If we don’t have a high profile going, we’re going to be ignored.
What got you started in radio? I was 8 years old, and my brother suggested I send in my birthday to the radio station to see if they would announce it – and they did! I got my father to take me into the station so I could learn a little bit about it. I’ve always been interested in radio.
From the very beginning, I thought radio was magical. I always liked the idea of radio being influential … how it can move people to do things.
This new translator that we started, we decided to go all out. We staffed it with live and local announcers. We started a breakfast club. We’re bringing people in for interviews from all walks of life. They’re excited! They like the idea of being on the radio, and we archive all of the interviews so they can be used later as well. We push it all on Facebook. That kind of excitement and social interaction is the future of radio. It’s got to be.
Why did I get into radio? The community involvement. That chance that we have to be a positive influence on the community.
I can remember one of my first interviews was with Bob Doll, back when he was getting the Small Market Radio Newsletter started. This was back in the 80s. I was just getting started and I had found that an awful lot of people the reason they didn’t advertise was that they didn’t embrace advertising; they didn’t like advertising – they didn’t understand it. They thought it was throwing money to the wind.
So, I started putting on advertising seminars for people to learn more about advertising and make it more worthwhile. His write-up prompted a lot of people to call me and ask if I would put on a seminar in their market. I said “I would like to, but I have a business to run. I can’t travel around the world. But what if I put it on video?” So, way back in 1984, I put the seminar on video cassette and sold it to people for about $300. All because of Bob Doll!
Do you still do the seminars? No. I think the marketplace has changed. Buyers today are more sophisticated, or at least they think they are. If I put them on, people would come, but now I believe I’m better off sitting face-to-face with people.
Who have your radio heroes been? In my position, it’s got to be sale oriented. The way I’ve survived for 39 years is to go to the conventions, listen to the speakers, and try to adapt some of their principles. One person who affected me early on, in the 70s, was Jason Jennings. We still use one of his ideas with our sports sponsorships. Back in the early days, there was also Pam Lontos. Today, we have to think in terms of not just who the broadcasters are, but also, sales.
How did you become a part of your community? In 1999, I moved to Auburn. I’ve been the mayor of Auburn, a city of 25,000, and a city councilman before that.
That’s a big commitment on your part. It is. I was interested in being involved, and it’s a good way to keep contacts going. In our business, if we don’t have a high profile going, we’re going to be ignored.
What have you done in the community to showcase a local focus? The breakfast club is one thing. We could make our public information file runneth over if we had to. We set up a guest at 7 o’clock, and another at 8 o’clock. We have it set up so we do 5 different 3 minute segments. The rest of the hour is filled up with other news, sports and such. So, you’re on for 3 minutes, and then you break several. The guests don’t seem to mind … they seem to understand that if they were talking for 60 minutes, no one would be listening anyway. That’s worked out well.
All of our people are serving on all kinds of different boards, like home health care … you name it, they’re volunteering their time for something. We give a tremendous amount of free air time to promote the arts locally as well.
Describe your stations. Six stations, 3 formats. My two big C-3s simulcast Country. They are 25 miles apart; one licensed to Norway and the other licensed to Mexico. A C-3 in Maine covers about 80 miles. We have a daily swap shop from 8:30 – 9 … it’s like listening to a slice of Maine. Every station that’s doing a swap shop is doing their community a big service, I think.
At noon, we run a request hour. We put a big emphasis on local news. We’ve outsourced that to a virtual news service that sends us a couple of 2 minute capsules every day; those are very good.
We carry a lot of sports. We carried the Red Sox for 55 years, but then a station down in Portland pushed us out … so now we carry the Yankees! We’re the only FM in the area that carries NASCAR. That’s a big ticket for us. We sell out the whole season in just one week in January.
The competing Country stations do Country 24 hours a day, and they do get better ratings than us sometimes … so I don’t call our stations Country; they’re Community stations. We’re live in the morning and for the request hour; we’re voice tracking and syndicated the rest of the day.
Here in Lewis and Auburn we have the AM and an FM translator, and we’re doing contemporary music, 90s through today. 10 hours live every day, where people can call in and talk to a live announcer. That’s a big deal to me … if you want to make waves, you have to be live on the air, and they have to know you are live. You need to make it sound like things are happening right now – which they are.
It’s unusual for a commercial operator to have a religious teaching station. How did that happen? Back in the early ‘80s, I didn’t believe in simulcasts; I didn’t think that was in the public interest. I asked one of my employees if he could get some ministries on the air, and he started calling around. At that time, there were several national ministries that were willing to go on-air for the right price. We built up quite a line up. Over the last 30 years, though the industry has changed with streaming and such, so those ministries are not broadcasting in the same way anymore.
As the ministries have dropped off, we’ve had to mix in TRN talk shows, plus some paid religious broadcasts. Those are on two AMs, one in South Paris and one in Rumford. The religious shows do help keep those stations in the black. It’s hard in a rural area to make it as an AM … I don’t know why the FCC doesn’t just say that all of the AMs can have a translator if they can find a frequency. They should say that … I had to buy the translator from a religious group. If the FCC has a position on translators, they should take the position.
How many people do you employ? 9 or 10 fulltime, and the same part-time.
What are you doing on the tech side? It’s a new adventure every day. This is my 39th year, and I’m still not gliding. In the last three years, I’ve had to invest over $300,000 in upgrades. It’s amazing … I’m probably as much in debt now as I was 30 years ago. It’s not that I don’t want to be … if I’m upgrading, I should be improving my equity position, but still, business is good. The translator has helped.
So your daily email audio is generated locally, but your news service is separate? Yes, and it’s generated from Los Angeles.
It’s interesting that your email is more home grown than the on-air product is. If I go to a chamber breakfast, I’ll do a quick interview, and then I feed it to our syndicated service … so our news is very localized, no matter the source.
Are your websites successful? We don’t make any money with the websites, but the email does make money. You can sign up at LA Alerts.com.
But that doesn’t carry over to the website? No, the email is proactive, but the website is not. The email lands in your in box every day. We also run contests with the email; it’s very interactive.
Is any of your content streamed? We do stream Z1055, which has limited coverage. The other stations we don’t stream, because the cost of entry is so high. We are working with another company to stream our high school sports.
Are those streams retained as a podcast? No, they’re just live.
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? We haven’t started Instagram. Our experience with Facebook is that it’s very labor intensive. Yesterday, I had a client tell me that one of our stations had a very robust Facebook presence, but another one did not. The reason is the robust station is getting attention probably 3 times a day, while the other station is maybe once every other day. You really need 3 times a day to make a good feed. However, I’m not convinced it’s a good marketing tool. It is warm and fuzzy; it gives us a human touch. The new station, Z105.5, gets the robust treatment. We just launched in June, and we’ve added 20 new accounts. I’m very happy with our progress there.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I play a lot of tennis, and I have a swimming pool. My wife and I are approaching retirement age, but we like community life. We’re not anxious to move to Florida or anything.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Twice each year, the Chamber and local community college has a career fair for 7th graders on one day, and then sophomores in high school the next day. They sign up for which career they want to learn about, and they go to three different meetings on that day with people like me.
The first thing I ask the kids, because I’m real interested in my future, is “How many of you listen to radio 2 hours a day?” and a lot of them raise their hand. Then I ask, “How many other things do you do more than 2 hours a day?” They can’t think of anything … so I then say, “You need to realize that radio is the most important thing in your life!” I’m finding with these groups, there’s a lot of interest in radio.