“If You’re Not Doing Local, You’re Doing It Wrong”
What got you started in radio? I really wanted to be a sportscaster, and I have been one. Poorly. Back in the day, when I was coming through the ranks, to make a really good living you had to move up in market size. I don’t know if I didn’t have the talent, or didn’t have the ego drive to move up to that next market. I was a Top 40 jock and then a sportstcaster. I eventually became a copy writer and a production guy. I started in radio sales pretty young; I was 22 when I started.
At my first station, I used to open and close on Sundays. I got to meet Len Dawson last year, who’s with the Chiefs network now; he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chiefs. He was the quarterback when I was in high school. I told him that when the Chiefs were playing home games that started at 3pm, we’d sign off in about the third quarter in McPherson, KS. The announcer with the call, “Len Dawson fades back, he’s looking for Taylor down the sideline…” and then I’d come on and say, “Our broadcast day comes to an end.” And you know what Len Dawson said to me? “I’ve been fading ever since.” True story, about a year ago.
Who have your radio heroes been? I got to work for some people that really let me make some mistakes, which was a great help for my development. One of them was Pat Demaree, out of Fayetteville, AR. I ran his AM in Joplin, MO. When he hired me, I asked if I should put Station Manager on my card. He said, “Well, you better go out and sell something so you have something to manage, because, right now, there’s nothing there.” I learned a lot from him.
Before him, I wrote copy for a guy in Arizona, who was the personal manager of the great Alan Freed. His name was Lew Platt. He had come to Arizona to retire, but couldn’t quit working. He then became an account executive and was the best in town. He said to me, “Gary, no matter where you go in this business, remember that you’re getting paid for an education.” I have passed that advice on to a lot of people in the last 35 years!
I went to Evansville, IN after working for Mr. Demaree. I worked for a real good company, South Central Communications. I was with them just for a short time, but I learned a lot.
I worked for a company called Stuart Broadcasting for 4 years, and I was actually selling beautiful music for 2-1/2 of those years (a format that’s extinct for a reason!). The company was run by Dick Chapin. I was a young seller then … and they had a structure. They spent money to train their salespeople. They taught me how to stick with it and service accounts, because we weren’t getting very good results.
The biggest job I had, really, was market manager for Brill Media, which became Regent Communictions in Evansville. We had about 100 employees, but the corporation filed for bankruptcy. I was in the home office, managing the radio stations in Evansville. We went through an auction, and Regent bought us out of that, and then suddenly I was working for Bill Stakelin.
In that transition, all of the Brill people were let go, and I think I was next to last. I was actually out of work in 2003, after 15 years in that market.
I had actually offered a job to Gary Shorman, the CEO of Eagle Communications, when we met back in the mid ‘80s, when he was in Topeka. He turned me down to go to North Platte, NE. But, from there he worked his way up to be CEO of Eagle, and Gary and I had stayed in touch over the years, exchanging promotional ideas and such. That was probably a good move on my part! At one point, Gary had actually said to me, “Someday we’ll have you in St Joseph, MO.” And I said, “Where’s that?” Now, I’ve been here since June 2003.
Eventually, we got together. It was very attractive … this employee-owned thing, you just can’t beat it. It’s not just a good financial move, but it’s an interesting dynamic when all of the employees share in the ownership. They look at things differently, and that’s not all bad when you’re the manager. They’ll remind you to turn out the lights.
Our company’s entire being is based on localism. Our slogan is “Our community, connected.” We really walk that walk in each of our markets, including this one. If you’re not doing local, you’re not going to survive in today’s world. If you’re not doing local, you’re not doing it right.
I have been fortunate to work around a lot of great talent. The absolute best talent are those that relate to their listeners, and never forget that. They never get too high and mighty, and they’re always connecting to their listener.
How do your stations serve your community? We cover local news, of course, but we go beyond that and do local fundraisers. We’ve done annual fundraisers for Camp Quality, a regional camp that takes care of kids that are terminally ill. We are right now in the middle of a first-time event, a huge BaconFest. It’s modeled after BaconFest events that have been in other markets, and we’ve already committed $5,000 that the event will raise to be given to the Dream Factory, for terminally ill kids. We work with Special Olympics on many of their events. We promote United Way events.
We’re extremely involved with the Chamber of Commerce; I was the President in 2008. My Sales Manager has led their membership campaign 6 or 7 years now.
We’re working now on a massive project, the Ag Expo Center. It’s a $70+ million program that will include an arena and educational facilities; it’s a huge project.
Our whole staff is working in the community. They’re involved in different things. We’re making a large local footprint with the 28 employees of these radio stations in our community.
The biggest country promotion at Christmas is Adopt-A-Family, where we’re taking family wishes for Christmas gifts and putting that out to our listeners. Our Christmas fundraiser on K-Jo is a toy drive, with two entities benefiting.
Eagle has the Post news websites in every market. How does that relate to the radio stations? It started in our Salina, KS market, and has now spread into all of our markets. It’s our main news website, that we’re all feeding. We say your first news is on St Joe Post … our slogan is 680 KFEQ News from the St Joe Post. On 680, we do a Hotline 2-hour show every morning. Our news director is really on top of local issues. If our state or US legislators are in town, we’ll get them on the air, live. We do monthly shows with the police chief, the mayor, the chamber.
But St Joe has a daily newspaper. That’s got to be pretty competitive? Yes, it is. This week, there’s a really big scandal about our school district, and our news director broke the story about the lawsuit that’s been filed. I’m sure the newspaper has 3 or 4 guys blanketing the school district, but we got the story. Also, the newspaper has a low power FM, a Fox affiliate that they put on the air a couple of years ago. Yes, it’s very competitive.
What are you doing on the tech side? We do quite a bit of voice tracking, utilizing the best talent. Our production director in this market has a stable of voices from across the company, so we have a great range of voices every day – every hour – for commercials; a far greater range of voices than we have in this building.
We sound live and local. If I write a piece of new business today, we can have it on the air tomorrow with a voice from Hays, KS, and the public doesn’t know that.
HD? No. The company is studying that. We have two translators for AMs. We try and keep new equipment capable of HD, but we’re not there yet.
Streaming? All of our stations, 24/7, except for the programs that we can’t stream locally.
Do you sell each station’s site? We do display ads on all of the sites. We do some Google work, too.
Podcast the local sports? A little bit. We’re the flagship for Missouri Western State University. There’s some podcasting, and some streaming from their website. We’re the home of the Kansas City Chief’s summer camp, so we cover that like a blanket while they’re in town.
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? Most of it is done by our talent. They all do that. An upcoming festival that we support is the Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, KS. Our country station is the presenting sponsor of that show.
You were just elected to the NAB Board for Missouri & Kansas. It’s a tremendous education on the issues of the day. It’ll be very interesting to be able to communicate the issues of the Kansas & Missouri broadcasters, as well as learn more about how our industry functions in Washington, DC.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I like golf. Don’t play it much, but I do love it! I do a lot of lawn work lately, it seems. I’ve got children and grandchildren that I love to go see as much as I can. We go see Royals games, and local minor league games.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? I tell students to learn as much as possible about all different areas. In sales, we preach “this is not easy.” You get turned down a lot. That’s tough for a lot of people.
What’s cool about our operation, and our company, is that we do it the old fashioned way. We stay local to the community. We’re not dictated to by corporate, so we can drive our own destiny. I tell people to come in here and enjoy it. Do it for yourself, and enjoy what you’re doing.