Local Done Well, Wins
What got you started in radio? When I was about 7 or 8 years old, they bought some land across from my Grandmother and built a radio station there. I hung around that radio station; I’d do anything they’d let me do. They had to run me off. I stayed that course. In high school I played basketball, but our local hometown station didn’t broadcast the girls’ game. So, I’d play my game and then go up during the boys’ game and provide a little color for that.
Early in my college career, I started working at a low power TV station that had just signed on. It was 225 miles away from the University of Kentucky, where I was in school. I worked their every weekend during my college career – I could get on there. All of the jobs were taken in Lexington by students who were unpaid interns. I couldn’t do that, because I was working my way through school. So, I drove myself back and forth every weekend. I ended up spending 10 years in TV. I started out doing sports, dragging cables. I left there as GSM. The GM of that company owned the radio stations where I am now … he bought them 3 years before we left TV. He was ready to go run his company, and I’d just finished my Master’s degree … and 20 years later, here I am.
Who have your radio heroes been? DJ Everett, who owns this company. We’ve worked side-by-side for 30 years. He’s my hero. I respect him tremendously. He’s stayed locally owned and operated, even though he’s had opportunities galore to sell to much larger organizations. He’s a broadcaster, he loves the business, so he’s kept us local.
In 2007, we were completely debt free. He was in his late 50s at that point, and could have retired, but he chose to invest in the facility, building all new studios that cost more than the stations did when he bought them. It’s that kind of example that has been very impactful to me.
How did you become a part of your community? I served this market the whole time I was in TV, so it wasn’t a strange community to me at all. Once I became GM here, 5 or 6 years later, I built a home here in this town.
Our big focus, and the success of our business, has everything to do with super-serving Main Street.
We’ve always operated with the philosophy that if we take care of the community, they’ll take care of us and there’s never been more truth to that statement. We were very fortunate in 2013 to win both an NAB Crystal Award and a Marconi in the same year. We’re the only small market station to do both in the same year.
It reflected our philosophy to serve the community. I was so proud to bring those awards back to the community, because they earned it. The community earned it, we just happened to be the pass-through.
It wasn’t a one day effort. We do about 130 local events a year. That could be anything from the American Heart Association HeartWalk to a Relay For Life to a Pancake Day for the Kiwanis Club’s fundraiser to the Cadiz Rotary Auction. But the huge things that stood out on our applications are that we’ve carried the Cadiz Rotary Auction on our station. It’s a weeklong auction, radio only, and we raised $242,000 in 2013. That’s in a county of 13,000 people. We believe that’s the highest per capita event in the country for a Rotary fundraiser.
Then, our Relay For Life. We do the Relays For Life for both of our counties. Our Oldies 1480, WHBO, is licensed to Hopkinsville. Our other stations are licensed to Cadiz, and those two communities sit side by side. In Trigg County, we’ve had the highest per capita Relay For Life fundraiser in the country for 7 out of 10 years. Last year, we raised $256,000, bringing our 15-year total to $2.2 million.
We documented that we were involved in raising over $1,000,000 through the events we helped last year. It’s not just big events, but those 2 big events that we’ve done for many, many years.
What do you broadcast? We’re huge in news – and we have a 7-member team. We do news 7 days a week. We do live breaking news and weather 24/7 and 365. But, we don’t have a full blown News Talk station.
We zag when everybody else is zigging. We’ve always operated that way. I have a lot of confidence in my team; and we have a lot of confidence in our communities. We break every programming rule ever written by anyone. I couldn’t hire a consultant because they would fire me first thing!
We do everything we’re taught not to do … but we do it very well. One of our stations is country. That’s our biggest station, 25,000 watts. On that station, we do a one-hour agriculture show, followed by 3 hours of news with no music. Everything from lost and found pets to massive breaking news. We repeat that action at noon and 5, with full one-hour newscasts. We do top of the hour news breaks every hour.
On that same station, we air high school sports, Tennessee Titans football, and University of Kentucky basketball and football.
Our other 4 stations, 2 AMs and 2 translators, are all oldies. We’ve put those 4 stations together, and created what we call our oldies network. The Hopkinsville AM and its translator has their own morning show, so we do a show specifically for each licensed city.
What are you doing on the tech side? We have 3 studios. Two are very active; the third is largely production. We are live/local 5a-6p on 106.5, WKDZ FM. We are local 24/7 on all stations. No bird, no satellite. We were a 20-year affiliate of Real Country, and eventually ended that partnership in 2012. All of our voice trackers for the Oldies Network are local people. We think local done well, wins. Local done well, wins.
HD? No. We’re in a smaller rural area, where we don’t think people will buy HD receivers.
Streaming? 24/7. We’ve been streaming for years. We feel that the stream levels the playing field for us. We compete every day with two 100,000 watt FM stations, and we do very well with our stream. We stream everything we’re legally allowed to stream
Do you keep the files of the high school sports available online? We do. We have a Toyota of Hopkinsville Audio Rack, and on that Rack we post interviews and broadcasts of the games. A really cool thing relating to our streaming … we’re in the same market as Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division. They’ve been everywhere but home for the past 5 or 6 years. They were about to do their first 15 months – the longest deployment they’d ever done – and they were asking the community to help the soldiers, as they would be missing two Christmases, or two birthdays, or two Thanksgivings, depending on when they deployed.
We decided to air Ft Campbell football, which had not been broadcast before. We designed that whole program as a stream. We were in contact with the soldiers, and when they got to where they were going, their commanders helped them line up computers so they could hear their kids play football on Friday nights. It ended up really neat … they were a Cinderella team, and won the state championship from the reigning state champion. They then went on a run and ended up winning 4 championships in a row. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved with in radio.
We had soldiers that were in Afghanistan or Iraq, emailing us audio clips wishing their sons luck in the game. We’d play those within our broadcasts. Then, at halftime, we’d go down to the field and pull aside a player, tell him we got an email from his Dad and play his Dad telling his son how proud he was of him. They’d wish happy birthdays to each other back and forth. That was just an awesome experience. We started that in 2007, and we’re still carrying them today.
Website? Websites for us are huge. We’ve been very committed to new media for about 10 years. We put all of our news – plus some that doesn’t even make it to air – on our website. It’s our most-used section of the web.
Our news department generates 15-18 stories a day, so you can imaging the kinds of content we have there. We have contesting, sports, blogs about the sports team … but the news is probably the biggest part.
Do you compete with a newspaper? Absolutely. We have a daily newspaper that’s locally owned, and has been for over a century. It’s a very good newspaper, and then there is a weekly paper as well.
Do you make money on website, streaming, etc? Like everybody else, we’re working and scrambling to do that. We do a good job; we have a lot of traffic and unique users, so we have a lot of ad placements. We do sponsorships. We do contesting, and that brings in some revenue.
New Media? I spend a lot of time reading about new media. It’s a challenge to figure out if it’s going to be a bigger piece of the advertising pie. We all have to get better at how to do that, and how to make money at that. I read everything I can get my hands on about digital: what the trends are, what contests are working, what deals programs are out there, what are consumers buying from radio websites … so far, I think we’ve been on the cutting edge, but that changes daily. What’s great today could literally be going away tomorrow. We have to pay attention to the technology that’s there and the platforms that are available to us. We need to be on every platform, and we need to be great on every platform.
We do a weather texting service – we text out forecasts and weather watches in the mornings, and that service is profitable. You can sign up for whatever county’s weather service you want. If you want a daily forecast, then it’s there waiting for you at 6am. We think that’s very important, because it puts our logo in front of you first thing in the morning when you go to your phone, there’s a text message waiting for you from us. We wrote the program ourselves. You can sign up for watches, warnings, whatever you want. It’s all an auto send, so once the National Weather Service send that, it’s automatically sent to you.
The most profitable thing we do is a weekly newsletter we email on Fridays that goes to almost 5,000 people. That’s been probably 40% of our new media revenue.
We have a new media report card we follow. We track new media just like we do radio. We track how many Facebook users we have, how many Droid and Apple download users we have, how many emails we have in our database … we’re very focused.
Social Media? We do Facebook and Twitter. Those are the only two social networking sites we do
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I am huge into boating. I have a house boat on Lake Barkley, and spend a lot of time there. I like to travel, and try to take a couple a year if I can squeeze them in. I’m a huge UK fan, and try and get to their games, even though they are a couple of hundred miles away. I enjoy the symphony, so when I need culture, I go to Nashville, which is a hundred miles away.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? It’s one of the greatest careers you could choose. I have never felt more positive about the radio industry than I do now. I’ll take a young person under my wing in a heart beat. I’m living my childhood dream.
I have a person on my team now, who came to me when they were 7 years old and told me they wanted to be in radio when they grew up … and I thought, “This sounds familiar!” His Dad owns an auto body shop, and he would come out to the station and cut commercials with his Dad, and do the weather … at that time, he wanted to be a meteorologist. This young man would call me 3 or 4 times a year and ask me to work at the station. Each time, I would say we would have to follow the law. Eventually he called me and told me he’d done research on the internet, and he could go to work at age 14. And he was right! There were restrictions, but he came to work for me. He just turned 16, and he’s done a fabulous job. He’s a VIP in my company. You better believe he’s going to have opportunity while he’s on my payroll.