The SMARTS Blog

Mike Powers: Still Doing It

First Radio Job: A board op at WCAU, while I was in college. I did live IDs every hour and changed the reels on the AP machine.

Current Job:  Still on-air. I own 5 radio stations in northern Pennsylvania and New York. All stations broadcast from Troy, PA:

WTTC-AM & FM

WTZN-AM & FM

WHGL-FM

Your school? Temple University

Typical work day: I get it about 5:15a. I do the oldies, and prepare for my shift until 10a. From then, I do the managerial job and oversee the operations and sales. It’s very stress free.

What are you reading? I enjoy novels. I don’t like Sci Fi. I like history; early civilization, world history, US, you name it.

Best vacation you ever had: Cruising. Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Carnival … I’ve done them all. I would rather relax on the deck and read a good book than just about anything. I’ve actually had more sea duty know than in my 8 years in the navy. My wife and I just love it.

Favorite restaurant: Any place that has 4 walls and a kitchen. I eat to live, but I live to eat. Grace Chinese Buffet is my favorite; it’s in Sayre, PA.

Favorite beverage: Milk.

Websites: www.wiggle100.com, www.953thebridge.com, www.wtzn.com

Contact Info: mikepowers@wiggle100.com, (570) 297-0100

“When I want to play Elvis, I play Elvis.”

What got you started in radio? I grew up in Patterson, NJ, 12 miles from New York City. From the beginning, I listened to the New York radio stations. I was influenced by the big city’s legendary DJs. Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram … the boss jocks. I didn’t go to college until after my military. I got my education that way … well, I’m still not educated.

How did you get that first job? My professor, Tom Franklin, was doing news at the station, and he told me they were looking for interns.

How did you transition into ownership? It took many years. When I got finished with college, I moved to rural Pennsylvania, and worked there for many years. You have to start somewhere – part-time board op, sales, I did it all. The owner of the station then approached me and asked if I wanted to get into ownership. He offered to sell me his 2 stations, WHGL-FM and the simulcast station, which was an AM daytimer.

Once you get the feel for the market, as other stations became available, it allowed me to expand.

Powers, Mike - Troy FairWhy did you go to Troy in the first place? It was an opportunity for full time employment. In Philadelphia, there was only part time available, so I moved to Troy.

Decades later, you’re still there! Yup. As the saying goes, “If you won’t want to get fired, buy the place!”

Did you grow up in a small town? No. Talk about culture shock. My wife is a nurse; she worked in a big city hospital ER, and she was used to treating people with gun shots, stabbings…. When we moved to the Troy area, she began treating people that fell off their tractor, got kicked by a cow….

It doesn’t really matter if you’re in LA, Detroit, New York or Philly, or if you’re in Troy, PA or someplace like Hooterville. Music is music, format is format and broadcasting is broadcasting. No matter where it is, it’s what you make out of it.

How did you become a part of your community? I had a choice in the matter. I could have just come to work, punched the time clock, do my show and go home. But, I knew this was where I wanted to hang my hat, so I wanted to get involved in the community. The first thing I did was join civic organizations, like the Lions Club, Kiwanis and that kind of thing. I got involved.

With the radio stations, I committed to being local. I feel, especially in broadcasting, there are a lot of stations that aren’t committed. Even 25 years ago, a lot of stations didn’t commit to their community. I promised my staff we weren’t just going to be a position on the dial, we were going to be a locally owned and operated, community-minded station.

We got involved with the local schools, broadcasting their sports and community affairs. We got involved with local organizations like the American Cancer Society, Leukemia Society … I got involved with a lot of different organizations in the community.

In fact, I’ve been the mayor of Troy for 17 years now!

Small Market StoriesYou going to run again? Yup, until somebody throws me out. I’ve been unopposed for the last 12 years. I had a couple of people run in the first few years, but once everybody learned what a thankless job it is….

What else do you do to stay busy? Back in the day, I had a friend that owns the school busses, and he asked me if I could drive, and to this day I’m a sub driver for him.

You do that for fun? Well, I do get compensated, I’ll have you know! But I really do enjoy it. I love my town. You no longer have to worry about locking your doors at night. It’s just like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting that’s still very much apparent in this area, and I thank God for that.

How many people in the area? About 1,000 in the city, and another 1,000 in the township.

Powers, Mike, Revamped LogosHow many in your service area? We cover 7 counties in Pennsylvania & New York. There’s 60,000 people just in our county … we cover over 150,000 people with the signals from our 5 stations. There are  still more cows than people, but that’s OK! If they could fill out an Arbitron diary, that could be great!

Can you take me through the 3 formats? The country station, Wiggle 100, WHGL-FM appeals to our agriculture area. Very successful.

Why is it Wiggle? When I bought the station, WHGL used the slogan, “We Have Great Listeners.” When we were looking for another slogan, we went with the spelling of the call letters, which looks like Wiggle. Our logo is the Wiggle Wabbit, and our vehicles are the Wiggle Wagons.

I love the organic link between the calls and your slogan. It’s rare these days. “Hey, we’re music lovin’ people,” and it should be fun!  You just don’t hear that now. In some of the major markets, it’s so cut and dried, it’s depressing. Kids today can’t even read a weather forecast without screwing up somewhere. There’s no personality anymore.

The oldies station, WKVN-FM, Oldies 99 FM is simulcast on the AMs. We concentrate on the 50s, 60s and some of the 70s. I try to emulate Cousin Brucie; I grew up listening to him.

You do the morning show every day? Monday through Friday, and then I go into therapy Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve been doing it forever. I’m pushing 70, just turned 67. I still get up every morning to the alarm at 4:55am.

Remember Sly and the Family Stone? Different strokes for different folks.

The other format is Classic Rock, which we call The Bridge – spanning over 3 decades of music.

How much of the day is live? I wish we could have 24 hours-a-day live announcers. All of our stations are live 5:30a – 10a. Then we turn to voice tracking, or live assist, with some local coverage interspersed.

Local sports? Absolutely! We pride ourselves on that. The country station covers all aspects of high school sports: football, basketball, wrestling, girl’s softball and we also cover Penn State football, which is the dominate college in this area. We also carry NASCAR.

We did carry NFL sports for a while, but we found it wasn’t that popular up here. Except for NASCAR, we now keep our local focus with all of our sports.

Powers, Mike - bikeDo you cover the high schools in all 7 counties? Yes. There are several districts in each county, so we’ve got a pretty complex schedule with games of the week featured. As we get closer to the season’s playoffs, then we follow whoever we can advancing – hopefully! – to the state championship.

What local promotions do you do? We do The Christmas Money Tree; this will be our 16th year. We get a tree, put $1,000 on it, and put it in a glass case. We do a 2-hour remote and ask our listeners to come in and sign up for the drawing. The grand prize is the $1,000 cash, plus we do 5x $100 winners & such. Now, we’ve got sponsors renewing every year; that event is very successful. The sponsors get a lot of bang for their buck.

We’ve added our Sizzling Summer Giveaway for the last 10 years. We do a big cookout and give away a hot tub or gas grill. Those are our 2 biggest promotions.

Broadcasting in HD? No.

Streaming? 24/7, yes.

Are the sports archived via podcast? No, they’re live.

News coverage? We have a News Director, and he goes to the local meetings & courthouses, and reports the news.

How many on staff? About a dozen, both full time and part time. Three in sales, and the rest wear different hats.

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? I think it’s pretty much very apparent in our lives. But, in our rural area, it’s not so much of an issue in our marketplace. We’ve still got guys in the rocking chair on the front porch of the general store reading the local newspaper. Social media is growing every day, but it’s still not the mainstream here.

Are your websites a focus? Are they important? Absolutely. School cancelations & weather items, we drive straight to the website. They’re very local.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun, beyond driving the school bus? I’m a motorcycle enthusiast. I belong to the American Legion Riders, which is a motorcycle chapter. Every year we do tons of charity rides, and they culminate in DC with a big event called Rolling Thunder. It’s a national event; we had over 600,000 bikes last year. Riding is my biggest recreation.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Radio is still exciting & a challenging career. There will always be radio, TV, mass communication. Guys like myself, my generation, are slowly fading away. The next generation coming in is filling a void, but they often don’t have the training or experience, and it shows in the product. For me, it’s been a great career. A great ride. I’ve been blessed. I got into this business to serve the community and enjoy what I do, and I’m very proud to be a part of broadcasting still today.

When I want to play Elvis, I play Elvis. When I want to say something, I say it. I can still say what I want to say, talk about politics … whatever I want. I think it’s a shame that has gone away for so many stations, but I’m still doing it.

 

 

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Lindsay Wood Davis: Hyper Local

First Radio Job:  I was a salesman because they hadn’t invented women yet. That was at one of my family’s radio stations, WGLB/Port Washington, WI.

Current Job: I’ve come full circle. I started at a low-power radio station in a small Wisconsin city on the edge of a major Wisconsin market. Today, I am at a low powered radio station in a small Wisconsin city on the edge of a major Wisconson market.

WVMO-FM/Monona, WI

Your school? Northwestern, and then the University of Illinois for my graduate work.

What’s your typical day? I have a good time. Every once in a while, a client sneaks in and I’m able to make a little bit of money.

What are you reading? I usually have 3 books going at once. I just finished We Gotta Get Out of This Place by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner. It’s about the music of the Viet Nam era in Viet Nam. These guys are University of Wisconsin professors, and the book was just named the best music book in the world in 2015 by Rolling Stone. It’s so well done.

Best vacation you ever had: Every time I paddle down a river, looking at my wife’s back, down a river we’ve never been on, around a bend that we don’t know what’s around the bend, that’s the best vacation.

Favorite restaurant: Either the Harmony Bar, on Atwood Avenue in Madison, WI, or one called L’Etoile, also in Madison.

Favorite beverage: Three. Water from an artesian well in Washburn, WI, Spotted Cow Beer fro New Glaris Brewing Company from New Glaris, WI or Basil Hayden Bourbon.

Website: www.mymonona.com

Contact Info: lwdnrg@aol.com, (608) 235-4209

“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

What got you started in radio? I followed my Dad into radio stations all of the time growing up, but I started selling at one of my family’s radio stations, WGLB/Port Washington, WI.

My mother, who was a radio actress, would refer to the station as either Radio Glub or just plain Blub and when asked why she would say to my father’s total distaste, “Well, you can practically hear it going under!”

It was an up in the nosebleed section, a highly directional low-power AM in 1968. I was still 17 years old.

How many stations did you Dad own? Over the years, he owned pieces of 17. Atumwa, IA, Port Washington, WI, Virgin Islands, Pensacola, FL. Terra Haute & Anderson, IN. He would have partners and sometimes own 30%, sometimes 50%. He was the radio guy, and they were the investors and sometimes his advertisers.

In ’69, importantly, Dad decided to leave Chicago & bought WSDR-AM in Dixon, IL, about 100 miles west of Chicago. I dropped out of Northwestern to help him sell.

My brother Kerry ended up on the air at 14.

Davis, Lindsay Wood RTIt was the first small market, stand-alone station to bill a million dollars. 32 employees. It was absolutely a wonderful world – it was like having your own chemistry lab. You could do all of these things, and we did. When I start talking about the things we did, people think that I’m nuts, but we did them. (ed. note: the first time Lindsay was interviewed by the Small Market Radio Newsletter, it was by Bob Doll in 1978 after WSDR billed a million dollars!)

We got sued by the State Department for broadcasting programs from Radio Moscow. We were the first people to physically own, rather than lease, our satellite receiving dish. We did some goofy stuff, but that’s what being a small-market owner can be. My old man said he learned more about real radio there than he ever did in all of those years in Chicago.

We really had a fabulous news operation. We won every kind of award. We billed a lot of money but we were so local. Everything we’re doing at WVMO comes from there, obviously filtered by all of the other places I’ve been and stations I’ve worked at, owned, and consulted … it all comes down to WSDR.

Another part of that was fun and really gave us a sharp edge. Dixon was a small town, and in 1970 my sister and the son of the newspaper owner fell in love and got married. This was our greatest competitor and so all of a sudden two families that did not like each other had to be nice to each other. We became great friends on the family side and just vicious competitors, and had a great time doing it. We would see each other across the room at a Chamber meeting or something, and we’d just roll our eyes and laugh.

You’ve always got to have somebody to compete with so that you’ve got some mark. I have a personality that measures things – you always want to exceed – not just succeed – but exceed those goals.

Take me through how you got to your current position. When I went back to college in the early 90s I studied organizational performance and I’m really into compensation models. That’s one of the things that really helped a lot of people under consolidation. I had built compensation models, for, of all things, Mercedes-Benz of North America. So, oddly enough, I ended up with some German clients over the years, and that had nothing to do with broadcast!

But, really, I’m a sales and sales management consultant.

Going back to school was the best decision I ever made. After I left the University of Illinois, I took a job as Director of Membership for the Associated Press. Then the Telecommunications Act gets signed. At that moment, I’m the only guy in the radio business who speaks radio but also had absolutely current academic credentials in how large organizations work. I got tied in with Leon Coulter, who was teamed with Jimmy deCastro and they hired me as their primary management consultant. At the same time, Mary Quass hired me at Capstar. Those companies ended up merging, which we all knew would happen, so I was allowed to have both of these jobs at once.

For an organizational performance guy, which is really what I am, it was having your own playpen. And then, when they got swallowed by Clear Channel, I’m proud to say I was the first guy out the door. I was shot in the cannon because the stuff I was doing was not the stuff that Randy Michaels and that group were doing.

I still have my consulting firm, Broadcast Management Strategies, which I have basically had since ’98. One exception was when I was at the RAB, but I was essentially doing then what I had been doing as a consultant; I was just doing it for the industry.

Small Market StoriesThen when Mary Quass, Tammy Gilmore and I started the New Radio group, I was still doing it, but I was doing it for our stations … and a few outside clients I still had. I then went to work for Entercom briefly, but I didn’t want to start in a radio station chair any more at that point.

I had been burning the candle at both ends for years. I’m a million mile flyer and most of that was done during that period. My wife said at one point that she was worried I was going to grow a DC-9 out of my butt.

I still continue to consult and it is certainly almost 90% media, but its TV, radio, outdoor, and an occasional newspaper client. Outdoor has been the largest component of it for the last 5 years.

I spent a lot of time helping dismantle all those yellow page dollars and moving them toward electronic media, or what we called creative media. Yellow Pages were a happy hunting ground for the last five years, but they have finally died off enough so that it’s really not worth the effort in most of the markets to go after them.

I spent a lot of time working with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, helping them with their awards program. I’m sort of the architect of it, and it’s now the largest statewide broadcast awards program in the nation by a lot.

This year we had 1,688 entries – that’s a lot of entries in the state of Wisconsin. It takes 5 or 6 states to help judge. It is a powerful weapon that Wisconsin broadcasters use. We’ve got Station of the Year, and Best News Operation, and Digital Media Operation of the year, all broken down by market size. And they really scrap for those awards!

How did WVMO happen? How did the community come to say, “We really need a low power FM? No one ever said that!

I will tell you the exact story. Monona, WI is a town of 7,500 or 8,000 people, that’s it.

You live in a town like this, your kids play soccer together and you meet all kinds of people and the radio folks all end up knowing each other. I ended up knowing a transmitter engineer from Wisconsin Public Broadcasting named Paul Meyer. We canoed together, and stuff like that, and one day Paul is sitting there in the parking lot of the local Walgreens 6 blocks from my house, waiting for his wife, moving across the dial in his car, and picks up what he realizes is the menu for Monona Grove High School. He realizes this is a common carrier signal for the school that’s leaking so badly he’s picking it up 500 yards away. He calls me up laughing, and as part of the conversation, he asks me if Monona could get one of those low power FM things. I said I didn’t know, but that I’d call my attorney, David Oxenford. David said sure, there’s a thing in it about governmental licenses, but he said it could be 6 months or a year.

We got together a little group of people and we planned this all out. We talked to a City Council guy, who also happened to be a retired general manager of a local television station, and who eventually became the mayor. We figured out a way we could do this without spending any taxpayer money. None.

It would be licensed to the city, which was important to everybody.

We went to the city Council, and they said, “Yeah, it’s OK for us to pursue it.” I think the vote was 7 to 1 or something like that.

Every few months, I would have a meeting and say, “the FCC is still thinking about it.” The city knew nothing about the FCC, of course, so they didn’t think it would ever happen. But the broadcasters on our committee knew that it would probably happen, eventually.

We planned for this as if it were going to happen. We set up the people who were going to do the engineering, we put together the list of the models of the equipment we wanted.

Seven years later, the FCC finally opened up the window. We were ready. We had one of the top tower consulting engineers in the country to do our tower. The head of Wisconsin Public Broadcasting engineering brought his engineers. The head of Midwest Family engineering brought himself and his engineers, and we built a radio station.

“Simple.” Oh, yeah. You know radio people; it gets in their blood. That’s the case with a lot of our volunteers; they’ve been in the business for 30 years and they got tired or consolidated out or whatever, and now they are still radio rats and they showed up in droves.

How are you doing it without tax dollars? You’ll love this. It’s called cable access fees.  In our case, AT&T paid three dollars per household per month to the city of Monona. That bucket of money exists in many cities, if they’ve saved it from the general fund. It is usually used for local cable access, and that’s how it was used in Monona. But, they didn’t spend that money for years. They had crap equipment, crap programming, and they had about $200,000 in cash … and so I said I’ll spend that money.  They asked if I could build a radio station for $100,000 and we came close.

WVMO VerticalHere’s the thing. Everyone else that’s trying to build these low power FMs is trying to do  it for $8,000 or $10,000 and they’re hoping that somebody could give them the transmitter, and they hope to find a piece of open access software that might run the station on a computer. We didn’t do any of that. We built a real radio station.

It may be little, but it’s a real radio station.

Totally non-commercial? Yes.

Will there be underwriting? I just did my first underwriting deal. You will laugh out loud, so get ready. I have just traded – something my dear father who hated trade would yell at me about – but I have just traded for our first remote broadcast vehicle, a 1946 Good Humor Ice Cream Delivery Bicycle. It was owned by a big bicycle shop in Madison, but it’s now ours and the bicycle shop will be the sponsor of all of our remote broadcasts.

Our station, though, is laid out like a commercial station. We take breaks at :20 and :40, and those breaks have “commercials” off of the library and for the senior center and for transit and for the Immaculate Heart of Mary school bake-off and all of this local, local, local stuff.

Soon, we will do high school boys and girls basketball. We’ll high school football. We’ll do high school soccer. And for all of those things (and thanks to my beginning at WSDR) there will be a sports booster package. Everybody in town, I don’t care how big or small you are, will send us $25 a month for the sports booster package. I’d like to get to 30 or 40 businesses all send us $25 a month and that will be a lot of money.

I’m going after the local bank; I want this to be “WVMO, powered by Monona State Bank,” and they can write us a big check. None of this is fancy, but the idea is we’re not going in and asking for their advertising money. Everybody will technically be underwriters and we will absolutely be completely within the bounds of noncommercial radio. I’m not interested in your ad dollars, I want to talk about your marketing dollars, because you are targeting Monona, and that’s who we are. Nobody speaks to Monona like we do.

You know me, I was from the RAB. It would be hard for me, as a Diamond-level Certified Radio Marketing Consultant, to not have a rate card.

How are you promoting the station? Social media has been absolutely powerful, I cannot tell you how important Facebook is. It sounds almost trite at this point. A couple of other ways. Local musicians & local music is very important to what we do. Our base is Americana. We play lots of other kinds of music; we have polka shows, and traditional jazz and all sorts of other things. Americana was chosen not only because no station in Madison was going to choose that, but also because on the east side of Madison, and in Monona, in the clubs and theatres and such, that’s the kind of music being played, and often with local musicians. We play local music every day – not a set time, it’s just part of our music. Those local musicians and the places they play in have turned out to be great proponents of our radio station.

We have a local artist that’s interviewing local musicians, and we’re cutting up those interviews into 7 or 8 minute segments with a song in them. She’s already up to about a dozen interviews, but those will keep going, and it’s all local. Hyper local.

People want that. They are excited about it. It makes them feel good about where they live, and they are entertained and engaged. And, that’s what the music is for: it keeps them entertained and engaged until that next announcement for the library comes up. Some people have said this station is about the Americana music, but it’s not. It’s about Monona.

How many people are on staff, if I can use that word? It’s the wrong word! Here’s how the station is laid out. The city of Monona has a paid person, Will Nimmow, who is the Director of Community Media. He works many projects beyond radio, like the cable TV channel (that we’re going to blow up and make real good) and more. He’s not just a WVMO person.

Will, our program director Tom Tuber, and I are the three-cornered stool of this.

Then we have Carol, our traffic person, and we have about 50 signed volunteer agreements, if you will. Some of those are the jingle gals … they sing and write our jingles, just like ‘40s radio. Two of them have shows. One is a graphic artist that does our logos. People are involved as much as they want, or as little as they want. There are 40 people that are regularly active in this.

We’ve got a couple of shows that aren’t on the air yet. We’re going to have daily fishing reports … they’ll start with ice fishing which is really important here, and go on from there. To do the reports, we have a young anesthesiologist that loves fishing, has never been on the radio, but he wants to be. He dove right into this, and he’s going to be great.

We have a polka show. The host did it for 15 years on Wisconsin public radio, years ago, and he’s the former state folklorist of Wisconsin. He does a weekly show that’s killer good. The first show was all about polka and beer, and in Wisconsin, how good is that?

Who else? Well, then there’s the engineers. We have this whole corps of engineers. You go into a local store selling audio equipment, and WVMO will be in the store, because our audio is just impeccable. Here’s why it’s so good.

There’s a studio, then 15 feet from there is the transmitter. 135 feet from there is the antenna. We are hardwired to it. There’s no STL. We have fabulous audio quality. Does it go far? No. We’re across the lake from some high rises, and our signal bounces around. We get multipath. We’re like a BB in a bathroom. But we’ve got quality, and that quality catches people.

It’s a funny little station, and it sounds like an odd station, but I don’t think there are others like it.

The 3-legged stool: Will, Paul & Lindsay

The 3-legged stool: Will, Tom & Lindsay

Are you aware of comparable operations out there? No, I’m not. I suspect our approach of applying commercial radio standards to non-commercial radio’s layout is unusual. But, the low power FM movement is like mushrooms in the wood. You don’t know they are there. Sun Prairie, WI is less than 15 miles from here, and they have one, but you can’t hear them here. I don’t even know what they’re doing 15 miles from here.There are a lot of low power FMs out there. One was literally owned by a city basketball club. I don’t know what they’re doing with their station. There was the case in Miami; Beasley Broadcasting sued that station because they were “New Hot 94.7” and they were going all salsa, and maybe they were a little closer to what we’re doing. But Beasley sued them after they had been on the air 30 days, but let me tell you, after 30 days you’re lucky if you know where the bathroom in the building is. These things aren’t full-fledged radio stations from day one. They are very organic. They’re growing, you’re figuring out what works, you have a great basic idea that doesn’t work at all, and you have to keep going.

We wanted to do traffic reports from bicycles, because this is a big-time bicycle city. It was a great idea and everybody loved it, but it would not work at all. It never got launched, and it’ll never get on air.

One idea we’re now developing is for storytelling. I’m not talking about just for kids. We think storytelling is a wonderful use for local radio. We’re trying to do a children’s story every night at 7:30 – just 5 minutes, a little short one. We’re trying to put that together. I don’t know if we’ll succeed – but if you don’t have things you’re trying after 5 months in low power FM, I don’t think you’re doing it right. You have to fail on some things. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.

We have a great investment in wonderful digital tools: Skylla automation, Comrex … we have way more technical capability than we do personal capability. There’s only so much time we can dedicate to teaching people how to use the Comrex gear, so it’s taken us a long time to get our remote capabilities up to snuff.

Operating with an all-volunteer team is a challenge. Remembered, we’re owned by the city of Monona, and we’re in a school building. Come the Christmas break, our people resources come to a halt because volunteers leave town for the holidays. You don’t have the capabilities you might like – and it’s at a time that people are at home that might have a chance to listen to you. That was a big struggle, but thank goodness we have Skylla, because we kept operating and we sounded pretty darn good. In our mind, we weren’t doing everything we should, but we sounded good.

Do you have competition? Local radio doesn’t compete with us. I think of them as friends; many of them helped us get on-air with their staff. Nobody ever said “no, you can’t.” I called some of the GMs to ask if it was OK for their staff to help us … and when Midwest Family gives you their corporate engineer to help, that’s pretty cool!

Would I like to see us show up with a number in a book? I’d die laughing, but we’re not looking for that.

I suspect the local weekly newspaper, who’s been very nice to us, is scared to death we’re going to go after them. I can’t say we’re not….

But how could you do that? You don’t even have a sales mechanism at this point. No, but we could sure do a lot of underwriting!

But you’re not a big money operation. No, we’re not. We’re not meant to be.

The FCC says this is important. If you’re licensed to a governmental property, then public safety must be part of your programming. But, they don’t define public safety and they don’t quantify what part of your programming it must be. So, another call to David Oxenford and he confirmed that. We talked about it, and now we will have a public safety announcement of some sort every hour of every day. Now that could be as simple as the police chief saying, “Hi, this is Police Chief Wally. When I’m in my car in Monona, I’m not talking on the phone or texting: I’m listening to 98.7, WVMO, the voice of Monona.”

Over the course of the day that could include a reminder to put new batteries in your smoke detectors, or it could be from a 5th grader saying school’s open, so please be careful, slow down and don’t run us over. That’s a public safety announcement, but so are 8th graders from the middle school talking about bullying. Maybe we’ll widen the window of what the commission at first probably considered public safety to be, honestly, but we’ll have hourly announcements every hour of every.

Do you have a website? The city has its own website, www.MyMonona.com. There’s a click on the logo to listen there. We have a station website in development, but it’s not there yet. Designing a website that works for us has turned out to be very difficult.

One of our volunteers is doing the site, and he assumed that the site should be about the music, because we’re a music station … but it’s not about the music. It’s about Monona.

We’ve had a wonderful response to our station on TuneIn. That’s simply because of our volunteers. I’ve got a guy with a show on Tuesday afternoons. He’s got 11 brothers all over the country, and they’re all listening to their brother. We saw a huge spike of people listening in Florida over Christmas break.

What are some of your current local programs? Tom Tuber, our PD, does something that most people think of as a PSA. “Got a minute? Here’s what’s going on in Monona.” It’s turned into a community newscast.

Davis, Lindsay WoodWe have a brand-new city administrator; she’s on now every other week to discuss the agenda for the upcoming City Council meeting. We don’t do that horribly boring broadcast of the City Council meeting, because Monona already has that horribly boring thing broadcast on our cable TV and our YouTube channels. The radio station is in a perfect position to promote that, and now everybody knows what’s going on at the city Council meeting because of WVMO.

What are you going to do with your remote vehicle, the Good Humor bicycle? We’ve got lots of good ideas. It’s going to be beautifully decorated. We’ll have a little trailer that will take it to the events. We won’t ride it all the way. And, remember the fishing guy? He’s got a pontoon boat so the WVMO remote vehicle can be out on the water. We think that’s really important. It’s Lake Monona, it’s our lake, so let’s do it!

You’re going to do local sports? We’re doing it. We don’t have the staff to do the away games yet, but we’ll get there. And here’s a great idea that shows how local we can be.

Somebody says, “Hi, this is Maggie Smith from Flamingo Road, and you’re listening to 98.7 WDM over the voice of Monona.”

They say their name – if they are a child, they don’t say the last name. They say the street they live on, not their address. This has become a huge thing in the community. It’s not about extending their reach. Here’s it’s the polar opposite. We never really talk about Madison, and I could almost hit Madison with a 7 iron from here. We’re from Monona, and extremely proud of it.

We are broadcasting from high atop the Monona Fire Department Hose Drying Tower. We’re proud to say that. That’s absolutely on the air. Everybody talks “100,000 watts” … no, we’re 100 watts from the top of the hose drying tower.

What would you tell someone who wants to be a part of WVMO? At the beginning, we had no idea who would show up. At our first volunteer meeting, we had 80 people show up. Everybody wanted to be on the air, so we said what time do you want to be on? We didn’t know, but found that we need to digest a lot of what we’ve got. Now, we’re saying we want you volunteer with us, but between now and when we may have some availability for a new show, we want you to help us with the shows we have. We’re interested in hearing your ideas, but can you help us do production? Can you help us do remotes? Do you like sports play by play? We want them involved, but we’re not really in the business of signing up new shows right now.

Most of your programs are older adults? We don’t have high school kids, but we do have younger kids. We have two 3rd graders that report to us each week. We have one 13-year old, who has her own music show on Monday nights with her Dad. We have a regular contingent of 5th grade Girl Scouts who record PSAs for us. I would love more young people, but we’re not there right now.

Smarts Broadcast System

WVMO-FM uses the Skylla Automation System along with the Second Generation Traffic System to plan their broadcast day.

 

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Sam Stemm: The Fever Caught Me

First Radio Job: My first paid station was with my current station, then known as WOKZ. This was just before I graduated from college, and they needed someone to do sports and play-by-play. I dropped out of school to take the job. I did sports in the morning, and then played beautiful music on the FM in the afternoons. That was back in 1978. It was a radio job. I was thrilled.

Current Job: Owner/President/General Manager of Metroplex Communications, WBGZ-AM/Alton, IL.  That means I’m doing all of the same stuff I did back in 1978.

Your school? SIU Edwardsville. I did eventually graduate.

Typical work day: You deal with what you have to when you get into the office. I’m in at about 9am, and check in with all of the various departments to see what’s going on. In terms of a typical day … my days don’t flow that way. I handle what’s on the agenda. I’m a list maker. I’ve typically got a list of things to do on my desk, and when they need to be done.

What are you reading? Whittaker Chambers: A Biography, by Sam Tanenhaus. That’s on the heels of reading No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

A few years ago I was gifted an iPad, and I didn’t think I’d have any use for it. One day, I wished I had a good book to read, so I tried to download a book on my iPad. I found that I really liked reading that way, but you don’t actually see the book lying there. You don’t see the title.

I don’t have to worry about finding good light. If I want to make the font bigger, I push a button. Now, the only problem I have is that’s it hard to read outside when it’s bright.

Best vacation you ever had: A tour of Alaska. When I got home, I got to thinking, I traveled on a flat-bottomed boat on a river. I flew in a monoplane and landed on a glacier. I rode the train. I rode in a dog sled.  And then the standard forms of transportation: car, bus, boat. I experienced Alaska in just about every form of transportation, including hiking, and loved every minute of it. There was natural beauty all around.

Favorite restaurant: It used to be The Mississippi Half Step restaurant in Grafton, on the banks of the river. I loved going there with family and friends, but they closed last year. Now, you could just about pick any restaurant on The Hill in St Louis, the Italian neighborhood that’s renowned for the restaurants run by the families that originally founded them. It’s hard to find a bad meal on The Hill.

Favorite beverage: Single malt scotch

Website: www.altondailynews.com

Contact Info: sam@wbgzradio.com, 618-465-3535

“I look forward to Monday.”

 

What got you started in radio? At SIU Edwardsville, I worked at the campus radio station, WSIE and did a lot of play by play and on air work. Those were my first opportunities to be on the air. I was one of those guys, if I wasn’t in class, I was hanging out at the radio station, soaking it all up.

When I graduated from High School, my goal was to be an electrical engineer … and then I took my first calculus course. Then, I decided I wasn’t going to be an engineer.

Stemm, SamMy academic advisory kept telling me that if I wasn’t going to be an engineer, I needed to choose another major, so I chose journalism and took several entry level courses in journalism. I found I wasn’t really as enamored with writing as I thought I would be, but there was crossover in the journalism courses to mass communications … and my buddies were talking about hanging out at the radio station. I thought perhaps I’d rather be a broadcaster than a sportswriter. Ultimately, I changed my major to Mass Communications.

Where did you grow up? Alton, IL. I consider myself very fortunate that I own and operate the only radio station in my hometown. I never set out to be an owner, or in management, but those opportunities presented themselves, I embraced them, and the rest is history.

I never achieved my goal. I intended to be the next Harry Carey or Jack Buck, but I think my default worked out pretty well.

How did you transition to management? I spent 2 years working at WOKZ as the Sports Director, but not making very much money. Because I had worked part time while I was at SIUE, I was 24 as I was graduating. Two years later, still making just above minimum wage at this little stand-alone radio station. The people I was went to school with were buying homes and new cars, and I was struggling to feed myself. Essentially, I was recruited by the district manager of Equitable Life Insurance. They target people with people skills. He convinced me that I could make more money selling insurance, and not wanting to trek across the country for another radio job, I decided to try insurance sales.

Small Market StoriesI did that for a couple of years, made lots of money, and hated every minute of it.

There weren’t a lot of radio jobs, but I found a job in a local hospital in their health education department. It was the early 80s, and they were downloading closed circuit videos from something called the Hospital Satellite Network … continuing education courses for doctors, nurses, and affiliated professions. My radio background set me up to handle the technology. I was happy as a lark.

But, the healthcare industry started to change, and in ’87 they pulled the plug on that program. At the same time, the ownership of the radio station had changed. The guy they had running the station tried to recruit me, but I told him my radio days were behind me. I thought I’d go to St Louis and find a hospital that needed my skills and experience.

But, the station GM was persistent. He asked me to come in for an interview, and I agreed to that as a practice interview – it had been several years since I had been on an interview, and thought the practice would be good for me.

I walked in the door to the radio station, and the fever caught me. I remembered how much I loved Radio. I talked with him, and he offered me the job on the spot. I’ve been here since 1987.

How did you transition into ownership? I started with the title of PD. I was pretty much the OM; I was the GM’s right hand man. In 1990, I was promoted to GM. I started buying stock in the station a year later, and gradually started buying out the previous owners of the station.

I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing.

Every thought of expanding beyond your one AM? AT this point in my career, I am not sure I would want to be any bigger.  Earlier this year, we put an FM translator on the air, and that’s been almost like starting a new radio station. It’s got a lot bigger footprint than the AM, and you can actually hear it at night. Over the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve worked diligently to find a translator. It was June of last year that I found one that I thought might work, and we started the transition, and got it on the air 1/12/15. That’s been very satisfying, and it creates a lot more opportunity for us.

Our format is news/talk, and we do tons of high school sports. One of the complaints had been, “It’s great you do all that, but we can’t hear it.” We serve about a half dozen communities: Alton, Godfrey, Bethalto, Wood River, East Alton, Roxanna … but if you got too far away from the AM transmitter, it just wasn’t a listenable signal. Now, with the FM, it is.

How does your format work? Daytime is mostly live & local. The morning show runs 5a – 9a. Our first local newscast is at 5am. Morning & afternoon drive, we do two newscasts an hour. We do tons of local news. We do local news headlines followed by national & world news, and then a 20 minute news block at the bottom of the hour. Lots of news, local features … we have the garage sale of the airwaves 9-10. Our news director hosts a local talk hour at 10a, and our other news guy hosts an hour at 11a. We do local news.

We have 11 hours of live & local every weekday. We carry Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard and Salem programming overnight, and then Doug Stephan 3-5am. We concentrate our resources on daytime, because radio is a daytime medium. Weekends, we’re live and local, 6a-1p, and then are syndicated except for when we have sports. We do high school football with 4 local games every week, plus University of Illinois football and basketball.

How many high schools do you follow? We concentrate on 5 local high schools. One of the 5, we’re carrying all 9 of their games, 2 were doing 8 games, and 2 were doing 6 games. When we get into basketball, it’s even more complicated, as we do boys and girls games – 10 teams – and we even it out as much as we can. Typically, we do about 150 high school games a year between football, boy’s & girl’s basketball, boy’s baseball and girl’s softball.

No volleyball? No, there’s not much excitement here for volleyball. Same with soccer. I tried that back in the ‘90s, we started doing it, and ultimately we thought sponsors would emerge when they heard the quality of our broadcasts. It never caught on. We’ll air anything if we can sell it.

Do you podcast the games? Yes. We stream the games as we air them. That’s quite a dilemma right now. With 4 games on a Friday night, one is live, one is delayed and the other 2 are recorded for playback on Saturday. We could stream all 4 games on Friday night, but it’s my observation that people get more excited about a game that’s broadcast, even when it’s delayed 18 hours. I’m not sure I could maintain my levels of sponsorship with more streaming and less on air. So, we stream every game we air, but not until after we air it. At this point, we have 10 years of archives for games. It’s amazing how many times people go back and listen to games 6 or 8 years ago.

We used to get requests all of the time to dub copies of games. Since we started streaming and archiving them, though, all of that ended.

Is all of the streaming free? Yes. We have ads on the site, and there are pre-roll ads & such that we sell. The original ads still run in the podcast.

So you can hear the Labor Day Special from 10 years ago? What’s really scary is when the advertisers are still running today the same ads they were running 10 years ago. I go back and chastise the account rep, and they always say they’ve asked the client, but they really like the ad they’re running. What do I care, if they’re still paying their bill? I know they should be changing their ad every couple weeks, but….

What are you doing on the tech side? We don’t do a lot of remotes, because we do so many ball games on weekends. We haven’t figured out how to do a remote in a ballgame.

WBGZ-logo-black, StemmWe built new studios in 1997. The beauty of that was that everything was new. We moved an old reel to reel, because we needed that in 1997. I’ve been pretty fastidious at keeping up the equipment and replacing things as we go.

HD? No.

What do you put on the website? Everything. We developed our website with a local company, and they’re now selling it to other stations. 10 years ago, the local daily newspaper started a website and were posting a couple of stories a day. My fear was that if we didn’t do something online … back then , no one had a crystal ball and what would happen with website. Publications said you had to be online to compete, it’s the 21st century … so, in part, just playing defense, since we gave our news away anyway, I decided to put all of the news on there, and make the newspaper look bad since they were only putting a couple of stories up every day.

I told them I wanted it to look like a newspaper. We called it the Alton daily News. Every story on the air is on the website as well … there’s even bonus material. If we have a news story that where we interviewed local officials for 7 minutes, but only use an 18 second sound bite, then in the broadcast we point people back to the website to hear the complete interview.

On the website, you may see we post audio from our talk shows. We put the latest newscast, sportscast and obituaries there. Those are all available on demand.

You make money on the website? I wouldn’t say it’s a huge revenue source. Truthfully, we haven’t tried real hard because I believe our core business is radio. Everything we do in terms of trying to monetize some other aspect, such as the website or streaming … that takes us away from the focus of selling radio.

Radio is still the most powerful medium to get results for advertisers.

When we sell the website or streaming, more often than not we’re just cannibalizing dollars that would have gone into the radio station anyway. I’m not convinced that putting more money on the website will help an advertiser more than putting the money on the station.

We do upsell: for another $50 a month, we’ll put a banner up for you. We generate a little bit that way. More often than not, we’re bonusing advertisers that increase they’re spending with us. It’s the bonus that we give to advertisers. We don’t give them on-air inventory for bonuses.

The website, it’s not a huge revenue generator. It’s something we know we have to do to be viewed as full service. Truthfully, it’s so automated, it’s not costing us much. We didn’t add staff, we just do it as a part of our work day.

Social media? Our staff keeps up our Facebook page. We keep doing it, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. If our target was 18-25, it might be different, but we do keep our Facebook page up. We do have a twitter account; I tweet once in a while. We don’t do much other than Facebook, though.

Do you still do play by play? Some. I broadcast my alma mater’s football games, I’ve done that since 1987. I don’t do much else unless I’m really needed to fill in for someone. Every Friday, I do a 2 hour open line with our news director.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? I hesitate, because I enjoy what I do so much, sometimes I look forward to Monday, because I love what I do so much.

I do have a vacation home in Florida. I try and get down there 5 or 6 times a year. I play golf, get away and relax a little bit. Here, it’s Cardinal baseball, where I’ve got a 10-game season pass. I used to play more golf, but I’m busy now doing a lot of other things. I spend time with family & friends.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? If they’re interested in a station like ours, I tell them they need to be as well rounded as they can be. They need to be a good writer. Whether its writing news, sports, copy to the website … if you’re a good writer, you’re 50% there.

You need to be interested in a lot of things. Local government, the world, sports, news … everyone that’s on air here has done games and has done a talk show. You need to be well read and curious about what’s happening in the world around you. Do that, and you’ll be successful.

I still see young people. I’ve got a young man on staff now that needs some polish … and he’ll be a great broadcaster. I seldom have openings, though. Our Sales Director has been here 20 years, the News Director 18 years. Our afternoon guy just retired after 20+ years. That’s one of the things I take the most pride in. The office manager has been here 20 years and the top sales person 24 years. If I’m not doing anything else right, people like being here because they stay.

Sometimes I’m bothered because we have young people that start here working part time and stick around, but then they move on because I just don’t have many openings.

 

 

Smarts Broadcast System

Sam is a long-time customer of Smarts. His stations have used a Smarts automation system since 1993.

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Kim Love: I Focus On Sales Growth

First Radio Job: General Manager, KROE

Current Job: President of Lovcom. We have 6 traditional radio stations: 2 AMs and 4 standard FMs. 2 stations are HD, and we have translators at 7500’ on the mountains, which is 3500’ above ground level in the town. That’s the kind of coverage that Class 3 FMs get in a lot of other places. Then we have what I refer to as my “franken-radio station,” which is a channel 6 LPTV station.

Your school? University of Virginia. My great uncle was an alumnus, and cornered me at a family party and made me promise that I would apply to the University of Virginia. I got in, and was very happy there.

Typical work day: I get in about 8:15 or 8:30 after I do my background reading at home. My talk show is on at 9, and I do my interviews and then go to my office until about noon.  At noon, I go downtown, get my mail and go to my other office where the shopper newspaper is. I also have some other businesses that I started a few years ago when the radio stations weren’t fully utilizing my time.

What are you reading? A lot of periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times online. I read the books of the authors I interview … I just finished High Speed Company by Jason Jennings. I like CJ Box as well, who I’ve interviewed several times. I kept pestering him to name a character after me, which he eventually did … so now I pester him to bring me back, because he hasn’t killed me off yet.

Best vacation you ever had: It’s been almost 20 years ago. My cousin, who lives in England, has a daughter who’s married to an Anglican minister, and they were in Zimbabwe. It was the perfect excuse; I hadn’t been to Zimbabwe, so my son, daughter and I went. When we got there, we went to a local travel agent who arranged for everything, and we boogied. We did everything. We did white water rafting below Victoria Falls, and this day was terrific. And then, my kids arranged a camping trip near the Zambezi River, which elephants, crocodiles, hippos and Cape buffalo.

Favorite restaurant: Frackleton’s.

Favorite beverage: Bombay martini, up, with an olive.

Website: www.sheridanmedia.com, www.sheridanwyoming.com

Contact Info: kimlove@sheridanmedia.com, 307-672-7421

“And frankly, I like business. It’s not work. It’s fun.”

What got you started in radio? I first came to WY when I was 3 years old, when my family went to a dude ranch near Buffalo, WY. We came out every summer until I was a senior in high school, when my family bought a cattle ranch near Sheridan, which my family still has.

After I finished college & the army, I decided to move to Wyoming, run the ranch and get involved in politics. That was in the early ‘70s, but neither campaign was successful.

One day before I started with a 2nd campaign, a guy wanted me to fly him over to Gillette, WY. I had gotten my pilot’s license. While we were driving around Gillette, we were talking with another guy about what businesses would be fun to get into, and we talked about radio.

Love, Kim, bowtie RTI had no experience in radio.

A month or so later a radio station in Sheridan had come up for sale. The manager of the radio station got an option to buy it. He looked for investors, and he went to a law firm and met my friends from Gillette. The manager went to Hot Springs, AR on vacation, but left his power of attorney.

I was sitting around with the attorneys on the final day that the option was valid, and we had to exercise it, or it would expire. We decided to do it.

It was a lot more complicated to transfer a license than it is now. You had to do community ascertainment; you had to have someone in management talk to community leaders in many categories, like agriculture, religion, education. You could do a telephone survey with the general public, and then your application would address all of the issues that you’d found.

At that time, the manager of the radio station delegated the responsibility of this survey to his secretary. The FCC bounced the application back for that reason. It took some time, but we were able to redo the application properly and get the transfer made.

The manager began lobbying for a raise, which we weren’t willing to do before we’d begun to run the business. He quit. Then the FCC approved the transfer, but the station had no manager. The son of the owner was the morning guy, and the 2 attorneys weren’t going to give up their day jobs to manage a stand-alone AM radio station located in a used double wide trailer located a mile out of town.

Small Market StoriesI knew that ranching was not what I wanted to do, so I volunteered to manage the radio station. I didn’t know anything about radio, but I did know something about selling, so I started knocking on doors of all of the accounts that weren’t on air to sell them advertising.

No one told me that a stand-alone AM station was a 2nd class radio station.

The other station in town went on the air in the ‘30s. Their call letters were KWYO. In radio, if you live in Wyoming and your call letters are KWYO, you didn’t go on the air yesterday. The previous owners had done a terrific job. They had served their community well for decades. They owned the market.

I did a survey when I started the radio station, and I think I had 5% of the market in a 2-station market. So, there was no downside and plenty of upside.

How old were you? 27.

Sheridan’s former mayor worked for me when he was in high school, and he laughed that when he walked down the hall in the trailers, he had to walk very softly, because if you walked hard then the needle would bounce off the record.

But, we’ve grown. Now we’ve got 9 radio stations, a couple of websites and a shopper newspaper.

You decided to sell the business? Who wants to buy a radio station that’s done about as well as it can do in a market this size? There’s not a lot of upside potential.

If someone wanted to buy it, they’re probably going to fire all of the long-term employees to cut expenses. Frankly, I’ve got guys who have been working for me for 20 or 30 years. I just couldn’t sell the stations to put a quick buck in my pocket, knowing that it would put my employees out of a job. So, what I did was set up an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan).

I’ve appointed one of the guys who’s worked for me for 30 years as GM. I still go in part time to do my talk show (except on Wednesday, when I play golf). We’ve sold 51% of the company to the ESOP, and the plan is to sell 100% so the stations will be employee owned.

We’re doing it over a period of a time so the deal is not over-leveraged. Deals like that can get crushed by debt service – if you can’t work hard enough to make your note payments, then it just can’t work. So, I’ve spread the deal out over several years to help make the ESOP work.

Now, we’re several years into it, and it’s doing very nicely.

So you’re just part time at the stations? What else are you doing? I did a certifiably stupid thing: I opened a restaurant. People asked, “Have you ever been in the restaurant business?” I said no, but I had worked in been the kitchen manager at my fraternity.

There was a vacant building on the key corner of downtown Sheridan. There had been a restaurant there, but it had failed because the previous owner, quite frankly, wasn’t as good of a business person as he needed to be. I took a lesson from my radio experience, and hired a very good restaurant manager to run the place.

Love, Kim, logosI had bought a couple of small market radio stations several years ago, and they were not successful. I discovered too late that it was a lot different when you were the manager and willing to knock on the doors of all of the advertisers, and work with them to make it work.

When I got the radio station, it didn’t take any time to figure out you had to go around and talk to people. We had one guy that had been there for a while and he had his list. That didn’t cover the community by any stretch of the imagination.

After the previous GM had left, the son of the previous owner, who was working for the station as the engineer and morning man, was supposed to be selling, but you could tell that he hadn’t been in there. The clients didn’t even know who he was.

So, I started calling on those clients and asked if they wanted to buy spots. They’d say no, and I’d ask if they’d ever consider buying ads. “Well, we’ve got a Father’s Day promotion coming up….”

So, I’d call them back in May and sell them a schedule. That’s not the most sophisticated approach, but with a little persistence and organization, it will get you started. I regularly attended sales seminars with the RAB. Over the years, I went to seminars put on by the RAB, Jim Hooker, Pam Lontos, Jason Jennings, Jim Williams and others.

That helped me make my presentation a bit better.

A lot of people will try to build a sales staff, and give them the Darwin list. They give them all of the accounts that are soured on the radio station and expect them to make a living. I was the owner of the station, so I’d build up a list, hire a sales person, and then give them the accounts that I had stabilized. I’d give them accounts that would give them commissions of perhaps 80% of what their salary was, and figure they should be able to take it from there.

That’s worked so well, I can’t even remember the last time we hired a sales person. I’ll bet most of the staff has been here over 20 years or more. They’ve got deep relationships with most of the people they’re calling on.

How did you transition from sales to on-air? I’m a news junkie. I love current events. The only on-air thing I do is my talk show: I interview people. I don’t want to give that up. That’s fun. We did the State Treasurer this morning, and I’ve got the State Superintendent of Public Instruction tomorrow, so I have to do the reading and keep myself up to speed on the issues that pertain to their offices. I’ll do our state Senators next Monday … it keeps me active.

Love, Kim, at brother number 6We do an open line on Friday, and people can call in and talk about anything they want to talk about.

Our county just his 30,000 people, and Sheridan has 17,000 people. We have 2 guests almost every day of the week on the talk show. I’m looking ahead … I don’t have an opening for weeks.

Do you make money on your website? We do.

SheridanMedia.com is our original website. Recently, our new GM decided that we needed a separate site geared specifically to tourists, and that’s SheridanWyoming.com.

I’m very proud of our sites. So many people have said negative things about maintaining websites, but we embraced ours early on as a vehicle to compete with a newspaper.

Frankly, there’s a lot of things that a newspaper can do better than radio. I know you can paint a picture with words, but you can’t take a picture of the high school football game and put it on the air. On our website, you have unlimited amounts of pictures. On the website, you can put complete obituaries with pictures.

For many years, we only had one news guy on our stations. Now, with our website, our news team is 4 or 5 people. We’ve expanded our on-air news coverage because we can use them on the site and on-air. You can send a reporter to a city council meeting, and link a document that they were talking about so your listeners can read the whole document. You can link weather reports so they can get the whole story exactly when they want it. Websites allow you to compete very well with a newspaper. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they don’t subscribe to the newspaper anymore because they get everything they need from our website. That doesn’t disappoint me in the least bit.

Do you have a dedicated web sales team? Our sales staff sells all of the products we have. In a bigger market, when you try to have one person call on a client for one station and another person for another station, you run into a couple of problems. One is that the clients in a small market ask to speak to one person. If we had every station, website & the shopper newspaper, we would have 12 people calling on clients. Clients would not listen to that many people. I know that some don’t get as well represented

I don’t really care if they only sell one product, and their sales increase, I really don’t care … that much.  They’re going to have sell more than one product to make their sales grow, and if they still don’t make their sales grow, then we just trim their list and make them work with a smaller list.

How many sellers do you have? 11. That includes the SM & GM, who started as the morning man over 30 years ago. 25 years ago or so, he came to me and asked if he could sell on some clients that are off air. I said I love that! He was at the point that he wanted to start a family, and the money he was making on air wasn’t enough to move out of rental housing and get his own place. It turned out that he was our best sales person, and that’s worked out very well over the years.

When Kim talks his pet camel for a walk, it's a parade.

When Kim talks his pet camel for a walk, it’s a parade.

Frankly, the people that won’t let programming people sell are missing it. They already have an advantage when they walk into a client, who’ll say,” I heard you on the air yesterday! When you made that joke about….” Compare that to sending in some kid that promises to make radio sales their lifetime job, and then they’re gone in a couple of months. Not every programming person can do it, but if they want to, it’s a terrific combination.

How are you set up physically? We built a new building after about a year in trailer. We eventually had 4 stations in it, and then we doubled the size of the building to hold everything except the newspaper.

Now, all stations have their programming facilities under one roof. Both AMs have their transmitters in our studios. Other than the mountain tower for the FMs, it’s all co-located.

We’ve got 3 live morning shows with different studios. We do some voice tracking, some satellite programming. We’ve got one all talk. One AM station is more of full service format. That station has been the station of the year. Our stations win large market station of the year in Wyoming almost every year. Actually the WY Association of Broadcasters must have decided we’d won it too often, so they changed the rules this year … and we won it anyway.

We got a very nice compliment from the judge of the awards, who said that we do radio the way it should be done. We’re very proud of the fact that we do radio very well. We’ve got a terrific operation that I’m very proud of, and I’m happy to be handing it over in great shape. I hope it will continue that way for a long, long time.

HD? Any benefit from being in HD, or is because you’re allowed to use additional translators. The advantage is that we can generate additional original programming that you can pick up on your car radio.

Streaming? No. The only things we streamed are the shows that we locally originate. I don’t think there’s a big benefit to streaming our programming for people around the world. Big markets, big groups, maybe. But a local business in Sheridan, WY? It’s hard to monetize additional listeners on the stream.

We do stream our local high school games, and that works very well. My talk show is streamed, but that’s all local people.

Do you different advertising on the things you stream on demand? No, just original advertising.

Do you make money streaming? I’m not sure, but it does keep us relevant. There is so much competition these days. Between social media and all of the things going on, you need to have a big footprint. Our streaming of local programming maintains the relevance of our radio station, because people can listen to some of our key programs over the internet, and that gives us our identity in the community.

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…? I’m not doing anything. You have to talk to somebody that’s younger than me. I don’t. I’ve got younger people that are all in to that stuff.

What do you do outside of the office? What’s fun? We like to travel. This year, I’ve been to Cuba, Nicaragua, Bosnia, Serbia and England on 3 different trips. This last weekend, we did horseback riding, and then played 9 holes and went to a party. We’ve got a place out in the country, and I like to go out there and read.

And frankly, I like business. It’s not work. It’s fun.

What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business? Do you want to be in radio, or do you want to market yourself to businesses in the town that you’re living in? If you want to limit yourself to just radio, that’s probably a narrow footprint. You need to network in some of the traditional media that exists so you have enough arrows in your quiver to get the job done.

Radio’s still a terrific business in a small market. For as far as I can tell in the future, there’s going to be a need for businesses in our town to reach out and get a message to the local customers. We’re a little bit insulated from some of the things of the bigger markets. Radio can be a cornerstone of that communication in a small market. I’m not sure, long term, if you want to be just radio, but if you mix in the internet, our shopper, social media, then you’ve got something.

That’ll get me in trouble with some of my radio purist friends.

It’s a multi-media world. I interviewed Jason Jennings last week about his new book, High Speed Companies. He was talking about some of the companies that are on the scrap heap. Polaroid, Eastman Kodak, Sears, K-Mart … if you told someone in 1970 that Kodak was going being to be bankrupt after inventing digital technologies….

I look at companies that get their clocks cleaned by being too complacent, that’s one of my biggest fears. You’re Sears or K-mart, and then some shtoop out of Bentonville, AR comes out of nowhere and cleans your clock.

 

 

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Jim Birkemeyer: Work Hard, Play Hard

First Radio Job: I did sign on and sports. It was an AM daytimer: KDAK/Carrington, ND

Current Job:  Owns & manages

KRJM/KRJB-FM/Ada, MN

KRJM-FM/Mahnoen, MN

KKCQ-FM/Bagley, MN

KKCQ-AM/Fosston, MN

Your school? Austin Area Vocational-Technical Institute/Austin, MN (now Riverland Community College)

Typical work day: Starts at 7am. I’m in the office until 6 or 7pm, unless I’m doing games. I still do some play-by-play, and I still do production. That’s all I do on-air.

What are you reading? Small Market Radio Newsletter, of course! I have 12 sales & motivational books on my desk. They’re available to my reps or staff to grab.

Best vacation you ever had: When we went to Glacier National Park, and then continued on to the Seattle area. We bummed around for a couple of weeks, and then went out to the San Juan Islands. Whale watching. That’s the longest I’ve been gone since 1987.

Favorite restaurant: Olive Garden.

Favorite beverage: Water, skim milk and Miller Lite.

Website: www.RJBroadcasting.com

Contact Info: JimRadio@loretel.net, (218)784-2844

“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.

Birkemeyer,-Jim-RTWho 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.

Small Market StoriesWhen did you buy your first station? 1987. We went on the air with the Ada station on October 1, 1987. They’d been dark since June.

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.

Birkemeyer, logosHave 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.

 

 

 

Smarts Broadcast System

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.

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