Kyle Dowden Interview
Career Capsule: I began my radio career as a means to make a little money while going through college. In 1993, I cut my teeth in radio at KCMG AM/FM in Mountain Grove, Missouri. While there, I did about everything under the sun…on air, news, sales, engineering, sports play-by-play. In 1995, my wife and I moved to Springfield, Missouri where I took an air position with KWFC FM. After college, God opened doors by way of promotion to News Director and later Program Director. In 2015, KWFC was purchased by the Radio Training Network, and that summer I also assumed the programming duties and morning show co-host for The Wind (KWND FM). In May 2019, I was promoted to Station Manager for The Wind.
Kyle, tell us what’s new at KWND… latest news, changes, & what’s new with YOU… etc?
We have experienced a number of changes among our staff lately – saying goodbye to some good friends (Chalmer Harper & Trina Wilcox), while welcoming new ones to the team. We recently moved veteran broadcaster Cedric Randle from overnights to middays, and hired another radio veteran, Joe Rios, to handle morning traffic duties for both The Wind (KWND) and our sister station, KWFC.
The past year has been both spectacular and challenging for our team. A year ago, we celebrated as The Wind was ranked #1 in the market for the first time ever (Nielsen S19, Metro, AQH, P12+). We were used to being #3 or 4 in the topline ratings, but hitting #1 was a thrill for us and caused a bit of a stir among our local radio community.
We saw wonderful results in our community outreach events. The Wind and KWFC teamed up with a local business to give away mortgage/rent payments for a year. We collected clothes for the homeless and impoverished in our communities. And, we were just beginning with a huge 2020 schedule when Covid-19 changed everyone’s plans.
God allowed us to minister to our communities in ways no one ever imagined. While everything came to a screeching halt, we were able to encourage listeners; help them find much needed resources; connect them with groceries and other household supplies; and lead them in a month of focused prayer for the healing of our community and world.
We also saw opportunities arise that never would’ve happened before. Mercy Hospital, one of our region’s largest medical networks, reached out to us to lead a parking lot prayer event. Our underwriting team was able to get into doors that had been previously closed to us, because we offered a way to let the public know these businesses were open. And, a local organization asked us to help them give away over 40,000 ice cream cones in our parking lot on a hot, weekday afternoon. Only God could have orchestrated all that has happened in the past year.
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
We want to deliver better service to our communities than the other stations in our area. On the air, we strive for excellence. That means finding better content. Telling the story in a better way. Having fun with the listeners. Ministering to them. And, letting them be a part of who we are.
Off the air, we are visible in our communities. We have helped the homeless, abused, and lonely. We are doing what we can to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
And, it’s making an impact. We’re seeing lives changed, and people filled with hope. We are more than just the music.
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best advice came from our consultant, Jon Erdahl, who once told me that unless you have beads of sweat on your brow at the end of your show, you really haven’t given your best effort. By that, he was reminding me that you can’t coast along or give half-hearted effort and expect to have a stellar air shift. It take work, and the amount of work you give to prep will show in how well you do on the air.
The worst advice I received was the advice I never received. I’ve been in situations where there was no budget for consultants, seminars, conferences or any other training. When you don’t train your staff, they whither like fruit on a dried up vine. I had to supplement that period of my career on my own. Station owners need to be aware that they handicap their stations when they don’t offer continuing education.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
A few years ago, I was part of the pastoral team at a local church. Some of the discussions church leaders have involve how they will compete with other churches in the area.
“We’re losing people to the Mega-Baptist Church.”
“We need to get other Christians to come be part of our base.”
We sometimes get wrapped up in the idea that the church down the block is our competition. They aren’t. They’re on the same team. They look, sound and behave a little different. But their circle and our circle are all inside the giant Kingdom circle.
In the same way, I view Christian radio from the big circle perspective. We’re all on the same team with the same end goal – to lead people to Jesus. We just happen to have different approaches on how to lead people to the Lord. More voices in a market means more opportunities to speak to different types of people.
The trick is to provide diverse programming and promotions to reach a wider range of people who are searching for Christ.
Regarding podcasts, what is your opinion on doing them, is it necessary do to one, etc?
Podcasts give broadcasters the unique ability to do things we can’t do on the air. You likely can’t air all of that awesome artist interview, or thoughts on a big topic. But, you can do it with a podcast. Broadcasters are in a great position, too, because we already have the resources necessary to make them sound amazing. If a station has the resources to do podcasts with top quality, they should be doing them. It will expand the brand, and produce new outreach and revenue opportunities.
However, if the podcast ends up being the 4th or 5th hat someone on your team will be wearing, spare them and yourself the grief.
In what area do you believe Christian Radio needs to improve most?
We need to do a better job of serving our communities. Limited staffing and budgets usually translates to less impact in our communities. But, God has given us a unique opportunity that few others have. Most of our stations have audiences that are larger than any single church congregation under our signal. That’s huge. There are a lot of people looking to us for spiritual growth, encouragement, community involvement.
We get to be the bridge that gets listeners from church service to church service. We get to speak life to them, share Jesus, pray with them, and deliver hope each day.
Then, as we get the serving part right, many of the other pieces will fall into place. Our cumes will grow. Our revenue will increase. We’ll be able to make an even bigger difference for the cause of Christ.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
The primary threats to our industry are revenue, music licensing, stagnant playlists, and the constant need for new talent.
Funding will always be the biggest thing standing in our way. Christian radio as a whole loses too many stations each year, because the revenue isn’t there. We need to be bold in our financial asks, whether it’s advertising, underwriting or listener contributions. Don’t apologize for it. Without revenue, we don’t exist.
Music licensing will kill some of our stations, and most of our Internet streams if we don’t support our NRB representation in that battle. It seems as though Congress is bent on ending the long standing tradition that keeps terrestrial radio from paying some fees that are being demanded today. We need to let our objections be heard, and have an industry game plan in case legislation and rulings don’t go in our favor. It’s not enough just to have the music licensing committee be the only voice in this fight.
Playlists have been discussed quite a bit through the online forums, but my opinion is that many of our AC playlists are sometimes stagnant and dull. It is rare thing to have a listener call to say you haven’t been spinning a song enough. However, we all get the calls about the songs they hate to hear over and over. Part of that is that listeners only complain about the songs they don’t like. But, I also think they’re telling us something important – sometimes, our playlist is boring.
Fortunately, the solutions are readily available. We should be promoting new artists and new music. We should trim back the artists who sound so much alike. We need to better balance male vs female leads on the music we add. Find a song that you know in your gut is worthy, even if the testing says otherwise. Take a chance, and play something few others will. Don’t be afraid to mix things up, and go against conventional wisdom once in a while.
The ongoing search for talent never ceases. We always need new, creative and talented people who discover they have RF flowing through their veins. We need systems in place to discover, train and grow them into the next generation’s top talent, programmers, sales people, managers and owners.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
When I was cutting my teeth in the industry, I managed to get my hands on Dan O’Day’s Personality Radio. That book helped shape my view of being an air talent, and how leadership should view the business. Over the years, I’ve continued to follow Dan’s thoughts via social media. His push for radio to get copyright law and ad copy correct have really shaped how I operate.
For 22 years, I thought I had learned and knew about all I needed. Actually, I knew that I didn’t, but when you go that long without the input of a bonafide consultant it’s easy to fool yourself. My first experience with consultants came with Jon Erdahl and Daniel Anstandig in 2015 while I was Program Director at KWFC. It’s a night and day difference leading stations when you have a third party who has walked the path, and can give you common sense advice. Their guidance transformed a really good southern gospel station into one of the nation’s best.
The first radio team I was a part of made such an impact on me that I wanted to keep getting paid to talk on the radio. KCMG General Manager Fred Clift and Program Director Dave Hutton have gone on to their heavenly home. Afternoon Drive host Eric Douglas now works for the Missouri Highway Patrol. But, the fun we had, and the lessons learned paved a path that I now call a career.