Joel Swanson: Small Market Guy

First Radio Job: WQPM/Princeton, MN. I was right out of the Marine Corp, and I started in sales.

Current Job:  General Manager of Dakota Broadcasting in Aberdeen, SD.



Your school? University of Minnesota, Morris

Typical work day: In a small market, you get to do a little bit of everything. I get to work at 7:30 and check my email. I say hello to everyone as they come in, and then sit down with the sales manager to chat about what’s going on. I check with the Traffic Director. I stick my head into both studios to see how their morning is going. I’ve then got morning meetings throughout the month with the Salvation Army board, the Chamber of Commerce. I try and get as much information in my head as soon as I can every morning.

What are you reading? I just finished The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon. “Ten rules to fuel your life, work and team with positive energy.” It’s a good one. Before that, I re-read Successful Local Broadcast Sales by Paul Weyland. I do quite a bit of reading.

Best vacation you ever had: A Hawaiian cruise. I used to have some nice radio convention trips to Las Vegas, but my wife seldom went on those, so I better say the Hawaiian cruise that we went on.

Favorite restaurant: My all-time favorite is just a pizza place in my home town. I don’t eat out an awful lot. I like Mavericks, a steak place here in Aberdeen.

Favorite beverage: Milk. I’m an old farm boy.


Contact Info: (605) 725-5551,

“I didn’t even know they had sales involved in radio.”


What got you started in radio? I was doing odd jobs, and drove by the station every day for two months, and one day I just stopped to see if they had any openings. The manager was there, and I told him I always wanted to work at a radio station. He asked me to come back Saturday, when the owner would be there. I went back Saturday, and they hired me on the spot.

Was it true that you always wanted to work in radio? It was kind of just my sales pitch! In the Marine Corps, I had been an air traffic controller, so I knew that I wasn’t afraid of the microphone. But, they had a sales opening. I didn’t even know they had sales involved in radio.

Swanson,-Joel-RTI worked for about a year and a half, and then a new manager came in, and he made me Sales Manager after another year. After that, I got a job as a GM at another station.

That was in Montevideo, MN, on the other side of the state from Princeton. After that, we went to Williston, ND for several years. We wanted to get back to Minnesota, and I knew some of the owners of this station. I knew they had also been trained by the same people, so when they were looking for a manager, I raised my hand.

It’s unusual that you don’t have much on-air experience. Did you miss that? No, not really. I was in Thief River Falls, MN for 12 years. Up there, we ran a cable channel, and our news was live on the cable every morning. Our public affairs show was on the cable, too, and I hosted that. I got my fix of on-air stuff doing that. I’ve always enjoyed getting out and talking to people face-to-face than just looking at the camera.

Small Market StoriesWho have your radio heroes been? When I first started in radio, I went to a training session put on by Jim Williams. He ran it like a drill sergeant, and some people didn’t like that much. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and learned a lot. This was in a hotel conference room in St Cloud, MN. There were 30 students from all across the country, and we learned about radio sales for a week from 7:30am until 7pm every day.

Al Leighton is another guy I looked up to; he was a great radio guy here in Minnesota. The guys here were great of course; I’ve known Dean Sorenson for 25 years. He’s always got an opinion, no matter the subject! I like that.

How did you become a part of your community? It’s very important. First thing, I went to Chamber of Commerce and got on some committees. I’m now past president of three different Rotary clubs in two different states. The owner of the station when I moved in was moving to another city, and he had been a member of the Salvation Army board, so I assumed his seat. He had been on the United Way board, and I took that seat, too. Go to all of the meetings you can, and get as visible as you can. I’m a Lector in church. I’ve been on the Visitors & Convention Bureau board. I’m on the welcoming committee for the Chamber, so I meet as many of the new businesses as I can when they come into town.

Take me through your radio stations. We’ve got two new radio stations; they both went on the air in December 2007.

KMOM-FM is a 100,000 watt Hot Country station: Dakota Country 105.5. We’re live 6a-6p with three different personalities, and then we do music on hard drive. The morning guy also does our music. He does things a little differently – he doesn’t play everything in the Top 10. As he says, a song might be in the Top 10 in Texas or Arizona, but that doesn’t mean it is in South Dakota. If a band has never played in South Dakota, he doesn’t put it on the radio station.

Swanson, Dakota 1055KABD-FM is almost Oldies. It’s Adult Hits/Classic Rock. 51,000 watts. Where that came from, I have no idea. Why is it 51,000 watts? I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know! That stations is live 6a-2p, then voice tracked 2-6p. We’re tied in with Westwood One for that station, and they do the music.

We do area high school sports on the Country station, and we’re tied in with a Catholic college and we do all of their sports on KABD.

The Country station is also tied in with the Red River Farm Network, and that’s been outstanding for us. When I first came to town, we went to the banks and asked what their business was made up of. One bank said 60% was ag, one said 70% was ag, and the other 6 banks said 100% of their business was either ag or ag-related. So, we thought it made sense for us to have some ag programming!

We’ve got a fulltime news person. We’re not connected with a national news network. We talk about it periodically, but we haven’t done that yet.

Swanson, 1077How many employees? 11 full-time and 3 part-time – mostly sales. Our owner Neal Lipetzky also has 9 stations in Iowa, and that’s where our voice tracker comes from.

HD? Yes.

Streaming? Yes.

24/7? Yes.

How about the high school sports, those are streamed? Yes, and they’re saved so you can listen to them later, too.

Website? We’ve got one website. You can choose to go to one station or the other from that one site. We’re selling it; there are banners, promotions and such. You can put PSAs on there. You can listen to our news and sports. Our morning public affairs program, “In Touch,” is on demand there. The newsletter that we send out with our monthly billing is available on our website, too.

Swanson, Dakota Broadcasting LogoSocial media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? Facebook is a focus of our Country station PD. He gets a great response. Lots of likes. Our Adult Hits station isn’t as active, but we’re talking about putting more focus on Facebook without overdoing it. You can try to do too much … we want to do about 3 good posts a week, rather than 3 a day that aren’t as good.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I go to the Y and work out. I also go watch my grandsons play football, baseball and basketball.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? If you want to be an announcer, take English and Speech classes. Learn how to read and write.  Get as much computer training as you can. We used to say we were looking for part-time announcers … we don’t say that anymore. Now, we’re looking for computer people to run our stations. Our guys that work part-time when we do a ballgame don’t say a word. They just push buttons. If they walk into the studio and are intimidated by the computer, then they aren’t going to make it.

Radio is a great profession. You can make some money on the sales side. If they make some money, then they can really enjoy the business.

I’ve always been a small market guy, because you never get bored. If you get bored doing one thing, you just do something else. I’ve never really been on-air, but I’ve done more than my share of live broadcasts. I’ve sold them and done them myself; lots of small market salespeople do that.



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.
This entry was posted in Small Market Stories and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply