Career Capsule: Bill Sammons is president and CEO of The Bridge of Hope, Inc. He co-hosts mornings and manages WKNZ-FM, 88.7 The Bridge in Milford, DE (Salisbury/Ocean City, Maryland). Bill started his broadcasting career at an AM/FM combo in Delaware in 1976 and has worked in a variety of formats and also in television news at a CBS affiliate in Maryland. He put Delaware’s first Christian station on the air in 1990 (WKNZ) and also owns and operates a video production company called Watermark Productions.
Bill, tell us what’s new at WKNZ… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
It’s been an eventful 18 months. In the summer of 2015, we finalized the purchase of 88.7 The Bridge from Eagle’s Nest Church to The Bridge of Hope, Inc., a new non-profit. A few months later we started remodeling a larger, new building located on a major highway and last March we moved into new studios and offices. Our new facility is 3 times larger than the old building, and in addition to great offices and studios we also have a dedicated prayer room and a Community Room that is set up like a coffee house. The Community Room has a stage, lighting, sound system, video monitors, and is wired to the main studio for live broadcasts. In addition to concerts, we are having weekly bible studies for ladies, hosting the Financial Peace University classes, and hosting many other organizations and events.
What are some Christian Radio issues that you find are unique to your market (station/network)?
I saw a quote once that said, “You are unique. Just like everyone else.” I doubt that any of our issues are unique to us. We all work hard to stretch our dollars, serve our communities and produce the best broadcasts possible. The location or size of the market doesn’t really change those challenges. Mostly there are just extra zeroes at the bottom of the spreadsheet.
What is the best Managerial advice you’ve been given? The worst?
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of great people, and I’ve read a lot of good books, so it is hard to pick the best managerial advice that I have received. But one of the best tips in recent memory came from Randy Bronkema, who has served alongside us via his position with Advocace. Randy has encouraged me to block out time on my calendar to think and to dream and to listen to God. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day busyness that we lose sight of what we are here for. Getting out of the station and devoting time to thinking and dreaming is vitally important for any leader wanting to catch a fresh vision from God.
Some say the more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
That is a great question, and above my pay grade. But it certainly is a question I have thought about. We waited 13 years on the FCC to approve our application for WKNZ, and then began our fundraising efforts two weeks before the economy crashed in 2008. Two years later, we scraped together enough funds to get on the air with a barebones staff of 2 full timers and a couple part timers. Two months after we signed on, a national network bought two signals in the market and started playing basically the same music as we were. I called them before they launched and explained our situation, and asked if they’d consider putting an alternate format on their two new stations so that we wouldn’t compete for the same listeners and donors. They declined, and told me that they would actually HELP my station by making the music more popular and that we would do better because of them. 6 years later, the jury is still out on that one. But, I do know that having them in our market has made our station better. Competition is good. It makes you work harder and smarter. We play to our strengths and super serve our community and let them play to their strengths. They have a better signal in the Metro, but with 25,000 watts, we cover a big area that they do not reach. We’ve thrived, and they haven’t missed any meals either as far as I know. There certainly is a limit to how many stations with the same, or similar, formats can survive in a market, but generally speaking I don’t think having competition is a negative thing. In fact, I would like to see our station grow and add signals – so I would be a hypocrite if I said otherwise.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your show?
My co-host, Denise Harper. We’ve done morning radio together, off and on, since 1991. When we started 88.7 The Bridge, I told her I would only do the morning show if she did it with me…and that I would quit the air shift if she ever left. She produces the show, and brings the spiritual depth that I lack, and I can’t imagine being on the air without her.
Where will future Christian radio air talent (programming/on air) come from?
Our newest announcer, currently doing weekends, was a contestant in a singing competition that we sponsored. I liked her stage presence and ability to connect with the audience, so we asked her to come in and record an audition. She’s a great future talent if she chooses to be. My point is, the talent is out there… we just have to be able to find it and then train them. Look at Tom Miner. He’s what, 15 years old? 🙂 And thanks to the guys at Christian FM and WGTS and others, he’s killing it. I also think of Erin Branham with Shine FM in Baltimore. She was working at a bookstore when someone from the station suggested she try radio. In my opinion, she’s one of the best in our business. There’s no lack of talent. You just can’t always wait for them to find you…you have to find them, especially in small markets.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Lack of vision would be the biggest, I think. Many of us do things because everybody else is doing them. We need more innovators, more thinkers, more risk takers, more creativity among our ranks. I could list all the other obstacles, such as financing and weaker signals, etc…but radio stations perish because of a lack of vision.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
I have many friends and mentors in radio, so the list is long. A few that come to mind: Paul Martin, who was working for KLTY in Dallas when we met at an RAB conference in 1994 and he acted like he didn’t notice I was from a small market station in Delaware. He’s been a friend and mentor ever since. Jason Sharp, who we hired right out of college for this first radio job. He met his wife here in Delaware, and then left to make a huge impact at several stations and in our industry nationwide. Jason is one of the wisest men I know. Frank Reed, who probably wouldn’t know me if I walked into his studio. But I listened to Frank when he was sandwiched between Imus and Stern on WNBC, and I was so excited to see one of the best become a leader in our format. He raised the bar. Tom Lewis, who now mostly does fundraising for Cross International and some stations, including ours. Tom is on my list because not only does he ‘get it’, but he has the biggest heart of just about anybody I have met. The first time he cried on the air talking about kids in Uganda, I thought..’oh no. Here we go.’ Then later that night at dinner, just the two of us talking, he was telling me a story about those kids and he started crying again. The Christian radio industry is better because Tom Lewis is in it. And, Jeff Twilley, who has been chief engineer for a number of stations in Delaware and Maryland, and currently works for mainstream Delmarva Broadcasting Corporation. Jeff had Stage 4 cancer and was at a chemo treatment in 2009, when the Lord told him to help us get on the air. He said, “Lord, I am going to die, how can I help them?” The Lord replied, “You help them and I will help you.” Jeff was totally healed, and almost singlehandedly put 88.7 The Bridge on the air…totally pro bono.