Craig Donnelly: I’m A Numbers Guy

First Radio Job: 1975, KTLB/Twin Lakes, IA. I started at the bottom. My parents built that station. All of the equipment was new. LPs. 45s. Cart decks. Nailing. Painting. Cleaning up. I moved all of the equipment and records out of the garage to the station, and I was the right hand, the gopher, for the engineer setting everything up. I didn’t know anything about radio. Within a couple of months, I could run a board.

Current Job: Owner of KQCR-FM/Parkersburg and KLMJ-FM/Hampton, IA.

Your school? Buena Vista College (now University), Storm Lake, IA.

Typical work day: There is no typical day. That’s one of the things I like: the variety. There are some days that I’m in the station at 5am, and I’m the early morning news guy 2 days a week. I have a staff of 12 that I manage. I have a full slate of accounts that I call on; that’s the main part of my job, is sales.

What are you reading? A lot of military history. I need to go to the library and get my next book right now. Lone Survivor and Unbroken are two recent favorites.

Best vacation you ever had: Vacation or trip? I like to travel. The station has a travel club, and we take trips. Some are small daytrips to a college football game, a pro football game, a baseball game, a concert, WWE wrestling …. We’ve also done about 18 cruises. We do one a year. We have a trip going to Hawaii in January with over 60 people signed up.

Website: www.klmj.com, www.kqcr.fm, www.radioonthego.com

Contact Info: Craig@klmj.com, 641-456-5656

We’re Really An Audio Newspaper

What got you started in radio? My Dad was a broadcaster in Fort Dodge in the late 50s and 60s. He secured a license to build KTLB/Twin Lakes in 1975. I’m the oldest of 6 kids and things needed to be done. Halfway through college, I got the radio bug.

I helped with the station’s sports department, and in a couple of years I became the sports director and learned how to do play by play. Between my junior and senior year in college, I tackled sales. I started making calls, selling commercial time, doing production and everything that goes with it. I stayed with my folks until, in 1993, I bought KWGG/Hampton, IA and moved my family 60 miles from Fort Dodge.

Donnelly, Craig RTThe station was 10 years old; I’ve been here now for 20 years. In 2000, I built KQCR-FM/Parkersburg, IA. Everything is running out of the Hampton studio, and then microwaved to the separate towers. Most of the programming is separate. We might share a really big ball game. Other than that, we have separate sports teams, separate news and weather casts. The announcers work back and forth, as do the commercials.

We’re a micro station. We are so small. We’re in a town of 4,300 people, a county of 11,000. The things that we program sometimes, stations that are 30 miles away in larger communities, just look at us and say, “You really do that?” We put on the wedding anniversaries and birthdays. Funeral announcements. Obituaries. Lost dogs. We have a lot of schools that come in and tour, and I tell them, we’re the only station in Hampton, and the only station in Franklin County. We have to be the station that does the local news, weather, sports, and school cancellations. We broadcast from the county fair; we broadcast the high school football games.

Go to Des Moines, the state capitol. Polk County, there are 19 or 20 or 21 stations in that county. They don’t broadcast, they narrowcast. There’s a Spanish station, a religious station, a black station, a country station, rock, oldies, news … they all create their niche that works for them. They’re narrowcasting.

Did you want to get into radio? If my family was not in the business… my mother was an educator. I probably would have gone into education. I was interested in sports; I would have probably been a coach. Instead of coaching, really, I went into radio sports broadcasting.

Small Market StoriesWho have your radio heroes been? With my dad in the business, I knew all of the radio people that he worked with … the announcers, news directors, sports directors. I looked up to those people. I follow a lot of people like Rush Limbaugh, Bruce Williams, Jim Zabel here in Iowa that just passed away, Pete Taylor, the former voice of the Iowa State Cyclones. My generation grew up with radio. I listened to the St Louis Cardinals every night. My Dad’s station in Ft Dodge had the Cardinals, so he brought home stickers, decals and schedules. I was a Cardinal fan growing up.

How could you not love Jack Buck? Yeah! Listened to Jack Buck. Lou Brock. Bob Gibson. Tim McCarver. Clete Boyer. Del Maxwell. Julian Javier. Curt Flood. Hard to believe I can remember all of these guys! Joe Pepitone.

Still a Cardinals fan? Never followed another team. I’m a guy of variety and I’ve been to Cubs games and Royals games, but I’ve never been to a game in St Louis. I’ve got to do that!

KLMJIn Iowa we have no pro teams. I follow the local teams. In the NFL, as a kid, I was a Chiefs fan. Today, I’m a Black & Blue division fan, and I follow the Vikings, the Packers, the Bears, and the Lions. The rest of the teams, I don’t even care to watch … though the Chiefs have been fun this year.

How did you become a part of your community? When I say community, it is Hampton and Franklin County. But when you look at our listeners, we have more listeners outside of Frankin County than we do in the county, by a long shot. We have twice the listeners in Butler County, just east of us.

Hampton and every small town around us has a weekly newspaper. But you know how people are today; they want to watch the war right on TV as it happens. They want to watch the game now. They don’t want to know about it tomorrow. We do a lot of local news and sports. The best way to define our stations is that we’re really an audio newspaper, because somebody could die in Hampton on Wednesday, be buried on Saturday or Monday, and it wouldn’t be in print until next Wednesday when the next paper comes out. We have local obituaries on the air 4 times a day. We have 35 funeral homes within a 45 mile radius that we cover.

When the rain falls, and we tell people that we got .83” in Hampton in the morning, we have 30 other communities that call us between 6 and 8 in the morning and say, “we got .79,” or “we got 1.1.” That’s a big thing in a farming community … people that are farming 10 miles from where they live want to know how much rain they got there. We’re really a regional station, and we cover a lot of local news and information across a big area. We’re not just a Hampton station. We’re not just a Franklin County station.

We belong to the greater Franklin County Chambers of Commerce, but I belong to 20 other town’s Chambers. Clear Lake, Iowa Falls, Allison, Green, Sheffield … because we believe it’s important to be a part of those communities.

KQCROur stations are on local cable access channels in 9 communities. We advertise that all of the time.

Something we do that is unique … we broadcast 17 high school Christmas concerts. We record them, or the school records them, and we play them back the 3 days before Christmas. That is great programming, and it is great for sales. Most of the concerts have the same sponsor year after year.

In May, we broadcast high school graduations live. There are some Sundays when we’ll do 6 of them on the 2 stations, with 5 live and 1 on a 1-hour delay. We find things that are unique and are listened to.

What’s your broadcast radius? About 50 miles from Hampton. The 17 school districts in our immediate broadcast area all solicit things for their after prom parties. We donate 6 CDs to every after prom party in the area. Everything we do is on a regional basis. If we do something for the Hampton Boy Scouts, we feel we have to do something for the Allison Boy Scouts. If we do something for the Franklin County Fair, we have to do something for the Butler County Fair. We try to do all of the things we possibly can for churches, schools, community clubs, non-profits, etc.

And your travel club? We do the trips to build rapport, to build relationships with our audience. When we take people 15 people and go to Machu Piccu, or 60 people to Hawaii, or 40 to the Caribbean, those people come back and have great things to say about KLMJ. It’s just good marketing.

Those are NTR? No. The goal is to bond and build relationships. The goal is not to lose money. We’ve lost money on some events, but we’re pretty good at breaking even. We don’t try to make money, we just don’t want to lose money.

We’re in a small, small area. People here have to go a long way to get some entertainment. Our county fair here is huge … they just announced that we’re going to have Justin Moore and Sawyer Brown at our fair next summer. That’s once a year. For people to go and see theater, or major sporting events … they have to travel 100 miles or more. We’ve had a lot of people travel with us … probably 250 couples. Some have been on 8 or 9 of our trips. They talk about our trips. It’s great PR.

So how do you make the business work? When I came to Hampton in ’93, the station was barely getting along financially. The station was owned by non-broadcasters, and didn’t really understand marketing and radio. 85% of their sales came from Hampton, and they only marketed to a few towns outside of Hampton. We immediately went to work and started calling on businesses that were 20 and 30 miles away, and expanded the business into communities that had been listeners, but had not been advertisers.

To get people to advertise, we had to expand the news coverage, the sports coverage … we had to expand our programming to cover those areas as well. Then, the advertising followed.

Donnelly - Radio On The GoI’m a numbers guy. If we have 30 towns that call with their rainfalls this year, then next year I’d like to see 33. If we average 27 birthday announcements a day this year, next year I’d like to see 33. That tells me that we’re making progress. The dollars will follow those numbers. If you cover more schools, more communities … I really believe the advertising will follow.

How many sellers? Three of us are directly selling. Everyone multi-tasks, and everyone does everything. I’m one of the three, and we all carry full lists.

We’ve got a news department with 2 people fulltime in the news, and then 2 others that also work on news. That’s unheard of for a small station in our area … We run local news from 5a to 6p, every hour on the hour.

Everybody does everything, but everybody has their areas of expertise. One of my sports guys does a little bit of news.  I’ve got 2 guys in sports that aren’t fulltime in sports, because they are on-air personalities, too. They are on-air, they do commercial production, and they also do sports, and one does a little bit of news.

I’ve got 2 people in traffic. One of them also does some fill-in on-air shifts and commercial production. Everybody does commercial production. All of my sales people do commercial production. All of my sales people do remotes.

How many studios do you have? When I came in ’93, there were 2 in the building. Today we have 7.

Seven!???  They’re all busy. There are 2 on-air studios, 2 for commercial production, 2 for news and 1 for sports. The studios are also offices. There are people in the news department, 2 people at a time, and they need a studio because they are calling mayors, fire chiefs, community leaders, county engineers, highway patrol people … we’re very active in producing sound in our news. We like to have as much local sound as possible.

How much of your day is spoken word? There are 4 major newscasts that are 15 minutes long, at 7, 8 noon and 5. We carry ABC at the top of every hour, and then we have a 105 second news break after each of those. Then we carry the Brownfield Network, based out of Jefferson City, MO. It’s probably the nation’s # 1 agriculture network. They have about 270 affiliates in 8 or 9 states. We are in a small rural area … agriculture is huge. We carry 17 farm programs daily from the network. They run from 5a until about 3p. We are affiliated with a state news networks. We carry Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa sports.

You don’t carry any pro networks? No, we’ve talked about it, but we really don’t have the time. And it’s so segmented in Iowa. You’ve got people that follow the Bears, the Vikings, the Packers, the Chiefs and the Broncos, so there’s no dominant team. It’s the same way in Major League Baseball.

What are you doing on the tech side? I’ve got an on-air announcer who’s also our engineer. He’s also very good with computers, and has picked up the IT side. The station is run by computers.

We got away from analog 3 years ago. We probably had carts and a reel to reel deck then, but those are gone. We do still have turntables in the on-air studios, though. My Saturday morning guy on KLMJ still plays some old records from time to time; stuff that we don’t have on the hard drive. Every Saturday, he spins a couple of records.

HD? No. we haven’t addressed that at all.

Streaming? We have the 3 websites. We stream on all 3, but it’s very limited. The only thing we stream are the local sports play by play that we broadcast. Any special programming we produce, like the Saturday morning show we do with a dozen high school coaches, that’s streamed. We don’t stream anything else. We are working on the technology today to do ad replacements. We’d like to do 24/7 streaming with both stations, but we’re not there.

A year and a half ago, we created a 24/7 stream on RadioOnTheGo.com. That’s a 30-40 minute loop of local information, like the most current major newscast, sportscast, weather, funeral announcements, a few commercials, and any cancellations in the area. Things are coded to go into certain files to air on KLMJ, to air on KQCR, or to air on RadioOnTheGo.com. Some go on all 3. That loop just grabs the most recent file.

What do you use to manage that? The Skylla System from Smarts. We’re still learning it; we’ve had it about a year.  We did have the old Smartcasters, which were installed in ’94.

When I moved to Hampton in ’93, they had no computers in the building. We put computerized traffic on day one. Within the first year, we put the Smartcasters in, which allowed us to broadcast 24/7. We only had 2 studios at that point.

How does your website do? The website costs us money. As much effort as we put into our websites … we still don’t come close to break even. The web is nice, we’re trying to get everything we do on-air onto the web. I may need a new breed of person to run and market the websites, because it’s different.

When cancellations come in in the winter, our phones just ring off the hook. The first place they go is on our website. When we do the announcements, we read them right off of our website, and we advertise that! We tell people they can listen to the radio every 10 or 12 minutes, and we’ll tell you what’s going on, but if you really want to know what’s going on, you’ll go to the cancellation page. And some days, we have had 80,000 hits to the cancellation page! We’ll have 8 or 10,000 people that hit the page, and they just keep hitting refresh. We’ve got that page sold, and that advertiser isn’t going anywhere!

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? We have a Facebook presence. My PD is in charge of it; we’ve got about 2,300 Facebook followers.

When we first got started, we tried to have meet-ups at a business and have special prizes and such. We only got about 20 people showing up. We were disappointed in that, and we haven’t done any in a long time.

But Facebook is really powerful. We’ve had a couple of instances where things have happened in our community, like a missing person, and people go to the web and Facebook, and we’ve had authorities post things on there. We’ve picked up 300 Facebook friends in a 3-hour window because of the networking on Facebook.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I’ve got 4 kids, and I’m a sports fan. I do follow Iowa State University basketball. I do like to go to football and basketball games. We travel … that’s probably what spurred our travel club.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? We have a lot of youth tours that come through the station. They have all kinds of questions … they always want to know how much money you can make.

I tell them I probably work 60 hours a week. If somebody’s on vacation, I might be doing news for a week. If a salesperson sells two remotes on the same day, I’m doing one. I cover ballgames and do play by play a couple of times a year.

Smarts Broadcast System

Craig is a life-long user of Smarts Broadcast Systems. His father was one of the first to use our original traffic software, way back in 1983. Today, Craig uses our Skylla automation system and the Second Generation traffic system.

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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