“I enjoy my weekends, but during the week, I do what I enjoy.”
What got you started in radio? As a kid, there was 990 AM, WERK/Muncie, owned by the Poorman family and Bill Shirk. That station went on the air 2/14/1964, the year I was born … they went on as “the station with heart.” They were once known as the biggest little rock ‘n roll station in America. That station got me interested in radio. They had a great team: David Letterman worked there, Big John Irwin, Humble Howie and many others.
I was in the air force for 7-1/2 years, and did Armed Forces Radio/TV. I went in with 5 years of experience, and I finished # 1 in my class in radio. I was the go to guy in radio, because I’d been doing it when I went in. During my time in the Air Force, I trained at the broadcast school located at Fort Benjamin Harrison, which was only 45 minutes from where I could grew up in Muncie … it was great, because I could go home on the weekends.
My first assignment was Panama, and I was there for 5 years. I then did public affairs stateside for a year at K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, MI. I went from there to Turkey, and was there for a year and a half, working for Armed Forces Radio – Europe. I ran the radio service, just as I had done in Panama. I did some TV, I did some reporting … but I most enjoyed the anonymity of radio.
When I got out of the Air Force, I went back to work in radio in the Muncie/Anderson area.
When did you start your own company? Lawson Productions started in 2002. It took us 6 months to get our first station, but now we’re up to 136. I have 17 voices that work for me producing everything for the stations.
You do the write the spots as well? No, I tried that for a while, but it just bogged me down. I accept the written word, whether it’s emailed or faxed. I send it out to be voiced, or do it myself, and produce it with music and sound effects. I build the MP3 and then send it right back to the client, all in less than 24 hours. Typically, if it gets to me by 5pm, it’s back to them by 2 or 3am.
I’m OCD, I don’t like things sitting in my box.
From start to finish, I produce a spot about every 7 or 8 minutes. On a slow night, I might be done at 10:30p. On a busy night, it might go until 3 in the morning.
Sometimes, I take 30 minutes and take a nap. When I started this, I was 38 years old. Now, I’m almost 50. I had a kidney transplant 10 years ago. I just don’t have the same energy I had 12 years ago.
It doesn’t sound like you’ve lost too many steps! For the longest time we were hovering around 80 or 85 stations. It goes in waves. You have a couple of booms here and there … I just had one where I picked up 18 stations. It’s been good so far!
Leeson Media started about a year and a half ago. An old friend of mine approached me … we knew each other at WMDH/New Castle-Muncie, IN. We had gone our separate ways since then, but he approached me and said he was going to buy a radio station, and was I in? Absolutely! It had always been a dream, so we came together. His name is Brent Lee … so we became Leeson Media and bought WRBI.
Are you active in the business? Oh, yeah. Brent is there several times a week; he pretty much oversees operations. I go down every 2 weeks and handle all of the corporate stuff: payroll, A/P, FCC filings, ASCAP/BMI licensing and so on. I get involved presenting some sales packages, some programming ideas … but I’m less involved than Brent is.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and work 3 jobs at once? My father owned Shell gas stations … he owned 4 at one time. In radio, Vern Kaspar was a huge influence. He’s still active in the company at 92. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from him. My father was a huge influence, of course, but I’ve worked for Vern for 17 years, so he’s contributed a lot, too. Also, his two sons, Russell and Steve. It’s a package deal.
Any thought on focusing on one company … or is it all about juggling the balls? It’s not about the money, but it is about the security. I had the kidney transplant 10 years ago … it won’t last forever. They are usually good for 15 years, and then, hopefully, I’ll get another one. However, I may be too old or have other health issues … there may come a time when I can’t work. My quality of life will change. I want to be ready for that. Also, I want to provide security for my kids; I have 2 daughters. I’m not worried about my legacy, not at all. I am concerned with providing a safety net for my kids and their kids, that’s all.
I can’t juggle the balls forever, I know that.
Who have your radio heroes been? I’m a big fan of Don Imus’ career and what he’s accomplished. Gary Burbank at WLW was a huge influence. Imus, Larry Lujack … even today, my delivery on the air is a cross between boss jock and some of the styles you hear today. I like the bigger than life sound of some of those guys. Even when I was in the military, a guy I admired was Charlie Tuna. He’s got such a comfortable, warm delivery. I borrowed a little bit from all of them, I’m sure.
What are you doing on the tech side? I still use Saw Plus to build all of my commercials. I learned it years ago, I like it. It has 16 tracks; I’ve used it for 20 years or close to it. I also use Audigy and Cool Edit, but I prefer Saw. There’s a newer version, but I don’t use it because it doesn’t have an MP3 player in it.
Personal organization? Smartphone and a tablet, as well: a Samsung Galaxy. That’s it. I’ve always been organized, and the military strengthened that.
The thing is, I didn’t really enjoy producing commercials. It was very stressful. It was very demanding. It was unforgiving. I just didn’t like it. What got me interested in doing it was that we had a guy doing production for us … it was Sean Caldwell. He called one day and said, “I picked up WAZY in Lafayette, you have got to pull my liners off the air.” He had a deal that if you were just leasing his stuff, he could pull it if a competitive station did a buy-out. I don’t think people do it that way anymore … but OK, I did it. He told me he had a replacement guy for me, and so I called him up. He had this mousy voice and I didn’t like how he sounded at all. I thought about that … if this guy can do voice overs, then I can!
I put up my website, and thought, “OK, world, here I am!” One of the voices that’s been with me from the beginning, Phillip Givens, called and asked me to put his demo on my website. I thought about that, and decided, why not? I wasn’t worried about my own ego like so many guys are. I thought, why not build a consortium?
At first, I charged a set-up fee, and then I gave work to them as it came to me. Before I knew it, I had 17 voices. I get emails in, assign them, print them, organize them and we’re off. I used to do 80% of the voice work, but now I’m down to 15 or 20%. Some clients request specific voices, male or female, the voice they want.
So how does the commercial business work? It’s all a package deal … it’s $195/month for 20 spots a month. If you don’t buy the package, it’s about 40% more than that. That’s voice work, production, bells and whistles, everything. 15, 30, 60 it doesn’t matter. It’s a very simple formula, and it works.
Any thoughts of buying other stations? Sure. We’re in the market.
Ultimately, I’d like to incorporate the studio into Leeson Media. Maybe someday, one of the employees will run the studio. But, today, I know most of the studio is me. I work with the clients; I know them all. I can’t expect a guy that works for me to be up until 2 in the morning sending out spots … unless I have shifts, and then it would be less profitable.
I’m single, I’ve got all of the time in the world. My hobby is working. I enjoy my weekends, but during the week, I do what I enjoy.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Boating. I like to go to movies in theatres. I collect antique radios, floor models; I’ve got about a dozen now. I get a kick out of those.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Having talent helps. Being smart helps. I’m not super talented or super smart. I consider myself average in most areas. But, what I do have, is tenacity and perseverance. And, I follow through. Those 3 things are very important. A lot of guys have a great song and dance, but don’t follow through.
Right now, I could lay down and sleep for 8 hours. But, I’ve got a lot of work to do! I’ll sleep when I get the work done. My dad taught me, work first, and then play. I don’t mess around much when I have work to do.
Someone once asked me what I would want on my tombstone, and I said integrity and honor. Those are very important to me.
Kaspar Broadcasting’s WILO and Shine 99 are long-time users of Smarts’ Second Generation traffic software.