Carl Wilson: Every Day Is Public Service

First Radio Job: Getting up on Saturday mornings when I was 10 or 11 and coming to the radio station with my Dad to answer the telephones. My Dad started KAJO-AM in 1957. I grew up in that radio station, and my Dad couldn’t wait to rush me to market.

Current Job:  Owner of KAJO & KLDR/Grants Pass, OR as well as a Representative to the Oregon House of Representatives.

Your school? I learned from the best teacher in the world, my Dad: Jim Wilson. He was the consummate radio pro. He began in radio in 1945.

Typical work day:  I get to the station at about 7:30, and then go on the air from 8am until 9am. Beginning at 9am, I begin my management activities until about 2pm.

What are you reading? Most of what I read anymore is politically oriented. I spend a lot of time reading about the issues that are big in Oregon. Economic development, land use, federal ownership of our land (68% of our county is owned by the federal government, which pays us no money to not use our land). We used to get quite a timber harvest – something that was very sustainable on county lands – but now due to environmental lawsuits, we cut almost no timber, and our county economy has been slowly circling the drain for 4 or 5 years now.

Best vacation you ever had: Riding my motorcycle across the United States. My wife and I spend a lot of time riding the roads. One vacation when we started in Charleston, SC and ended up in Grants Pass was probably one of the most fun vacations we ever had. We did that in 2007. On my own, I rode around 41 states on a vacation the year before last.

Favorite restaurant: I better not say, as I have so many advertisers. But I do love sushi restaurants.

Favorite beverage:  flavored ice teas. I like peach.


Contact Info:  (503)476-6608,,

“I’m giving up the most fun job I ever had to do the most difficult one.”

What got you started in radio? I was raised inside this radio station. By the time I was 15, I was on the air. During my high school years, I worked on the weekends and after school on KAJO and did that all the way until I joined the Navy in 1970, a week before I graduated from high school. I served for 2 years, and was in the Phillipines for most of that time.

Wilson, CarlI came back in 1973, and went back to work in Dad’s station. Apart from a partial break when I was in the state legislature in the late 90s and early 2000s, I’ve been here ever since.

We’re still one of those outfits where the AM station does the heavy lifting. We learned from the Old Man, and we learned to hold that template, and we haven’t changed it much. He really knew how to run radio stations. Even though he passed away in 2005, we’ve held steady and done real well.

I have an unusual story. I was kind of forced into it before I knew what I wanted. It all changed for me in 1983 when I went to my first NAB convention, and I realized how fantastic radio really was from an industry standpoint. Every day is public service for us. We get a chance to positively impact thousands of people’s lives every day, just by going to work. I was really born again in 1983 when I realized that. I am so fortunate to be in this business.

But you’d already been in the business for some time at that point? Yes, I’d been in radio for 11 years at that point. I’d been in the business, but didn’t know what I had. I didn’t appreciate it like I should have. When I got back from the NAB in Vegas that year, I was a changed man.

Small Market StoriesWhat were you doing at that time? In the first 10 years after I got out of the Navy, it was on air in the morning and selling in the afternoon.

What’s it like to have relationships last for your whole life, and have clients that are neighbors? It’s a beautiful situation. In being here since I was 5 years old, I know a million people here. I’m 62 years old now, and when I visit the cemetery to put flowers on my Grandparent’s grave, or visit my Dad’s grave, it’s shocking how many people I know! But yet, I know many who are still above ground.

I have so many people that come to me all of the time that ask questions like, “How bad was the flood of ’64?” or “What did your station do the day that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?” There are just so many things that we have become the place for people to learn about local history.

You’ve had your morning hour talk show the whole time? I’ve been consistently on air, but in various time frames. Some years I was on air for 2-1/2 or 3 hours in the morning. I’ve always been on-air in the mornings, and then had the afternoons for selling, or for management when I moved to management.

I’ve done talk radio and Top 40 radio. When we launched KLDR, I did mornings there from ’92 until ’98 when I went into politics. Here in Oregon, we’re citizen legislators. We’re not fulltime legislators like in California, and that is why we’ll always need our occupation here at home.

Describe your two stations? We highly prize live radio.

KAJO-AM is a full-service AM: News, Talk, Weather and Local Sports. We do a pretty intensive morning show from 6a-9a. For the rest of the morning, we’ll do a little bit more music. We have a lot of guests to stop in to talk about local issues for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s a nice mix of talk and music. At noon we do a traditional news hour, where we cover just about every genre of news. At 1, we have Rush Limbaugh. From 4 until 6 we do a drive-time mix of music and news, with one highly developed news block from 5 until 5:35. After that, we have Christian music from 6 until 7, and then we voice track our adult favorites from 7 until 5:30 the next morning.

Wilson, KAJOAll local except for Limbaugh? Correct. We have wonderful numbers in the morning, so we delay Rush until after lunch, and we have wonderful numbers with him in the afternoon, as you might expect.

The FM is Top 40 radio. We do it 24 hours a day, with a live morning show until 10am. We voice track 10 – noon, and then we do a retro noon hour. We play all of those oldies from the ‘90s, you know? (I do hate to say that).

We are then live 1p – 5p, and then voice track evenings and overnights. We do local high school sports. Grants Pass high school football is on the FM. We do basketball on the AM. We also do Oregon Ducks football on the AM.

Community outreach? We are totally involved. We have several weekends that are huge for us. The Boatnik Celebration over Memorial weekend, with thousands of people coming to town for activities focused on the Rogue River that bisects town. Back to the 50s Weekend is huge. The Josephine County Fair is also very big for us. Those are our 3 signature events every year, but we’re active all year. We try and take a lead role in every community event.

It’s exhausting, but we do radio a little different here. We have 20 employees, and they’re always pedal to the metal; we try and make sure we play a major role in every event that is an event here in Grants Pass. We are constantly on the move with remotes every week. We cover events that are not commercial; we drop by in the van and I’m doing one of those tonight after dinner.

HD? No. Our deal here is – another thing we learned from the old man – is that if we are profitable, each year we’ll invest $20 – 30,000 in new equipment. We work through the entire system, and visitors are often stunned at the state of our equipment. Generally, nothing is over 7 years old. We try to keep it that way. You can’t do it if you’re not profitable, so we pay as we go, and we always have a facility that we’re proud of.

We moved our physical plant in 1992., We found a home grown video store that had gone out of business. It had an interesting footprint, and we sat down with the blue prints. It was a typical video store: not a wall in the place.

Wilson, KLDRSo that’s where we started. Where would the walls go? We got it right the first time; today it’s a wonderful facility. We couldn’t do it if we weren’t profitable, and this station has been consistently profitable since 1947. We had some years during the Great Recession that were really dicey. I burned up some reserve cash those years. We got through it just fine, though. I didn’t make any equipment expenditures for about 18 months, and we were able to keep our standards high, which I feel very blessed that we’ve been able to do.

What are your sales strategies? We’ve got to have the audience to make it worth it for the advertisers. We’ve got 2 great signals.

We’ve been in this community a long time. Give us the opportunity, and we’ll make your advertising program successful. We really spend the time with our clients – because we’ve been here for 57 years, and we are at all of the ball games and all of the events, the clients know we’re not just here to sell spots. We’re here to make sure they are profitable. We want them to make money.

We spend a lot of time thinking about an advertiser’s business to figure out how we can get them into a successful program that will help them. We feel terrible if we come up with something that doesn’t work. That doesn’t happen very often, thankfully.

How many sellers do you have? 3 and a half. I’ve got a sales manager and two well-seasoned sales people that do extremely well. I also have an office manager, my personal assistant, who is very active in the Chamber of Commerce. She attends all of the meetings; she knows all of those folks. A couple of years ago, she asked if she could sell to the people that she knows, and so she has been very successful doing that on a part-time basis.

I think she likes getting out of the office.

Website? We got into websites very early. We were some of the first businesses in our community to even have a website. We have used our websites not only to stream our signals, but to sell packages in combination with our airtime. We sell those a lot, because our sites are so active. You get about one time to make a good impression. Someone might come back a 2nd time to a faulty site, but I guarantee they won’t come back 3 times

I don’t want to imply that I’m making big dollars on the web, but the traffic is heavy and we are paying all of our expenses. We find the sites are indispensable; we’re glad we have the sites in support of the stations now.

You have news online. Do you have a local news competitor? Yes, there is a newspaper. We do have many radio stations from Medford that reach the market, but they don’t have a local news presence. The Grants Pass Daily Courier is really our only web competitor.

We don’t want to lose sight of what radio always did: we’re fast, we’re quick and we’re short.  Our people like that. The newspaper is different; they act like a newspaper. They’re not necessarily quick, but they are longer and more detailed. We are more than happy to cede that to them.

Do you do emails? No. We’re very active in social media, and talk about Facebook all of the time. That’s a consistent presence for us.

Why did you decide to run again for the state legislature? It’s the fact that I was reaching 2pm and having nothing else to do that made me consider running for office again. I was state representative for the Grants Pass area 1999 – 2003, and left due to term limits at that time. About 6 months ago, I concluded I needed to spend my time better, and that’s when the phone started to ring with people encouraging me to run again for my old seat in the legislature.

My wife and I took some time to contemplate that, and then we decided to do that again.

Does that change your ownership of the station? Not the ownership, but certainly the management structure. I’ve been working hard since I bought my brother out 2 years ago to get the staff the way I wanted it to be: a staff that could run this thing so I could have an opportunity to be away. I’ve got a great staff and management team; they’ll be running the station for the first 6 months of 2015 while I’m in Salem with the legislature.

Is politics what you do for fun? No, it’s not really fun. Based on my previous time in the legislature, it’s the most difficult job I ever had. I’m giving up the most fun job I ever had to do the most difficult one.

However, there comes a time in every state and every nation when good people have to answer the call and give back. I’ve always found a lot of success in the political world. I can add a small town perspective, and a business perspective, to an atmosphere that doesn’t have a great appreciation for small, or business.

How are you going to work at the stations? I’ll be on the air as much as I can, but once the legislature is in session, we pretty much have to live in the capitol city for 6 months. At that point, the legislature adjourns for 7 months, so I can come back to Grants Pass and get on air again. The legislature then reconvenes, but only for about 30 days, and then off again for another 7 or 8 months.

If it’s not politics, what do you do outside of the office for fun? Motorcyles and RVing. We just celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary. We were remembering that we had to borrow a motorcycle for Senior Skip Day back in High School. My motorcycle had broken down, but the local Harley dealer loaned me a motorcycle so we could skip town on Skip Day.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? It is going to be one of the most gratifying things they will ever do. It doesn’t matter what you do: I’ve worked in every department. Sales can be personally rewarding. On-air can be a delight every day, relating to people. If you work on the engineering side, keeping stations running in spite of all kinds of weather presents many different challenges.

It’s hard to find a career path more interesting than this.



About Henry Mowry

Henry grew up listening to the World's Happiest Broadcasters on WHB/Kansas City. He found his way to Los Angeles, where he did radio promotions for Six Flags Magic Mountain. From there, he had a 22-year run with Radio & Records, doing everything from national radio buys to regional night club promotions to eventually becoming Director of Sales for R&R. After a couple of years working with, he became Director of Marketing for Smarts Broadcast Systems.
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