Feature InterviewInterviews

Jon Engan Interview 1-14-19

Jon Engan
Consultant and Morning Host

Career Capsule: A 1963 field trip to KTIS is what put the bug of radio in my head. I couldn’t think about much else growing up. In college I helped start a Class D station and in 1983 I was a part of signing on KDNW in Duluth, MN. 1988 I made the move to the Twin Cities to work the morning drive at KTIS. In 1998 I became the Manager of KTIS and had Chuck Knapp join me in the mornings. After a quick break in 2007 Chuck and I started at KCLI in Minneapolis in the mornings. In 2014 an opportunity opened to act as a consultant and morning host at KAXL in Bakersfield, CA.


Jon tell us what’s new at Life FM… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?

Life FM in Bakersfield has some pretty aggressive dreams right now. Our heart is to go as deep as we can into our community and be one of Bakersfield’s “go to” stations. We try to get our fingers into as many community pies that we can and it has been working. Probably the most amazing thing we’ve done as late is to have a huge presence at the Kern County Fair. It’s no small town affair. Hundreds of thousands of people come to the 12 day event. This year we had to get a larger booth space and live with the Fair’s mandate that we stop “clogging up the aisles”

Next is the Capital Campaign for the straightening of our tower (It has a slight case of scoliosis), replace our transmitter and move into more accessible and prominent studio space.

Having been a part of radio for more than 35 years now it’s fun to be in a place with huge dreams and an urgency to keep going. I’m doing all I can to keep up!


Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?

For Life FM to stand out from the crowd in Bakersfield is not as easy at it may seem. The town is filled with media but we do have some built in advantages. One of our afternoon guys, Aaron Perlman, is a monster force to be reckoned with because he is also a morning show anchor on one the local TV stations. He’s had some leeway in programming on TV and from time to time brings in our PD, Matt Pelishek, to his station in the morning. My on air partner is a local Pastor of church that has an attendance of well over 1000. It all adds up to some great local content and visibility.


What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?

The best advice I was ever given came from Chuck Knapp. He was a radio icon in the Twin Cities and when he came to work with me at KTIS things went off the charts. He told me to “Slow down, have fun and don’t act stupid”.

On the other side of Chuck’s advice was the worst advice I was ever given… I gave to myself… “Hey..Chuck knows radio like no other living human being..trust his instincts” He mumbled something one morning about a bit he wanted to do. I was half listening and said “Sure…let’s do it..I trust you”. He had his old friend Chuck Riley even do a wrap around for the bit. Chuck called it EFCC. The Intro played… Chuck Riley’s huge voice introduced “Email from Crabby Christians!” Knapp proceeded to read an email that was a touch on the acidic side of things. I WAS PARALYZED! Later that morning…. as we were sitting in the VP for Media’s office…… you know the rest.


Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?

I have mixed feelings about markets that are flooded with Christian radio. On one hand it has to help the community. If Christian stations were literal lighthouses then each would have a section of shoreline to cover and that can do nothing but have a positive outcome. Then there is the question of survivability. In a market size like Bakersfield there has to be point of saturation. Life FM has no national corporation to save us financially if we don’t make a fund-raising goal. We are the very
definition of local, listener supported radio. It’s not an easy subject to talk about.


What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job/show?

The single most important thing that I must have to make any morning show a success is no less than 44 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew.


Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?

35 years doing this radio thing has walked me through a lot of layers of radio changes. I have tried to keep up and working with younger people has helped. I’ve said that if I am a Christian radio dinosaur then Life FM must be my La Brea Tar pits. That being said.. I’m pretty encouraged by what I see. I work with a PD who is rabid about keeping up and paying attention to what is coming down the road. I read a lot of blogs written by the up and comers and my conclusion is that even though the business has changed dramatically it is going in a good direction and has some capable emerging leaders. They seem to be coming from the same places that I came from. Guys who “played radio” when no one was looking. People who started listening to what was between the songs more than the songs themselves. There may be fewer of them but the quality is amazing.


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

The obstacles of our industry, at least in my opinion, have less to do with technology and more to do with integrity. That’s certainly not to dismiss the stuff that actually get us on the air… but once all that is working we are blasting out the concept of “Christian” with thousands of watts pushing “us” into the cracks of the lives of real people. I’ve spent A LOT of time throwing the pitch for financial support over the years and I cringe in despair when a story gets stretched… a shrill voice reaches decibels here to unheard of with the insistence the “THIS GOAL MUST BE MET!” Those wonderful folks at KSBJ remind their listeners every day that “God Listens”. Their heart is for prayer….but God does listen… to us all…… every word…every stop set… every break. We simply cannot allow ourselves to get in our own way…. or God’s for that matter. Man.. that was a whole deeper than I wanted it to be… but you asked!


Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?

I think I can narrow my radio heroes down to two; The first being Paul Ramseyer. Gentle, righteous, Godly, caring, loving. One quote sticks in my brain that came from Paul. He gave it to me when I started with Northwestern radio in Duluth. “God has no obligation to sustain or maintain Christian radio. We only think he does because we want a job. God’s love is for the church.. his bride. He can shut us off any time he wants.” The second hero was my dad. He was a student at Northwestern College when KTIS signed on. Billy Graham challenged the students to give one dollar a week for a year to support the station. When my dad passed last year my sister gave me a box that he had made for me before his death. In it was his Army Air Corps flight wings… his crib notes that he used when he asked my mom to marry him… and 52, one dollar receipts in support of KTIS.

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