One of the best, and probably most imponderable advantages of purchasing equipment and software from Smarts is the origin of the company itself. Smarts was never a big computer firm, or software giant. Smarts very name started off as an acronym for Small Market Accounts Receivable and Traffic System. It grew out of our initial product, an early version of traffic and billing software still in use in many stations around the country.
That software in turn grew from the true roots of Smarts, KEMB radio in Emmetsburg, Iowa, a town of less than 4,000 people.
John and Jan Schad started KEMB after years of working at radio stations and radio broadcast equipment manufacturers around the country. For John owning a radio station was a lifelong ambition, and KEMB brought that ambition to fruition. For some 13 years the Schads worked diligently at KEMB, doing local news, sports, weather, and a morning show every day of the week.
But during that time, something happened to rock the foundations of all businesses in the world. An affordable desktop computer was developed, one that didn’t require an army of white-coated technicians to run it. John recognized that the personal computer, even in its infancy, could take away one of the most tedious jobs in broadcasting, the preparation of the daily program log.
After working with a student from a local college, John began to write a traffic program in the late 1970’s. His ambition was to have a way to save money at his small station by computerizing the program log. Several years later, in 1983, he had a rudimentary log running at KEMB.
The Iowa Broadcast association heard about those efforts and asked John to be one of two people to appear on a panel at their convention, to explain how computers could do logging in a radio station. The other was the owner of a newly formed company that was marketing traffic software to radio stations. The idea was to tell broadcasters that they had two choices, they could spend several years and develop their own software, or they could purchase the software that was now being marketed.
The two presentations were very different. John’s software was written to work in a small market station in Iowa, and had the bells and whistles needed to handle the diverse selling schemes of the very small market, where local high school sports, summer parades and other such activities filled the days of radio stations. The other “store bought” program did an admirable job of logging spots, at a particular rate, then multiplied the number of spots by the rate and sent a bill. But ask it to track a transaction where a station sold a parade remote for $100 and then allowed 10 bonus spots to run whenever the customer desired, and the program couldn’t hack it. John’s could. It would not only log the parade but it tracked the utilization of the bonus spots as well.
John was there at the invitation of the Iowa Broadcasters to show what he had written for KEMB. But, after the demonstration many broadcasters came up to see if they could purchase what he had written. Some even came to Emmetsburg in the subsequent weeks to encourage him to begin selling the program, and eventually Smarts Broadcast Systems was born. The first office was the trunk of a 1982 Escort that John drove around the country to demonstrate the software program.
Smarts Broadcast Systems grew rapidly, and within a few years it was obvious that the tail was wagging the dog. John was on the road a lot, and couldn’t be at KEMB. So in 1989, the Schad’s sold KEMB and began operating Smarts Broadcast Systems out of a spare room in their home in Emmetsburg.
Coincidentally, within a few days of selling the station, the very first audio card that would allow a computer to store and retrieve audio was developed. John bought one, and within a short time had a computerized version of a cart machine, that would allow stations to record spots, store them and play them back in break clusters.
The very first customer interested in the concept, however, needed more. He needed a way to not only play spots, but to automate his station, using a satellite feed for the music content. John’s dining room table became the lab. A coax cable ran from a borrowed satellite receiver to a rented dish in the yard, and the first Smartcaster became a reality. That product really launched the company. Smarts moved from the room-in-the-home to a renovated building downtown, bought the building next door, rented a building on the other side, then purchased yet another building to use for product fabrication and testing. Today Smarts operates from their world headquarters, still located in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The company in 2001 purchased On Air Digital of Dallas, Texas and operates an office in that city as well. Almost every employee has broadcast experience, and many have experience in owning or managing a radio station.
Between Smarts and On Air, there were now products in many different countries around the world. But as time went on, computers began to become more capable, and more intelligent. John and Jan faced a major decision, to migrate their software into Windows, or to launch out in a different direction, and write new software in the Linux operating system. The Windows route was enticing, but the Schad’s had enough experience in computers to know that the operating system was not ideal. Windows might lock up for any number of reasons, and take a station or multiple stations off the air. Windows was susceptible to viruses, and a radio station connected to a computer 24/7 would eventually have that problem.
The hard road was obviously the right road, and the Schad’s undertook a more-than-10 year development cycle to develop the only Linux digital audio product in the industry. Skylla was launched in 2008, and is now in hundreds of radio stations across the country. It was time consuming, it was expensive, but it is a winner!
Smarts growth, however, was done with a major goal in mind. Don’t lose the relationship with the customer, and make sure the customer knows personally the people they need to work with in the company. Smarts is the company with a face. John and Jan’s home phone numbers are given to every customer. You’re dealing with friends, friends that know broadcasting form the inside out when you deal with Smarts Broadcast Systems. Sometimes smaller is better, and when you need help with any Smarts product, our company is there 24/7 to get things back on track.