Career Capsule: Does a 12-yeas old, recording songs of the local Top-40 station KCLD in St. Cloud, MN and practicing “ramping” up songs in my bedroom count? My first real radio job was in 1988 at small christian station in the back of a Big Bear store (KCFB) in St. Cloud, MN where I ran music off reel-to-reel and introduced Focus on the Family & Chuck Swindoll. My first night on the air we had tornado warnings and my PD came in and pretending he was in the station helicopter doing weather reports with me. From that night, I was hooked and knew what I wanted do with my life. After graduating from broadcasting school in Madison, WI I found myself doing nights at that same Top-40 station I listening to growing up. Then there were several stops at Top-40 and Country stations, but my heart longed to be back in CCM and 1995 I left secular radio and haven’t looked back. I’ve packed a few U-Haul’s and have worked in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia and then back to Wisconsin in my 30+years behind the mic. I’ve spent over 20-years doing mornings and have a lifetime gold card from Starbucks. I’ve been with the Family Radio Network in Appleton/Green Bay/Wausau, WI doing mornings and as Network PD since 2015. I just celebrated my 5th anniversary back “home” enjoying cheese curds in the shadow of Lambeau Field.
Garrett, Your stations have great heritage…how important is that and why do you believe the stations have lasted so long.
The Family started with a single station (WEMI) that began 50 years ago. Within the last 20 years we added full power stations in Green Bay (WEMY), Central Wisconsin (WGNV) and just two-years ago added Sheboygan/Plymouth (WSTM). From day one we have been local to Wisconsin, and even though the music and programming sound quite a bit different than 50-years ago, the message hasn’t changed. Being local and involved in our communities from day one, raising families, going to church, living and doing life where our listeners do, is key. We have an incredible heritage and making the change to “The Family” several years ago really tied our heritage together with a brand that for 50 years has been our mission. We have 4 full power stations and several translators and cover well over a million listeners in Wisconsin today.
What is the best programming advice I’ve been given? The worst?
Best advice: Play the hits and make the listener the star.
Worst: We need to give them what they need, not what they want and “we don’t do music testing.”
Some say that more christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that? Why or why not?
It depends. I remember years ago when I first started in Christian radio, how my heart longed for christian stations to sound as good as mainstream radio. Imaging, announcers, music—everything. It took quite a few years, but we are finally sounding like the “big boys” in most markets. We have the best message on the planet, so why should we offer a product that is “not quite prime time.” That said, I believe that iron sharpens iron and having a couple stations in your market will force you to either get better if you want to reach more listeners for Jesus. Those stations that have wanted to get better with their product have made what comes out of the speakers the number one priority and have seen increased ratings, incredible fundraisers, and lives impacted to show that. The stations that have wanted to remain in the past are not seeing the same growth. Now local verses network stations—and more stations means less for fundraisers, those are different questions that I’ll leave that for next time. (Although it you want to know my thoughts—-email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
What’s my opinion on podcasts? Is it necessary to have one? Are they a threat?
I’ll go back to my previous answer. It took a long time for some stations to make the move to sound better “through the speakers.” If you aren’t making sure that your main brand is sounding as good as it can, then the resources spent on podcasting seem like a bit of mission drift. If you are using a podcast to expand your brand, and you make sure that the quality is there in all areas (production, good talent and relevant topics), then it can complement nicely. But if your podcasts go back to “sloppy radio” of years past, then I would really pray and re-evaluate the purpose. A podcast that sounds like radio did 20 years ago is just that….old radio. Are they a threat? I don’t believe so. She listens to them for the same seven seconds she gives your station, and if she tunes away from them, then it’s another opportunity for her to come back to your station. If she listens and hears more about your brand, it’s a win. Cross promotion of your brand and podcasts are also key. And if you use them, launch a few and try them as an avenue for interviews with artists, highlights of your drive time shows, or give your A-talent a chance to shine and go deeper with them and topics that connect to the heart. Don’t just be a “me to” when it comes to Podcasting.
In what area do you believe that Christian radio needs to improve most?
Being real. We are getting so much better, but we have a long way to go. Imaging can solidify your brand and the music is the star, but if your talent just read liners and doesn’t get transparent on air, then why should she hang around?
Generally speaking to the industry, what is the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Finding the next generation of talent. We have some of the best in the radio industry, and we can hear some of them from coast to coast on station after station. Many are very good friends of mine. I’m not dissing networks or consultants who use the same talent on every station they work with, but we need to really start sowing into the next generation of future talent. Passion, hunger and desire to do good radio I believe are still out there, it just may not look like it has in the past. I still think that there are some incredible jocks who are ready to make the jump from secular to CCM too, we just need to find them.
Who are your radio heroes and influences and why?
Back in the mid 80’s (when I was in high school) I started listening to a jock named John Uran on our local top-40 station in Minnesota. I learned his grandmother went to church with our family, and I not only met, and learned from John, but eventually worked with him too. Then it was Brian Wright, who put up with a young radio guy who sent him tapes every week for a year from the U.P. of Michigan. He was still a PD back then, and after he had “molded” me for about a year he offered me a job. Carl Fletcher was a good friend and I loved watching him get excited about the next generation. He went home way too soon! Within the last ten years it would have to be Chuck Finney. He has been an amazing mentor, teacher and friend who has probably done the most molding of me both on air (and off) the air.