“Not because you have to, but because you like to.”
What got you started in radio? I was interested in journalism. I liked to write in high school.
When I got my first job in Vandalia, I thought I was in my wheelhouse, and that I would stay there forever. Life takes you in different directions, though, and there I met my wife-to-be, and realized that I was not going to make the kind of money I needed to make as a journalist/reporter/news director at a small market radio station. Reality caught up with me, and I made a jump in that radio station into advertising. I still had a show on the air so I could stay on that side of it, but was able to make a lot more money in ad sales. I became the assistant sales manager, and that got me the opportunity to move up into station management … at the station in Pittsfield, IL.
This is the area that my wife is from. The owner of the Pittsfield station had recently died, and his family had not been involved in the business. They heard of me through my wife’s family, and that led to me being the station manager and sales manager. I did that for several years, and then I had an opportunity to go to another Vandalia, in Missouri. I only stayed there about a year, and then went to WJBM in Jerseyville. I was there from the mid ‘80s into the early ‘90s, and then there was a new owner who was a large market DJ that wanted to move into a slower paced small market, and my job ceased to exist. I ended up moving back here to Pittsfield for a new ownership group. Then a couple of years later, that large market DJ found that he and his wife didn’t like living in the small market. He ended up buying the Pittsfield station as well and having me run both of them for him.
He passed away in 2000, and the stations went into his estate, which wasn’t settled until 2003, when my business partner and I bought them from the estate. It’s kind of convoluted, back and forth between different ownership situations at the different stations, but it does show that sometimes destiny does put you where you need to be.
Who have your radio heroes been? Jim White, KMOX/St Louis, who was on when I was a kid. I thought he was sharp as a tack. Also, sportscaster Jack Buck and a KSHE rock jock named John Ulett who is still the Busch Stadium announcer. I always liked him a lot, too.
Paul Harvey was just magical how he could lock you on to a story. You simply could not not listen to him.
How did you become a part of your community? I’m a small town kid, and I really have an appreciation for community. You can’t put on false airs about that in a small town; you have to be sincerely committed to being a local radio station, or media outlet … or not. I don’t think you can fake that.
Where I grew up, everybody knew everybody, and I took that to the next level in towns that were small enough that you could almost know everybody. I got involved in all sorts of organizations. I’m a past president of the Rotary Club; I’ve been in the Club since shortly before coming to Pittsfield. I’ve been the President of the Chamber of Commerce … 2 different terms of that. I’ve been involved in many civic organizations. I’m in the Historical Society. I’ve been involved with the parochial school board, where my kids were going to school. A variety of things like that … I try to take a visible position with the county fairs and events like that. I align the radio station with them, and make the stations both accessible and beneficial for the charities in the community.
With the Rotary Club, I now have a thing that’s been going on every spring since my first tenure here. We have an event where I turn the radio station over to the Rotary Club for a day. The Club members do everything on the station that day, from news to live reads of all of the commercials. The spots are all sold by the Rotary and all proceeds go to them as a fundraiser. The Rotarians make thousands of dollars off of this event every year.
I clear the decks for the radio station: none of our spots run on this day. The Rotarians sell packages of 5 spots for $50, or whatever, and those are the only spots on the station that day. I don’t get involved in the sales for this event; I want to keep a very bright line between the regular station and this day for the Rotary. It’s a contest for them: they break into teams, and each will cover a two hour shift. The team with the top sales gets to choose which two hour shift they cover, from 6a to 6p.
They all work two hour shifts at the radio station that day … and I have almost all of them on the air as clients the rest of the year. They take a little bit of ownership in my radio station by participating in the charity event. It generates a lot of money for them; one year we made $10,000 on that one day.
The Rotarians agree, almost to a member, that playing radio for a day beats the heck out of serving spaghetti suppers through the year to raise funds for their charitable works.
Over time, you need to interweave yourself and your station into events like that. Not because you have to, but because you like to. People appreciate that, and you become a part of the fabric of your town.
That’s brilliant! I’ve never heard of anyone doing a promotion like that! I don’t know how unique it is. We’ve been doing it since 1981, and even after I left, once the engine got started, it just keeps going.
We do a similar promotion in the fall. The area here has what’s called the Color Drive, associated with all of the vistas with the color changes. There’s also roadside cider stands and such … 20 communities in this part of Illinois all go together and have simultaneous festivals. The Rotary comes in and runs the station sort of like a national park information station. We have Rotarians in the studio, there are interviews with all of the organizers from the various communities and some Club members are out in the communities interviewing tourists on their cellphones live on the air. They also sell ads that day that makes money for the Rotary Club.
The spring event is a straight fundraiser, but the fall event is really more of a community service event. Both of them are great radio. They’re fun. They give me tons of stuff to put in my public file.
It isn’t rocket science to realize that if you can find bonds to people, they’ll take ownership of your product. It’s no different than identifying your favorite restaurant. You realize that you take pride in that choice; it’s “your” restaurant.
I’m huge on trying to get businesspeople to record their own commercials, even if it’s only a tag at the end. That pays dividends.
Newspapers used to have a real strength in couponing, because it helped track results directly back to the newspaper. But if you can get a business owner on the air saying, “Come see me next time you’re in,” then when he goes bowling or goes to church … every time someone says, “Hey, I heard you on the radio,” that’s just like a coupon.
Are your stations a simulcast? No. They’re completely different. We do have similar programming. It’s very locally driven 6a-1p on both stations, with everything generated locally by the stations. The stations are about 60 miles apart; it gives us a neat opportunity with some specialty programming, like our on-air auctions, where we have a lot of cross in the two. Between the 2 stations there are 6 or 7 counties that we impact, and 3 are common to us both.
We don’t play music on either station. We haven’t in years. I figured out what I thought to be our niche some years back, as I was seeing iPods and other players, being more and more the choice with people making their own playlists, I thought it was very important for us in a small market to do something that no one else was doing.
We do a ton of farm. We do a lot of local news and feature programming, and then lean pretty heavily on multi-media stuff as well. That takes up part of my day as well: I do both websites for our radio stations.
We carry the RFD Radio Network on both radio stations. After a short 6am local newscast, we go to that. After that, on both stations, we go to local programming where we update everything from senior menus to school news and such to fill out until 7 o’clock. Both stations do separate, major newscasts at 7, 8, noon and then again at 5 o’clock. Those are multi-faceted broadcast with everything from interviewing local event organizers to local news to national news. Death notices in our sized market are very important. We don’t do complete obituaries, but we do give funeral information as a part of those newscasts.
In the 9 o’clock hour on WBBA, we have a program called The Spotlight which is focused on local activities or events. There are several recurring guests on that program. In Jerseyville, we go back to the RFD network at 9. At 10 o’clock, we broadcast Agri-Talk, which takes a different angle on agriculture. It’s a great way to relate the farmer to the non-farmer.
In the 11 o’clock hour, WJBM does another hour of local news. Back at WBBA, we have a program called the Twin Pikes Report. Pike County, Illinois and Pike County, Missouri are the core of our listening area, so we do a program for them. I have two ladies host that show. One is the head of the Chamber of Commerce in Pike County, IL and the other is a lady with on-air experience that now lives in Pike County, MO. They do everything from recipes to community activities … soft news for the area.
Both stations do about 20 farm reports every day. In the afternoons, we go to syndicated programming. Michael Medved, Dana Lash, and then Sports Byline is on both stations 9-midnight. We’re syndicated overnight.
High school sports? Heavy. That’s what got us moving into streaming online. We do around 300 local sporting events a year. Softball, baseball, football and basketball. During the football season, we’ll do five games every Friday: one each on the AM and the FM, and then three others are streamed. This fall, we’ll be in our third year that we video stream one game. We follow 16 high schools.
We produce a high school all-star game that’s a big feature for us at the end of the basketball season. Our 32nd annual was in March of this year. My partner is very much into sports and coordinates all of this.
In small market radio, when you’re always hanging by a thread, it’s always a challenge. It sometimes get precarious, but we do OK.
We have a total of 12 employees. That doesn’t include some of the guys that just do sports broadcasting, but we have 12 employees on the payroll. We have toyed with the idea of doing more station simulcasts, but we’ve avoided that, because there is a local identity for each station. It would allow us to centralize more of our activities, especially the sports, but we’ve not done it so far.
What are you doing on the tech side? The guys down in Jerseyville do production for me up here … we transfer everything over the internet. I can’t imagine running a station without that flexibility.
HD? Haven’t done anything with that at all, yet. I don’t see HD radios in my market. I see benefits, with various carriers that I could use with different interests in different markets, but I haven’t done that yet.
Streaming 24/7? There are a couple of programs that I have to knock out, but almost everything I have, I stream.
Do you keep the games on as podcasts? Some of them, yes. We also have the ability to sell copies of the broadcasts on our website. We make some revenue selling CDs and DVDs there; everything is available for sale.
Website? It gives us the ability to take advantage of many other broadcast areas, especially local sports. During those seasons, we have so much more variety.
News content? Some, but it’s not too heavy. We want to be a site where you can get sports scores, and fun stuff like recipes or our broadcast schedule, but we don’t want to compete with ourselves. We are a radio station first. We’ve had countless requests to put obituaries up on our websites, but I don’t want anyone to ever think that we’re secondary as a radio station. That’s what our mission statement is, and everything else exists because we’re a radio station. You have to listen to the local newscasts to know what’s going on.
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? Those are most active during our sports seasons, with the most rabid fans commenting back and forth.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Love my Grandkids. Just got my fifth one. I used to think that was going to be secondary, but I love spending time with them. I do have a little farm that I enjoy spending time on. My two sons and I do play golf when we have time.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? I’m very direct. You have to be very focused on making sure that you have a solid foundation of communication skills. Those skills aren’t just to be with a radio station: they are the most valuable skills you can have. The age of abbreviated talk, impersonal speech, social media … it’s so detrimental. I can’t tell you how many resumes I have received that have twitter abbreviations in the written language in the application. That just does not work at all. There has to be a balance – you can’t ignore the social media, but it cannot be the main form of communication.
Second of all, you have to have the drive to take an internship somewhere even if there’s no money involved, just to get some experience. If they really want to be a country music jock, or a rock & roll jock … they have to be willing to work and get some experience until there’s an opportunity to get some experience, no matter how tiny it is. Someone with experience is always more valuable than someone with glossy dreams of how much fun it would be to talk on the radio.
Those jobs are available for a few, but for most people it’s handling the website for a radio station. It’s putting together an interview after the county board meeting. Those are the kind of grunt work jobs that have to be done. They’re not glamorous, but they are a great way to get started in smaller towns. You don’t get those large town jobs without some small town experience.