“Each station has separate programming and a separate audience.”
What got you started in radio? When it’s a family business, you’re surrounded by it from a very young age. I was fascinated by the equipment, by the music we played, and the people that worked here. There were a lot of great people – some of which are still with us – that inspired me to take this on as a career, and were very supportive.
The older I got, the more I took it upon myself to educate myself on things beyond what I was picking up beyond the radio station here. If there was anything I could read about programming or sales, I tried to do that. I always looked for new sources of information so I could learn about broadcasting.
I got started on the air, and then programming, and then management on the operations side. It’s been more in the last 10 years where I’ve shifted from operations to general management.
Are you the only family member involved now? My parents are the primary owners. My father, David Robinson, is active on a daily basis. He does a lot of the engineering. He’s also our Farm Director with daily farm markets and ag news. My mother retired from the health care profession, and now helps us out on a part-time basis.
You’ve lived in the one community your whole life? I haven’t always lived in Viroqua, but I’ve always operated out of that facility. The Prairie du Chien stations are in the neighboring county, about an hour’s drive. We’ve also got a local manager looking after those stations.
What’s it like working in a community with clients that have been on the air with your family for decades? There are a few clients that are still on the air today from when my Grandfather put the first station on the air in 1958. It’s very rewarding to be in the community and have had good support for all of these years. There have been changes in the business community, of course. We’ve seen a lot of consolidation in banking, auto, agriculture, farm implements … that’s a constant challenge.
Is your approach any different in Prairie du Chien? We bought the stations in 1998 from the original owner. He put the AM on the air in 1952. That community is larger than Viroqua, and the business are different. There’s more manufacturing, and there’s a larger blue collar population. There are more tourists, too. The business is a bit more seasonal with the tourists. Even though we’re in neighboring counties, and 45 miles apart, there is a noticeable difference in the businesses.
How would you summarize each station’s programming? WVRQ-AM/Viroqua, WI … a throwback radio station. Block programmed, very community oriented. Local news in the morning with guests. Specialty programming in the midday, with adult standards and then polka music. That’s a program that dates back to when the station went on the air. News, noon to one. In the afternoon, we have a state wide syndicated sports show, the Bill Michaels Show. We do some pro football, and University of Wisconsin sports on that station. The stations is also simulcast on a local cable channel. We’ve got a camera in the studio for when we have guests. We’ve also got the ability to run video while our audio is streaming.
WVRQ-FM, Q102/Viroqua … a mainstream Country station. Very locally oriented with local news and farm programming. Local sports at night, year-round.
WKPO-FM/Viroqua is Adult Variety Hits. We put that on in 2009, and it seems to be very well received. We are surrounded by a lot of Country stations, so when we put on a station doing anything but Country, it’s been a really nice alternative. The newscasts on that station are shorter, and we’re not doing the full service elements we are on the other two stations. It’s designed to pick up a more regional audience. We’re using all local personalities on all 3 stations: they all have live & local morning shows, and local people on during the day. I do 10-3 on WKPO, voice tracked.
WQPC-FM/ Prairie du Chien. It’s a Country station, and it carries pro sports year round, with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucs, and Wisconsin Badger sports. We carry high school sports at night as well. All local personalities, local newscasts throughout the day. It’s a 35,000 watt regional station. You see a lot of sports programming on AM stations, but we’ve developed a regional following with our FM signal. People know they can tune in and hear their sports teams.
WPRE-AM/Prairie du Chien went on in 1952. For a lot of years, the original owner simulcast the stations. The AM was just a daytimer. We wanted to go to more original programming, and we’ve gotten 24 hour authority and now an FM translator as well. Now, we feel we can serve the local school district doing high school sports on that station. The format had been oldies, and now it’s newer as a Classic Hits station. We just changed the format a few weeks ago, and so we’re still rolling out the programming elements.
Do you share any programming between the stations? We have separate news directors in each community. News is shared between the stations, but not between the communities very often.
You’re not simulcasting? No.
You’ve got distinct operations with overlapping coverage patterns? Yes. We’ve discussed doing more collaborative high school sports programming, perhaps in the winter … but really, each station has separate programming and a separate audience. Some personalities might be live on one station and voice track on another, but there are also personalities that are unique to individual stations.
What kind of community outreach do you do? September is our busiest month of the year. We’re broadcasting on location every weekend, and we’re at the county fair Wednesday – Sunday. We’re at the Apple Festival in a community 20 miles away … we’ve got a half dozen community events in August and September. It’s a great opportunity to get out and connect with listeners. We do it year round, but festivals usually run May – October.
At one time in broadcasting, things would slow down. Now, though, there’s something happening all of the time. If it’s not community events, it’s high school sports that we’re so involved with.
Streaming? The only thing we stream are our local high school sports. We’re not doing much streaming until we can find a way to make it economically viable.
Podcasts? Most of our games are live. On our websites, they are posting daily newscasts, playable on demand.
Do you make money on website, streaming, etc? Not much. Our news site is new, and we just now feel that we’re in a position to take it to advertisers and offer a fair amount of page views.
Do you have an in-house webmaster? We hired a local company to develop the site and do the layout, and now we have 2 people in-house that populate the site with content. They have other responsibilities, but they are focused on the news site to make it grow.
How large is your staff? Between the 2 locations, around 20 full-time people, and a handful of part-time people.
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? In Viroqua, 2 of the stations have Facebook pages, and the announcers update the content. One of the stations in Prairie du Chien does, too. Our news site also has a Facebook page to post content and draw people quickly to the news site. We post on Twitter as well.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I spend as much time with my family as I can. My daughter Lily is active in sports. I tell people my second job is to be her chauffeur.
Is Lily interested in radio? She’s interested. She’s 10, and really gets a kick out of coming in when she’s off school and being a guest host with the person who does our old time music show 11 – noon. People seem to enjoy watching that on the cable channel. I take her to remote broadcasts, and she likes handing out bumper stickers and swag when we’re out. Maybe she’ll be a good sales person some day; she’s not shy!
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? In small markets, they need to be prepared to work a variety of different jobs. I think the days are gone for people to come in and “just” be an announcer. They need to write a news story, post it to the website, and handle social media. They have to present themselves to clients and do remotes. Well-rounded people are a tremendous asset. We all wear many hats.
Jeff has been using Smarts automation systems since 1998.