Mark: In my early teens, my father, a CPA, was a member of the Grayson County Rotary Club. They hosted their Annual Radio Auction during late March and early April. Because my dad and his business partner couldn't take time away from the office during the busiest part of tax filing season, they'd throw me a few dollars to go and fulfill their duties. I was a natural and enjoyed it so much that I almost felt guilty about taking their money. Almost. Then as a high school junior, I visited a classmate who was one year my senior and worked evenings here at what are now our stations. I observed her working on-air for about 4 hours one evening and was fascinated. At "Sign-Off Time" and time to depart the premises, I stood up and proclaimed "I'm going to work here". And I did, just weeks later. Little did I know that fateful night, within 6 years, I'd own 'here'.
Pem: Every radio station is unique. What sets WKHG and WMTL in Leitchfield, Kentucky, apart from other stations in the Commonwealth?
Mark: There is definitely a unique fiber that runs throughout all organizations. The tapestry gets developed by the various personalities, market conditions and ownership groups that have a hand in the weave. During my stewardship of the operation, I've aspired to make the stations always sound slightly better than they might normally in the market in which they are serving. Often times, stations in small towns sound like small stations. We are technically in a small market, but I've always wanted the community and market to have something better than market conditions might permit. My approach has been that even if you picked the stations up and transplanted them into another market, we'd immediately go to work serving and proving that we are up to the task and offering quality content across the platforms.
Pem: You're known among your peers as a pioneer in adapting technology to local radio in this digital age. How have the innovations you've brought to your stations impacted your listening audience and your community?
Mark: Sometimes to our own peril, we've been an early adopter of technology. Many of my colleagues spent the first decade of the Millennium in optimistic prayer that the internet would "go away". We were charging in the other direction since 2001. Having digital platforms to build audiences has given us an ability to connect with people that we would not have an opportunity to serve if limited only to our RF footprint. It's created vital two-way communication between distributor and end user that a transmitter, phone line and the USPS alone wouldn't do.
Pem: What role do you see radio playing in society in the next ten years?
Mark: In the next decade, if you are a 'radio station', you're dead. Game over. But RADIO will continue to be a driving force on many levels. Radio's reach and ability to move and motivate people will continue to thrive well into the future. But radio is only a delivery device. Your content is what will win. And we must be delivering that content wherever we can develop an audience. In the 1980's, we expected the Afternoon Drive Jock to drive Cume to the Morning Show and we'd use 20 songs in a row to drive TSL. Those same principles exist today but they extend out to our websites, streams, social media pages, video product, blogs, online news, marketing, mobile sites and contesting. It seems complex, but it really isn't. There are many more opportunities to develop and retain audience. If we embrace that, companies that were 'radio stations' will think of themselves as 'content creators' and live long beyond 2016 and continue to have a tremendous impact on people.