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Dusty Rhodes Interview

Dusty Rhodes
Chief Development Officer
WGTS
Wash DC

Career Capsule: It’s been over 40 years since my initial involvement in the CCM industry. It was while I was doing weekday middays at a mainstream Top-40 music station, I began hosting a weekend CCM radio show I created and produced called The Open Door, playing songs and weaving a message between the songs. This was before there were full-time CCM radio stations around the country. In fact, at that time the only places you could hear contemporary Christian music on radio was if you found independent CCM radio shows buried on mainstream stations, usually on the weekends or overnights. As people discovered it, it generated quite a response from listeners!

Fast-forwarding through the years, I have enjoyed serving in a variety of roles and responsibilities such as an air talent, Program Director, General Manager, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Development Officer, Senior Vice President, board member, and have also consulted radio and other nonprofit organizations on leadership and fundraising.

 

Dusty, tell us what’s new at WGTS… any news, changes etc… and what’s new with YOU?

I have come full circle! I was born in our nation’s capital and raised in its suburbs. My first radio paycheck was while working at WMAL/Washington DC which, at the time, was the city’s consistent market leader at a time when radio stations dominated with 25 and 30 shares of the audience. Needless to say, my time at WMAL was invaluable and served me well during my career.

I love serving now at WGTS 91.9/Washington, DC partly because I have always had a heart for my birthplace, this important city, and have cared about what goes on here. Working at WGTS is definitely a way I can help impact this area for Jesus.

WGTS Marconi Award for Religious Station of the Year. Pictured L-R are Johnny and Stacey Stone, President/CEO Kevin Krueger, Chief Development Officer Dusty Rhodes, Exec. Dir of Strategy Mike Agee.

 

We have been experiencing some growth both externally with outreach and internally with staffing. Our President/CEO Kevin Krueger and the leadership of WGTS 91.9 carefully navigated this ministry through the pandemic the last few years. As with many stations around the country, our measured audience declined yet remained committed in their financial support. This enabled us to continue expanding our missional outreach, launching a new full-power 50,000 watt FM signal at 88.3 in June 2021 over what is called the Eastern Shore (Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach areas). We have also been blessed to add additional staff. With this growth in both wider outreach and internal capacity, we have been better able to meet the needs of our growing audience from our local communities.

 

In addition to being recognized as a Best Christian Workplace in 2021, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) recently selected WGTS for two Marconi awards – Religious Radio Station of the Year, and for Podcast of the Year for our We Need to Talk podcast series.

 

How do you balance work & family, how important is it for someone in Christian Radio to ‘have a life”?

 I am a proponent of working and leading from a healthy soul, and I believe that is attainable. You asked how to “balance” work and family. I have learned the hard way at least for myself that a goal of living a “balanced life” is an elusive goal, which may be why I can’t find where Jesus encouraged us to live a balanced life. But I do observe Jesus in the scriptures living a life of rhythm when I read how he lived; observing the customs of His day, rising early in the mornings to spend alone time with the Father. I think that is attainable and is a key to working and living well despite our challenges, just as we can see Jesus led well despite His challenges.

 

What is the one accomplishment you’re most satisfied with in your career?

Rather than choose one accomplishment, it was actually discovering “the why” behind my accomplishments that has brought me more satisfaction than any single achievement. A few years ago I spent time taking inventory of my life including successes and failures, spiritual gifts and professional talents, what drained me and what energized me, and it all helped complete a picture of myself how God created me. I saw a clear pattern from college days to present days, the areas where I tended to excel the most and were the most fulfilling both professionally, fell into one of two categories, leadership and fundraising, and more at the strategic level than tactical. That was a big help because then I also learned what I did not need to spend time on because I’d likely never achieve enough satisfaction to make it worth the effort.

 

What’s something you’ve learned about Christian Radio due to the pandemic, that you didn’t know before?

WGTS leadership has been having a lot of internal discussions around pandemic-related issues and other industry challenges, growth of air talent, as well as obstacles in our industry.

 One thing we observed during the COVID years was while the number of donors able to support us decreased, our financial support overall increased. It was a bit of a surprise albeit a pleasant one, and something nonprofits experienced even outside the Christian media industry.

 Also, though we were already aware of the speed of change, the pandemic season taught us just how quickly things can change. While some activities came to a grinding halt like concerts and our many local community-wide events, it accelerated other things such as the need to harness new technologies. And when the culture wars heated up, it affected us at the heart level and, I think, helped deepen the appreciation we had for our ministry’s ability to penetrate certain barriers and still impact the hearts of thousands each day, giving them hope and encouragement through those tough times.

 

Reflecting on changes in the industry over the years what is one that you feel had the most impact on Christian Radio?  

There have been numerous positive changes in our industry over the years which could be considered significant. I think back to the 1980’s when Christian music radio found much favor among mainstream TV news stations nationwide and getting stories on-air due partly to the apparent novelty of rock music artists being Christian. The 1990’s saw a proliferation of new Christian music stations launching and with much more fanfare from the public than seen in recent years. The 2000’s saw several large Christian music stations attaining the #1 ranking in their markets.

But perhaps the word consolidation represents the kind of change having a most significant impact on our industry; consolidation of the entertainment industry, consolidation of radio companies, consolidation of the music business, consolidation of ownership, consolidation of platforms. While it may give us some scale to attempt some new things, Mike Agee, our WGTS Executive Director of Strategy said recently, “with scale we became more cautious, less likely to take a chance on a song, an artist, a new on-air talent. Service of consolidation debt is the driving force instead of service to mission.”

 

On air talent has always been at the heart of Christian Radio, where do you think the future personalities will be found?

Again, with consolidation we have possibly become more cautious with even the hiring and training of air talent. Notice how Christian music radio sounds similar these days across the country, and not just the songs but also in between the songs. With tighter budgets, voice tracking is easier than growing new talent. But as we see now, that might be short sighted, as talent is proving harder to find.

But when we start looking again, I think we will find them where we have always found them; behind the counter at a coffee shop, at the register of a grocery store, or perhaps at a crosstown mainstream station.

During my years at WAY-FM I loved seeing us hire many of our top talent straight from mainstream radio such as current morning show host Wally (formerly at Disney Radio and 99X/Atlanta), or when I hired Kevin Avery from a classic rocker in Augusta. We also found a lot of our newer, younger talent from colleges. In fact we hired so many students from Cedarville University over the years that we affectionately referred to that school as our farm club. But I still believe one of the best methods to find new talent is to mentor our own such as what we’re doing within the Christian Music Broadcaster’s (CMB) organization.

 

Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?

 I think among the biggest obstacles we face in Christian media is, unfortunately, ourselves.

 When it comes to growing our financial resources, we need to think beyond the common “value proposition” often used during fundraising saying “your gift keeps us on-the-air” and instead think more about what it means to impact our culture and reach more lives and what it will take to do that.

When it comes to leadership, we cannot treat our staffs in hurtful ways and think we can justify that because of ministry results that continue to occur. How we get things done matters more than what we get done, in most situations.

 

Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?

The one who readily comes to my mind is Willard Scott. He was an extremely talented professional and had a heart of gold. I wish everyone could have known him. He was best known as the weatherman on NBC’s Today Show for many years. But before that I grew up listening to him as one of Washington, DC’s popular DJs. When he was the top weatherman on TV in DC, I visited with him and received much wisdom and advice that guided my early decisions and served me well all these years.

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