Brian Papstein: Mover of Mountains

First Radio Job: Mowing the lawn. I’m a third generation broadcaster. Grandpa bought KINS in 1957.

Current Job: Mover of Mountains is what it says on my business cards – Mark Levy told me to do that! GM, Sales, Programming … we bought from Mom & Dad 6 years ago.


Brookings, OR: KURY-AM & FM

Your school? I went to Humboldt State, here locally, and played some ball there. Then I went to Doane in Nebraska for a year. I came back to start in sales in June ’82, and started the interview show the following April. I’ve had my eye on both of them since then.

Why Doane? My Grandfather and his siblings went there. My Great Grandfather had been a train conductor in Omaha, and an Episcopalian pastor as well. While I was at Humboldt, they fired the coach, so I left there and ended up at Doane. I had taken the ACT when I graduated from high school, kind of on a lark since I’d already been accepted to Humboldt, and I ended up getting a 23 out of 24. So, Doane gave me a full ride, half academic and half athletic for me to go. Things ended up changing back home, though, so I returned to start selling and didn’t finish my degree.

I’m 3 classes short: English 1, PE, and a history class.

Typical work day: Does anybody say yes to that? I know it starts at 7 and goes at least until 6. But, on Saturdays, it’s only 6 or 7 hours.

What are you reading? One of the Robert Tannebaums. Now I’m reading something on Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Coast pirates. I try to read a business book, then candy, business, candy.

Best vacation you ever had: The one my wife drug me off to in Kauai, and we just disappeared.

Favorite restaurant: Spinners in Gold Beach, OR.

Favorite beverage: RC Cola.


Contact Info: (707) 442-5744,

“Don’t say the medium isn’t being listened to if you’re not supporting it.”

What got you started in radio? I don’t know. It was never a conscious effort. It was fun.

I didn’t think I could do sales, but now I can’t imagine not doing sales.

I worked for Grandpa through high school. I did the weekend thing, then did some play by play.

Papstein, BrianI love the creativity, helping people out. I know we’ve had a positive impact on the community, particularly with the recession. When I was born in 1960, there were 280 wood mills in the area. One of the last remaining 3 announced they were closing this year. The county, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, is 75% owned by the government. What kind of jobs are going to come here, with the mills gone? It’s tough.

Grandpa came out here after having some success on Madison Avenue. He wrote a song that we used to play when we turned on and off – it’s called the Redwood Song. It talks about the seagulls and the redwoods. People request that for weddings, for funerals. It’s on the website. We were doing local before local was cool.

Dad followed him here after he was done playing ball in the Red Sox chain. He thought he was helping the community by being here. Mom & Dad bought the company from Grandpa in the mid-70s, and now it’s my wife and I. It’s cool, the passion for radio and the passion for benefitting the community is still there.

I’ve always had a bent towards politics. I’ve also been told that I would be fired and divorced if I ran for office. So, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I’ve really got more juice with the microphone that I would have if I had a vote. We’ve done some cool stuff, and met some great folks. It’s a little surreal to be the one signing the contracts after so long.

Papstein, 101_Thunder_logo with call lettersI wish the rates were at $20/spot, but….

I am genetically wired to be a radio guy I think most of us doing it now are. Limbaugh found out that he is. Hannity, I think, is a TV guy that used radio to get to TV.

I can’t imagine selling tangible. Can you imagine being the potato chip guy? What are you going to do, battle me for shelf placement? Passion needs to come into play; you can’t just do the job and walk away.

Take me through all of your signals. We bought KEKA-FM in the mid-80s, and then we got KEJY-AM in ’92.  We bought 106 FM out of an auction. We bought from Mom & Dad 6 years ago, and one of the first things we did was take KINS, which had been 980, and we put it on FM.

The problem was when we were at low power, we couldn’t reach Crescent City, which is north of us, and Fortuna, which is south of us. The AM was directional to protect KFWB-AM in LA and some station in Canada, so we decided to move it put KINS on FM.

It was strange, we had some people say, “It’s so cool, I can hear you all of the time now.” Good, thank you, mission accomplished. But we also had strange reactions … after we simulcast for a couple of months to tell people what we were doing, we had people calling the switchboard to ask how to get us, because they had never changed the radio tuning in 40 years.

Papstein, destination_logoOn one hand, it was sort of giggle, giggle, what’s with people, but on the other side, how cool is this? People had been listening to us for 30, 40 and even 50 years and had never changed their radio dial.

I don’t know that much, but I do know the west coast is sort of the last bastion of AM radio. I have a buddy who told me that even KCBS/San Francisco is leading with their FM position now. KIRO/Seattle is as well. I know we benefitted from flipping it to the FM side, but it’s a gut check for me seeing that AM is dissipated.

Have you applied for a translator? We have 30 stations in Humboldt County. I have no space. There’s only 135,000 people in the county; there’s a radio station for about every 4,000 people. That’s the equivalent of San Francisco having 200 radio stations.

There are twice as many stations today as there were even 15 years ago, and we’re still in a big-R recession. Our # 1 employer here is government, followed by education. There’s tourism, and well, fine, there’s marijuana, but this is not an area that’s growing robustly.

I was talking to Dad this week, and we were looking at one of the old rate cards from when they started one of the FMs back in 1983, and the rate card was for $7.50 for a 30 second ad, 6a-12mid. Today, we’re at $9.00, and I’m at the top end of the market.

KINS is news talk; we’ve been with CBS for 65 years. Everybody else is playing the music thing; we want to make sure that we have the talk station to meet everyone’s expectations.

980 was another talk format. My wife said, let’s do something a little different. What would be unduplicatable by anyone else in the market? We came up with Destination Radio, things to do in the area. Tourism in Humboldt County is about $350 million a year. We’re about halfway between San Francisco and Portland, halfway between wine country & the University of Oregon … and you can see a redwood tree all over the place. So what could we do to get people to spend one more afternoon here.

Papstein, KINS1063logoWe started last June. We have 6 6-minute segments/hour; we’ve got 150 segments in the equation now. We’ve got history, the best beaches in the area, scenic drives, motorcycle rides, all of that kind of stuff. We have 3 2-minute segments of what’s happening this week, as well as info about things you can do all of the time. It’s really kind of a cool format for people new to the area, or for people that are just passing through.

In Brookings, we’ve got a Classic Hits format, and then the Adult Standards format which does very well. The median adult age in that area is 64.

Both markets are in the same region; we purchased Brookings in ’05 knowing that it worked the same as this market. We share our shopping show across the markets, and it’s been going for 14 years. The concept is from Roger Utnehmer: Eureka doesn’t have to go to Santa Rosa to have fun. Brookings doesn’t have to go to Coos Bay to have fun. We can stay in our area, benefiting our clients in our 3-county community, and still have a blast.

There’s a lot of stuff. Museums, art shows … it reinforces why people live here. It’s not for the big lights of Santa Rosa (HA), but there’s a reason we don’t live in Redding. It’s the trees, the rivers, the ocean, the people that will actually talk to you on the sidewalk. Normal people being normal people.

And you’re on air? I have a weekday interview program. It started out in the 80s … I asked Mom & Dad, being all of 21, “Hey, what do you think about….” They said OK, and the basic premise at that time was we could provide good information to the community. There were 3 TV stations in town at that time, and there was a constant problem with those stations having “investigative journalists” come in with a chip on their shoulder, but with no history and no understanding what was really going on.

These so-called journalists were constantly misquoting people and taking the things they did say out of context. The reporters felt there was corruption in Humboldt County, and they were, by God, going to get to the bottom of it … and then move directly to a station in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

I went to the newsmakers and told to them, “let’s just talk.” We would do 35 or 40 minutes. I didn’t screw anybody to the wall. I was from the area and was looking to stay … we would just talk about what was going on.

Papstein, KURY-am-(2)I knew the show was working. After 3 or 4 months, I was out on a sales call at a furniture store. I was sitting with the owner in a couple of chairs on the sales floor. One of his customers walked in, recognized my voice, and interrupted to ask if I was that guy on the radio. The customer said, “You know what it’s like? It’s like 2 friends are talking, and I’ve been invited to listen.”

I’ve interviewed Bruce Williams many times, and he’s told me that it’s been great when he’s been on the show. It’s a conversation: I don’t come in with bullet points and an agenda. It’s a conversation. I listen to people, maybe laugh with them a little bit. Guests have told me it’s nice to have fun on my show, instead of being on guard all of the time.

The show’s been on since April of 1983. I don’t see myself as a news guy; I’m just a guy in the community asking questions of some folks. We’ve got three local city managers that are on once a month. There’s a county supervisor that’s on every week. Sheriff, police chiefs, superintendents, and a mish mosh of others. They’re on maybe once a month, and we just talk.

I was at the first NAB conference in Anaheim, and Larry King was in an elevator with me. Once thing he said was that he never reads anyone’s book before he interviews them, because then it’s too easy to talk over the audience. It becomes a closed loop conversation. So, when the music starts and we walk in the recording booth, I ask the guest what they want to talk about today. They tell me, and that’s it. Spontaneous & unrehearsed. I’m a regular guy, and I ask some stupid questions. Sometimes, I educate the person I’m talking to because I’ve been a life-long resident, and I remember what happened in 1983. We play to the people that have been here their whole life, and the people that have been here a year and a half.

We run CBS programming, so we’re considered conservative. In the Midwest, we would be called middle of the road. I’ve been called a knuckle dragger for years – Humboldt County is extremely liberal. There’s been a lot of eco-terrorism and environmental activism here. Earth First and all of those groups are here.

Do you do any streaming? We’re streaming Destination, but every other station has a professional sports team affiliated with Them. With KINS News Talk, Limbaugh and those guys are expressly prohibited. What are we going to do? I don’t think anyone is actually monetizing streaming. I haven’t seen anybody really figure out how to do that. Maybe with a shopping show … but I don’t see it. Maybe it’s because we’re behind the redwood curtain, I don’t know.

Papstein, KURY-fmHow’s a listener, 250 miles away, going to be able to react to the advertiser that’s running on the stream? If there’s a way to monetize that, great. But right now, with the challenges we have, it just looks like a cost factor.

HD? No. At this point, I’ve had no advertiser ask for it. Zero. One of the TV guys here isn’t really embracing HD … I don’t think it makes sense. We took hits when cellphones went from analog to digital in this area, because we’re so hilly.

I don’t even know where you can buy an HD radio.

Website? For us, those are for listener service. They provide information; we don’t even have them set up to do ads at this point. I still feel – maybe I am being myopic – if someone is spending $1,000/month with me, I’d rather have that on air than have it split to the website where it’s one of hundreds of sites out there. I’m sounding old, I know, but I don’t see it.

I know we have a ton of people that are coming to the site to listen to my interview show, and we could embed commercials in that … but I think it’s there for community service, so we don’t do it.

Sales? What I really find interesting is that operations are usually information sales-oriented, or music sales-oriented. Look at a broadcaster that’s got a strong information sales effort, his underperforming station will always be a music station. I think digital, or websites, are the same way. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll figure it out and go crazy with it. If you don’t … I don’t think it will work. Without that passion and top-of-mind process, I don’t think it will get sold.

You’re an information guy, obviously. What are your sales issues? The toughest thing for us is inventory. We take Limbaugh’s talk hours, and put in a local news update, and a top-of-the-hour news update, and a weather update. I have 8-1/2 minutes an hour to sell. We have about 3 hours and 15 minutes available. On the music side, we have 5 hours and 45 minutes. My News Talk is sold out. The music stations may have some time if we’re not in a sports season … so my challenge is how do I get more time on the News Talk station without having to package it.

Part of that’s unfair, because we are the heritage station. We’ve been playing the game long enough, we’re established, but we are in an unrated market. Sometimes a competitor will pull an Arbitron county by county, and try to treat is like an in-depth market study … but, fortunately, the reaction on the street is, “Well, fine, but I get results from KINS.” End of story. When people try to switch pitch us, it just doesn’t go too far.

Papstein, Shopping Show logoAnd with KEKA being a 100,000 watt station, and we use it and 2 other stations for our Saturday morning shopping show has a coverage area the size of Israel. Now, I have no clue what size Israel is, I have no fricking clue, but I had people tell me that! It’s all perception.

If you put the resources into an AM, you’re going to have a kick-ass AM. When people talk about AM revitalization, I think it’s a format thing. I tend to be contrarian. If you drop as much on your AM as you do on your FM, how much better would your AM be?

I have 1-1/2 positions in news. I don’t know anyone else in our market size have that. Why don’t guys in the next market size up have 4 or 5 guys? Don’t say the medium isn’t being listened to if you’re not supporting it.

I think the biggest issue is how AM is going to be listened to, because of the cars, and the cellphones. FM chips. All of that stuff. I think if the programming was there, the story might end differently.

One weird thought from the left coast.

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? The station uses Twitter & Facebook, especially for our shopping show. However, I have seen comments sections blow up with bad content that is unvetted, anonymous crap. I have no wiggle room for issues of dignity … I got turned off early on, and don’t use Facebook. I use news websites, but I want the information to be vetted. Professional websites. We’re a CBS affiliate and that is the root of what I am. I go back to Paley. Now we begin to see people that feel that their uneducated opinion is just as important and just as valid as someone’s that knows what they’re talking about? No, I’m sorry.

So, the news guys do use Twitter, and do push out information. But I don’t want a lawsuit hanging over me because of a Facebook post. Since we are a news operation, I think the standard we are held to is different than someone who has a music operation.

Everything on our website is 100%. It’s accurate. It’s factual. If I can’t stand behind it, I don’t want it. “Just the facts, ma’am,” that’s all I want.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? Baseball cards. Reading. Walking on the beach.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? It’s the hardest easy job you’ll ever have, and the easiest hard job you’ll ever have.

There is no finish line. When everything is working, then who’s going to be on you? No one. If you’re doing your job, you know it. At the end of the day, the sales will tell the story. The number of news stories are all you need to hear to know if you’re doing your job.



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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