December 1, 2015

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03/10/03 Can Your Station Pull A Crowd?
The crowds are so thick you cannot walk. Outside the building, people stand in line for blocks in the freezing temperatures, waiting to enter. Television trucks are parked outside as Radio and television stations throughout the market cover the event. Every major city official and all the town VIPs are present.

It sounds like a Radio promotion director’s dream come true — an event so huge that it draws the entire community and crosses format barriers. However, this was not a Radio station promotion; it was a funeral. Though it sounds like a scene from the gates of Graceland when Elvis passed away, this was not the funeral of a rock star, a movie star or former president. This was the funeral of Mike Oatman, a man who spent his life in Radio.

I did not know Mike Oatman all that well, but I knew a lot about him. One thing I know is that, when Mike and his partner, Mike Lynch, sold Empire Broadcasting in 1999, 200 of their employees shared in $33 million of the sale money.

Another thing I know is that Mike Oatman was a legend in Wichita and in all the places he had stations, because he made it his personal mission to help the community, the advertisers and the listeners. In many ways, Mike was a model of what a local broadcaster should be. The crowds and local television coverage of his funeral show the power of Radio in the local community. To honor him, the community came to give Mike a grand send-off.

What about you and your station? Radio is the most powerful medium on earth. Your presence in your community can use that power for good or for evil. If you died today, what would they say about your impact on the community? Would people show up in respect for how you helped them, or would the funeral parlor be empty because all you did was take-take-take? Were you there to play the hits and take everything you could from the market? Or were you willing to put the interests of the community first, knowing that, from time to time, you might not win as big financially?

Radio stations that are an integral part of their communities are always the big winners. If your community, your advertisers and your listeners always see you making more than an effort — always putting the community first — the rewards will be there. Though Mike Oatman made millions, he voluntarily enriched his employees because they made him rich. He didn’t offer stock options. After selling the stations, he just showed up with checks because he thought that was the right thing to do.

My guess is that the millions he made had a lot to do with the tens of millions he gave to the community in airtime, exposure and fund-raisers. He probably made the retailers in the market rich, too, and they returned the favor.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were lines of people wanting to honor you because you made your station such an important part of the community, because you were generous with your time and your air time, and because you made it your goal to give more than expected to those who supported you financially? Even corporately owned, you can be wildly successful and still make this happen in your community. It’s never too late to start.

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