“If we can’t do it local, we’re not going to do it.”
What got you started in radio? My high school counselor. I was a Junior in high school, which is when you start thinking about what you’re going to do in life. I had no clue, and we narrowed it down to 3 items. Banking, which I decided against because I didn’t want to sit in an office all day. I thought about something related to outdoors activities, like the Fish & Wildlife department, but decided I didn’t like being outdoors all of the timer, either. Then my counselor said that I should consider something related to current events, since I followed the news closely, knew sports … she asked if I’d ever considered broadcasting.
I check it out, and that’s all I’ve done since 1981. I graduated in May of ’81, and went to Austin in August of ’81.
Who got you going in the business? The instructor I had was John O’Rourke. He was a TV anchorman in Austin, and he was my instructor. After 7 months of classes, we had to do a couple of months as an intern, and I went to Windom, MN for that. Rich Beaver was my GM, and he had me doing everything. I did on-air work, production … he sent me out to their FM tower site, in the middle of a cow pasture, and told me to paint the building. He told me that if cows came up, to make sure they didn’t tip over my ladder.
I painted the building. He thanked me at the end of the internship, and he signed off on the paper, and gave me a $100 bill. He said to me that he did the intern program for free labor, and he never paid his interns, but he felt like he owed me something. He told me I had a chance to make it, because I didn’t ask questions, I just worked. I just worked.
He called me 2 different times to offer me a job. Once was 2 months after I got married, and then he called me 2 years later, and I told him I would work for him, except … I was on my way to buy a radio station.
I was 24 years old. I did everything. My hours then were 4:30am – Midnight. That left me plenty of time to sleep.
We built the Mahnoen station in 2001. We bought an AM/FM in Mayville, ND in 1993, and then sold them in 2008. In 2009, I bought out my partner and then bought the stations in Fosston/Bagley a couple of years ago.
Planning to buy more? I’ll never rule it out to grow.
How do you manage your business to be a part of 4 different communities? Dedicated employees. I have a great staff. I’ve got people that have been with me for 26 years. I’ve got site managers to help out.
How many employees? 14 full and regular part-time, and then 3 others that are limited part time.
How many sellers? Including myself, 7 are involved in sales. These are small markets, and everybody has to wear a lot of hats.
How do you serve those communities? That’s our life line. We need to be the heart of the community. All of our programming is local. We do use satellite overnights and weekends, but we’re still local. We cover 20 school districts and 20 city council meetings every month. Our employees are active in Lions Clubs, fair boards, Chambers of Commerce. We do 15 community festivals in the summer. If we can’t do it local, we’re not going to do it. I’m proud of that.
In Ada, we’ve got on-air people live 6am – 6pm, Monday – Friday. High School sports goes beyond that of course.
In Mahnoen, we’re live or voice tracked, 6a – 6p. In Fosston, we go to the satellite at 2pm.
Weekends are live in the morning. On Wednesdays, we broadcast a 4 hour farm & field program on the Ada station. We talk to farmers & ag businesses throughout the show. We’re riding the tractors with the farmers, and talking about how the crops are doing.
If you cover 20 communities, you’re covering sports at 20 different high schools? Yes. Football, Volleyball, Basketball, Wrestling, Softball, Baseball, and Track, plus Legion baseball.
We’re now offering scholarships to graduating seniors. We’re offering 4 scholarships for year if they go into communications & broadcasting. With that scholarship, they can apply for it every year that they’re in school. If a scholarship recipient ever accepts a position with our company, then they’d get additional assistance to pay for their education expenses.
We don’t have enough people going into our industry. We want to help people get training and get into the business.
Are you streaming? We stream everything we can.
Website working as a profit center? It’s profitable, and a promotional center, too. We put our local content up on the site. Audio, too. It works great for us.
We send out a weekly e-letter to our customers so they know what we’re doing on-air as well as in the community.
How do you make money in the community? We sell radio. Radio works. We sell program sponsorships, community events. We sell annuals, promotional packages, game sponsorships.
You have to be open-minded.
You have to listen to your customers.
You have to be creative.
You have everything from a Mom & Pop business to a large corporation running a business in these small towns. There is no cookie cutter approach. If you’re not in tune with your customers, you’re not going to sell radio. Everyone tells advertisers that their product is the best … you have to be connected and provide service to win.
Have your sellers been with you a long time? One for 14 years, one for 12, one for 9, one I inherited when I bought the station, and he’s been selling for 16 years. My son has been with me now for 2 years. I have a wife of one of my sales guys that wanted a part time job, and I helped her.
Any other family in the business? My wife has been with me since day 1, handling administration. She’s never been on the radio. My kids grew up here. They’ve been in my office from the beginning, since there was a playpen in my office.
What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Community events. Spending time in the yard & garden. Time with family is great. I don’t need to be gone for 2 weeks to have a mental break; I can be gone for 30 minutes and getting a mental break. I’m a season ticket holder for North Dakota State University football, University of Minnesota Football, and Minnesota Viking football. I watch a lot of sports … and news. That’s what I do.
What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? You need to work hard. It just doesn’t come to you. Every 15 seconds, or 30, or 60, there’s something different going on. You need to be involved with your community and your customers. You don’t have to be best friends, but you need to take an interest in them and their family. Work hard, play hard.
R&J Broadcasting has been a client of Smarts for 25 years. They use our Skylla automation system, Smart Touch remote studio control, Second Generation Traffic & Billing System, and Digital Program Director.