Career Capsule: Started radio in college and by my junior year was asked to be program director at the university station I was at. Was asked to stay on as a full-time PD upon graduation then asked to be GM after a year. That was 1988. I continued as GM and KGTS grew into being the Positive Life Radio Network where I stayed until 2013 at which time I was asked to join the WGTS 91.9 team in Washington, D.C.
Kevin, tell us what’s new at WGTS… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
The COVID-19 crisis. It’s at the top of everyone’s mind and is consuming almost every part of our lives. It has not only changed our team’s conversations, but it has changed how we communicate internally. We are a social group at WGTS 91.9, so it’s hard to be separated, but the team is making it work with a mindset of intentional communication.
My personal emphasis right now is on keeping the team informed, focused on their purpose, and connected to each other. The on-air team’s outward focus is keeping our listeners connected: with each other and with us. While our focus for years has been on building a true sense of community with our listeners, during these virus days we are going even deeper with them. I feel it’s also important that we continue to plan for the future and take actions now to make it great. We will come out of these difficult days, and when we do we don’t want to “ramp things up,” at that time, we want to be there already with great momentum – fully present for our listeners.
Last August WGTS opened its new broadcast center… can you tell us about that?
It was an answer to prayer – a prayer going back many years – to be able to move the team to the new ministry center. We now have windows!! What a difference it makes to have room and creative space for the team to be their best.
From the beginning, we’ve remained steady with the message that this is the listeners’ home, this is their ministry center, we are simply the caretakers. We have many reminders of this around, from the engraved brick columns with donor names, to the photos on the walls to videos on the meeting monitors. This is the listeners’ home. We have images of listeners everywhere as it is them who we are here to share life with – to share Christ with. The move went well – challenging at times for sure – but it went well.
To go from the first walk-through of the open and empty space, to the lease negotiations, to the extensive architectural design, to construction buildout, to equipment installation — and all in 16 months! It was a real scramble, but the team did it! Our office team moved in August 4 and the broadcast started about four weeks later. What a celebration as our longest-employed team member, Spencer White, cut the red ribbon and the team cheered and ran through the doors!
What is the best managerial advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best advice I’ve received is to always remember that it’s about people. People as in the team and also the people we serve through the broadcast. We use a lot of data to inform our decisions both on the team end and on the listener end, but at the end of the day, it’s always about people.
You cannot take the human equation out of what we do – and that means we have to be willing to let it get messy at times, because people are messy. We all come to the table with our baggage, which is not something to be avoided, but something to embrace and lean into.
The worst advice… to always wear pants to work. Not that we shouldn’t wear pants. I’m a big believer in pants. I always wear them. I’ve just been blessed with great advisors over the years and can’t think of any bad advice they’ve given. Actually, there was a time when I was advised to let an employee go – that employee ended up being fantastic for years to come! I’m so thankful I didn’t take that advice. (I’m talking ancient history here by the way.)
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
Ah, the perennial question that often includes the phrase, “It depends,” when being answered.
Multiple Christian stations offering various types of programming – even with style overlap – is a good thing. Different broadcasting styles attract different people which means more people growing closer to Christ. Where there is programming overlap, well, competition generally raises the quality, which is good for the listener, and for the industry. If the quality is not raised, however, we end up with more wallpaper stations that slowly but surely dwindle into irrelevance. They can become like the many large cathedral churches in Europe that have been nothing more than tourist stops for years. Whether a nationwide network or a single-stick station, remaining relevant to the needs of our communities should always be our focus.
In 2018 WGTS transitioned its ownership. Tells us how that came about… the changes, etc. And advice to a station that may experience the same?
How much room do I have? Ha! I think I could write a book about it all someday. The station began in 1957 on a university campus. Over the last 15 to 20 years it was almost sold a couple of times, it was talked about at numerous other times, and it was something that seemed to continually hover over the organization.
The current leaders in the stakeholder organizations wanted to protect this media ministry for the long run and decided that the best way to do so was to carefully create a nonprofit organization which would purchase, own, and operate the station. The ministry now has its own nonprofit governance system with board members who are 100 percent dedicated to WGTS 91.9 and its mission.
Advice to others? A number of organizations have asked me about it actually. The questions vary, but there are two common threads; 1. Fear of being sold and dismantled and, 2. Issues that come with parent organizations who must focus on their core mission (which is not broadcasting), leaving the radio station on the sidelines. This lands them in a place where they neither thrive nor fail – a sort of limbo-vanilla middle ground. This kind of middle ground makes it almost impossible to develop forward thinking and driven teams.
Advice if you’re facing this possibility? Pray. Be bold. Build good relationships. Seek outside counsel. Plan carefully. Believe. Pray some more.
This year WGTS set a goal to stock every major food pantry in the greater Washington, D.C. area with food to take care of every family in the region. How did this initiative come about?
Honestly, our listeners were off to an amazing and fantastic start! And then coronavirus landed on us. We had several incredible Friday afternoon food drives (well over 2,000 pounds each time) before we had to postpone the drives indefinitely because of the need for social distancing. We plan to kick it into gear again when the time is right, and I’m sure that our listeners will come through big time.
This week one of the food banks we worked with shared how grateful they were. “If you hadn’t done the big food drive with us we wouldn’t have had enough food for the large need we’re seeing now because of the layoffs. Thank you!” It doesn’t get any more powerful. We believe God allowed us to work with the food banks that needed it most right before the virus hit the D.C. region.
The food drives are part of our larger Hands and Heart Initiative. For years now we have brought Hands and Heart Projects to our listening family, most local, some national, and a few international as well.
People of the D.C. region are incredibly generous. We believe that stewardship of this amazing radio signal God has entrusted to us includes leveraging it for good in many ways – including helping others through our Hands and Heart projects. We love engaging others in being the Hands and Heart of Jesus to the world.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
The truth is, Christian radio’s biggest obstacle is the same as mainstream radio – keeping the attention of people in a world with thousands of options at their fingertips.
With over 70 percent of radio listening happening in vehicles we need to really understand the future challenges of ride-sharing and self-driving cars. We need to understand the new reality of a dashboard that’s for sale to the highest bidder, and we need strategies for overcoming these obstacles. We need to make sure we’ve changed our mindset from being broadcasters to being ministry content creators.
Let’s start with incredibly compelling content and significant investments in marketing – outdoor and digital. We need to recapture home and work listening through apps and smart devices. We need to come together to buy back space on the digital dashboard of vehicles. (Think of Tesla’s recent announcement that radio is not included in their upgraded digital dashboard, but Netflix, Hulu and YouTube are present.)
The second biggest obstacle is also the reason Christian radio is so important. As time marches on, interest in spirituality is gradually waning, and church attendance is dropping (when we look at the country as a whole.)
Let’s acknowledge that we should be more than a place on the dial without offensive language, and more than a nurturing place for those who already believe. Don’t hear me wrong – those are both incredibly valuable and important pursuits, but we shouldn’t stop there. We are called to be so much more.
In a metro region like D.C., every religion in the world is represented, in significant numbers. Let’s carefully consider our evangelism role. Let’s develop special components of our ministries that will speak to the needs of those we wish to share Jesus with who have never heard of him. Let’s be intentional. Let’s experiment with new methods of reaching out and plan for a great future.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
It’s probably nostalgia as much as anything, but I still love listening to Casey Kasem on old American Top 40 reruns from the 70s once in a while on the iHeart app. Not him specifically, but I think of the jocks at the stations (that I wasn’t supposed to listen to) that impressed me, that made it entertaining, compelling, that got their message across in so few words.
As a kid there was a Christmas vacation where I left my clock radio on all night and stayed awake as long as I could. I just couldn’t believe that there was always someone there. (And in those days – there was!) I couldn’t believe someone stayed up all night to spin the music and hang out. It was like magic to me. Intriguing.
Influences include longtime (I’m talking the 1980’s here) CCM radio friends like Todd Isberner, Bob Augsburg and Lauren Libby. Professors Bullock, Hannum and Dickinson in college who believed in me and took a chance on me. And to be honest, the people I work with everyday are my greatest influences – they inspire me, challenge me, and I learn from them all day long.
A huge shout out to my entire WGTS 91.9 team! Serving the Nation’s Capital comes with unique challenges, and they rise to the occasion at every turn. I absolutely love what God has invited us each to do. It’s an incredible honor and there is so much to come. I’m tempted to share with you some of what’s coming up in the next year, three years and five years for WGTS 91.9 – but I’ll keep that under my hat for now.