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Radio Interview

                                     

Don Buettner

Program Director

WLAB

Fort Wayne

 

 

Don's Career Capsule
December 1982- Started part-time just a few months out of high school at WKKI in Celina, Ohio. I typically did the Saturday Night Request Show on what was then an AOR station. It would switch to a satellite AC format a few months later. I was one of two part-timers that stayed on and eventually became PD. (Celina is a town of over 40,000 and is one of the 100 best small towns in America. It's also a lake area, home to I think second the largest man-made lake in the country.)
 
May 1988- Came to work at WERT-AM & WKSD-FM in Van Wert, Ohio. Was hired by the same GM who had previously owned WKKI. The AM was a full service MOR format serving a strong agriculture community and the FM was a satellite AC. The AM transmitter was actually inside the building! I still remember the glowing tubes, the old fashioned meters, and the radiation! ha
 
January 1989- While working in Van Wert, we moved the FM to Fort Wayne, IN and launched "98-9 The Bear" with 9890 songs in a row! I was the Music Director and did overnights. It started out as a Classic Hits format and evolved into a Classic Rock station. Today (long after I left), it is now an Active Rocker. Randy Michaels was an investor in this station during the old Jacor days so you can imagine the fun we had, much to the frustration of other stations.
 
November 1996- Was hired at WLAB in Fort Wayne (Market #105). Became PD in the Fall of 2000 when the former GM left. Current GM Melissa Montana & I brought in consultant John Frost in November of 02, changed our name to "Star 88-3" in October 03 and haven't looked back since. Audience cume has grown by over 20,000 in just the last two years.
 
April 1999- Began weekly program called "The Heart of Worship". My walk with Christ was greatly impacted by the outpourings happening in Toronto, and Pensacola, Florida in the mid-90's and the worship coming out of those "revivals". Started offering it to other stations shortly after and today can be heard on nearly 80 stations in 5 different countries every weekend.
 
February 7, 2004- Married my wife Renee on my parent's 50th anniversary. Became a step-dad as well to Haley  who will turn 10 in November. Can't imagine life without them now, and for how much they support my calling.

1. Tell us about your market and how it is unique?

While considered a "small market" by industry terms, Fort Wayne is a great city steeped in a deep German-Lutheran heritage, with lots of churches (Fort Wayne is known as "the city of churches") and restaurants. (We seem to be a good test market for a lot of products, even more than just food.)  We're not too big, but not too small, either although it is very "crowded" on the radio dial. In the Fall of 2004, 20 stations had at least a 1.0 AQH share. Other unique aspects about the radio landscape here is that there are a number of radio personalities who have called Fort Wayne home for over 20 years, most of them at the same station, which seems rare these days, even in market #105. Perhaps the most unique aspect of it all is that the GM's at both Christian music stations here are female and both have been at their stations over 15 years.  

 

2. What is the most fulfilling aspect to you personally about Christian radio? 

Hearing my 9 year-old step-daughter in the back of the car singing along to the songs! Also, we've seen an audience growth of over 12,000 just in the last year. It excites me to know these lives are being impacted because of what they hear on the station. They love listening because they know it is safe, and they hear a positive message!

 

3. Here is your chance to testify on behalf of your station...How has God used WLAB?

The husband of a listener was won over to Christian music when they attended our  SonicFlood concert a couple of years ago. (We won this concert as part of a label promotion) A related story is that she works as the director of a Fort Wayne Christian Daycare and every classroom is tuned in to Star 88.3, so not only are they using the station as a tool to reach the children and parents, but also other teachers working for the daycare. A college freshmen whose listened for years also wrote to us recently saying her dad (a non-believer) starting listening to the station on his own. She says every time she is with him at home or in the car he has Star 88.3 blaring on his radio! 

Another lady who listens baby-sits for her two cousins (8 and 12), both their parents are not Christians. One weekend the girls were with their grandparents on the way to the lake and they told their Grandma (who was listening to the top country station in town) to put it on Star 88.3.  She is a Christian but didn’t even know about the station! So she changed the channel and the 8 year old said “I love this song grandma!” This lady had baby-sat the girls for 2 years and didn’t even realize that they were learning the songs and enjoying them!

 

4. What is the criteria that determines if a song receives airplay on your station?

We have a strong listener panel so all of our songs are tested. My philosophy is that a song has to earn its place on the station! For starters, the lyrics have to match our key positioning statement..."Uplifting, encouraging, and safe for your kids!" A song also has a better chance of being added if the message directs the listener to God, whether in an obvious or in a more "indirect" way. Obviously, the production values are key as well. Also, is it a song that we'll be playing 5 years from now? About once a month, or when necessary, we will "pre-test" new songs to gauge reaction from our listener panel. If it receives a high positive score, that makes the decision process even easier, in light of all the singles we are bombarded with on a regular basis.

 

5. What kind of promotions work best for your station?

Events that give something back to the listeners and/or the community. Just one that comes to mind from this year, and in the past 4 years dozens of family have received the assistance they need because of Star 88.3’s “Help a Neighbor Project.”  Along with canned food items, Star 88.3 listeners drop off new or gently used toys, bikes and books. Each week, a child can come in and get a new toy.  Also since most of these families have little to no income, The “Help a Neighbor Project” makes sure that these children are provided with a lunch all summer long.  This could be the only meal that most of them get that day!

An event we have coming up is tied in with Indiana’s new child occupant protection law that will require the use of booster seats for children ages 4-8 years.  Shockingly, only about 1 in 5 kids who should be in boosters actually are, and so we’ve teamed up with the local SafeKids organization to host a “Booster Seat Bonanza” to give away booster seats…while supplies last.

 

6. How do you think Christian Record labels can better serve Christian radio?

Personally, I would love it if we could find a way for artists to be more accessible to us radio folks!

 

7. In your opinion what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio today?

Got an entire page to spare?

A. People don't know we exist!

B. Christian broadcasters who can't understand (or don’t want to believe) why many Christian's don't listen to Christian radio.

C. Stations that are unable to invest money into the proper resources, (whether it’d be marketing, research, consulting, etc.) or spend it in the wrong places.

D. Managers whose hands are tied by board members or other circumstances.

E. Mainstream taking the non-commercial stations seriously when it comes to market impact and exposure.

F. Lack of upcoming talent who can relate to the typical "target audience" of a Christian music station.

 

8. What (if any) other Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators today?

Z88.3 in Orlando, and KCMS in Seattle, partly because we have the same consultant! Seriously though, Martha Hadley at KCMS is #1 in Women at night even beating out Delilah. KXOJ in Tulsa also comes to mind. 

 

9. Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years?

I see radio consumers who will continue to grow dissatisfied with what they hear on mainstream radio, and will look for a place that they can go to for relevance, encouragement, music and content they can listen to…especially with their kids. With the growth of many key Christian music stations around the country recently, these stations will be in an even better place to make a deeper impact on their markets in the coming years. From an industry standpoint, I feel that this will also attract Christians who are currently working in mainstream radio. We recently hired a well known market personality who has given us a fresh “outside” perspective on things. He commented recently that “it is so great now to work in a position to where I have a purpose and that I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives.”

 

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