The Secret to Thriving In A Small Market


Michael Dudding is the owner and General Manager of Mikadety Radio Corporation on Denison, Iowa, which he purchased in 1993. It’s home to KDSN-AM and FM. Dudding is also on Radio Ink’s 2016 Best Managers in Radio list, set to be released on October 24th. Those that nominated Dudding for our list said, “he is the licensee of the most successful small-market broadcast operation in the nation.” That is high praise for sure. We set out to find out why he’s believed to be one of radio’s best and here’s what we found out.

Radio Ink: How important is a degree of local autonomy in making a station successful today, both in ratings and revenue?
Dudding: There are advantages of being the only radio station in our community of 9,000. You are the only station than can provide an endless amount of localism. Small-market radio stations like KDSN can provide “lost and found pet listings,” a daily “birthday and anniversary show,” and a daily “Talk Show” with people making news in our communities. We can also react instantaneously for specific events. For example, when a bank robbery occurred within our community, our local enforcement agency emailed us a photo taken by the bank’s security camera. We quickly posted this photo on our website and asked listeners to go to our website to help identify the suspect. In less than 90 minutes, the suspect was apprehended, and law enforcement gave credit to the media and our website.

Radio Ink: In an increasingly competitive media environment, how do you attract “the brightest and best” to what many Millennials may see as a stodgy, traditional medium, even with it’s shiny new digital platform offerings?
Dudding: I believe the best way to “groom listening habits” to millennials is to reach them early. We visit area elementary and high schools, and invite them to tour our facilities. We invite 12 area school districts to participate in our “Class Days” programs where individual schools send a senior representative who “takes over the airwaves of KDSN” for “hands-on broadcast experience,” while at the same time focusing their programming toward their individual communities. Our internship program has individuals with solid radio and TV careers. With our website, we have limitless possibilities ideal for “high tech” individuals.

Radio Ink: In today’s technically enabled 24/7 communications environment, how do you manage a healthy balance between work and personal life for yourself — and try to foster the same for your employees?
Dudding: When I have a new employee, my first words after offering them a position with our company are, “#1, your family comes first. You have one family, they come first”. #2, “I hope you make 1,000 mistakes — because if you learn from your mistakes, you’ll have a great career.” My staff has “ownership.” Example: when we totally remodeled the KDSN Studios 10 years ago, I allowed the announcers and staff to design their studios and offices without any input from me.

Without being asked, staff members hold monthly meetings to discuss ideas, promotions, and how KDSN can sound better. Ideas are brought to me and we discuss the viability of new ideas. My release valve for over 25 years was to coach 7-12-year-old boys and girls in a variety of sports. These individuals are anxious to learn and are impressionable. I encourage them to grow their talents and help them feel good about themselves, a process similar to coaching new KDSN staff members.

Every year, my family would plan a summer vacation to a different location. I wanted my employees to have this same opportunity. Last year at a staff meeting, staff were asked to write down a destination within the United State they had dreamed of visiting. Once they submitted their choices, I told them, “We’re going to send you there this year, and give you extra paid vacation, on us, because you’ve worked hard and we want to take this opportunity to help you fulfill this bucket-list goal.” The net results from these vacations was an incredible boost in morale and stronger teamwork.

GM Michael Dudding far left with his entire staff
GM Michael Dudding far left with his entire staff

Radio Ink: What is the number one challenge you face every day as a manager in 2016, and how are you overcoming it?
Dudding: The biggest challenge for small-market radio stations is realizing that most often we are “stepping stones” for individuals beginning their broadcast career. The best way to overcome this challenge is to continue networking with colleges and universities for prospects with broadcast potential. It is not all bad because new people bring new ideas.

Radio Ink: What is your biggest/most proud moment at the radio station over the past 12 months?
Dudding: I am blessed to have a staff that knows what we do or say affects the lives of thousands of listeners; we must remain positive. I am proud that we have an FCC license to provide quality radio service to our thousands of loyal listeners.

While we have assisted dozens of entities reach their goals through the power of KDSN, I am very proud of our assistance to the “Moving Veterans Forward Program.” When the Omaha V.A. Hospital releases our service men and women back into society, they are placed in government housing, equipped only with a stove and refrigerator. We have helped “Moving Veterans Forward” by conducting “radio-a-thons” to gather dozens of truckloads of household goods for these veterans. Afterwards, “Moving Veterans Forward” needed a moving van with a lift gate to transport these household goods.

Their goal was to raise $6,000 for an old retired moving van. I told them “our radio-a-thon will raise $15,000.” I was wrong; we raised $22,000. That is the kind of listeners KDSN has. I have always believed “give people more than they expect or deserve,” and listeners will respond.

Radio Ink: What is it going to take to get radio revenue growing at a decent pace every year moving forward?
Dudding: I believe there are too many “pre-programmed, voice-tracked radio stations.” Listeners like to hear live announcers make a mistake and laugh at themselves. Give people a reason to listen. We can all play the same music. Be unique. We love to hear “now how did KDSN do that?” We can provide accurate localized events, take a national event and localize how it affects our listeners, and develop a “Local Talk Show” instead of syndicated programming. Nothing beats local. We are the free media. In the mid-1990s, while attending a meeting of 15 small-market radio stations from across the country, I made the statement, “With this new thing called the Internet, I believe in 10 years there will no longer be radio stations as we know them, we’ll have to become media centers to compete with this new form of media.” We were one of the first to have a radio Internet website, which is continually updated, providing another revenue stream. I have a poster I see every time I look up from my desk … a picture of Albert Einstein with the caption underneath, “Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge.” Radio potential is today’s best kept secret.

My last key to success is the “85/15” rule. Of the 100% of the people in the world, 85% of them only find or see problems, while the other 15% identify problems and then find solutions. I choose to surround myself with the latter kind of people. It sure makes life fun, even after 43 years of broadcasting.

Reach out to Michael Dudding for a job well done representing small market radio. [email protected]

To subscribe to Radio Ink Magazine in time to receive our Best Managers in Radio issue on October 24 GO HERE. This issue is packed with advice from managers all over the country, in both small markets and large markets, on how to make you more successful.


  1. Profitability is the award for profitability. But you don’t get that reward by treating your staff with little to no respect. If you are running your business with nothing but revenue in mind with no consideration to how employee satisfaction impact that, you are doomed to fail…. It is exactly the kind of thinking it is killing the radio industry.

    • Mr. “Sanders”, In the past less than 48 hours Mr. Dudding has received over 60 emails commending his very excellent Radio Ink article offering helpful suggestions to improve the survival of broadcasting from all over the country. Your irrational, insulting comment is fully unjustified.
      To quote Mr. Dudding: “Serve your community and your community will serve you.” Of the hundreds of stations I have visited under the Alternative Inspection Program, Mr. Dudding has addressed that premise more than anyone else.
      Really, Mr. “Sanders” you should be ashamed of yourself. Do you have the integrity to fully identify yourself?
      K.J. Benner

  2. Based on my own experience of 43 years working in small market radio advertising sales and management, as well as my familiarity with successful mom-and-pop operations (in markets of all sizes across the country) which happen to be clients of GBS, I’d infer that Michael could not sustain the largess he shows to his employees and community unless his operation was turning a good profit. The most successful independent small market operators I’ve known have been both good businessmen and generous citizens.

  3. I have known Michael for 34 years. He worked for me the first 11 of those 34 years and was always a hard worker, smart, loved radio, and cared about the listeners and his clients. When I see what he and Kathy’s radio stations are doing I am not surprised in the least. One thing I have observed though and that is from Mount Pleasant, Iowa to Cherokee, Iowa – – from Estherville, Iowa to Bartlesville Oklahoma, there are the finger prints of one man who put the local in local back in the 60’s and 70’s and that man is Forrest “Frosty” Mitchell. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Frosty who told me back in the mid 70’s, “so Roger when everybody can get their music from anyplace and don’t need your radio station, then what are you going to do?” He added ” keep it local, keep it local, keep it local, and a little bit hoakie is ok too!” Thanks Frosty and congratulations Michael and Kathy!!! Well Done.

  4. We work almost exclusively with small market broadcasters across the country. We have seen the model that Michael talks about work, time and time again. Big market/stock market Radio could learn some important lessons from his examples and solutions.

    I shared this article with our clients, and to a person, they all said, “This is a guy who gets it!”

    Small market radio will be viable with this kind of forward-thinking, hyper-local, solutions-based model. GREAT JOB!

    Oh…and for Mel T…you didn’t read between the lines. If he can afford the kind of “bucket list vacations” for his staff that he talked about, my guess is that he is doing just fine. Even our smallest group operator had more NET revenue last year than Cumulus and iHeart.

  5. Mr. Dudding is a long-time personal friend of mine for over 20 years during which he has shared the secrets of his success, including his financial statements. For over eight consecutive years he has substantially succeeded his previous annual sales goals. I have visited hundreds of stations in my capacity as an alternative FCC certification compliance inspector and without question, for the proportional side of his operation, he and his staff are collectively the most professionally dedicated and most successful broadcast operation in the nation. I was one of those who nominated him for this honor.

  6. The station is certainly not “Big City Slick” or aggressive in any way.
    Attempts at humour are not all “Killer”.
    But I do offer a word that describes my experience of listening to the station: “Comforting”.
    As to Mel T’s comment: I hope the station prospers.

  7. All well and good. Sounds like a fine operation.

    But, radio is a business. What are the revenues? Dudding says little or nothing about his revenues or profits.
    I guarantee that if I stand on a street corner in his town and give away 5 dollar bills, people will like me. But, from a business standpoint what have I accomplished?
    You may react by thinking if people like the station they will buy advertising from it. Plenty of people liked Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles and Mercurys and Plymouths.

    I would really like to see, for a change, some station awards for profitability and revenues rather than who’s the best “Good Guy” in the industry.

    • Trust Me Mel T. Michael is a great guy, but he is no idiot. I would match his profit percentage against most others any day and twice on Sunday. He’s the real deal! You can be a good guy and make a ton of money! They are not mutually exclusive.


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