“If we’re not local, we will become irrelevant.”
What got you started in radio? Radio always intrigued me as a youngster. The mystique of being on the air always got me.
What stations have you been at? I worked at KGLS/Hays, KS in 1976. Full time at KNCK in 1977. KCOY/Clay Center, KS. KQNK/Norton, KS. KRZJ (now KVSE)/Blake, KS. Co-owner at KKOZ/Ava, MO. Co-owner for 6 years at KRVZ/KQAZ/ Springerville, AZ . Then we came back to Concordia.
Ever had a job outside of radio? No. I tell my son and daughter that when I grow up I’m going to get a real job, but I hope I don’t grow up any time soon.
Is your family involved in the business? My wife is our business manager, but the kids have moved on. They worked with me during their high school years.
Who have your radio heroes been? So many people have helped me. Linda Wilson was my first manager and Bill Danenbarger was the owner and News Director of KNCK back in the beginning. I’ve got a lot of roots in the home town radio thing. I was very fortunate to have started here. At every career stop along the way, I was fortunate to work for very community-minded people.
Steven Smethers, who’s now on the faculty at Kansas State. He’d worked for the old Stuart Broadcasting Group out of Lincoln, NE. He worked for them in Grand Island, NE. I learned from him that just because you’re small town doesn’t mean you can’t be professional. You can be as good as the big boys.
Bob Zelmer taught me the strategy of planning stations, finding frequencies and stuff like that. We bought the Springerville stations from him.
I think of all of the great people I’ve met through the Idea Bank, like Dean Sorenson and Art Sutton .
Charles Broadsham was a former competitor, but he was a mentor along the way. He still is, today.
And I must highlight the late Bob Doll, who had a huge, huge impact on my career and KNCK.
Why did you come back home to Concordia? I got a phone call one day that KNCK was on the market. Concordia is a great town, even though we only have 5,500 people, it’s a strong regional trade center. It’s always been a good business community, and the station has been profitable from day one. It’s not any particular smarts on Joe’s part, it’s just that there are a lot of successful business people in town.
Your broadcast day? We have two stations.
1390 is the original station, built in 1954. We added a 250w translator a couple of years ago, and it’s a simulcast. We’re only live about a half hour a day; we voice track. 7-8a is a news block. We’re on the bird at 8a. Then we have a local block at noon for a half hour, and then again at 6.
We hang our hats on local news. My predecessors built the station way; the reputation was already in place when we bought the station. We cover city commissions, school board and college board meetings. We have a lot of actualities on the air. We do different local talk shows 7:30-8 M-Sa, and then Classic Hits music plays the rest of the day on the AM.
We do all of the local high school football and basketball games from Concordia High School. We also have Kansas State football and basketball games. We carry Kansas City Royals baseball.
The FM is a Hot AC. Up until 3 years ago, we did syndicated programming. The bad part of syndication was that every 3-1/2 hours, the network was playing the same songs over. It was just too much repetition, so we went local. Concordia is unique in that you can only get 4 or 5 stations on the FM dial, and we own 2 of them. TSL is much higher because there’s just not much choice. We’re 2 hours from Wichita and 2 hours from Lincoln; there are no metro stations.
We went to Steve Nichols, a former PD with the ABC Hot AC network, and he customized a playlist for us. He voice tracks middays, and a couple of other former ABC people do as well. We’ve got Jonathan Doll in the morning and Dean Wendt in the afternoon. The playlist is probably 2-3x the length of a normal HAC … we have a 9-5 no repeat workday. We’ve got a deep library, and it works very well.
Both stations are designed for your community. If we’re not local, we will become irrelevant. The marketplace dictates that we be local; we don’t need the government to tell us that.
What are you doing on the tech side? I’d like to compliment Smarts. At one time we had completely done away with all of the pro sports. We just did high school. But now, due to the automation capabilities of the Smarts system, we do Royals and K-State on the AM, and Kansas University on our FM.
The SmartWeb software automatically uploads the voice tracks from the FTP site overnight. It’s all very easy.
How does staffing work for you? As we grow the business, we’re able to compensate people better than similar sized markets, probably better than some of the corporate groups. We just get out of the way and let our people do their job.
What is your staff? We have 4 full-time people, plus 9 part-time. Some are half-time. Our engineer works about 10 hours a week, as does my wife, Maria, who’s the business manager.
We have some contractors, like the air personalities out of Dallas.
How do you play by play? Our News Director, who’s full-time, does PBP. We’ve got a couple of part-timers that do color.
Sales? One full-time sales person. I do some sales, and then a semi-retired person is a seller, too.
How does recruiting work for you? We don’t have a lot of turnover. Our news guy has been with us for 9 years. Our sales rep has been with us for 7 years. Our other fulltime guy has been here 4 or 5 years, after getting out of college when he worked for us part-time. The engineer has been here as long as we have been the owners, 24 years.
Talk about your website, it’s a little different: It’s a regional online news site, not a radio station website. We post every news story that we have on-air, and most of them include an actuality. The other two big categories are the community calendar, and then the obituaries.
Do you compete with a newspaper locally? We have a 5-day/week newspaper, yes. They do a good job.
Any other news competitors? No, not on a consistent basis.
I’d like to say it was planned, but it just evolved. There are excellent newspapers in the area, but they basically cover their home town or home county. The Salinas Journal is an excellent regional newspaper, 50 miles away, but they don’t do consistent, daily news for Concordia, Belleville and Beloit, KS.
Our viewership is really good. We haven’t really focused on selling it yet, but we are about to. We had over 37,000 page views this month, which is excellent.
Do you do push emails? No. We use Facebook some, and link that back to our site.
The three big pages are local news, community calendar and obituaries. A growing page is the help wanted page. We sell ads on the radio, plus a posting on the website. We create a link on Facebook every time we sell one of those job listings.
Do you make money on the website? We’re doing some sales on it, but it’s not what it needs to be. We’ve got a plan, and I’m going to take it upon myself to go out and push a combination of audio and graphic ads. It’s generating some revenue now.
There was a special hospital bond election back in February. We also had a ballgame on the air of the AM station. The election was all but over, but we never broadcast a report because of the game. Results were on the website, though, and the cool thing is that you can into precinct-by-precinct detail, which you could never broadcast on the radio. It generated a lot of response, and created quite a bit of buzz on the website. There’s a lot of growth potential on the website. The viewership is there.
We work with RadioP1.com for the software to run our website, and it’s easy to use. Very quick to post new stories. We don’t have to upload our broadcasts … it’s automatically done on a timed basis. It’s an unattended recording. We can do video, like for the city commission meetings. They bring us a DVD, and then we can post that on our site.
Do you stream? We stream our local newscasts and talk shows as well as the high school ball games … streamed and archived, available on demand.
You don’t stream your music? No. There’s billions of places to go get musical content, but there’s only one place to get local news. There’s only one place that concentrates on north central Kansas.
That, plus I’m concerned about copyright issues with the national ads. What we have on there now is unique. As far as music, you can find that wherever. I don’t know if we’ll ever stream the music.
HD? We are not. I don’t know that we will. I don’t know that there’s enough additional advertising dollars out there to justify it. It really intrigues me for the extra channel, to have another format. I’m concerned that we would just shift dollars instead of generating new dollars.
I might do it if I were younger to have a longer time for a return on the investment. I’ve got a good grasp on the costs, but I haven’t convinced myself it would give a good return.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I love to be a community advocate. I spent 8 years on a Concordia city commission; I was the mayor for three terms. The combination of using our airwaves and my vocal chords off-air … whether it’s working with city commissioners, county commissioners, local economic development groups … I love to work behind the scenes and help. I like to be an industry advocate. I am active with the Kansas Association of Broadcasters as well.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? There are opportunities. A person has to discover what their passion is in life. If it’s something that you have a love for … the radio stations, the website, social media … there are more opportunities than ever. You can be a cheerleader for your community.