Dusty’s first radio gig was mornings and General
Manager at college radio station WGMB/Bridgewater, VA 1974-1978,
including a 1977 summer Programming Dept. job at #1 ranked WMAL/Washington,
DC. After college graduation, he landed overnights then middays
1978-1982 at mainstream Top 40 WCHV, Charlottesville, VA’s
top-rated station, winning Billboard Magazine’s Radio Station of
the Year. Next he did mornings and PD/OM 1982-1993 at Christian
full-service station WPIT-FM in Pittsburgh, PA (now WORD-FM).
While there in 1988 Dusty won the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
newspaper’s Top Morning Personality contest from among all radio
formats. Then nearly 18 years ago he joined WAY-FM by launching
WAYF-FM/West Palm Beach, FL and served as General Manager of
that station for its first 8 years, winning GMA Station of the
Year in 2000. Later Dusty moved in 2001 to join
founder/president Bob Augsburg in Colorado Springs, CO to open
up WAY-FM’s new home office and serve as Chief Operating
Officer, overseeing the launch and expansion of several stations
and departments. In 2005 he was promoted to Senior Vice
President of WAY Media, Inc.
How has WAY-FM evolved over the last few years?
have had to “face the brutal facts” as we observe the same
challenges everyone else in our industry sees; challenges that
affect how we will function. Areas include access to music,
distribution of content, emerging mobile platforms, the use of
social media and other digital opportunities—and that’s just the
technology side. There’s also the increasing importance of
having unique talent and content, changes in how donors prefer
to give, the weaker economy and its impact on local business
support, new rules and regs from the FCC plus finance,
fundraising, PCI and other compliance issues, and potentially
negative legislative issues on the horizon, just to name a few.
light of all this change, WAY-FM’s leadership has been very
intentional to stop and consider “why does this ministry exist”
and “what things must not change in order for us to
fulfill our purpose?” We revisited our Mission and Core Values,
looked at who we are trying to serve and what those results
should look like. Speaking for myself, I think it was a rich
time together as we reconnected with our purpose, reaffirmed the
quality of our people at every level of this organization, and
reset our sights on improving what we do and with a fresh
context for why we do it. We’re still working on those
questions; it’s a process.
Like many in our industry we realize most of our impact on lives
for Jesus and most of our revenue to support that impact still
comes mainly through our terrestrial signals. But we know that
model may not last forever. So we no longer see ourselves as
just a radio organization. We still want to grow our signals,
yet we know we must expand in new areas beyond FM. At WAY-FM we
have taken some tangible steps that demonstrate this.
start with, we changed our name by dropping the FM. Our
non-profit organization is now WAY Media, Inc. because we feel
that better represents who we are today and the direction we are
moving. Our radio stations will retain the WAY-FM brand because
it still holds significant equity among our radio listeners.
Next we budget separately for digital media initiatives. This
disciplines us to think about it all the time, to think
differently about it, to plan better, and also measure results
in that area. This has already accelerated changes to our
websites and mobile applications.
Fundraising is changing. But again, identify what needs to
change and what must not. Our philosophy has not; still
biblically based and donor centered. Yet the tactics do change
as our donors change. For example, the digital side has
afforded donors more options for how they prefer to give, while
at the same time it has also afforded us new opportunities to
help them feel connected to and informed by the ministry. And
because budgets keep growing beyond what on-air pledge drives
can sometimes deliver, we have ramped up initiatives in
foundation funding and planned giving.
2. Has WAY Media made any changes due to the
economic situation, or been affected in any way?
yes. We sadly made some gut-wrenching decisions about cutting
things and reducing staff. That really hurts because then you
can’t accomplish things you know you want to. And you are
saying goodbye to some amazing folks you believed in or you
wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. And for the first
time in our history we instituted a salary freeze for a year.
But in tough economic times you can’t cut your way to success.
You have to innovate your way there. So eventually we added
more experienced sales staff for the business side and focus
more on selling the digital side, created a new year end on-air
pledge drive-type event for the donor side, sold some
non-strategic assets, explored how to do more with less,
upgraded at least four of our FM signals and, like I mentioned
earlier, launched two more channels of funding.
3. How does WAY-FM connect locally with markets?
Technically, though we may be an international organization now,
with our newest radio network affiliate in the Philippines (and
soon in the UK), one of our core strengths is having boots on
the ground in the local community and doing life with our
listeners. We live there, shop there, go to church there and
basically work hard at impacting each community we can through
the talented local staff and volunteers at our radio stations.
This is manifested in local concerts and other events we produce
ourselves. We also connect by being a conduit. If there is a
flood, hurricane or other similar relief effort needed, we help
mobilize our radio listeners and social media “friends” to help
their neighbors; basically helping them express their ministry
to others through WAY-FM.
feel compelled at this point to include our air talent. Now
some may think, “they’re national talent so they can’t
connect successfully with my local market!” They can if
what they say and do and how they do it matters to your local
listener. Our talents Brant Hansen and Wally of Total Axxess
connect effectively with listeners in every market. They are
authentic, entertaining and relevant, and engage the radio
listener and digital media user in ways that makes the physical
location of all parties involved less of an issue. The meaning
of “local” is not always synonymous with the word “location.”
4. What plans do you have for WAY Media to grow
Personally I keep a SWOT chart (Strengths, Weaknesses,
Opportunities, Threats) I update periodically as internal and
external factors evolve. It helps me return to a 30,000 foot
view occasionally while working down here in the real world.
Our General Managers and Executive leaders are very good at
thinking strategically. Our founder/president Bob Augsburg is
always looking up the road for opportunities for new outreach.
So as we try and finish 2010 strong and look ahead to 2011,
we’ll certainly explore a number of things to see how we might
function more efficiently, provide more training and development
for our people, upgrade or launch new revenue streams, test some
new ideas, keep developing the digital area, explore new
strategic ministry partnerships, and upgrade more signals or
find new ones.
5. In your opinion what are the biggest obstacles
facing Christian radio today?
First, a sidebar: I love that brief scene in the movie City
Slickers where actor Jack Palance says to Billy Crystal,
“You know what the secret to life is? One thing. Just one
thing. You stick to that and nothin’ else…” (you know the rest)
addition to some of the issues already mentioned, I believe
there may be one obstacle that is not often discussed honestly
and openly. I think, for whatever reason, some of us don’t yet
fully embrace the mission aspect of what we do as the most
important “one thing!” There, I said it. Are you sure you want
my opinion on this question?
we are “Christian media” then we have, by default, signed up for
a mission whether we’ve thought about it or not. Some of us
have been around long enough to remember how this whole industry
“thing” got started, and for most of us I’d say it wasn’t to
work hard to build a business, because what really mattered
instead was that “one thing” and if we made money at it, then
that was considered a bonus.
To be clear I am
not saying anyone in our industry is in this for the wrong
reasons—I wouldn’t know because that’s a matter of their heart.
However because of the daily pressures of work we may at times
find ourselves (myself included) too close to the forest to see
the trees, and reminders every now and then may be helpful.
What helped me
step back from the tree line recently was a message from thought
leader Mark Ramsey. He addressed our industry to a packed room
at Momentum 2009 and later elaborated in a personal phone
conversation with me, and said the following:
business are you in? If its all about Cume, then go
mainstream. Christian radio is not an Arbitron audience...You
have a Mission so why not build it up and go with it…Where is
the proof of what you do for my family and me, besides being
on-the-air? Get beyond the claims. Get off-the-air and into
peoples’ lives. Are you in the local radio business or the
local action and cause business? Its about community action.
Bring people together and do good…Its not about ‘you.’ Its
about what you help ‘me’ do…Give me a cause to patronize. Other
stations are not gonna do this for me. Are you just a stick
with a signal, or do you make a difference in my life and the
lives of others? Tell me my dollars are being put to good
use…Define your Mission and what success is.”
need to be good business people, for sure. Budgets and
financial reports are vital tools. I believe its more honorable
to God to function in the black rather than in the red. And
certainly non-profits still have that fiduciary responsibility
and an accountability to their boards. But a Christian media
ministry does not exist for the chief purpose of just operating
a radio station to end the year in the black—anyone can do
that. Instead a ministry exists to make an eternal difference
for Jesus in a life and in a community by fulfilling a unique
purpose articulated by its Mission, however that uniqueness is
defined by that organization. That is the “one thing.” Said
another way, all aspects of the organization (sales,
programming, concerts, digital media, engineering, IT,
promotions, finance, HR) do not exist to serve the budget.
Rather all of those aspects, including the budget, exist to
serve the Mission. When I talk with donors, they “get this”
without any problem. And they expect us to “get it” too; its
why they donated their hard-earned dollars. And if we can
meditate on this “one thing,” embrace that, let it permeate all
that we do in our organizations, and commit ourselves to it, I
believe we open the door wider for God to do some things we
haven’t even thought of yet to reach more people for Him in
these challenging times. If we don’t, then I think we may be
needlessly creating our own obstacle that can interfere with
what He is trying to do through us.
6. What (if any) Christian radio stations do you
consider as innovators today?
longtime friends Tim McDermott and Jon Hull and their KSBJ team
in Houston are right on with their program of mentoring other
radio stations. It may fly under the radar of some, but that is
very significant work they are doing for the Lord.
And Jim Hoge who I first met in 1993 before he started Z-88.3 in
Orlando, they just keep growing. They keep doing the right
things that reach more people, and that inspires their donors to
join them in their efforts.
7. Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years?
Who knows? Things keep changing constantly and in significant
ways as we’ve discussed. I’ve been reading the writings of
others smarter than me who say “long term planning is no longer
5-10 years but now 1-3 years!”
think a major piece of the puzzle is answering a question we’re
learning how to ask at WAY Media. What does our customer
value? And the answer lies not in us but in them, so we
have to ask the customer, and then we have to ask them again,
and then again, keeping in mind they are always changing, and
usually a few steps ahead of us. It seems they hold the answer
to this question. And choosing to make the necessary investment
of time and resources to get at the answers may determine who,
five years from now, are barely surviving or clearly thriving.