, yournews.com, that’s zip code specific. We’ve driven a lot of our traffic there, because it’s easier to market & sell advertising on.
I didn’t develop yournews.com, I bought this territory. They do every zip code in the nation. They provide national and world news, business and all of that. We provide all of our local information. Sales are per page hit, and the advertisers like it.
That competes with traditional newspapers. The advertisers like it, because they just pay per page hit. It’s really a nominal cost per hit. It’s really a separate business, but we promote it on all of the radio stations, and tell people about it. We sell advertising packages … buy your radio campaign, and you can add online for a little more.
It didn’t cost me much to get it up and going, and it works. Our people are radio people first. If I can get it to where I can hire a full-time person, then I think we can make it bigger.
Do you make money on website, streaming, etc? We use Facebook and twitter. We share sports and news stories, severe thunder storm warnings and watches. We don’t just use it for the fun and games, but we do use it for important information. It gives us another point of contact with our listeners.
For our clients we partner with Advantage Systems. We’re working on that right now. We team up for our advertisers, and help them with both their radio ads and the social media stuff. The business people are so busy they barely have time for their radio advertising, and we have to keep reminding them to use their social media. It’s good, but we have to remind them.
We run our sports streams with the local ads, so the ads run both on air and on the stream. We don’t have any sponsorships or stream-specific advertising yet … but we’ll have that ability this fall.
Employees? 8 right now, including me. I usually run with about 11, but I had cut back a little bit when I wasn’t sure what the economy was going to do. I’m in the process of hiring a couple of people now.
Who do you hire? Once in a while I’ll hire a local sales person that doesn’t have radio experience, and that works out well sometimes. For the most part – and especially in management positions – I have to find people with radio experience. Specifically, when they’re in Ray, that’s 90 miles away, I need people that can work independently.
Sometimes it is difficult to hire people … a really good hand that you’d like to hire, but with Ray, a town of 2,200, the market just won’t bear a huge salary. You’ve got to find ways to make it work. About everybody that works for me sells advertising, so they can supplement their income with commission. It works.
A family business? My youngest, Melissa, she had an eye for it when she was younger. They both worked part-time and ran boards growing up. Lindsey went to college and got a marketing degree. She’s done extremely well helping people build their business, selling advertising. Lindsey got a nutrituion degree, and does well doing our traffic and billing and all of that. She’s very conscientious.
We don’t have a lot family issues. I think they’re like any other employee. When they don’t like a decision I make, they don’t say it to my face. I think they go out and complain to each other. I try and make it a point to keep things confidential.
Your wife never joined? She did traffic in the beginning, but then she got a job as a teacher, and she’s been there ever since.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? If you like interacting with people, whether it’s over the air, or face to face over a desk, it’s a great business to be in. It’s fun. I’ve seen a lot of on-air guys that are pretty reclusive, but for the most part, you need an out-going personality. I speak at various high schools and colleges, and I tell them I have a lot of long days. It’s not because I don’t like my job, it’s because of the work required. It’s a great business, a fun business to be in. Sometimes it has to be work, but we can have a great time and still make money.
Wayne’s Media Logic have been customers of Smarts Broadcast Systems since the early ’90s. They currently use both our Smartcaster automation system and the Second Generation Traffic & Billing system. Wayne has also used our SmartTouch system for years, which helps his stations be more “live and local!”