To better understand JO Guck Bailey (Guck rhymes with book) just take a day trip north on U.S. 10 to her hometown, Royalton, Minnesota, population 802, a bedroom community halfway between St. Cloud and Little Falls. The town boasts both a tourist trap called “Treasure City” and the local greasy spoon, B’s Cafe, but little else.
JO grew up in a musical family there but always felt like the odd person out during musical chairs. Her dad, the postmaster, played accordion. Mom, a nurse, played piano. An older brother strummed guitar. Her brother who was a year younger tooted saxophone. Another brother beat drums. In fact they all played a musical instrument all ten of them played musical instruments except young Jo. She tried the clarinet, tried the flute, tried the horn even tried voice lessons without success. Finally one day her father said to her, ‘You know, about the only thing you’re good at is playing the radio.’
As a child, away from her musical home, young Jo Guck would often press her nose against the glass at the Royalton Banner and dream about the newspaper business. She was curious about what went on inside, thinking it might be her niche in the world. Well, years later, she’s certainly found her niche, but it isn’t in journalism.
When she walks into a room now she reminds you of a Louie Armstrong trumpet trill: vibrant and distinct. From a first name printed in capital letters, JO, to rings that circle each finger, she stands out from the pack. She stands out from her peers because she’s recent chair of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association. But that’s not all you need more than two hands and both feet to count all her affiliations, committees, service groups and ventures.
As general manager at Pro Radio Group, which includes KXLP-FM, KYSM-FM and KYSM-AM, she often hand-holds business owners through the radio advertising maze. She owns Sign Pro of Southern Minnesota and is a partner at Marketing Plus Creative Marketing Services of Mankato.
Remember when her father said the only thing she was good at was “playing the radio?” Well, he was right. She can play the radio i.e. manage three radio stations and the Minnesota Broadcasters Association as well as anyone. Listen in as she shares her insights into the fast-changing worlds of broadcasting, advertising and marketing.
CONNECT: You’re a past chair of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association. What is MBA? and what are the key issues facing broadcasters?
BAILEY: The Minnesota Broadcasters Association is an organization made up of television and radio stations in Minnesota. We are organized for the purpose of having a unified voice on legislative issues that affect our industry. Also so we can address issues internally so we can make ourselves better.
Over 240 radio and 16 television stations in Minnesota belong to MBA. The organization is very strong and it’s regarded as one of the strongest in the country. We’re very active on Capitol Hill and in St. Paul; we’re that way because of the commitment of our broadcasters.
The MBA was asked last summer by the National Association of Broadcasters to conduct a study. They wanted to use Minnesota and Arizona as a pilot project. The NAB wanted once and for all to qualify and quantify what kinds of dollars broadcasters were spending on public service. That issue came up when Reed Hunt was in charge of the Federal Communications Commission. Reed had made a passing comment and it became a very big issue on the Hill claiming that radio and television stations simply weren’t doing enough community service.
Broadcasters all across the country couldn’t believe it. They were saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re giving millions of dollars to community projects all over the country.’ So we did that study. In Minnesota it’s interesting because a lot of broadcasters give and give and give to their communities. But we’re shy about it. We just assume that’s what we’re supposed to do. We don’t track it closely.
So we surveyed every broadcaster in Minnesota. Now we’re readying the case and taking it to Washington when Congress starts up again.
This issue is especially important since consolidation. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed how radio and TV broadcasters do business. And it could be the demise of the small broadcaster, who worked in their community, had an AM station and maybe later an FM, and made a comfortable living and served their community. The big broadcasters are taking over lots of them are playing with big money and answering to their Wall Street investors. We are consolidating quickly. It’s not unusual anymore for companies to have over 30, 40, 50 and even 100 or more radio stations.
CONNECT: And it was just as recently as a few years ago, wasn’t it, that the legal limit for radio ownership was just seven?
BAILEY: We were allowed to have seven stations and the signals could not touch. But that changed. In addition, back in the early ’80s, someone in their infinite wisdom in Washington created something called Docket 8090. What that did was basically open the doors to create more radio signals all over the country. They did it with the intent that they were going to give the communities more. What really happened was that radio stations literally began to spring up on every street corner.
So what happened to the industry is when you get too many of something you can’t generate enough revenue to keep things alive. In the ’80s radio struggled badly.
The problem was addressed in Washington. The outcome was what broadcasters called an LMA Local Marketing Agreement. This provided the opportunity for broadcasters to lease radio stations owned by other broadcasters in their local markets. It allowed radio owners to consolidate programming and sales operations and make it more profitable for everyone in the business.
Most broadcasters who did this hoped to eventually buy the property they were leasing. It’s now happened in most cases with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Suddenly radio has gone from local one owner stations to big business. It’s the dolly of Wall Street.
It used to be that small radio stations were owned by moms and pops, now they’re owned by corporations. It’s kind of the demise of the family farm, if you will.
CONNECT: What key elements make up a good advertising campaign?
BAILEY: A good advertising campaign needs to be well thought out. You need to have a sense of what the campaign wants to accomplish. You need to know what the mission is is it to sell something quickly? is it to create an image?
Once that’s answered, we’re able to build a campaign that’s effective. What makes a good advertising campaign? It’s really what you need to get done to make your business successful. That’s all anyone ever wants to do in advertising.
We want to make sure a business delivers the right message and enough times so that people get the message. All media works. People need to understand that. Every medium is a very effective medium if used properly.
Most people don’t have a clue what to do with their advertising budget. And most people don’t know where to start. Frankly, advertising is usually viewed as spending money, it’s not necessarily regarded as making money. But done right it will make a business money.
Pro Radio Group does a lot of advertising too. We want to add more people to our core audience group. People forget that a radio station is a business too. And I buy a lot of things. I buy promotional items. I buy newspaper. I buy billboards. I buy sides of buses. I spend a lot of money on advertising. I have an advertising budget just like my advertisers do.
Radio is the only medium you can take with you anywhere. Radio has no regard for income. If you can afford a radio you can listen to it. You don’t pay for it. Radio and television are the only free mediums left. Everything else is subscriber based. And the consumer out there does not think twice about paying for a telephone, paying for cable, paying for the new fancy satellite outside their window, paying for their cell phone. But if I were to come out tomorrow with a subscriber-based program to listen to a radio station, I would have a mutiny on my hands.
CONNECT: Are you involved with any national organizations?
BAILEY: The Radio Advertising Bureau of Dallas, Texas I feel very privileged to have been asked to be part of that group. They are a group of broadcasters, all radio, and there is about 20 in this group. We are all employed in various walks of the business. Some of us are station managers. Some of us are sales managers. Some of us are general managers. Some are working for groups; some for independents. We are assembled from all over the country, from big- to small-market.
Our role is we put together the Radio Advertising Bureau’s sales and marketing conference that happens in February. This is a national, annual conference. It is one of the biggest attended events in the country by radio sales professionals. And this year, most assuredly, we’re really working on the consolidation issue.
CONNECT: Mankato City Council has toyed with a ban on retail signage. You own a local sign company. What’s your take on what the City Council tried to do and what was your reaction to it?
BAILEY: I was a member of the Task Force, made up of City Council and planning commission members, an architect, a developer, sign companies and Mankato Chamber of Commerce representatives. The Task Force was pretty balanced. Understand that the City of Mankato is focused on making this community look good. And they want the uptown and downtown areas to look prosperous and be prosperous. The Task Force was put together with this intent.
There was some concern among the City Council that perhaps signage had gotten out of hand. They were concerned businesses were just putting anything on their building and exceeding ordinance with the size and number of signs.
Some on the Task Force wanted a temporary sign moratorium. They didn’t want any business to put up permanent signs until they created a new plan.
And it really caused an uproar. The sign companies really came together in force and said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re going to put us out of business. You’re going to put people on the street that we employ. You just can’t do that.’ So the City Council pulled the whole thing off the table.
Now there’s been a landscape planner hired and he’s going to look at the city and come back with recommendations. We expect the sign thing to come back full force by the middle of the year.
CONNECT: Your AM station recently dropped Rush Limbaugh. Why?
BAILEY: The reason Rush Limbaugh was pulled off the radio station had little to do with the content of the show. And yet it had all to do with the content of the show.
Rush Limbaugh was on the radio station since 1992. I pulled it off as we closed out 3rd quarter 1997 because I was unable to continue to find people to underwrite the program with commercial advertising. I found no advertising support out there. The program cost us well over $6,000 a year to carry. And it’s a lot of money, and we’re not a subscriber-based service here. We have to have commercial support.
It was very frustrating for us. We know a lot of people listened to Rush. But when asked to spend money on the show they were uncomfortable doing that for fear that people would no longer support their business because they supported Rush.
So I pulled the plug. I had to.
CONNECT: How did the new Broadcasting Sales program at South Central Technical College get off the ground? is there an employer need in that area?
BAILEY: That was a program created under my watch at MBA.
[MBA] did a survey four years ago. We surveyed our broadcast membership and asked them if there was one thing we could do to help you, what would it be? Overwhelmingly, the survey came back for us to train [sales] people better and please help us find [sales] people to train.
At the time we did the survey, we knew we could employ about 300 salespeople in Minnesota right then. Good radio and TV salespeople are hard to find. When you go through college the training is generalized. There’s nothing that teaches you how to sell radio or how to sell television.
To develop the broadcast sales program, we put together a group of what I call “street warriors.” We put them in a room together and said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a program that’s going to create people who will know what they’re doing when they graduate. Tell us what they need to learn.’ We created the curriculum from what these street warriors recommended.
Then we went out and found the adjunct faculty to teach those things. Then we partnered up with South Central Technical College. MBA agreed to, on a three year trial, to invest $30,000 a year down to begin training professionals.
We went to [SCTC] and said we had an idea, we have a need, we can show you. The Technical College insists they will not start a program if there isn’t a need. We showed them our survey. We were able to show them we would be able to employ up to 300 people now. That got their attention. Then when we said we could come up with money to get this program going we had their full attention. Ken Mills at the Tech College was so helpful in getting it off the ground. Ken has a sincere interest in creating unique programs that are really going to serve the business community.
We were able to go to the state of Minnesota and get the program accredited. This year we just rolled out the broadcast sales program by ITV in Faribault, in Minneapolis, and also we have the ability to do it in Austin. We are training close to 60 people right now.
CONNECT: How do you keep up-to-date with all the trends and news in the broadcasting industry?
BAILEY: I get the National Association of Broadcasters newsletter every week. I get the Small Market Radio newsletter every week. I get Inside Radio Weekly. I also subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, the Star Tribune, the Mankato Free Press, the Kiplinger Newsletter. I read Radio, Inc.; I read Broadcasting & Cable. I probably look at up to 15 or 20 publications on a weekly basis. Many of them I do daily.
The Industry has changed so drastically in the past few years, honestly, we say it to each other inside the Industry that if we miss one issue of Broadcasting & Cable then we’ve missed something that happened. Things change just that quick.
CONNECT: What’s your personal background?
BAILEY: I grew up in a small community, a town of 800 people, in central Minnesota. The name of the community is Royalton. I am the second oldest of eight children. My dad was a postmaster; my mom was a nurse. Lots of people say to me, ‘How did you get into what you are doing?’ To that, I respond that I remember when I was ten years old and I was walking up town to see Dad at the post office. On my way to the post office I would stop at the Royalton Banner, the weekly newspaper. I spent a lot of time with my nose pressed against the window wondering what it would be like to do that.
It was probably back when I was ten years old that I made the decision that I wanted to be in public relations. I wasn’t really defining it until I moved through high school. I decided that I really wanted to work for a newspaper. I got into the newspaper business; I played that game for a while. Then I got into the broadcast business.
Growing up in a big family I have lots of memories of radio. One of the things that my family was especially good at was everyone in my family had a musical talent. My dad played the accordion. My mother played the piano. My oldest brother played the guitar. My brother who was a year younger than I, he played the saxophone. The other brother played the drums. Everyone of my brothers and sisters played a musical instrument.
And I tried to play a musical instrument. I played the clarinet couldn’t make a sound. Tried the flute same thing. Tried the horn same thing. Tried voice lessons not so good. Finally my father said to me one day, ‘You know, about the only thing you’re good at is playing the radio.’ It’s kind of ironic that years later that’s what I do. How did he know?
I’ve had a lot of wonderful mentors in my career people who have helped me get to where I am today. It seemed like every time I got myself into a corner somebody said, ‘I’ll help you.’
CONNECT: People who know you say you’re “driven.” What drives you?
BAILEY: You know, that’s a good question. I love what I do and do what I love. I will tell anyone that talks to me long enough that I truly love what I do.
I love working with people. I love the excitement. I love the fast pace. I love the enthusiasm that you have. I love the energy that’s around me all the time. I’m driven to be successful. I’m driven to help people. And I have a lot of stuff on my plate.
©1997 Connect Business Magazine