A SMALL FM IN A
This might be the most unique station I have come across. Originally a full class A, the original owner got the station going and ran it for 3 years before going under. All the equipment was sold as well as the land and building to satisfy $179,000 of the $204,000 in debt. The new owner paid $8,000 for the license alone.
The community of license was a small area of fertile farm land that continued to be worked mostly by the original families that settled there. With only one secondary highway entering the area via a twisting narrow two lane over the mountain, the roads pretty much circled the community of about 175 to 180 households.
Mark put the station up cheaply. He purchased a 6,000 square foot lot, put in a tiny building and a 30 foot wind up ham radio tower to host the single bay antenna. Technically a Class A, Mark asked the FCC to operate at lower power for economic reasons. The population could not support a Class A at a full 3,000 watts nor the cost of a 100 meter tower, painted and lit. He went on at 145 watts ERP. It gave good coverage of the whole trade area.
The farmers mostly have small parcels and sell direct. Most have a sideline business as well. The result is small businesses that have minimal sales. The sales potential is pretty minimal but folks do show up from out of town on weekends to buy produce and crafts and enjoy a drive in the country.
The town was a good one. There was community pride and a feeling the town had to support their own in order to survive.
The town is pretty unique. It's not a classic town but rather a valley full of farms and a random business along the roads. Even so, there are several 'hang outs' for locals. The lack of a business district does not diminish the 'town' feel nor does not having your neighbor only feet away.
Mark figured the best route was a local news and information format. In fact, it is more like a local news, community announcements, swap shop and weather station. There's no music programming, just a random cycling through local announcements and short commercials. Mark charges $10 a week for a 30 word commercial. That spot repeats about every 30 minutes around the clock or as Mark says, about 50 times a day. News accounts for about 3.5 minutes doled out in segments. A rotation of PSAs and frequent weather are in the mix. Mark says he brings in around $330 a week. He bills regular annual buyers but goes cash with order on all others. Advertisers must write their own spots although Mark writes most of the spots the regulars run. He uses as many local voices as he can.
Never will you hear such a bunch of oddball advertisers as you will here. I heard the guy that offers sharpening services, a blacksmith, a lady selling eggs, a dairy, flower grower, a seed store, an antique shop only open on weekends and many others. Mark notes even those businesses that are seasonal advertise all year simply to support the station.
Mark actually makes some money doing this. It's not a livable wage but with low operation costs, no payroll and music licensing fees he runs on a shoestring. He says the town likes the station and they really do check in several times a day to catch up on things. In fact, the town said it was hard to get local weather forecasts. The town told him there was no way everybody could find out what is going on. Sure, bulletin boards help but not everyone knows. And Mark loves what he does and thinks it is just the right fit.
Mark describes the station as the local audio newspaper since the town doesn't have a paper.
I admit it is not exciting radio in the traditional sense but rather an interesting way to make a station that could never turn a profit otherwise, a viable facility that actually is all about community. You might say Mark took that lemon and made some really tasty lemonade.
HEARING KFAD FM FROM ALMOST HALF A CENTURY AGO
I'm thinking the recording would have been from 1970 or 1971. I'm not sure. I think KFAD had sold by 1972, becoming KAMC for a year as a country station before the frequency returned to the AOR format (Album Oriented Rock) for a couple of years before the frequency was sold to Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and going Southern Gospel.
I was a regular listener to KFAD among many other stations on the AM and FM dial. KFAD was not a strong signal where I lived. I heard about Woodstock, the deaths of Jimi Hendryx and Janis Joplin on KFAD.
In 1969 KFAD was Top 40 6am to Noon, Album Rock noon to 6 and jazz from 6pm to 6am. Night hours were not all jazz as the jocks might play a few tunes that were really AOR tunes. I recall hearing the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony followed by Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven and then Electric Light Orchestra's version about midnight one night. Not long after KFAD was Album Rock around the clock except for some church programs on Sunday.
As you might suspect, this FM station between Dallas and Fort Worth hailing from Cleburne and using Arlington in their legal ID, the advertisers were few. You heard music advertised (albums and concerts), waterbed stores and head shops especially. KFAD ran recorded PSAs but they weren't the Ad Council type but rather for those non-profits that appealed to their listener.
You see, I was a kid when I heard KFAD. Yes, I was a student of radio then but I sure did not understand things. I figured the jocks were stoned, playing anything they wanted and simply getting to play radio with less forethought than a student at a freeform college station doing their weekly shift. I did not get what went in to jocking at KFAD.
KFAD jocks played sets, mostly long ones of about 30 minutes. They were themed or tempo based. The sample I have had a set of music about trains.
Many times any commercials aired at the top of the hour, as if just to get them out of the way so the rest of the hour could be commercial free. Maybe 2 commercials and perhaps a PSA. Then there were IDs, generally live, but one was a normal voice that was described as too loud. The next attempt was over dramatized stoner jock and described as too heavy. Then a long toking sound and an echo enhanced ID was deemed 'just right'. The jock was truly the tour guide of music, a really serious thing. Wit was added and you had to be on top of your game to catch it sometimes. The format was freeform but each program was a weaved masterpiece on the musical canvas
The commercials were just as unique. I got the impression 'polished' was a bad thing. Of the live spots, they were more like covering the points on an index card but connecting it with ad lib. Recorded spots to the uninitiated seemed lazy or possibly an outtake. An ad for a Carole King album was simply playing a song and a pair of voices hitting the points required and seemingly a bit off on the timing. But these are pros. They could do the perfectly produced commercial. These spots sounded more like two guys just talking over a record. Obviously the sound of the spots was intentional and well thought out and understood. This was very much anti-establishment days so to hear a perfect spot would be too establishment to be cool to the listener.
With the same CDs is a short bit of KNUS as an album rock station. Gordon McClendon owned the FM then while KLIF AM dominated the market. The jock blew off a newscast and kept the music going. After KFAD was KAMC. I think in maybe 1975. KAMC stated the jocks could play anything from any album in the music library but it was obvious there was a music wheel. About 25% was recognized non-currents as in big hits from the past few years. The jocks chose from the category they had to play from, no top of the stack requirements. Jocks had standard image liners and limited talk breaks with commercial breaks ending with a recorded produced re-entry liner. It was quite a contrast to KFAD but much less restrained than most AOR stations at the time.
I really must thank Ed for dubbing off those reels of tape onto CD for me. It was a real treat.
RADIO'S BEST BITS or JOCKING A MISTAKE
Sometimes a little comic relief is in order. Thinking back on years of being on the air, it seems you really shine when something unexpected happens. Maybe it's your fear of the hotline ringing and the Program Director wanting to know what happened. I'm talking the days before anybody heard of a computer being in a radio station studio.
We were pretty modern. Commercials and such were on Mini Disc and music was on CD. The CDs were the TM Century discs. I had my song sheets and my music log in front of me. My next several events were in the proper decks and cued to just hit start. I'm in a commercial break and go to hit the last spot, #4, before firing off the jingle back in to music.
Then it happened. I punch spot 4 and nothing. I glance at the deck and hit the play button again but nothing. I'm turning on the microphone now. Anything to keep something on the air. With the microphone hot, I simply say "What can I say folks, this is live radio and you can't change that". I fire the jingle and hit the CD. Lo and behold, the song that plays is "You Can't Change That" by Raydio.
I had no idea that was my song coming out of that commercial break. When you don't pick the music but just follow the music log, you only pay attention to song titles and artists where you get to talk. I had no idea that song was next, it was just a happy set of circumstances my PD thought was 'a nice save'.
It's funny how the mind kicks in during panic mode.
RIP AND READ NEWS
If you were in radio when dinosaurs roamed the earth, you remember the 'ticker' connected to that big box of newsprint. The printed matter came over phone line then. And phone lines messed up.
When you're playing top 40 DJ and you have to rip and read news, there's little time and reading through the news your ripped off the wire before going live was sort of out of the question, thus, the term 'rip and read'.
It wasn't terribly rare to see something like "President Reagan met with Russian officials today and are close to an agreement on a nuclear weapons pact where XXXXXXXXXXX (for the next four lines of text) remarked both sides are close to an agreement.
Id be a deer in the headlights today, but back then I could actually read ahead of what I was reading on the air. Don't know how I did that but I really needed that trick when faced when lines of Xs popped up. I recall just such a story and calmly filled in the blank with "While details of the pact were not revealed, both sides say they are close to an agreement."
There was a good reason your boss wanted you to READ the news before you went on the air with that AP News Summary you just ripped off the wire.
MURPHY'S LAW HANGS OUT IN RADIO STATIONS
Back in the day of playing records and loading cart machines, you knew Murphy was just around the corner ready to spoil your day.
Back then you had 'bathroom records'. It usually wasn't a situation where you simply threw on a bathroom record and heeded the call of nature but your tight schedule meant you had to manipulate the hour's events to be able to play a song long enough. So, by the time you got to play that bathroom record, nature might be screaming in your ear.
That's when Murphy would show up. It's uncanny how many times I tossed on that bathroom record, cranked the monitor volume and ran down the hall to the boy's room only to find that at the point you could do nothing about it, the record would skip.
It wasn't every time and if you were lucky, you could do something about it. But Murphy always got his way no matter what. Our night jock tosses Layla by Derek and The Dominoes on the turntable and catches it skipping. He had just dropped his pants. Out he runs from the bathroom, pants around his ankles only to learn he forgot to lock the front door. Before him are a carload of listeners that stopped by to request a song and there he is with his jeans around his ankles.
Then there's the new night jock mooned by the afternoon guy as the night jock is reading the forecast. Timing was perfect and the prank was foiled by the quick thinking night jock..."Clear tonight and it's a full moon, just don't look directly at it". Listeners probably hadn't a clue but the mooner didn't rattle the new jock.
STUFF HAPPENS IN RADIO OR HANDLING YOUR EMPLOYEES
A young lady comes to the station to talk see if we need any on air help. In fact we do. I had just let go my overnight jock and had a weekend guy filling in.
She had zero radio experience and although we were a small market station you could have pitted us against any station in a city of 1 million or less and we could hold our own. It is amazing how many radio people end up training pilots in the Air Force. She was real intimidated but I assured her I hired only on attitude. A willing person, I found, always shined when they got a break. She did in time. In fact, her next gig was a major market after she followed me to the competing station in the market.
After the first couple of months of her working the overnights, one of the owners comes in and hits on her at 3 am. She's scared. She calls me. I tell her I'll be there in 5 minutes. I throw on some clothes and rush to the station. A rather startled owner says "What are you doing here?" I respond I'm always here about this time to prepare for my morning show at 6" It was not true but I hoped to nip it in the bud. The truth was the overnight jock called me religiously at 5:30 (at my request) to make sure I was awake.
Later that day, in walks this owner saying I have to let the girl go, that she is terrible on the air. I tell him how valuable she is to the station and she is learning which is why she's learning while the town sleeps. I told him she stays, very dangerous words for such a wealthy and powerful local person that actually controls my paycheck somewhat. He later admitted he admired my guts to tell him no, something most folks didn't do. I think he felt she might have been a problem for him. After all he was pretty drunk when I showed up that morning at 3 am and sometimes when drunk you do stupid stuff.
I had a firm rule. I'll give you time off for anything you want if you tell me by 5 pm Wednesday. That's when the remote, promotion and weekend schedule is posted. Certainly an emergency was different. If something came up after that, you were responsible for your shift but you could get somebody to cover you. Here's an Air Force guy in my office late Thursday needing Saturday off for some party. I say my rule stands but ask everyone and see if somebody will cover the shift for you.
I wasn't trying to be mean. We had several live remotes at businesses to station promotion events every weekend, usually about 5, so it was quite a chore to schedule everyone. And sales was always selling a remote Thursday or Friday just to mess up my schedule. I think that Saturday I was scheduled to do the start of a March of Dimes walk, then a 4 hour gig at a business and then take the station van out to do giveaways for two hours. Here's my Air Force guy on air Saturday morning slamming me between songs. I just let that one go. Never said a word to him. He knew how he was acting.
Supposedly I fired a weekender but never knew it. I had a really talented guy do the Sunday morning shift but he worked at a club as a DJ Saturday nights. I'm guessing he was too tired or maybe drunk. I really just don't know. He missed 2 out of 4 shifts in a row and my overnight weekender was stuck pulling a double. In fact, he never complained to me, I just heard him on the air when I knew he wasn't scheduled and called to ask why. He said his replacement never called him and he never called me. I told my overnight guy to tell him I was aware of him missing his shift and figured that would take care of the issue. My thinking is just fix the problem with as little action as is needed because I already have enough to do.
It didn't. He missed the next week but felt compelled to tell me why after the fact. He said he passed out for 45 minutes while DJing at the club and once they got him back to reality he didn't know his name. The truth is I did not believe this for one second. I knew the bar owner and he kept a tight handle on things, If it happened, he would have called an ambulance after about a minute, never allowing someone to be unconscious in his club for 45 minutes without doing anything.
I got on my best serious look and said "I'm worried about you man. Have you been checked out by a doctor? I must insist you do if I am going to put you back on the schedule. I'm less worried about you passing out on air as I am about your overall health. Tell me what the doctor says and if you tell me the doctor okays things, you're back on the schedule." I dig needle him by saying "What if you passed out on the air and woke up not knowing the station you're jocking? Can't take the risk." Within minutes my staff is asking me if I really fired him. I just felt I had to call his bluff and make it easy for him to return. He never took me up on it.
Then there was this babe of a DJ that had quit for a different job. I always felt something was bubbling under but we kept things professional. I was her boss after all. I sure wasn't going there.
She had been gone several months when she and a friend of hers came by about 15 minutes before I signed off the station at 1 am. Both had been drinking, but her friend that I had come to know through this employee whispers in my ear "She's been talking about you all night. This one's on me" and she leaves. The former employee tells me how badly she hoped I would hit on her and that she had crushed hard on me. I admitted I was just as enamored with her. She starts to say pretty much what any hormone filled guy always wanted a true babe to say to him. Right as I think I am the luckiest guy in the world at the moment, she passes out. When she come to, she rushes to the restroom, then calls her friend, totally humiliated. She never came by again. Too bad. So close and she was such an exceptional person way beyond looks alone.
I have had a gun pulled on me. It is amazing how you react, never how you think you will. A guy had given me his two weeks notice because he found a nice job at a bigger station. Somebody called the request line and acted like a complete jerk. The poor fellow had had enough. He cracks the microphone and crafts a response to the caller just this side of FCC rules (ie: part of it was "you can cram that phone of yours where the sun don't shine"). Can't have a jock saying that in a small town of 3,000 on the only radio station in town.
I go in and say I get he's miffed at the caller but promise me this won't happen again. He says he can't promise me it won't. I explain that if he can't I have to ask him to leave now instead of working his last week. He storms off in a huff, out to his car. He is shaking he is so mad. In he walks with a gun and points it at me. I'm dead if he pulls the trigger. He says he is working until his two weeks are up or he's shooting me.
You never know how you'll react until that happens. I amazed myself. It was like I was speaking without thinking. I sounded very calm for how I was feeling. I said something along the lines of: before you pull the trigger I think you need to ask yourself if I'm worth it. You know if you shoot me you'll get caught. Do you really want to ruin your life because of me? If you pull that trigger, that job at that bigger station won't happen. You can lower the gun and just walk away and take that job or shoot me.
He was really a nice guy. Something just snapped in him. He lowered the gun, told me he was sorry and wept for about 30 seconds. He said that wasn't him. I agree, he had never been like that before. I let out a big sigh but was still very fearful so I called the police chief to see if he'd come over because I was scared. My gun toting employee still needed to get his stuff before he left. The police chief did come by and the guy left for that better job without further incident.
"WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" TURNER
I was teased for weeks with the above nickname.
We were getting a very severe thunderstorm in
The National Weather Service was by the
The tornado went back up before hitting town but the hail was another story.
People were calling the station saying cut it out, you're scaring my kids. After all in the south end of town it's sunny.
The owner of a downtown store (downtown was on the south end) that lived on the north side of town (the lake was on the north side just beyond the town) was heading home. He's listening to me, chuckling at my overreacting. Just then a giant grapefruit size hailstone hits his windshield and breaks the glass. He was so freaked out he said he doesn't remember undoing his seat belt or how he got in the backseat. It just happened. Then another hailstone takes out the back window and more pound his hood. He is terrified. He is thinking he can't run for cover in a building, a hailstone hitting him would kill him and if he stays there the tornado will.
I never would have believed it, but one of the ladies that did sales showed us pictures. She was home when one of those hailstones went through her roof and then through her attic insulation and ceiling, landing on the carpet. The truth be told I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen the pictures. She got under a table for protection but only one hailstone got past her roof that had to be replaced.
Hail damaged cars on the car lots, broke out the skylights at the mall and tons of folks had roof damage and damage to their cars.
I never lived down the nickname completely until a tornado from a weakening hurricane took to a few homes in town. I remember that well. We got knocked off the air as we saw the tornado and began to announce it but our competitor rushes out to talk to victims. The jock asks the first victim he sees, a woman, while live on the air "How do you feel?", seeing her home torn apart by the tornado. Her answer: "How the f*** do you think I feel". The flustered jock, sheepishly says, "Back to you in the studio". It was the first tornado to hit
Normally KINL is a 6am to Midnight station with jocks pulling 6 hour shifts, but considering the hurricane, the General Manager says he wants us to go 24/7 with one jock on the air for 8 hours and another in the newsroom to do a live report every 15 minutes. The third jock can sleep while the other two work. Quite frankly, none of us felt like sleeping so we were getting a bit silly from staying awake. We're having a blast because we're all there. We spent time together out of work but getting to spend time on air together was a real treat and a great time to pull some practical jokes.
I'm doing my 8 hours in the news room. Back then we had teletype machines. One for The Associated Press and one for The National Weather Service, the sources of every quarter hour report from the news room unless local officials had something to get across.
The strangest thing I had ever seen came across the National Weather Service teletype. To this day I've never seen anything remotely like it. I went with it for that report.
The National Weather Service teletype report was from the Brownsville Weather Service Office. I actually saved it until a few years back when I must have mistakenly tossed it. It went like this:
This will be the final report from the National Weather Service Office in
We do not know the extent of damage at this point. Lines of communication are down.
Hurricanes have hit land as long as man has been on earth. And man has survived. This hurricane is the strongest to hit the area since records have been kept. Surely there have been stronger hurricanes. Man has endured and survived. We too shall endure and survive. May God be with us. This is the final statement from the Brownsville Office.
Reading that was rather sobering for me as I felt very serious as the words were read. Concluding, I said we would have more information within 15 minutes. Bill Turner in the news room at 93 KINL.
The station mostly did okay on advertising although there was only one employee that did it all. Bob's idea was an affordable package that gave the client 2 spots a day 7 am to 5 pm weekdays and a bonus that allowed the clients to get 2 free plays 7 pm to 5 am on weekdays and on the weekends you received the same package: 2 from 7 to 5 Saturday and Sunday and 2 more plays 7 pm to 5 am. His thinking was that gave the client enough frequency to be heard and simply made it easier to program the events in the computer.
Naturally, the station took on quite a following on a pretty blank radio dial. Even the advertisers knew where the key to the office was and would let themselves in to record updated spots of the station operator was not around. The advertisers had been taught how to do this.
Bob runs the station these days, upgraded and serves a much bigger area. I got to spend a morning with Bob and he's a great guy and he's one that desires to serve his community versus making money hand over fist. I always thought this was a good working model of a community radio station.
KPAI LP in Paisley Oregon below:.
KPAI IS NOW STREAMING: http://www.stationplaylist.com/playflv.html?mount=listen.aac&port=9220&autoplay=1&title=Paisley%20School%20Radio
KPAI in Paisley, Oregon was one of the first batch of Low Power FMs to hit the airwaves. Owned by the school in Paisley, KPAI gave the AM and FM dial some life. You see, the radio dial was blank before KPAI.
The Superintendent of the school inherited the Construction Permit and it was truly a challenge. You see, Paisley is fewer than 300 people in a part of Oregon they refer to as 'frontier' to distinguish it from 'rural'. The county is bigger than some states and the county seat is only about 1,000 folks or so. It's almost like you can't even get to nowhere from there.
You might imagine the school has a tough time with finances and you would be right. This is remote. A number of the students live in the school dorms during the week because going back and forth daily is just not feasible. To survive the school birthed an idea of getting local families to sponsor foreign exchange students to keep enrollment numbers up high enough to be able to keep functioning, giving local students a great perspective of the world beyond Paisley. Teachers have to be housed so the school had to buy mobile homes to house employees. I think you might be getting the picture of just how creative the school district has had to be in order to survive. And cash to build a radio station just wasn't there.
Some checking with the county, the station matched several criteria to obtain a $12,000 grant the county got for them but it was the engineer and equipment seller Ron Ericson that came to the rescue. He had KKHJ in Madras, Oregon and figured a plan through the use of obtaining some donation letters, to completely outfit the station and build it out within the $12,000 budget. Some would have never bothered but Ericson found a way to make it happen.
KPAI was music intensive. Mostly a mix of oldies and classic hits, these was a classical block, an easy listening/nostalgia block and an early morning country block especially for the ranchers taking hay to their cattle at 4 in the morning. Birthdays and anniversaries were announced and community announcements on the hour. Generally it was one at a time except birthdays and anniversaries for the week. During the hour 3 Underwriting spots were aired. All had the same text, just fill in the business name, location and phone. Underwriters paid $10 a month or $100 a year and they averaged 10 to 12 local underwriters, paying the bills for the station. And what a deal they got! Imagine $100 a year netting you a spot every 3 hours and 20 minutes to every 4 hours, around the clock, 7 days a week for a full year! That's a minimum of 2,190 to 2,628 spots a year for $100 or about 4 cents per airing.
If there wasn't a 90 degree curve in Paisley, you could likely blink and miss the town it is so small but the radio station sure connects the area. KPAI might have the best coverage of any LPFM I've heard. Look on a map and find Valley Falls at the intersection of a westerly highway above Lakeview, Oregon. Now, go west a bit past Summer Lake. That is the tunable signal area for KPAI thanks to a vacant radio dial. The photos are below.
IT'S TV BABY!
I was working In Eagle Pass, Texas. Cable TV is just coming of age. The local cable options are the San Antonio TV stations and I think the stations from across the river. I can't recall if WGN had come on cable yet but I think WTBS in Atlanta was yet to become a 'super station'. Cable TV was pretty primitive at the time but everybody subscribed as was the case in little towns everywhere where over the air TV was not available.
Now one channel was just a fixed camera on a digital thermometer and a clock with a second hand. Underneath the audio was the Beautiful Music KQXT in San Antonio. Then there was the Public Access channel.
There was a fellow in town that was a news guy. He decided to do daily newscasts on the access channel and the cable system simply let him have all the time he wanted. He did radio on TV.
He had a low budget studio. There were two cameras. One looked at the person behind the desk and the other was centered on a small board. There was a tiny 4 channel board, a microphone, a cart machine and a turntable with a short stack of the current hit records traded by Trevino Music. A phone set on the desk that doubled as the anchor desk for the evening local news this man would broadcast.
The remainder of the time kids, and I mean kids, along with some youth through about college ago would show up and play the hits. I know they were on all day on the weekends and at least after school let out on weekdays but mostly all day on weekdays in summer. The kid or young adult would jock the cable station and play some ads and the biggest hits on the Top 40 at that time.
Ads were really fun: a carted audio commercial with a photo of the business, flyer or business card showing on the screen. Lots of folks bought...maybe 5 or 6 spots an hour, paying a whopping $1 a spot. The DJs got, I think, 50 cents an hour as a gratuity for volunteering for a shift.
Most of the kids, like the older ones, used that camera frequently, sliding in notes to show on the camera while the song played. Otherwise they were on camera. They got lots of requests. It was all requests and dedications. If the jock, usually a male, liked a girl, he might scribble a note saying the song is dedicated to her by the jock. Sort of a fun perk in trying to get the girl.
They'd frequently wave to callers as you saw them answer the phone during songs.
Quite frankly it was fun radio, but it was on cable TV.
DID I REALLY HEAR WHAT I THOUGHT I HEARD???
When you are behind the microphone, you never know what might happen and the truth is it likely will.
I was in Eagle Pass where we ripped and read the news off the teletype. I had only been working full time in radio a few months. In fact it was around the time of the Jim Jones/People's Temple mass suicide in Guyana.
We all know to take extreme care to make sure the microphone is off. The experienced always said to pot the microphone down before turning it off. There's a reason for that. No matter how many thousands of times you turn the microphone off or how many years you've been jocking, it is going to happen.
One night I was stacking carts of the next hour's commercials on top of the cart machine and I noticed a scorpion on the edge of that cart machine. As I started to react by pulling my hand away he fell into my lap and I let out an 'Oh Sh..." as I glanced at the meters with the corner of my eye seeing a big spike. Yep. The microphone was hot. Luckily, nobody said a thing.
A buddy at the station was doing a 5 minute sportscast and, well, had to let one go. Convinced it would be a 'silent but deadly', it wasn't and quite audible. After a short pause, he continued. Later, rather sheepishly he said he thought of saying 'excuse me' but remembered the cardinal rule: don't tell the 90% of your listeners you made a mistake by pointing it out. When it happened you could hear faint laughter on the radio coming from the office staff.
At the same station, back in the day of AP teletype machines, cart machines and 45s, I was doing mornings. Hair uncombed, in sweats and way too tired, a group of students walks in to the station. I was surprised. I would have dressed better, combed my hair and such.
I always hated getting in front of people and speaking. Talking to a microphone in a little room all by yourself was easy for me, but now these students are all pressed against the glass. I'm feeling really uneasy. Luckily I was segueing in to Texas State Network News at 7:30, a 15 minute cast.
The song faded, I potted up the network and the news wasn't there. I read the forecast and still nothing. As the news was sponsored, I fired off the first 60 second spot and dashed to the teletype in the room down the hall, grabbing everything that had come off the wire and the metal trash can containing the stuff I tore off 90 minutes before. I make it back in and have found some stories to read as the commercial ends. Maybe stress worked for me as the eyes watched me read the news. I never stumbled over a word and I usually traveled at about 60 stumbles an hour.
I'm digging in the can and glancing away from my copy to find the next story. Things were going well but when I pushed back in my chair to get more news from the trash can, my chair caught a ripple in the carpet and fell over with the back of the chair hitting the typical metal garbage can families had. You can imagine what a crashing sound that made over the microphone, but I managed to keep my balance, not skip a beat in the news story and even adjust the microphone to my now standing position.
Then at one point we took a bunch of random lines from various TV shows and cartoons and would slip them in here or there. I must explain we always had a cart shortage. The longer carts, like the 7.5 or 10.5 minute lengths were hardly ever used so we took about 40 snippets on one long cart and typed up a sheet saying what was on each track. I miscounted on the tracks, playing one I did not intend to play. At the end of a McDonald's commercial about the Big Mac, I fire off Lily Munster from the Munsters TV Show saying "umm, the wolf burgers are almost done". My boss calls in seconds. In short he says I'm not fired but if McDonald's cancels what they spend comes out of my paycheck. Luckily they stayed on even though the franchisee was known as being a guy without a sense of humor and frequently monitored to be sure his spots aired at the right times.
The worst was a friend who was almost legally blind. He's working at a station and pretty good. The problem was the old turntables that could play 16 inch platters and speeds from 16 through 78 had this plastic button behind the turntable platter. About once a month without warning the plastic button would pop up. Usually you never noticed it since it was only about 1/4 inch higher than it was pressed in. Even in the up position it was not visible as the turntable platter was higher than the button. Simply put, it had to happen to you once to know what to do and because it was so infrequent, it didn't come to mind to alert newer jocks. When the button was up, the turntable would not play. This happened to my nearly blind friend. Flustered he cracked the microphone and talked as he tried to get the turntable to work. Thinking he has turned off the microphone, he is scampering to replace the dead air. As he gets a record on the other turntable he sees us in the next room. Now to get our attention he has to yell because the sound must go through the door on the back end of the studio, down a short hall and through another room before it reaches the room where we are. One restaurant that ran us over their PA system actually turned up the volume just in time for my friend to scream 'Hey Bill, what the F is wrong with this GD turntable?" Humbled he came to me and said he knew I had to fire him and he'd gather his stuff. I told him it was just a mistake and don't worry about it. Granted a couple of advertisers pulled their ads and I was teased a couple of weeks by virtually everyone I called on. To put this in perspective, this was isolated West Texas where we were the only thing on the AM dial in a county of just under 3,500 people. I mean EVERY radio was on our station.
At the same station a new girl (who wound up an exceptional jock) took the microphone for the first time. My boss told her to play from the top of the stack of records and noted the guy's last name was Fuddpucker on the record at the top of the stack. He told her to be careful pronouncing it. You can guess what this nervous girl said. We got a big laugh out of it at her expense.
But Happy struck again years later. My owner's wife had just become the receptionist at the station, I was walking by as she answered the phone. Now Happy was a man of few words, as if he didn't have the time to say everything. He'd call and instead of saying Hello, this is Happy Shahan, he'd just say "Happy Shahan". So, she answers the phone. Happy says "Happy Shahan. She responds "And a Happy Shahan to you sir!"
MYSTERY RADIO STATIONTo satisfy my curious nature I visit stations and call many more. I was recently out of high school and visiting stations in hopes of getting my 3rd class license and get my first radio job. I wasn't clueless since I had a volunteer on a weekly late night shift at a 100,000 watt community station and had a part 15 going at my house.
The three, the station manager and two jocks seemed to be loving every minute of it although the jocks complained they needed more music and wanted jingles and a production studio. The young station manager was maybe 23 and you could tell he was really enjoying the gig. It was a feeling like they all came to play at that station but their on air formatics were nothing special, just typical small market, anything goes. Needless to say, the phone was not ringing off the wall with requests and they seemed 'outside' the movings and shakings of the little town. I really don't know if they were popular in the community or not.
It might have been somewhere on the way to Frederick, Oklahoma but I don't recall. At points in time it could have been anything south of Oklahoma City. It was on a fairly well traveled highway, though.
I remember passing by sometime later and everything was locked up. I guess they had moved by then and were serving the larger town, I don't know. It was simply a moment in time for a station that was working its way up to what it was intended to become...one of their baby steps.
I really liked this station and I recall I even had a dream where I worked there. I didn't dream the manager's beautiful girlfriend had an identical twin, however. It made an impression, I just wish I could remember all the details.
ARE YOU KIDDING? Some owners are real idiots. Back in the late 1960s a wise radio operator signed on a lower wattage AM daytime only station. He opted for an adult contemporary format, something that really didn't exist back then. I'd call it softer top 40 hits with maybe something like the Lettermen tossed in but not the crooners of the day. You'd get Bridge Over Troubled Water instead, as an example. For example, back then they might play The Monkees Daydream Believer and For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springfield but not the rockers that were hitting the top 40 back then.
They really suffered in the beginning, only on the air 6 hours a day for the first few months, then a full daytime only but couldn't afford a teletype machine or network for news because of the cost of the dedicated phone line.
In a year or so, they were in good shape. They managed to get some night power and were on 6am to 10pm by 1971.
Then they got an FM but only ran it at night, I think 7 to 11 evenings at first, then about 5 to 1 each evening. As far as I know they never played a commercial but had maybe 2 hours of paid programs in the beginning then about 3 hours on average. As I recall Sundays was almost all paid religion, not so on Saturday. The FM was roughly a 50/50 split of Southern Gospel and paid programs.
By 1973, times had changed and the AM and FM were 24/7 and hugely successful as a full service top 40, live and local around the clock. Anyway, by then a daytime only AM had come on with a religious format and competition had become stiff in offering a better time and rate for ministries.
As time went on, they added a farm director who did blocks 6 to 7:30 and Noon to 1 on weekdays on the AM side. They had done a community telephone talk show since about 1971 each morning that had a nice group of listeners but it didn't fit on the FM top 40 so it became an AM only show.
Within a year, it was conversational local talk 7:30 to about 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon before simulcasting the FM until 6am the next morning. The AM was 10 hours of talk, farm news, a swap shop and such each day.
At its peak, the two stations billed about $70,000 and were dominant in the area with a local station in a nearby town trying anything to beat the top 40 FM which ironically was still full service. The competition tried long music sweeps but this top 40 FM never could overtake them. Simply put, nobody could touch them and they always led in listeners, spot rate and clients. In fact, the jocks were pretty good, a few getting gigs on the big city stations. They joked they were a farm team for the big city.
The success was due to urban sprawl. The tiny city of license was really not much more than a crossroads of a few houses and a couple of businesses. By 1970, suburbs had come in and the population had jumped to about 1,500 and a real sense of community developed. By the mid seventies it was many thousands in population and the new subdivisions had eliminated the dairy and crop farms that scattered the countryside. It was the 'hot' side of the metro and the 'outfield' station was now in the thick of it.
It was 1978 when a couple approached the ownership about buying the station. They struck a deal of $740,000 for the station and a lease to purchase on the tower site and building totaling $285,000 to be paid out over 9 years starting at year two.
The idiot part was the owners hated top 40. They thought the talk programming was too expensive too. Their plan was a beautiful music format on both stations, 24/7. It went over like a lead balloon. Listeners went away and so did advertisers. They were barely able to get two spots an hour. Considering the stations ran a good 15 spots an hour considering the separate programming, the station lost a good 85% of existing revenue.
As you might suspect, it didn't take but a few weeks for them to try to return the AM to its former glory and most of the shows were replaced either with the old host or someone else. They added news blocks to morning and afternoon, expanding the talk programming to 7pm and then 7 to noon on Saturday. From 7pm to 6am on weekdays and all weekend except 7am to Noon on Saturday, the FM beautiful music was simulcast but the stations never exceeded $45,000 a month in billing with all but a few thousand being due to the advertising purchased for the AM exclusively. The beautiful music side never had more than a couple of spots an hour.
The new owners managed not to go bankrupt but they never had anything close to what they bought. As the years passed the station's popularity had fallen considerably likely due in part to changing attitudes. Where the station had served what could be called a true suburb with distinct personality other towns further out now had that image as urban sprawl continued.
By the time a decade had passed, the FM had become lite rock and scored a small rating. I heard the FM was billing about $100,000 a month with that format. The AM still was doing beautiful music with network news with a combo rate add on of $1.25 a spot.
When the big boys were in a buying frenzy, they sold the FM for 3.5 million. About that time the AM was losing cash and restricted on air hours to 6 am to 10 pm. They had very few listeners.
One of their sons took over when Mom and Dad retired, leasing the station to a Spanish language ministry.
In the end, the AM was part of a deal where a group involved a bunch of stations moving and downgrading so a distant station could become a major market player. The owner took the money but soon after turned in the license.
Rumor had it, the new location and power meant nobody was interested in leasing the station and the coverage area not very viable as far as attracting enough advertisers to make it profitable. I don't know what the owner cleared from the move but I heard 2.95 million went in and after all was said and done they had about $550,000 in their pocket. I asked when it was for sale. The answer was $25,000 excluding the land. It was, as they put it, for stick value when you considered the land lease. An engineer seemed to think the station billed just under $2,000 a month with over half coming from a few Sunday morning half hours sold to local Churches. He said they only had 2 or 3 spots a day on the station at that time. I think they were smooth jazz at that time.
As I understand it, in most of those station moves the dollars go to pay for the move, meaning you pay your share of legal fees and engineering, buy the land (sometimes requiring a good sized parcel for a directional signal that cannot move to less expensive land) and erect everything at the new spot. What is left over is your payoff. Some such moves happen where the engineering firm builds it out and a predetermined amount of cash is handed over but it is never the huge payout because you are left with an asset.
I think it is reasonable to presume the economic potential of the station in the new spot was less than the market value of the land, something that continues to cause some AM stations to throw in the towel.
Sometimes you see ultra cheap AM stations offered saying 'no tower site included' only to find out you need 10 acres for 8 towers on land that is priced by the foot not the acre. Such a station might bill $300,000 if done right but the land is worth 100 years of profit you'd get off that $300,000 yearly income. When you'd need to invest in a staff to do that, it is just easier to cash in your chips and call it quits, especially when the owner could care less about radio and cares about how much money you can make.
THE STATION WHERE I THOUGHT I MIGHT DIE WHILE ON THE AIR
It was my first big radio gig. I was the going to a rated market from small town radio. The salary was almost double my previous job and I was truly the worst of the lot. My boss had been in El Paso. The midday jock out of San Antonio and the evening jocks from rated markets in Michigan and Syracuse, New York. Here I was from a town of 30,000.
I was hired to work the 6 to 10 pm shift but when I arrived I was told I was to work 2 to 6 in the morning, that I had some real issues with my on air delivery and I had two weeks to get coached out of it to keep my job.
I had married in April of that year and I got the job in August. My first day was Wednesday night/Thursday morning. I was really worried about providing for my wife so I had to get this right. I worked hard to do what they wanted.
It was Monday morning at 6 am when my boss, the program director and morning guy drive guy wanted to coach me from a tape of that night's air shift. About 6:15 the 6 to 10 pm jock called to say he had a stomach virus and he might not be well in a mere 12 hours. The boss said "I need you to cover the 6 to 10 shift tonight". I went home to sleep.
I went on the air at 6 and around 9:15 the General Manager was on the 'hotline' to ask me for a favor. I'll back up. The station had quarterly required gatherings for the staff. We were to bring the whole family to get treated to a meal, drinks and conversation with other station employees and their families. It was a nice bonding event.
The General Manager had a few too many, I would later learn, and told a recently hired extremely beautiful sales lady that he was going to have his way with her if she wanted to remain employed. She was devastated and several employees tried to get this cleared up. In fact 5 of them called the station owner and told him what happened. The owner called the General Manager to say he would meet with him the next morning.
The General Manager fired the 5 that called the owner. He kept his job.
Anyway he is on the phone with me and asks if I will do the morning drive shift on Tuesday morning. I say yes. The next morning at 5:30 the General Manager is waiting for me to give me a key to the station. My Program Director pulls up at the same time and asks why I'm at the station. The General Manager says "Bill just go inside and get ready for your shift". I did. I knew something bad was happening.
At 9 in the morning the hotline rings and it is the afternoon drive DJ and Music Director telling me to come to the office at 10 when my shift ends for a staff meeting. I did. This guy had been promoted to Program Director. He then announced I would stay on Morning Drive and was assigned Music Director. I literally went from worst to 2nd in command in 5 days. Nothing like being at the right place at the right time. My lack of experience worked for me. My new Program Director knew I could be coached and would do what he said without creating problems.
Now the General Manager was decent to me but I avoided him like the plague. I can't say why but he scared me and I couldn't pinpoint why but my new wife, a very intuitive lady, told me she thought he was a 'bad man' and I should keep my distance.
The General Manager's wife, a truly fun to be around lady that was always smiling, kind and genuinely friendly, worked at the station.
Not much happened for months but there were rumors that the General Manager's temper was getting worse and I began hearing his wife was thinking of leaving him or getting him some help, if he would consent.
One day a very insignificant decision was made that was not to the General Manager's liking. It was such a non-issue I cannot recall what it was. The General Manager went in a rage and quit on the spot. Everybody was shocked and by then we realized there might be a problem there.
He, our former General Manager, got a job quickly in a nearby town and I think he was the General Manager there at that station. His wife was not happy about the move and those she worked with were talking how she was going to leave him.
After being at the station about a month he comes out of his office wearing just his underwear and tries to conduct a sales meeting one Monday morning. People there wondered if his wife kicked him out of the house and he was in his office all weekend or if he had gone on a bender and crashed in his office. At any rate he was instantly fired.
At this point his wife left him and came back to our town. She was trying to get her husband to check himself in for a mental evaluation. He did, signing himself in but suddenly signed himself out after 12 hours. At this point his wife filed for divorce.
We kept hearing from her friends that her estranged husband would call her and say if he couldn't have her, nobody would. Her calls to the police offered no help. Laws were not on the books then and unless he showed up, they couldn't arrest him. Weeks, if not a couple of months go by.
His wife is working at a Travel Agency and in walks her estranged husband with a loaded gun and fires all 6 bullets right into her heart at almost point blank range. She was dead instantly. The cowering employees were told by our ex-General Manager he was going to our radio station to kill all of us next since this is where, in his mind, the problems began.
I was on the air. The girl in the news room is waving frantically signaling me that I should cut the song and go straight to her. She says the former General Manager of the station has just killed his estranged wife at her place of work and police had issued an all points bulletin for him, claiming he was headed to our AM and FM station to kill us next. She describes the car and gives his description.
I start the next song and open the door to the hall. The AM jock, our news director and I have blank looks as more staff appears and somebody says 'what do we do'?
Seconds later a police officer comes to the door and we feel really relieved. He says "Who has a gun?" None of us did. He then asked us to get tire jacks, baseball bats or anything that we might use to fend the guy off. He says to get it now and he says he is leaving, that he has to leave. We beg him to stay.
The police officer, we later learned, drove around the block over and over to prevent the guy from reaching the station. We all thought we were dead.
As things turned out, the ex-General Manager was scared away from the station but went to the local airport and tried to pay a pilot cash to fly him to the Bahamas right then. The pilot thought that seemed 'fishy' and refused. Striking out there, he then drives across the city to visit some relatives. By then our ex-General manager had been the lead story on the local TV station's 6 o'clock news. By the time he got there, his relatives knew what he had done.
I suppose they were able to 'reach him' because they convinced him to turn himself in. He did about 5 hours after he pulled the trigger. Later we heard simply 'he will be in prison a long time'.
And that's the day I thought I would die doing radio. Even my boss said stay on the air and crack the microphone and say he showed up so help could reach us quickly. I wonder if the listeners could hear our fear as we tried to sound upbeat and fun since we were a more music rock edged top 40 station.
In the 3.5 years I was there at that station, we only broke the music for a news bulletin one other time when the Challenger blew up seconds after it launched.
KTER AM 1570
It was February 1980 I was missing home and wanted to move closer to home if I could. I knew I was not major market radio material at that point, so I looked at the small town stations near Dallas. I interviewed with two of these stations one weekend. One of them made me an offer.
As I was heading back to my job 7.5 hours away by car, I tuned in a station in Terrell, Texas, KTER, to take a listen. It was really different from what it had been, a rather poorly automated country station. It had DJs and blended a mix of more uptempo than beautiful music instrumentals and really soft rock with a healthy does of country hits and some country oldies. It was really an unusual music mix.
I also noticed a lack of commercials. I heard one in the 8 am hour, that was it. This, I must admit really impressed me. You see, I was in Eagle Pass, Texas at a Top 40 that ran Texas State Network News at :55 and a commercial load of 24 units an hour (12-16 minutes an hour) was common.
You see Eagle Pass has a not very wide river separating it from Mexico where the much larger Piedras Negras is located. You had radio stations from up to 100 miles into Mexico and all of our sister city stations on the streets of Eagle Pass selling commercials for as low as 5 cents each. Even the undisputed market leader across the river only charged about $1.60 at that time, so we were happy to get $1 per spot for the top 40 I worked for. Simply put, the merchant argued for 25 cents he could hit as many listeners as he could spending a dollar with us and that listener to the 25 cent spot was likely a wealthy family that came to Eagle Pass to buy. It was a very valid point. Needless to say there were stations running just half a dozen songs an hour with the balance being wall to wall commercials across the river, so our 24 units was really 'more music' when you looked at the rest of the dial. So you can understand how a station with only one commercial in the 8 to 9 hour on a weekday morning was beyond cool to me.
Once I got back to Eagle Pass, I phoned the station. Gus Jones told me they needed a morning guy. I met with Gus the next Sunday and got the job. In two weeks I'd be back in my old bedroom and working at a station 30 minutes away.
Dick Zimmer had the station at the time. He was somewhat of a genius in my book. He had the nicest station. It had good equipment and no jock. If we didn't need it, it wasn't taking up space. He believed in radio's value and he knew how to design a format that would be seemingly from left field, yet finely tuned to the market even though it woukl take a couple of years to figure out what he knew.
My time at KTER was wonderful. Dick Zimmer and Gus Jones are remembered fondly as exceptional people, both with a great deal of wisdom, gentle attitude and the ability to understand intent versus just the end result. By this I mean, in your job you are trying to do the right thing but make a mistake. Instead of being raked over the coals, you learn how to do the task right without being torn down. In fact, the operation was so thought out you had no questions about how to do things.
I only stayed 6 months at KTER. In fact my reasons for leaving were two: first I had a mental block about calling people at 7:05 in the morning to tell them I would call them back at 7:20 to talk to them on the air. Second, I just didn't care for the music I played. Country was depressing to me.
Let me clarify. I was to review the local daily paper and find an event or personality that had earned a few column inches in the paper. I was to make my selection and call that person to give them a couple of minutes to talk about the same subject that was covered in the previous afternoon's newspaper. My mental block came from knowing how things were at my house. The 7 to 8 am hour was hectic between getting the kids up, dressed, fed and dashing out the door to play in traffic on the way to work. I felt I was calling too early and at a worst possible time. Many I called asked me to call back later in the day, for example. I just didn't like being pushy. My boss wanted this to be live, not prerecorded so it would be more on the spot and natural. I understood this.
What really impressed me about Dick was the insight he had of his audience. Keep in mind this was well before the Urban Cowboy craze, so country was just evolving from the rural music to a music form that could mix with other music. He knew his target and wisely chose the mix that would solidly hit the adults in the county bordering Dallas. Terrell and Forney were just being influenced by Dallas' sprawl and he knew that he could reflect that in programming.
He tossed the rules out the window and didn't look back. You see, I had been taught 'call letters, dial position, your name and time' started everything on the air you did because an Arbitron diary holder had to note the station and time. Dick knew KTER had been around decades as the only local station. Did they really need to be told 500 times a day what they were hearing? Anyway Arbiton didn't matter in Terrell. We were to say, exactly "KTER, Your Radio Station" six times an hour evenly spread out through the hour. Our name could be said on the air twice in a shift which was 6 am to 1 pm. Man, talk about a wake up call, I had to think when I cracked the microphone!
I was too green in radio to grasp everything. When Dick said to do the time between every song before 9 in the morning and the weather every 10 minutes, I never got what he was really saying. Indeed he intended for me to tell the audience what to expect that day in a conversational way, not read the forecast verbatim every 10 minutes. The time was to be given as read on a digital clock. In other words it was eight-fifty-one, not nine minutes before nine. In other words, don't make the listener have to calculate the time, tell them.
Listening to Dick DJ KTER was an experience. Dick did not care for the music, preferring Classical versus country. In fact he sounded just like the guy that does all the underwriting credits for NPR. Imagine that voice jocking country music and you know what I mean. But the real treat was how Dick ran his shift. You see he was out in the community all day. He made observations, talked to people and was engaged. His patter on air seemed as if they were tiny snippets of life and observations about Terrell rudely interrupted by George Jones or Dolly Parton. Dick made you a part of Terrell by listening. It seemed like song title and artist were just in the way and undesirable components when Dick cracked the microphone. I wish I had been smart enough to copy him.
Most of all I appreciate the value Dick had for radio. His spot rates were incredibly high. Buying a spot on KTER was going to really cost you but man was it worth it. Dick's maximum of 7 spots an hour and rule that you only played one spot at a time meant each advertiser was like a boat on the ocean. You were truly showcased and highlighted. In fact the commercial load was so low you might wonder how he made it. I think the regulars accounted for 8 units a day, at least 5 of these were news sponsors. There were others that might run a week or two or maybe a spot or two a week. Maybe one day for an hour or two did we every reach 7 units an hour and I think two of those were news sponsors. It was the weekends where lots of money was made. As I recall, after 1 pm on Saturday was paid as was every minute except for Dick's 30 minute Classical Music program on Sunday. We had plenty of Churches and some ethnic programming, all paid.
My favorite hour on KTER took lots of time for me. You see I opened up this 250 watt AM daytimer. It had a huge old transmitter that had to warm up about an hour before you fired the plate. During that time I was at the teletype machine going through every story, ripping it off and tossing it or putting it on a certain nail. These stories would be collected by a group of people ranging from Dick's wife, Maureen, to DJs at Dallas stations. All these people did short 3 minute programs covering many general interest topics that when mixed with news, weather, sports, business news, ag news, funeral notices and a buy sell and trade segment, created a fast paced, very interesting audio magazine that filled the noon hour.
I'm not sure how everything worked out for KTER under Dick Zimmer's reign but he did have the station for sale and after some time it went to the owner of the Radio Shack store in Terrell whose family still runs the station as KPYK "The Pick of the Dial".
ALL MUSIC all the time
It sure isn't the norm. Here's a small market, a town of 7,000 with an AM and FM combo serving the town. This is not a terribly isolated town but it's really not near any town of an equal size. In fact their signal gets scratchy by the time you reach the nearest population center of an equal size, 35 miles away. There is a town newspaper.
The new owner came in and bought the two stations cheap. They had 5 advertisers when he took over. By comparison, the newspaper had about 80.
When he got there both stations were satellite delivered formats. Local news had been stopped when the stations took their economic slide. Pretty much, there wasn't much local information on either station but people listened, mainly by default. By location alone, they had very few listening options, all distant.
The AM Country, FM Adult Contemporary were taken off satellite. Computers would run the stations. He felt classic country with select newer songs was best for the AM station and a dayparted FM that leaned a bit more toward classic hits during the day and a bit more recent music after business hours. It was tricky on the FM as it is a young, heavily Hispanic market but business owners are mostly 40 or so. You have to attract both. And he does.
As a low budget operation, he had to 'sell' what he had. So, he made what he did the greatest thing since sliced bread. And the locals love it!
The AM Classic Country and the FM, let's call it "Mix" format, are all music and NO TALK. Before you say this is a Jack FM, it is not. IDs every song are not really needed when you only reach maybe 10,000 to 12,000 people on a pretty much vacant radio dial. And remember everybody knows everybody by name here. He runs as many as 6 IDs an hour, or liners if you prefer. It might only be an ID every 30 minutes, all depending on the commercial load. The average commercial load during the day is only about 3 spots an hour. He adds a local PSA and if something is happening in the community involving the station, a promo for that. Most hours have a minimum of 56 minutes of music and that jumps up to 60 minutes about 7 pm.
There is no weather report. There is no community calendar. There is no news. There are no DJs. In fact, the only PSAs are those that strike a chord with everyone and are entirely local. I have heard PSAs voiced by the City, County and State organizations. I heard a promo for the station having a booth at a local rodeo inviting people to stop by. He does let advertisers identify the station (ie: I'm X at Y business and we work to the sounds of Z station).
So, with so few commercials, you might wonder how the guy does. Granted, a few spots are agency buys for local franchisees and chains. Verizon and McDonalds come to mind. A few locally owned businesses buy too. At a combo rate of $25 a spot for a thirty; double for a 60 (you get a spot on both the AM and the FM for $25). In fact, about 200 spots a week on each station is pretty much it. All spots play one at a time meaning you are back in music in 30 seconds but certainly not more than 60 seconds.
Every place you go in town, you hear either the AM or the FM station. People really do listen while they work and love the uncluttered format. After all, not a whole lot happens in such a small community. So, local news and such is not really missed nor is the weather which is not subject to such extreme swings you see in some regions.
He gets complaints from other radio people about being all music and ignoring everything else but I have learned that in heavily Hispanic small towns, music really sells. I'm not saying it would work everywhere but I truly admire how this small market AM/FM combo has made being an all music station something that is loved and appreciated. Not having the staff or income when he started, he squeezed the lemon and made some really tasty lemonade. Now, that's really smart!
By the way, he has a 15 minute Public Affairs show Sunday at 6:45 am. It is an interview with a community leader about a current community issue. And he could just run a non-local public affairs show instead.
What does he bill? Let's just say slightly north of $20,000 a month. No bad considering the latest county trend shows he has about 3,250 unique listeners between the two stations with an average quarter hour of about 350 almost evenly split between the two stations. Yep, they listen a bunch!
CAN WE GET A LITTLE MORE COW BELL?
A strange title, I know. Here's a small little FM that is churning out a format complete with plenty of cow bell for all you fans of the percussion instrument. A non-commercial, low wattage station blocked by hills, reaches a bit under 8,000 folks in their 50 dbu coverage.
The area is lush, rolling hills where narrow county roads weave among homes and small farms and dairies that dot the countryside. Many of the locals have lived in the area for generations, but this is not the poor coal infested hills further south and east, this is fairly lucrative farming land.
Still this is rural country where little stores and businesses dot small hamlets of a handful of houses. It is still a place people meet and chat at the store, the post office and the little cafes. They still shop in the county seat for some items. In many respects, some remnants of life about 50 years ago still survives. It is where neighbors know neighbors and everyone knows their local history.
The historical account that cows roamed free and could be located near the many springs that bubble forth in the area is somewhat of a basis for the station's iconic identifier, the cow bell. You'll hear that cowbell a lot. Every time check and every local announcement is accented with the cow bell. The liners have a southern draw.
Musically, the station chose a format that is mostly bluegrass and what is called 'old time music'. Old Time Music may not be something you know as a music term. In short, these are musicians that gather older songs from back before country and bluegrass split. Most groups learn the old songs from old 78 rpm records. Mix in a seasoning of old country and some Americana and you have their format. I can explain old country this way: not the Nashville Sound forward nor the western swing or rockabilly style either. I guess Hank Williams Sr. would be a nice example. All in all, almost 400 hours of music comprises the playlist and it is very request driven, even DJ selected within reason. Music is divided in several files and a 'percentage' of songs is required: ie: bluegrass, 50% evenly split between traditional and newer selections; 25% Old Time and 25% Americana, Gospel and other material used as a spice for the format of music. Their philosophy: if it's good, play it. Mostly there is a gospel song each hour.
For much of the broadcast day, they are live and local with the computer running 10 hours on the weekdays and 16 hours a day on weekends.
The staff, plentiful indeed, is all part-time. Most work about 10 to 20 hours a week. Even the plan for sales is hiring young attractive Moms to sell a day or two a week. They note a cute lady gets much closer to a contract for Underwriting than a guy and they have. The ladies choose when they work, so if childcare, a sick child or something unexpected comes up, they can adjust. They get a small guarantee and commission. The guarantee or commission is paid as a 'contract' wage with a form 1099 issued. For doing sales, that is an advantage since they can deduct mileage.
The jocks get minimum wage of sorts. They are considered 'contract' at a rate of minimum wage plus the social security rate one pays on a form 1099. They can't afford full time jocks. Simply put, they want jocks that can work part time because it gives you a good quantity of jocks to work the live hours and easy to fill a shift for vacations, emergency and sick days.
The traffic girl (spot scheduling) is handled by a high school girl. A local high school kid handles computer issues. They too are given a form 1099 at the same rate as the jocks.
The only paid salary is the station manager.
The station is live 86 hours a week and has a staff of 16 including the manager of the station. He said the part time deal helps him attract some seasoned jocks too.
The sales and traffic work from home. Naturally the jocks show up. The studios are not much: a two room shed/barn converted with restroom. Music is on hard drive and one cannot bring in music without the manager's approval. In fact, as security, any attempt is met with the computer requiring one to know the user name and password, a well kept secret (as the manager says it is always good to know a computer whiz kid or two). The studio is simple, yet functional although if a 4 person bluegrass band shows up, they might bump elbows hovering around the two guest microphones. And local groups do pop up time to time.
Hourly, the station has a community calendar twice an hour and the local forecast every half hour.
I admit these guys are new at the station, acquiring it for a mere $13,500 from a ministry that had the station since it signed on. The power is measly with a tiny stick on a hill, 30 feet, if I recall correctly. Their 60 dbu only extends about 6 miles, maybe 7 on a good day.
After 3 months they were off to a great start after exhaustive promotion. Reception from the business community has been amazing. They have 50 accounts on the air now. They keep rates quite low. The typical package works out to a little less than $1.20 a spot. And they run a good number of 30 second underwriting units an hour. On average it is 12 an hour. For example: Underwriting Announcement/Weather or Community Calendar including a spot from the sponsoring Underwriter/Underwriter Announcement and back to music. Such breaks are on the quarter hour. In fact, they are nearly sold out! That is quite a feat considering they only have a bit under $38 million in sales in the area from businesses that traditionally buy radio and virtually all those businesses are locally owned. Per the manager, they do better than the bigger commercial stations in larger small towns where local businesses feel threatened by the national chains and pay much more to reach their customers.
I must inject here: the station wins clients the same way I suggest the LPFM stations market themselves by selling the small coverage area so the client only pays only to reach people in their trade area. He noted the commercial AM and FM stations touted reaching the whole county and usually nearby counties, charging for that big reach, yet the little one location business reaches so many not within their trade area on the commercial AM and FM stations, paying for that right. Certainly he is right about this one.
So, here is an example of a small station really engaging the local area and doing good research. And the cowbell you hear several times throughout the hour is not the irritant you think, but rather fun as are the liners: all music all night, until the cows come home...then we start all over again. Even the media kit says local businesses can milk it for all they can with the station...bringing customers to their doors even if they don't know why they're there...the magic of radio. And their logo: a cow bell. The studios are called the barn and the station concept is based on the valley nicknamed 'Cow Run'. I just wish they were online! Maybe someday but for now they're happily busy being just the local station.
I shall also mention the station does not do any trades. Everything is cash on the spot. They keep a reserve fund for emergencies. The start-up was $35,000 including the purchase of the station and its relocation to its present site.
KDCY FM 97.7, Cotulla, Texas
I actually hope Mike Clark sees this. I worked with Mike at KITE FM in Kerrville. Mike had been the managing partner of KDCY. He occupied the desk in front of me. We sold together at times. He was a generous and kind guy that was honorable...a salt of the earth sort of person you were lucky to work with.
Mike had been a teacher. He was unique. What you saw is what you got. Never fancy in dress or attitude, he was down home versus a business guy. His attitude on sales, by necessity was to walk out with something, anything. I saw him drop a $100 package to $20 and smile as he said 'and that's how you sell'. I was thinking he made $4 in commission, hardly worth his time but to Mike every dollar counted.
Mike was a partner with another fellow at KDCY in Cotulla, Texas. Just north of Cotulla, I think at the next exit up on the freeway, was where the station was. They managed to put a tower up in a farmer's field and they had, I think, a mobile home or one of those building site offices for a studio.
It was a really low budget operation. A pair of cassette decks, a pair of Radio Shack mixers, a couple of Radio Shack microphones and a bunch of cassettes of music for the jocks to play. They simply could not afford more. The cassettes according to a lady I worked with who dated a guy that worked at KDCY said the music was in 25 or 26 minute sets on cassette. The jock played a side of the cassette and either ran commercials taped on cassette or read them, then started the next music sweep.
As Mike's desk was in front of mine I drilled deep for information, wanting to know everything in great detail. Mike was kind and patient enough to explain.
Mike, did you have local news? No, Cotulla has nothing going on. There is no news there. It seems a jock checked the weather at home and wrote it down so they could do the weather forecast.
Jocks got minimum wage. That was 6am to 5pm. They had a local guy that came in to do a Spanish language show from 5 to 10 each evening. I think the arrangement on the Spanish language guy was he got half of what he sold as a salary but I got the impression Mike saw virtually no money from the Spanish language show which really was no big deal...you pay a jock or let somebody work for free and when you're cash strapped, working for free, even if you aren't getting your 50% beats paying out cash for payroll.
I saw KDCY had a $5 spot rate. How'd you do Mike? Mike laughed at $5. He wished. He averaged $1. He'd take 50 cents. It didn't matter the rate he got, he needed to meet payroll so he took anything he could get at any rate he could get.
Selling in Cotulla was a lost cause, so Mike regularly hit the road to San Antonio, Laredo and other places under the premise Cotulla had to go somewhere to buy most of what they need, so why not ask for their business. So, he had pretty darn good luck selling mom and pop businesses in places like San Antonio and Laredo.
Look at it this way, you fill up the tank, jump in your car and drive a couple of hours to the city and start stopping off at businesses around 10 in the morning. You have a good 5 hours to sell and you have to make it count, so you need the more 'sure fire' places and you need the sale and check today. That is really tough. So, choosing the little business that doesn't see other sales reps is a good idea. I wouldn't doubt if Mike was selling half of them.
So, why was KDCY so destitute? Neither owner had money. Mike quit teaching to be a managing partner. His partner had been a jock and maybe a salesman. It seems the owner-partner needed a salary that he never got. You see Mike made a tiny, well below minimum wage pay, the jocks got minimum wage and the owner not in the station each day wanted almost every penny they billed as a salary. That didn't happen.
Running the numbers, they needed $8,000 if everyone got paid. The station did about $4,500 to $5,000 a month. How many spots was that? How about 5,000 to 9,000 a month all between 6am and 5pm. So, that's about 165 to 300 spots a day. If you look at The Sales Side you'll see you can sell a bunch of cheap spots instantly by simply selling mentions (business name with address or phone number) and needless to say when your average package is $50 a month and you're billing $5,000 that's a bunch of copywriting at 30 second spots. Now add in managing, doing the traffic (program logs), billing and such, as well as being the only sales person, to put it bluntly, Mike was likely sleep deprived.
Some might criticize Mike and his partner. I don't. I hold them in esteemed positions. You always work with what you have and squeeze every bit out of it you can. Mike knew just how to do that. He has nothing to be ashamed of. The average radio person would focus on some lack of something as an excuse. Mike refused to do that. He made the most of one of the most poorly equipped stations I know of in a market that was so dead it needed a tombstone. I have the 1988-89 Texas Almanac. La Salle County, where Cotulla is the County Seat, has a mere $39 million in retail sales. There are other towns in the county that had a few businesses but by far the bulk of the retail sales in the county is certainly the gas station/convenience stores at various exits. Back then there were 102 businesses in the county and do keep in mind a farm or ranch is a business (granted farms and ranches are huge because this is not rich farmland...in fact it's acres per head of cattle and you needed several farmers to raise hay). My point is even if Mike focused on Cotulla there wouldn't be too much billing.
KDCY signed on the air in December 1985 at 97.7 with 3,000 watts at 268 feet above average terrain. The station was gone by the time I worked with Mike during the summer of 1992. I know he joined us after teaching the prior school year, so I know KDCY was gone no later than August 1991. I don't know when it signed off. The studios were in Gardendale, an exit for a town not found on the Texas map as there is already a Gardendale in West Texas.
THE FLEA POWERED AM DAYTIMER
As told to me by Charles, his Dad was a radio guy, an engineer. He had a career of applying for stations and then moving them to larger population centers. His final project was a 250 watt AM daytimer assigned to a little community of only a few hundred folks. The town had virtually no business community at all, was old and maybe half the houses deteriorating because people had moved away years before. Not one business remained in the block long downtown. In a series of steps the station hoped to relocated about 70 to 80 miles away. Dad never realized that. A heart attack took his life.
Charles had lost his Mom to cancer about a decade before and Dad did not remarry. His sister lived in California, her husband in the military. Charles, then in the third year of college, inherited the station. He knew little of radio and didn't really care to know too much.
The Construction Permit was set to expire fairly soon. Dad had the little transmitter and the single unlit tower and ground system was in. A fellow engineer offered to get him on the air. His advice was to lease it. Charles asked around. A preacher was interested in the station. They struck a deal. He would pay the expenses and keep the rest of the income.
The preacher was to do a preaching and teaching format. In fact the preacher, while not blind, had eyesight too poor to drive. So, he set a mobile home out at the tower site and started the station. Charles said he was friendly and a nice guy, just more of a loner, likely because of his eyesight. The preacher seemed happy to mill around his house and venture out as needed. He felt a calling to do the station.
We talked about the station. It seemed the preacher had some connections and got several folks to buy time at the rate of $5 a quarter hour, $10 for half an hour or $20 an hour. In fact, the station filled up pretty well, considering. He got up to about $700 a week. His deal was he would fit them in the schedule near like-minded programs and if they had unsold time the client might get a repeat free.
Back then programs were recorded mostly on cassette. Other bigger broadcasters were sending CDs or were on the satellite dish. The preacher knew the little ministries and I will say, the ministries where they'd hit the record button on a cassette recorder and begin their program. The audio quality was generally horrible. One guy came to the station to do his program live every Sunday.
The preacher has little for a set up. The studio on a card table in a bedroom in the mobile home had a small mixer with three pots. It was a tiny handmade board not much bigger than a portable cassette deck. I say that because he had a portable cassette deck to play back the programs (yep, only one). Next to this was a bargain brand VHS recorder. He had that set up to record the day's programs complete with the preacher doing all the station IDs and such between programs. Once the day's programs were on the VHS, he rewound the VHS tape and repeated the programs during the afternoon while the preacher tended to other duties. When I spoke to Charles the preacher had arranged things so that 5 hours of paid programs aired each day and would then repeat. He maintained a 7:30 to 5:30 every day schedule, ironically the latest sign on of the year, in October before Daylight Savings Time ended and 5:30 being the earliest sign off time of the year, in December. He kept the schedule all year long. He was the only person that operated the station 7 days a week, 10 hours a day.
Yes, some of the programs were sort of comical. There was a guy that would strum the guitar and break in to song for a few seconds here or there. There were those who huddled around a portable cassette recorder's built in microphone to do a program with a click here of there as they'd stop and restart the tape. One fellow just sang without instrumentation. There was an old gospel group that sounded like the Carter Family reincarnated and quite frankly they were really good. And there was the fellow that did his half hour live. One guy recorded his show I learned, on his answering machine and even called it the Pastor's Phone Call. I was told a couple of people eventually used micro-cassette recorders once the guy got a good micro-cassette recorder. If you had to describe the station, it was a group of unknown folks with no ear for quality audio but it fit the folksy breaks from the preacher between the shows that always tended to be cut short because nobody figured out a C-60 cassette is really a C-62 with each side lasting 30 minutes.
I never heard what happened but I know the station lasted at least 5 years. I know the station eventually went silent and the license finally deleted. It never moved from the little town. I doubt the station could be heard by more than about 6,000 or 7,000 people. I'm guessing but I suspect many of those ministries eventually stopped and the station finally reached the point it could not pay the bills. That's just my guess, but having sold to ministries, especially smaller ones, they tend not to be very long term. Their money is usually used up anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. I wonder if more than a handful of people even listened. The preacher must have known he had some listeners. I heard him say he hoped that message inspired a person, giving her name, saying she was a resident at a nursing home in the next town.
TALK ABOUT A SMALL PLAYLIST
The AM daytime station is now long gone but at the time it was housed in a semi-trailer (ie: hook to an 18 wheeler). The station was automated. What few commercials sold, and they were doing okay at this, was selling a package where the clients got a certain number of spots, donated a prize, and each client was a registration location for the monthly prize package containing all the prizes donated by all the advertisers. Supposedly they did about $5,000 a month...supposedly about 14 or 15 clients getting about 3 spots a day although my memory might not be perfect on that.
The format was very unique. The following music formats were featured: Bluegrass, Country Favorites, Beautiful Music, Adult Contemporary Favorites, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s biggest Top 40 hits and Rock Favorites. I have seen a few 'schedules' for the station. One had a different format every 3 hours with a couple on weekends that were different. The other schedule was identical every day with 2 hour segments of each type of music. In this schedule, the station was on 6am to 6pm.
Here's the Small Playlist: Each music type was only the 'station assembled' Top 50. Now we are not talking current hits. For example: The 50 greatest Bluegrass favorites, the 50 greatest beautiful music favorites, etc. You get what I'm saying: you have 3 hours of Bluegrass and you play 2 or all 3 of those hours every day at the same time. Would it work? I'd have to say yes. The station stayed with the format a good while, maybe a couple of years or so. In such markets if a format isn't working it is gone in 3 to 6 months.
So, what might the schedule look like? How's this:
6 am Bluegrass; 8 am Country; 10 am Beautiful Music; Noon Adult Contemporary; 2 pm 50s, 60s and 70s Favorites; 4 pm Rock; 6 pm Sign Off.
A FRIEND TALKS OF ONE STATION
(Note: I add to his words to give deeper meaning to his statements only where his comments were not elaborated because they needn't be when speaking to a jock, as we were at the time, trying to get a decent paying gig). It was a short stint I really did not appreciate in the moment but grew more fond of as time went by. In the regret department, the Monday Morning Quarterback in me suggests I should have stayed put. Since it was a station where I stayed in touch for a few years, I think I knew my decision to bolt for that station with a format and more major market attitude a top 40 jock would aspire to 35 years ago only took me from the skillet to the fire as stations are never what they seem to be.
Four weekends was it. Two shifts a weekend. I usually stayed put but between fulltime gigs, it was simply a way to stay in radio until the fulltime gig came along. In hindsight, I didn't care for the music, at least not as a fulltime thing and it was not my cup of tea for jocking. I loved the fast pace, precision and energy of Top 40...all talk over music, lots of contests, listener interaction and an energy about like half a dozen Starbuck's coffees chugged in 15 minutes.
This was rural radio. This was mainly a bluegrass and old time country station where the jocks talked to you as if you were at the kitchen table in conversation with them. It was unhurried, unscripted and personable. The best jocks might recall a person's favorite signer and how that listener's health was as they play the song for that person or they might relate something rather humorous overheard at the local cafe. Simply put, they weren't polished, not really professional and mostly didn't do radio fulltime.
I was sort of a fish out of water although I was embraced, brought in to the fold and felt as connected as at any other station where every jock had everything in common with the next. Top of the list was always lack of money and that girl that didn't get radio, paying your dues and trying to keep your head above water while keeping that clunker car working. If we knew of Ramen Noodles back then, I would have bought stock. Making a big pot of beans or throwing a can of soup in a box of rice to flavor it, spaghetti with margarine and salt, a stew pot size serving of popcorn or toast and jelly were common foods we dined on since it was so cheap. Splitting rent for a couch was the only possibility unless maybe three of the jocks could share a place.
The station was fairly new too. The absentee owner had honed in on the town that sure was small because he knew it was poised to grow quickly. In fact it did. In about 7 years it was a pretty thriving place and the station was rolling in cash. But that came later. It was losing money as if a bank had an open safe.
Sure, the pay was only minimum wage. The manager only made $600 a month. The rest got $1.80 an hour. Most jocks worked 3 hours a day. Almost all had other jobs. In fact, one was the fire chief at the volunteer fire department. One was an insurance agent. There was a housewife and on the weekend a
It was a cohesive bunch. It seemed like each day in the late afternoon everyone came by to chat it up with one another. Forget doing production then. The place was full of talk and laughter. The coffee expense, borne by the owner, must have been substantial. It was a small party daily and all work stopped except for the jock on the air who was frequently joined by the others at some breaks. I was among that group.
For billing, the station was dirt poor. Almost all the billing came on Sunday mornings where from 7:30 to Noon was sold out with local ministries. A local garden supply had a program on Saturday morning at 9:30. As I recall, the weekday logs only showed 3 commercials and only 1 spot on Saturday morning. The billing, as you might suspect, was minimal.
It wasn't that the station manager was bad at sales. This was a tiny town with a very minimal business community. There were certainly plenty of small churches and they were indeed small, maybe 25 or 30 at a service, scattered over the countryside. I think the biggest had about 50. They answered the call for revenue. Most businesses, however, were quite small. In fact, you had to got out of town for almost everything you needed. Thus, given these facts, sales were likely pretty good, at minimum 2 or 3 times what the station manager made.
The station was all music. In fact you could play anything in the studio. That might make for a strange blend of music but we got calls, requests, that we eagerly accepted, so the station sounded pretty even although listening carefully you learned who loved a certain group and who leaned more bluegrass than old country.
There was no news but sometimes people would stop by a PSA. Usually there were 2 or 3 PSAs running and the boss wanted us to do at least one an hour. I was told that was 6 an hour before 9am in the morning. This was the day of teletype machines with UPI, AP and National Weather Service being the norm. We had none of that. In fact there wasn't even a local paper to glean local news. By having locals on the air much of the time, you got a sense of knowing what was happening in town, however. We didn't even have a way to get the weather forecast. In fact, if the sky looked threatening, we could place a long distance call to the big city NWS office to see if we had a watch or warning or if some stormy weather was headed our way but with strict instructions to write down the number, date and time of the call and slip it under the GM's door so he could validate it from the phone bill.
The station was classified as a Class A FM but I know we ran a 250 watt Crown transmitter and if I recall correctly, at 200 watts. As my inquisitive mind learned, the area was about to blossom and the owner wanted to operate at a lower power from a short tower until the area started to grow, then increase to a full Class A. He even claimed hardship financially that allowed the station to run 6am to 7pm instead of the 'minimal hours' (two thirds of the time 6am to 6pm and two thirds of the time 6pm to Midnight). That was reduced to 7 to 7 on Saturday and 7 to 5 on Sundays. I had the Saturday morning and Sunday morning shifts. My shifts covered over 75% of the station's billing.
My Saturday shift was music with 6 PSAs an hour until 9 am or normally about every 3 songs. I'd listen to another station to get the weather forecast driving to the station. For the remaining 3 hours, it was requests and a PSA each hour except for the gardening program. It was usually about 20 minutes at 9:30. I never knew the length it was supposed to be but the cassette tape was always clearly marked with the exact length. I played my sole commercial on the log somewhere between 7 and 8. On Sunday I was to play 'gospel' themed songs until 7:30 with I did with very little announcing and then go in to the paid religious programs all on cassette tape until noon. I recorded an ID that was long enough for me to switch out the cassettes since we had just one cassette deck. I cued all the cassette tapes between 7 and 7:30 to prepare for the remainder of the shift.
Indeed the area did grow. The station increased to a full Class A and did at least average as far as small market stations did. I know they sold a few years after the town began to level out on population and I'm guessing the guy that signed it on was able to make up for the losses and pull a decent profit out of the long haul. When I last checked in, it was satellite delivered country 24/7, had a local news guy, the station manager (different fellow) and 2 or 3 salespeople and an office/traffic person. Outside local news each day, it had no local programming. Talking to the news guy, he did a 3 minute to 5 minute newscast every hour from 7 am to 5 pm each weekday. He'd glean world, national and state stories from a daily paper and add local items to fill a newscast. I'm thinking the church programs were gone by then. At that time the town had grown to nearly 10,000 and the county had almost 45,000 people.
THE GOOD MUSIC STATION
A buddy told me of a similar station in a small town that really didn't grow but lost population over the years. This was a 250 watt AM daytimer. The station wound up moving to a larger town but that larger town wasn't more than a couple of hundred souls more than the town it left. It became a religious station and was doing about $4,000 to $4,500 a month from what I was told, far better than the station ever did back in the original town.
The owner had a big farm in the area and was tired of the 'immoral' music on the airwaves. His would be a 'Good Music' station. It was a take a 'No Doz' to stay awake kind of format. The owner sold fairly high priced commercials claiming the smaller audience was more refined, had more spendable income and they only played 6 commercials an hour, maximum. Considering this, the well respected fellow did okay. I doubt he ever broke even on the station, but he milked what he had until the milk ran dry. In other words, almost all the businesses did some advertising on the station. All the commercials were 10 seconds, voice only, read by the DJ except one the owner voiced claimed the client wanted him to voice it. The spots were on 3 by 5 index cards found in a little metal index card box complete with alphabetical dividers. In fact, 6 spots an hour was more of a wish than reality. I really doubt they had more than about $250 or so coming in the door weekly. I remember the wife doing the monthly billing (typed with carbon paper) and it was only a few envelopes her husband would take to each business personally. My last station had stacks of envelopes mailed monthly.
Being one that wanted to know everything about every station I worked, I made copies of program logs and made notes on the music library and copies of the media kit. The presentation was quite good. In other words the owner made a good case for buying the station. The station didn't have a copy machine so I had to slip out the material and pay for copies at a local store.
The music was lush instrumentals with at least a semi-classical piece every quarter hour. Music was on big reels. We had two in the studio, both manual without cues. I recall lots of Mantovani, 101 Strings and other such material. You might hear The Blue Danube Waltz or other known classical 'pop' piece in each quarter hour. The reels were staggered to create a good flow and the reels were numbered and assigned a rotation to make sure the flow was consistent. I think each reel was 2 hours at 7.5 ips. The liners and IDs were 'word for word' as on the card at the designated time.
Commercials were very few. I had a 7 hour shift weekdays and had to work one shift every other weekend. The logs I copied were average: about 10 spots a day on weekdays and only about 3 on Saturday mornings. I don't think there ever was a commercial on Sunday and now I wonder if that was according to plan. In fact, I was told if I had two spots in an hour, I was to air them at :15 and :45, not with the weather forecast that aired at :60 and :30. Even if I had no spot to play at :15 or :45 I had to read the liner specified. I was told I was not to expound on anything. If it was an unseasonably hot day, I was not to say so, just read the forecast as is. There was no 'high somewhere in the mid-eighties' but more matter of fact 'the high today in the mid-eighties' just as written by the weather service.
We did air a PSA each hour but it was never like PSAs on other stations. They were more generic like wearing seatbelts and such. Generally speaking, they were the 10 second reads from the Ad Council, handpicked by the owner. These too were on index cards on a ring and we read the next card in the rotation the following hour. I was told I was to read the PSA at :30 following the weather forecast if I had two spots in an hour, otherwise at :45. The owner said he promised one PSA an hour because the FCC really liked that. Although he and his wife were in Church every time the doors were open, they did not air Church announcements. I asked the owner why and he said it was because anything they wanted to announce was always concluded with the passing of the offering plate, so they had to pay for publicity.
Working there seemed rigid. My 'too long' hair and more vagabond lifestyle seemed out of place for the husband and wife who dressed their Sunday best each day. The school girl that replaced me in the afternoon was a truly kind innocent girl that was so cute but so tight laced I was the sort of guy her parents warned her about. In fact, when I left I gave her a hug and she became stiff as if I had overstepped my bounds. I wondered if a guy ever had hugged her.
The atmosphere was more like a library, refined and dignified. I was treated with the utmost respect and the owner and his wife were obviously kind and gentle people. I recall many times being asked to come into the owner's office. Each time, knowing I wanted to learn more about radio, he would offer me a lesson with useful information, clearly demonstrating his desire to share his knowledge with me. About once a week his wife brought something to snack on, usually something she baked for the DJs. Still, I felt if I had ever let a four letter word out, I would have been shown the door. If I had altered the format, the same fate. It was very rigid but quietly friendly and genuine at the same time.
I spent almost 6 months there. I got the impression the owner had the cash to run a station and it was their gift to the community. They obviously had no other reason but to share good music. They aired a 30 minute University produced public affairs program on Sunday mornings at sign on. They had no religious programs Sunday morning, not even the church the owners attended. The owner had a Classical music program he recorded on reel to reel that played every Sunday afternoon. He'd show up with a small stack of albums each week and disappear to the production room to record each week's program.
Aside from that, it was the weather forecast on the top and bottom of the hour. There was never a newscast, local PSA or local interview while I was there but I know the town had an annual even he announced for free as a PSA. I was told it was merely to announce the time of the parade and the day's activities offered.
This was in the day of minimum non-entertainment programming requirements. As the owner disclosed to me, each weather forecast was shown as a minute in length and as News or 3.3%. The weekly public affairs show was 0.7% and the Classical Music was listed as 'Educational' and 5.5% as it ran 1 to 5 on Sunday afternoon.
Ironically, the pay was not bad at all for some reason. I got $540 a month for a 40 hour workweek. Minimum wage was $1.80 back then, I think. My apartment that he found for me before I started, was a mere $75 a month, located over a garage at a private residence. In fact, he worked me hard the first week introducing me to every client on the station by taking me to their business. I suspect he was pleased to have an announcer that had a couple of years of radio under their belt, but then again, the way he was, he might have been simply helping me fit in to the community. Quite frankly, in my early twenties meant much of that intent was lost on me.
I understand the owner passed away around 2002 and as of a few years ago the wife was still alive. When I worked there, their children were already married, so they must have been near 50 years of age. She would have to be 85 to 90 now. I recall the people that bought his station, moving it up the highway about 20 miles and increasing to 1,000 watts, ran a format the man did not like. The Christian music was more contemporary. He didn't like anything that resembled contemporary music and he said he disagreed with playing two ministry programs back to back saying you need some gentle music between programs to digest what you just heard. Certainly a man from another era. Mostly what I remember from both he and his wife was a friendly subdued smile that said I was welcome there and appreciated. In fact, when I left, the old man slipped me a check for an extra $300 'to help me get a good start at my next job'. That said it all.
GREAT SMALL TOWN RADIO THAT ENGAGES
Small town radio is just plain more important in the Midwest. I had the chance on a recent road trip to hear a station. I was impressed enough to get in touch. Like most great small market stations, the music is the filler between the good stuff.
Agriculture is king here, so the station's full time farm director has a full day. An older fellow, he mixes country lifestyle with farm news in a 90 minute block starting at 6 each weekday. He does a midday block and an after the markets close wrap up. All in all, 2.5 hours of farm programming a day.
At 7:30, the milkman hits the airwaves. You see, back when milk delivery was happening, he delivered to the area. He knows everybody. When the dairy stopped the home delivery, he was hired to do a 90 minute morning show 7:30 to 9. It's all talk, chit chat, gossip and such with needed information such as news, weather and such.
At 9 there was the buy/sell/trade hour followed by a syndicated hour-length agricultural talk styled program at 10. At 11 a second syndicated agricultural focused talk show was aired.
At noon it was a news wrap up followed by 45 minutes with the farm director. At 1 pm the station did a 90 minute program called "The Kitchen Table" that gives the folksy feel of the show that took calls and had a number of local interviews. This was rather fast paced and moved along very nicely.
At 2:30 the first music of the day aired, classic country music.
At 3:00 it was back to talk with the afternoon version of the buy/sell/trade radio. At 4 a news wrap up and at 4:15 the agricultural news wrap up after the markets closed.
At 4:30 it was back to classic country music through the rest of the afternoon and through the night.
Naturally, the station had a high overhead but they had the billing to match. The small staff, a GM, two office staff, two salespeople, farm director, news director and two on air staff did a bunch of work. Except for Saturday morning, it was mostly music all weekend.
This AM station is owned along with a classic rock FM. The two stations bill about 1.1 million a year. Solidly, the AM is the cash cow thanks to all the talk programming. The agricultural co-op dollars are substantial. Everybody in town wants on the buy, sell & trade programs to the point they expanded to an hour, then added the afternoon version. The milkman doing mornings is a trusted friend of most in town. Heck, he has raided many listener's refrigerators (the milkman would go in the home and place the stuff in the refrigerator at many homes when both the wife and husband worked). In fact, they limited themselves to 30 second commercials in the news summaries to fit everybody in (9 minutes of news and 6 minutes of commercials in each block). The town is 7,000 but just over 40,000 in the county. The AM can be heard easily 35 miles in each direction. They have been the local station since the late 1960s. The FM arrived a couple of years later.
The beauty of this station, the benchmark I use to judge, is if I feel like I know everything happening in the town, as if I lived there, just by listening. If you ever say that Andy Griffith Show episode where a stranger came to town and knew everyone by face and about them, this station would have given such a person enough local information to do the same.
KBUX, QUARTZSITE, ARIZONA
Buck and Maude Burdette came to Quartzsite via New York City where Buck had driven a cab. They began KBUX in their home in Quartzsite.
Buck sought out local folks, borrowed their record collections and recorded tracks, back announcing each song played with a Legal ID every 3rd song. His reels were recorded at a low speed offering 16 hours on each. I heard he had a dozen such tapes. Obviously that initial music library expanded as years went by.
KBUX, in the days before the computer, was manned 16 hours a day, 6am to 10pm. It was all music with few exceptions. Maude did a weekly 2 hour show playing songs and gleanings from 'mother's scrap book' a hodgepodge of thoughts, wisdom and tips that were short, sweet and quite entertaining. For relief, a couple of folks in town would babysit the station a few hours each week so Buck and Maude could escape the never ending daily routine.
Aside from the music, Buck would phone the Yuma National Weather Service for the current forecast and then read any of the PSAs that had been dropped off at the station. He did this, I think at 8 or 9, 1 and 6 every day. A pastor they were fond of did a 5 minute weekday devotional for the station. On Sundays the nationally syndicated Salvation Army program was aired (Maude admired the Salvation Army's work).
When commercials needed to play, they would go to the studio, wait until the end of the song and it being back announced, play the commercial and restart the reel to reel deck. You see, they did not have an automation system.
Quartzsite is unique. The community of about 3,000 to 3,500 then, is in the desert with summer heat equal to Yuma or Vegas or even Death Valley. In winter, it was mild. And that brought the blizzard-weary snowbirds in their RVs to congregate from November through March. A big community event each February swelled Quartzsite to major city numbers in temporary population. And it is not a visually appealing town either.
Buck and Maude never cashed in on KBUX. Buck today me he might have a really good year or a bad one but about $15,000 to $18,000 a year was all the station grossed. Virtually all that money came in those winter months when the snowbirds were in town, easily making it 10 times the normal population that would swell many more multiples for a couple of weeks in February. In fact, by April, the local grocery store was the only advertiser, sponsoring the morning weather and community announcements.
As time progressed, the computer came to KBUX and their easy listening and beautiful music was replaced with lite rock oldies on hard drive with an ID every quarter hour. Cancer took Buck, so Maude continued the station. By then it was all music except the daily devotion and Salvation Army program. If somebody brought in a PSA they'd throw it in rotation to play a couple of times a day. The station ran 24/7 by then. In fact, their $6 spot rate for winter made for their entire billing. There were around 3,000 spots that played each year, all airing between November and the end of March and undoubtedly many in that two weeks when Quartzsite became a sea of RVs. By April you knew you wouldn't hear a commercial until November. And the same went for PSAs. There might be almost one an hour in winter and maybe 4 a day by summer although some weeks none were played, just an ID every 15 minutes in a sea of 24/7 music.
Marvin Vosper was buying the station when I last visited KBUX. He was a good guy to buy the station in my opinion, a nice guy and a person that would do Quartzsite right just as Buck and Maude did.
SMALL MARKET CLASSICAL
6,658 people in the 60 dbu and one of 35 stations on the dial. The choice: Classical Music. Granted it is only a 300 watt non-commercial FM, but classical is not a likely format choice.
The station has about the level of success financially that you might suspect, around $1,500 coming in each month. It is sufficient for the low budget operation.
Started by a small three person group that was involved with the local library. As you might suspect the library is where the small tower and base of operation is located. While the music is on computer, it is mostly voice tracked by a small group. In fact, a few live shows are offered.
One of the board members does a live weekday morning show. Specialty shows are mostly live. One board member does an evening show once a week. There is a weekly locally produced public affairs program at Noon on Saturday. The morning show, usually 7 to 9 or 10 in the morning on weekdays, is more akin to any other small market station's morning show. Frequent weather forecasts and community announcements mixed with friendly patter is the norm, but not typically found on a classical station.
The station feels it is realistic to say they have about 200 listeners that love the station. They have decent Underwriting support as well. I was told they have 8 local businesses that underwrite on the weekdays and the remaining two underwrite a specialty show. It was admitted a couple of these are staunch supporters of the library, so they're 'naturals' for supporting the station. He noted they only run one underwriting announcement an hour, crediting the sponsor with sponsoring the hour.
The classical format is fairly unique. It seems around 50% is the commonly played works of the masters like Beethoven, Mozart and the sort. The other half is lesser known composers, quite a few from Scandinavian countries. In style, the format is more romantic era styled classics, leaning more toward large orchestral works. If anything, the format might seem a bit more 'lush' than some classical stations. This is not to say single instrument, duos, trios and quartet music is not aired.
Sunday mornings feature Sacred Music and Chant, even some Church music with a certain leaning toward Catholic, British chant and Psalms, Moravian and even Mennonite blended in. One feature program offers historic performances with well known conductors like Toscanini, Fiedler and Munch (think plenty of RCA Victrola recordings).
While I like all types of music, including classical, I think it is pretty rare and actually fairly nice to see a classical station actually making it in a small community as the only local station for the town.
WVCA Glouchester, Mass.
WVCA was Simon Geller. You'll find a bunch online about the station. As a young DJ at the time working at a country station for a fellow that wished his station could have been classical instead, I phoned Mr. Geller in the summer of 1980. He was amid a huge fight to keep his station. Ironically, the very thing the FCC cited would no longer be an issue only months later but his fight dragged on.
The earliest days of WVCA are not as clear, but it seems Simon began the station with a Top 40 format, had a full staff and was making such an impact on the Boston Top 40s that a competitor offered him $50,000 to change the format.
It seems Mr. Geller had $15 to his name and $15,000 in debt, so he took the check and never looked back. While the story cannot be stated as correct, it seems a local lady donated her extensive classical music collection to Simon if he'd air classical music. That account stated he was not fond of classical music. Another story is Simon loved classical music and the music library was what he had collected over the years.
By 1974, Geller was running the station from 4:45 to 11 each evening. In 1980, he said that was because just covering the electric bill was a challenge.
Over the years, there were many articles written about WVCA. Time did a feature on him. The Christian Science Monitor did too. He made the radar for United Press International as well as the New York and Washington papers. All had a differing version of the station. I must conclude Simon either changed his operation to adjust for revenue, personal demands and such or he simply told folks what he felt they expected to hear but I think the former makes more sense.
One account touted he had 90,000 listeners. Another said 43,000. No matter, he was well listened to and obviously liked by more than a few. His legal battle with the FCC, dragging on 11 years, was financed by those listeners and that says all that needs to be said.
Back then, a station license could be challenged when it came up for renewal. The FCC required AM stations had to do a minimum of 8% and FM stations a minimum of 6% non-entertainment programming and doing the minimum was skating on paper thin ice. News, Educational, Public Affairs and even the number of Public Service Announcements were promised and proven at license renewal. In essence, if you opted to do 9% someone might challenge with offering 12% in a better rounded formula than you. In fact, the FCC felt Simon was not really serving the community. In 1981 those percentages were replaced with 'leaving those decisions to the stations and the demands of the market they serve. There is still the public affairs requirement, many times a 30 minute talk show at 6 am Sunday morning with subject matter determined by asking community leaders what issues and needs are of the community and addressing that on the air. 6 am Sunday is a popular time because radio listeners could care less about the show and not many people are listening at 6 am Sunday.
Geller's classical music library was on reel to reel, 37 in all, 12 hours and 40 minutes on each tape.
When I spoke to Simon in the summer of 1980, he said he was running 5:30 am to 1 am each day and he ran the same weekly university produced public affairs show from 5:30 to 6 every morning to appease the FCC. He said he made it off donations, about $1,000 a month.
In 1982, the broadcast day was 10 am to Midnight (the most commonly reported schedule) with under 1% of the broadcast day devoted to something other than music. Another article in 1982 said he ran the station "44 hours a week".
By 1983 the schedule was explained as 14 hours a day with 30 to 45 minutes of talk a day except Sunday. The article said he had received one $100 and three $50 donations in the prior three weeks. It noted he charged $32 a sixty second commercial.
1984 showed Geller on the air 13 hours a day Monday through Sunday.
For a 1985 account, it seems Geller had 4 local businesses buying spots but the majority of income came from listener donations. It was noted 99.8% of the broadcast day was music.
A year later, in 1986, he operated 6 am to 10 pm and was 'over 95% classical music'.
In 1988 it shows a 15 hour day quoted for operating hours.
The WVCA website says Simon ran the station single-handed from his 2 room basement apartment with his bed behind the transmitter (leaving the filaments on to heat the place on cold nights). He was a loner. Almost anyone would say he was a seemingly bitter, negative and grouchy old man. He didn't want advertising because he felt businesses wanted a kickback. He berated his audience for the lack of support and frequently was not kind in his words about the community he lived. He was uncultured. Having spoken with him, there was an inner charm and value. He was one who would not hold back, being brutally honest and always perfectly candid. Given much of life is spent reading between the lines, the transparency was refreshing. He knew just what he was doing and was far above pretending to be nice when he wanted to scream.
It was reported he'd sometimes forget to turn off the microphone and listeners heard him snoring, saying if he fell asleep, he'd soon awaken and say the station was having technical issues. He's answer the phone mid-sentence on the microphone or answer the door. Hearing the toilet flush was not uncommon. Being a one person station, if we wanted to see a movie, needed to run errands or go to see the doctor, he'd say he was going to do than and announce when he'd be back, signing off the station to do just that.
I love the WVCA of the Simon Geller era. It was real radio. And Simon wasn't a bad guy. If I can put words in his mouth, if I asked him about hearing the toilet flush on the air, he'd likely say "What's the big deal? And I suppose you don't take bathroom breaks? If a toilet flushing bothers you, you must hate yourself for having to go several times a day." As for me, a thousand more WVCAs would be nice!
KTEO 90.5 Wichita Falls, Texas
They didn't survive but what a cool concept: unannounced constant classical music.
KTEO ran 24/7 via computer. Toward the end they added the weekly opera from the Metropolitan and they added The Beethoven Network in morning and afternoon drive, obviously an attempt to change the tide. Even with the additions, $2,000 a month was the best they could do.
Wichita Falls is a city with outskirts being around 125,000 people. South in Dallas is the city owned WRR FM, a legendary classical station with the same format it had the day it began. WRR covers Wichita Falls like a blanket. You'd be challenged to break even with classical off an audience of 125,000, so having to make it against a station locals have relied on for decades for their classical music appetite and man, it is virtually impossible.
The station survived off of listener donations. Every hour or two they announced how to donate. The payoff was the program guide to plan your listening or discover what you heard. I saw the online program guide, about 100+ pages of every selection played. I do not know if the printed edition had advertising but maybe it did. I asked the membership levels but they didn't have any, just send what you like.
The music was excellent. It was a broad mix. Plenty of all the favorites and styles nicely mixed and a few 'different' selections like the theme to South Pacific. The music was not announced. The only break was the 9 word ID and time on the hour. Those were the only words you heard except for the plea for donations every other hour (although the person I spoke to a few years back said she couldn't recall if it aired hourly or every other hour). The exception was Christian Music 6 to Noon Sunday morning including a few classical sacred pieces. Since these were shorter, the station added a 15 word ID on the half hour from 6:30 to 11:30 am Sunday morning.
KTEO lasted a few years. In the end they hooked up to the bird to take a Christian Children's radio network.
I must note, this was years ago. In fact, I had a computer built for me with a 1 gigabyte hard drive and had 28.8 kilobyte connection. 56 K was yet to be a thing and big hard drives were only hoped for. I still recall printing that out.
In retrospect, I have learned from classical station program directors, news, traffic and weather are not too important to the classical listener. I have learned the familiar is just as important as the lesser heard composers and works. Classical music listeners like discovery. And they like to learn about the composition or the composer. The announcer is also important in imparting this information.
KLDK IN DIXON, NEW MEXICO
Shortly after the first round of LPFM applicants were hitting the airwaves, I spent a couple of weeks roaming the country visiting stations. My favorite was in Dixon, New Mexico.
I make lots of reference to the LPFM station being in the right community. If there is a real life example of what I mean, it is Dixon, a small valley community that one might consider as a more rural community than a town. Many farm and there's a vibrant arts community.
Dixon isn't big, maybe 1,200. The business community had pretty much been drying up for years. The last to go was the community's store. By this time the arts community had discovered the quality of life and beautiful valley, choosing to set up there in lieu of nearby more established communities like Taos. Dixon was off the main highway so the lure of the visitor had not had an affect on the community. It is as it was. The arts community that found a home here came to Dixon because Dixon was unblemished by tourism. The arts community and existing community embraced each other. The arts community loved the authentic traditional lifestyle and their works embraced the local traditions, so the community is unified.
A local family member left their life's earnings to the community to establish a library. Dixon is one of the smallest communities with such an active library. They acquired property to expand the service. This included a community center venue and initially vacant building yet to be utilized. When the town's store closed it's doors, the arts community worked to utilize some of the library's vacant property for a community store, a co-op style.
That store is a marvel. Always welcoming locally grown and produced product, it is a mix of local items and standard grocery fare including health foods. The store quickly became a support for the community as well as a needed service mostly manned by volunteers. It is still that way today.
KLDK-LP, per my conversations with Clark Case, the guy that was a force behind the store and the station, was offered a spot for a studio by the library (in the building with the community room and the store). In fact, the library paid the electric bill and provided the phone, if I recall correctly. It seems the monies needed came mostly from community gatherings that benefited the the station ranging from concerts to other activities.
When the station hit the airwaves about all the expense they had to cover was maintaining the equipment and covering the music licensing. The all volunteer station was capable of getting by on very little money. And that money came in without effort because of sense of community. The people of the valley wanted a station. In fact, Clark said they had 4 shows sponsored at $250 a year. A cafe in Embudo offered the proceeds from a local weekly coffee time at the cafe.
The station seems to have about a dozen or more volunteers that produce their own shows at the station. Most are music oriented but some cover topics of interest to the community such as a weekly show on water rights. A couple of regional shows that cover subjects of interest over the region air as well as Democracy Now. There was a Bedtime Children's Story program the library was working on archiving so KLDK could run a story nightly at a designated time when there wasn't a local volunteer on the air.
Musically the station is variety in format. Being computer driven much of the day, the station's musical mood transitions through several genres of music as the day progresses. It might be jazz oriented in late morning, for example.
Each hour, on the half hour, a local PSA airs. School children do the top of the hour legal ID, something that has locals listening for their child. In fact, the library has a big all weather bulletin board between the store and the library along the highway. Any news is posted here. It might be a 12 year old looking for babysitting jobs or lawns to mow. There are announcements of weddings with the whole community invited to the dance following or the person selling farm eggs and more are tacked to the three 4 by 8 foot connected boards. It was explained each week the station pulls everything on the board and develops a community newscast that plays two times each day.
Most shows are in the afternoon or evening or on weekends. All are welcome. When no show is airing the computer runs things 24/7. And people listen, in fact, most seem to prefer their community station to anything else on the dial.
From the outside, a community station in a community of maybe 1,200 taking in only about $1,000 a year might appear to struggle. When the STL needed work, the dollars came in from the community. So, don't let the small size audience nor the low income fool you. This is a healthy, vibrant station likely with more willing support and more listeners than many, many other stations.
I love KLDK and I love Dixon. My dream would be to do radio just like this in a community just like Dixon. I think those of us in radio really want to serve the community and know we make a difference. A place like Dixon excites me because of how KLDK fulfills their mission.
It is a blurry photo, but here's a photo of the studio in two photos, one of a volunteer at KLDK in the studio..
ESSENTIALLY A LPFM IN A SMALL TOWN
A whopping 126 watts ERP from a 50 foot stick, this little non-commercial FM is cherished in this small community. The actual town is unincorporated and termed a census designated place. It's about 1,000 people. Including the coverage of the station, about 1,225 live in the 60 dbu. There's not a bunch of radio stations on the dial in this area. Go 15 miles in one direction and there's a town of 200. Another 15 miles the other direction is a town of about 2,500. North and South you have to go about 30 miles to find a town of at least 200 folks. While several towns appear on the map, they are shown because there is a church and cemetery at the location and a few have a few houses. It is rural indeed. This is true small town radio.
The station came about after the volunteer newspaper stopped publishing. It wavered between a 2 page 8 1/2 inch by 11 sheet to a full fledged 12 page tabloid that appeared each month at a few local businesses. Some think this is what killed it. The paper was printed at the county seat in the next county by the publisher of that town's paper. This meant selling subscriptions and charging for the paper. It meant getting all the dollars in line to pay for the printing. In the 2 pager days, the bank let them run it off on a copy machine. When the lady that spearheaded the paper left town, the paper never resumed. Anyway, the town wanted more immediate news and they were fiercely proud of their little school. A plan was hatched for a community radio station.
Lots of care went in to building the station and developing it's sound. The community seemed split between country, pop and classic rock. The average adult was 49 years old. To reach the adults you had to bridge the gap. They did. I marvel at how they did it. Consensus is a word I use a bunch but their plan personifies this. They centered on pop and looked at country songs everyone knew even if they didn't listen to country. They sought out classic rock tunes everyone knew, even the country music lover. Adding a song at a time because, as the founder said, everybody knew it and could sing along, the music library developed. In the end, with all the songs loaded in, there was enough to go 28 hours without a repeat before adding in the local information.
The 'hot clock' if you will, resembled full service radio stations. You had local community announcements on the top and bottom of the hour plus the local weather forecast at 15 and 45 past the hour. The founder said the folder of announcements always was full enough to take about 3 minutes or so if you read everything. But repeating everything every 30 minutes was just plain boring. So, the newsy items were divided up to make about 5 segments, so that 3 minutes of information gets aired about every 2.5 hours. Birthdays and Anniversaries are announced and taken from the school produced community calendar, an annual moneymaker for some school related activities. The founder, Erik Chase, said "it keeps 'em listening longer".
Since the Community Boosters run the station, an organization similar to a Chamber of Commerce, part of their mission is to support the local business community and promote shopping locally, Underwriting is a very important factor for the station. In essence they are a small town station not unlike that little AM in that farm town you encountered back in the 1960s or 1970s. They admit that runs contrary to the thinking of non-commercial radio but are quick to point out the line is fuzzy because without a healthy business community people can't make a living and if they can't make a living, the town fades away as people move away. So within the rules, they promote local shopping because it is actually serving the community in much the same way the news, weather and such serve the needs of the community. In essence, the station is there to serve the town and in doing so, carefully does so to not violate FCC Rules.
I should note, most small town businesses advertise not to say 'come on down' or 'see me for the best price' but rather to say you are an active part of the community and you hope the consumer will see you instead of driving out of town to buy. So in this respect, the awareness Underwriting allows is the perfect venue for such a small town business.
This community has a bunch of little businesses. In fact 70 are on the station every week. Eric Chase explains, "We have a very active Boosters club. We embrace the whole area and we are very upfront that we don't like freeloaders. We tell businesses if they'll put $5 in the kitty every week and help us with some volunteer time here or there we can have a great town but if you won't do that we sure aren't going to encourage folks to shop with you instead of going out of town. You're with us or against us." Erik said they host lots of events in the community and they can give back to the businesses for the $5 weekly membership. About 1 in 15 businesses don't buy in but even the tiny businesses do. Erik noted one fellow with a sideline business only generates about $5,000 a year but he makes sure his $5 a week comes to us because he wants his town to remain vibrant.
As a perk for that $5 a week, the radio station gives you 5 announcements every day. Sure, 25% play after midnight and before 6 in the morning but who cares! At pennies per announcement, it doesn't matter. Each announcement can be up to 30 seconds. The copy includes the business name, location, phone number, a website if it applies, what the business does, the hours of operation and sometimes a little history about the business or why it started. It always includes that the business is supporting the community and is a member of the Community Booster Club. The station runs two messages at a time, always with weather and news items (meaning at :60, :15, :30 and :45) with other messages airing at about :07, :22, :37 and :52 as needed. At this point there's 14 to 16 business messages an hour in 7 or 8 breaks.
All the music is set up on the hard drive as well as all the other elements of programming. To go live, you don't need to think too much. Unless you want to play a certain song or such, the automation will do lots of work for you. But the station is live and local on weekdays, at least during the day. Generally about 5 or 6 in the evening, as Erik put it, "when they roll up the sidewalks we go back to the computer all night".
The town was on a route from one of the last dairies to offer home delivery and when they ended home delivery, Joe got a nice chunk of cash. He knew everybody and almost every home's refrigerator well. He asked to do mornings. He is on the air 6:30 to 8 every weekday morning. Erik said "Everybody knows Joe and has for years. He's a part of the family for everybody so it's like he's nursing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table compared to the typical morning DJ. The Fire Chief comes in after that. In fact, lots of business owners do a show, some daily, as do members of local clubs and organizations. In fact, a local conservation group (not the so called tree hugger type) works on keeping the local river clean and builds appreciation for nature, even hosting some community gatherings and bluegrass concerts is very active with the station. Their volunteers account for about 20 hours a week of live, on air volunteering.
I should point out the live volunteers aren't there to promote their business or cause but simply to be a member of the community keeping the community company just as two of the local church pastors who also volunteer. They're simply DJs and what they do off the air is not the subject matter of their show.
How might the station do? Maybe the Main Street studio has something to do with it, but Erik Chase says if you walk in to a business and you don't hear the station, it's really odd. "You can drive up to the cafe when the weather is nice and car windows are rolled down and everybody has the station on in the car. I never would have thought the station would become a part of so many people's daily lives. I'm still amazed when I think about it." Asked if anything needed to be changed at the station, Erik, with a smile said just the pothole in the parking lot but that he knew a guy for that. Erik is heard 2 to 3:30 weekdays when he takes a break from the insurance business he owns.
A TINY FM NON-COMMERCIAL STATION
This station is in a very tiny town. In fact, only 197 live in the 60 dbu. The town is maybe 65 people and a second town in the 60 dbu has 62 people per the census. Both towns are on county roads, not highways or even striped 2 lanes.
Back when the town settled the folks brought their traditions from their motherland. Their rural setting kept much of the culture alive and made the population the sort that did for themselves, developing close ties with neighbors.
In the 1980s the community saw their school close but the slightly smaller town took in their students. Then the smaller town's post office closed. The bigger town kept theirs. Over the decades people moved away and business doors shuttered. In fact the prevailing thought was both towns were rapidly becoming ghost towns. The locals would not stand for that.
The larger town started a remake of their town. They bought old buildings and restored them. They took over the school building making it a community center and offered to rent the place for events.
In the end easily a dozen non-profit organizations were doing their respective work to preserve and build back the quality of life. For example, when the town's last businesses shut down, the cafe and store, non-profit groups stepped in and opened them up again. In fact the store offered the post office free space if they'd remain open.
Amazingly the 12 non-profits combined have about $200,000 coming in each year. The groups include a Women's group, a men's group, a garden club, a historical society, the Community Club that does a bunch, a club of the local farmers and ranchers, the conservation group, the fair committee, a restoration committee and a couple of others.
As fate would have it, a fellow that played bluegrass music was looking for a place where some of his musician friends could come out and play. He rented the center one day a month for 4 months. He even invited the locals to stop by to hear them play and suggested if folks wanted to sell food they could do so. The locals enjoyed the musicians and the food gave them some extra cash to do more. In fact, after the 4 months was up they thought why not have a monthly Bluegrass Jam and we'll do it ourselves. They did.
The result is the Bluegrass Jam put them on the map. They got a grant to put in RV spaces behind the Community Center and the visitors spurred others to action. Little shops sprang up. The annual community fair was revived and so were the almost forgotten community events that happened in the past like the town picnic, the bonfire on the first night of summer and more. A non-profit, a conversation group that promotes enjoyment of nature and keeping the local river clean, hosts a couple of events in the town green (aka the grassy field by the river dubbed the town park).
Another group took an old log cabin from an original family and moved it by the town park, opening it as a library thanks to some grant dollars.
There are two towns. The town of 65 is the mover and shaker while the town of 62 doesn't do much.
In the town of 65 you have 10 businesses. I've mentioned the cafe and store. There's the seller of goat milk handmade soap, the lady that does pottery, a person that harvests freshwater pearls from the river and creates settings for them, there's a fiber seller, a small bookstore, a greenhouse flower grower, an antique shop and a candle maker. In the nearby town there's 3 businesses a store with a single gas pump, a guy that makes fishing lures and a wood furniture maker. Keep in mind these are not big income shops. Even a few don't claim businesses in the classic sense, but a dairy offers milk in mason jars, butter and ice cream in summer. A farm sells fresh eggs. One fellow have some bees and sells honey. There's the lady that makes cheese (and they say she's really good at it) plus a lady who bakes by order. Except for the baker, the store carries the products in their inventory.
There are 13 businesses and only $335,000 in sales. The two stores and the cafe account for $250,000 of that total, so the remaining businesses are usually at homes or an outbuilding operating with limited hours.
You have lots happening. There are 7 annual community events in the main town excluding the annual fair and the Memorial Day tribute to the fallen. A couple are a Santa coming to town with parade not long after the community Thanksgiving dinner. In the other town they have a barbecue hosted by the fire department, a Memorial Day service and an annual school reunion. Between the two town's events, there are about 2 reasons a month for folks to visit for some activity.
The two towns have 3 churches between them. It amazes me that a tiny church with about half a dozen attending Sunday services can host a
The community is wise. The groups make sure the state hears about the events so they can be promoted by the tourism arm of the state government. This really brings in the visitors that would likely never know of the town.
With this description you might be wondering how a station manages to operate. They think outside the box for sure. To play at the monthly Bluegrass Jam, you have to be an all acoustic group and you can only play traditional songs or your original compositions. There's that performance fee on copyright songs the community center does not want to pay. After all, it is free admission and if they had to pay those fees they'd like need to charge admission. Because of this, the station suggested they'd record the performances (there are 8 groups on the stage each month) and sell CDs of it. They'd give the musician a cut and the station gets a cut. Lots of attendees preorder CDs at the event, paying for them on the spot. As a side note a fellow video records each show and sells them. Each month attendance ranges from 150 to 500 people depending on weather and time of year. This is a huge chunk of the station's budget.
Because the area is ignored and isolated, the station has a little news-sheet. It sells ads and carries newsy items. It is free at area businesses and public buildings. The library donates the use of the copy machine if the station buys the paper.
With such a small population doing so much, the businesses and the non-profits, all give a donation to the station in appreciation for the promoting of the area. They give about $25 to $75 a year. It's not much but actually not bad considering local business sales and how much each non-profit works with financially.
The station does no Underwriting at all. If they need some cash, they say they need to refill the fruit jar. That keeps the cowbell ringing with the legal ID on the hour amid a sea of thousands of songs that range from old time to bluegrass, from classic country to
In dollars, the station did about $5,000 their first year. They tripled that the next year and now vary between about $15,000 and $20,000 a year these days.
It is hard to imagine a station with fewer than 200 in the listening range but I imagine it is great fun being a part of such a community and all they do. I asked the founder about how the area's population did so much. He said everybody is so busy with the non-profits, it's amazing they can find time to earn an income. He noted most of the population was over 50. For him, he runs a business from home. That day he still needed to mow the grass at the cemetery and then drive the school bus dropping off the kids at their homes. Just a typical day, I suppose.
MY WORST JOB IN RADIO
It was in a border town. There were several owners, most being 'silent' owners. Most were really nice folks but only put up the money. There was one owner that was involved as well as a Managing Partner who got 'sweat equity'. My boss was the Managing Partner. I knew it was a bad decision to say yes to the job in a few days. Employees told me nobody had lasted more than a few months and there were other bad things such as the poor fellow that was fired but nobody told him until the next payday came around 2 weeks after he was terminated.
For example, I was promised a gas trade but then told "There is no gas trade. I just promised you what I needed to to get you here.
I was working about 12 hours a day and was required to be at every weekend function the station had a hand in, meaning 7 days a week and about 70+ hours a week.
The owner that you saw a good deal admitted he had been an errand boy for the mafia when he was in junior high. His ways of dealing with people must have been influenced by that early job. He was wealthy, not by his talent but by screwing people over.
After a couple of months I was called in for a meeting to explain why I took 2 hours for lunch. I was told I had to work 40 hours a week. I said I took 2 hours because I came in about 5:30 am, worked until 11:30, and was back by 1:30 to work until 7:30 pm or so. It ticked me off so much I told them to designate the 40 hours I was to work. I told them I'd love to only work 40 hours instead of 70. They said if lunch lasted beyond an hour I was fired. I went to hour lunches. I tried going home after 40 hours but the calls from home were pretty constant, so I just went back to the original schedule.
I was to sign a non-compete agreement. I didn't like the wording. If it said I agreed not to work for a certain length of time within the area, I would have signed it. But it said all I did on the air transferred to the station, including all bits and characters and by signing I gave the station the right to all concepts, bits and characters nationwide.
I would be asked every couple of weeks about that non-compete. I'd claim I had a call on hold or something like that to stall them. In a few weeks that became "I have to produce this spot right now. I'll slip it under your door before I leave". Finally I figured that was getting old, so I said I had set it on their desk last week, that they had it. That worked and I said they needed to give me a copy to sign when they never found it. Luckily I was busy and so was the Managing Partner so I made the excuses last 6 months before I was fired.
At about 5 months I got a call at 3:30 in the morning. It was the young lady I had doing overnights. The involved owner was there, drunk, suggesting she play an album so they can get to know each other. I told her I'd be right down. I got there at 3:40. There he was, drunk, asking me what I was doing there. I said I always came in about this time to prep for my morning show. I asked what he was doing there. He was speechless, fumbling to come up with a legit reason. He left.
That afternoon he was in my office to say the overnight girl was horrible, an embarrassment to the station, and I was to 'let her go'. I made no brownie points when I said it was correct she was just learning and that was why she worked overnight, but that she was a major contributor to the station and a hard and trustworthy worker. That was the absolute truth. I had rather have managed 10 of her than the staff I had. She was the star of the staff in my book. She wanted to learn it all and willing to help out in anything that increased her knowledge and ability. I told the owner I needed her on the staff and she was staying. He was not happy and nor was I being in this position.
A couple of weeks later I was called in to the office. I was Station Manager. I was told the ownership disliked my programming directive. You see, it was 1987. We were a small market top 40 in a youthful market. The sales side was having trouble selling because we were not 'adult enough'. They asked for help. I hand-picked classic rock tracks that seemed to do well with the young demographic as well. I added one an hour, two if the commercial load was minimal enough for a second fill song. They didn't like that. Granted nobody was playing classic rock on a top 40 for oldies. It was all recurrents and hits then. Their response was to leave the station manager position unfilled and demote me to Program Director. That's not a typo. I was demoted to program director because they didn't like my programming decisions.
Two weeks later I was fired. No reason offered. I asked. I was given a two page letter stating I had methodically tried to turn the staff against ownership, had accepted payola and received drugs through the mail at the station. If I signed the letter I could have my final paycheck. I kept my cool for about an hour but got nowhere. After all, nothing in the letter was true.
Finally, frustrated, I told the owner to call the police if he didn't hand me my paycheck right then. He said no. I left the room, returned with a bulk eraser and promised to bulk every cart in the station then destroy every piece of the equipment and I felt I could cost them tons of money before the cops got there. The owner said I was bluffing. I didn't say a word, but left and walked in to the studio. I got my paycheck right then.
A few days later I was at the competition where I was hired to sell advertising. Four employees of the station I was fired from begged me for an 'in' to the station. It seems they tore up the station looking for my non-compete agreement. They even gave employees a lie detector test. My boss, a competitive guy, hired their people that applied. He knew that would really disrupt the competition.
As amazing as this seems, it is all true. It needs no embellishment. Sadly there are at least ten others with stories about like mine that once worked for the station.
I was so disillusioned by radio after this station I decided I was done with radio. I interviewed for manager trainee at a retail chain.
I was angry enough at the station, I began a systematic approach of swaying the clients the Managing Partner had on that station to move over to mine. I swayed 6 in my first year.
The real revenge came a couple of months later. By then I had learned a PD at a station in a top 100 market had taken the Station Manager position for less money. One day bounty hunters raided the station and took him in. It seems back in the top 100 market where he was the PD of a popular station, he was drunk when he left a station function. He had an accident. One person died in the other car. Once he raised bail he high tailed it to the border. The plan was to find a job, save all the money he could, then go across the border to Mexico. He spoke Spanish and English. He didn't get across in time.
A few years later I learned the Managing Partner was caught. On the border there are some business owners that prefer pay in cash. If they paid in cash, they got a discount. That cash went in his pocket. I don't know how it worked out but he never went to jail. I can only guess. The owner that caught him on camera was the owner that was a message boy for the Mafia when he was in junior high. I suspect he didn't get off without some form of 'repayment'.
The move to sales was the best thing for me. I'm one of the few that has had the opportunity to learn radio from the programming and on air side, then the sales and management side. I see one of the problems radio has is many Managers did not come from programming but rather from sales and have no experience in the programming side. So, that bad experience caused a great opportunity for me. There's a reason I say I'm lucky.
In fact, I came to that job when the previous station I worked for sold. I got out 6 days before the format changed. Only two night jocks survived the format change. All the others woke up a week later unemployed. I was 2 days in at my new job that day. In fact, the managing partner at this station had called me to ask for some advice, then offered me the job as Station Manager after he got some free advice. In a way, regardless of the bad experience, that itself was sort of a stroke of good luck. I had done some contract work for that managing partner at another station years before and he was a really nice guy back then. I think there was just something about that station that changed him.
By the way, the station finally sold a few years back for $175,000. When I was there the station was billing about $30,000. Perhaps the string of bad experiences created such a revolving door of employees they never could get in to the black. Their spot rate didn't change for about 20 years, if that's any indication. Fortunately a good company bought them a few years back.