By Audra Distifeno for TCAJoB
Local live radio is no longer a thing of the past, said Ken Olsen, general manager of Radio Tri-Cities.
Earlier this year, Jim Ingstad purchased and formed a company that encompasses six Tri-Cities area and six Yakima radio stations.
“We now have a sole person who runs and operates the stations,” said Olsen. “It’s like a dream come true – a radio guy who owns radio stations!”
Jim Ingstad knows radio. He is a second generation radio owner and operator, having been in the business for more than 30 years. He followed in his parents’ legacy and owns several stations, with his main operation in Fargo, North Dakota.
“Jim is self-made. It’s his own money being put into the businesses he purchases, not an investor’s or board of investors’ money,” said Ken Olsen.
In January, Ingstad bought a radio group that includes Eagle 106.5, The Wolf 94.9, Power 99.1, Cities 95.7, 960 AM and 1340 AM. They are part of the conglomerate now called Radio Tri-Cities.
Being owned by a one-man show is not the norm in the industry, said Olsen.
“During my past 20 years, every other radio station I knew of was owned by boards of directors and investors,” said Olsen, which at times made for a more complex and sometimes inefficient operation.
“We don’t have that burden. We can make local decisions and have local interactions,” he said.
For instance, he recently purchased two vehicles from a local dealership that advertises on the radio stations, which is a first. The practice helps fuel the local economy.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to be able to support local businesses that have supported us all of these years,” said Olsen, who has worked with these six stations since 1995.
“It’s definitely unique to the industry. It’s been a little over 90 days and the pace and direction Mr. Ingstad wants to go is so clear…it’s live, local radio. It will have huge results for advertisers and an all-encompassing focus,” said Olsen. “It’s a perfect, powerful blend.”
Shortly after making the purchase, Ingstad made a huge decision to move into a brand-new, 8,500 square-foot building that is being fitted to the stations’ specs and engineering. DJs and other staff members will move to the new location at 4304 W. 24th Avenue, Kennewick near 24th Avenue and Union Street by July 1.
“It’s very exciting. None of us have ever moved to new facilities,” said Olsen. “Mr. Ingstad believes in putting his local staff in amazing facilities. It’s such a blessing.”
The company’s current location wasn’t made for a radio station’s needs, he added.
“It’s a horrible configuration and doesn’t flow well,” said Olsen. “It wasn’t constructed as a radio station.”
In addition to the new digs, 99 percent of the studio equipment will also be state-of-the-art.
The engineering costs alone, which includes staging the move and preparing for the technology, will run about $125,000. Hundreds of miles of cable will be placed in the new building.
Surprisingly, however, listeners won’t notice the big move on the airwaves.
“It should happen seamlessly,” said Olsen. “If there’s any down time at all, it might be very short stints in the midnight hours.”
Radio Tri-Cities now has 25 full-time employees and 11 part-time employees. Just three months ago, there were 14 full-time and four part-time employees.
“It’s amazing because we’re so much more effective now,” said Olsen.
One big change is the addition of a “street team” to support and hype up the radio stations. The crew attends myriad events throughout the Tri-Cities — from Americans and Fevers games to charity galas — doing giveaways and helping with publicity.
“They work six nights a week and they’re loud and proud on the streets,” said Olsen. “It’s really helped on the charitable front. We’re able to give time to help nonprofit events be more successful.”
One of the recent events they participated in was Heart Chase, an event held in March at Howard Amon Park in Richland to benefit the American Heart Association.
“Myself, some other staff members and the Street Team helped boost the event,” said Olsen. “It was a great cause and they raised more than $25,000.”
Another perk is hosting local contests that actually have a local phone number to call allowing contestants to compete against only others from this area, instead of against other nationwide callers, said Olsen. The Wolf’s $25,000 Giveaway is an example.
Another boon to listeners is that the stations are “getting away from syndicated programming,” said Olsen.
Instead, local live radio is quickly returning to the airwaves.
Curt Cartier, a longtime local radio talent, was recently hired to join Jackson and Shauna on Eagle 106.5.
“We wanted to put a boost on it. It’s been an incredible addition to bolster that station,” said Olsen. “It was a perfect stroke of timing to bring Curt back to the Tri-Cities airwaves.”
In addition, a significant format change came to fruition after Ingstad spent “a lot of money on radio listening habits in the Tri-Cities,” said Olsen.
For instance, Station 95.7 changed from an oldies-based format to adult variety (80s, 90s and today).
“It’s real attentive and has the biggest music library in the Tri-Cities area, and not a lot of talk,” he said. “Instead, song after song after song is played.”
Though he knows it sounds cliché, Olsen said he’s exuberant about Ingstad buying the radio group.
“The most exciting thing is that after 20-plus years in radio, I’m getting back to the way radio was meant to be done – live, local and focused on the clients and the community we serve,” said Olsen. “I’m able to take care of the consumers, listeners and charities within the Tri-Cities region.”