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.
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]
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