FILLING IN THE FOOTPRINT
WAITT FARM NETWORK PUTS PUNCH INTO UNDERSERVED TERRITORY
by Bekah Reddick, Editor
Sarpy County, Neb., just south of metropolitan Omaha, is the fastest-growing county in the state with the smallest landmass and a population of 130,000. Until recently, this booming area was relatively unserved by radio broadcasting. But today, KKSC-AM 1020 is the "Sarpy County Hometown Radio."
In April 2002, Waitt Radio Inc., Omaha, Neb., had the opportunity to buy KOTD-AM, a 1,000-watt station in Plattsmouth, Neb., explains George Pelletier, senior vice president of operations for Waitt Radio. The company then applied for and had the good fortune to receive a 50,000-watt upgrade. The station also moved into state-of-the-art studios and a new location in Bellevue, Neb.
Waitt Radio was founded in 1996 by Norm Waitt Jr., one of the co-founders of the Midwest-based Gateway Computer Compan. Waitt Media currently owns or operates 75 radio stations, five television stations and has over 700 billboard faces.
"When we upgraded to a 50,000-watt AM station, Waitt was able to fill in the footprint of eastern Nebraska and northeast Kansas," says Pelletier. "KKSC added significant coverage to Waitt radio's already large Midwest presence and provided an opportunity to step in as the regional agriculture station for the area. We saw an opportunity when KFAB made programming changes that really de-emphasized their commitment to farm broadcasting."
"It is extremely rare when a 50,000-watt upgrade is available for an AM station," noted Mike Hansen, general manager of KKSC. "We were able to go from a low-power radio station to a regional station serving agriculture and communities."
At the same time KKSC was launching its new call letters, image and program, AMR was conducting its two-year study across the entire Corn Belt. There was little time to generate awareness other than through programming and word of mouth. As a brand new station, the staff didn't hold out much hope for a large share.
"AMR placed its study the week we went on the air," Hansen says. "Since the AMR is a two-year study, we didn't have much of a chance to establish ourselves and our listenership. We considered it a strike against us from the very beginning."
What seemed like horrible timing turned out to be a strong boost for morale and sales ammunition for KKSC. "We hoped the station would just show up in our AMR study. What we received was as high as a ten share in KKSC's AMR study," Pelletier explains. "For the station to perform as well as it did in such a short period of time really served to solidify our belief that the area needed a strong ag-oriented station."
The surprising outcome of the AMR study allowed KKSC-AM 1020 to capture late spring 2002 advertising revenues with several national agriculture businesses. Pelletier says this is further proof the size of share has importance. "Ad sales follow share — plain and simple," he says.
Hansen doesn't expect the momentum the station has experienced to falter. He says the area being served is prime agricultural area — the eastern border of Nebraska and western Iowa — which will continue to be a good advertising market.
"We thought we might have to be more patient in attracting the farm audience. But with the numbers we received, we are very pleased," Hansen continues.
DRAWING A CROWD
One reason for the impressive share for a brand new entity is the farm-specific programming that KKSC provides to its listeners. Veteran farm broadcaster Emery Kleven describes the programming as "Ag CNN," which consists mainly of up-to-the-minute news, market updates, local weather and sports, and agriculture commentary.
Waitt Radio has already built a strong farm presence through the "Waitt Farm Network," which is anchored with 13 market reports per day and features market specialist Col. John Phillips. "Colonel John and Emery are both strong voices for agriculture in this area. Using their experience as the backbone for KKSC's farm programming probably contributed to the quick showing in the AMR," Pelletier says .
Of the programming components, the frequent market updates are a big favorite. In addition to Col. Phillips' reports, Kleven reports market updates every 10 minutes throughout the day, including prices from the NASDAQ and Dow Jones. The station staff updates cash market and futures prices every half-hour, and each day the station provides commentary by ProFarmer on current agriculture events. "One comment that we often receive from farmers is that they like the frequent market updates," Kleven says. "If a farmer jumps in his truck and misses the markets, he knows he can catch them again in less than 10 minutes on KKSC."
"We have gained significant recognition in a short time with our focused programming," says Hansen. He also credits the station's initial success to the credibility of Waitt's farm broadcasting team. "Emery and Col. John have a history of delivering the type of news and information that appeal to farmers," Hansen says.
The new station also serves as the headquarters of the Waitt Farm Network. Kleven's updates and programming augmented by the Colonel John reports are fed to 44 stations across five states.
Many non-ag residents of Sarpy County and the surrounding area are also big fans of KKSC. The arrival of the new station in the town is probably comparable to the building of a new Wal-Mart.
"The residents of this area were really in need of a hometown radio station," Hansen explains. "The reaction among the Sarpy County non-ag listeners was an instant hit!"
The agricultural roots of Waitt Media go back three generations to the Waitt Cattle Company. Agriculture has always been an important part of Norm Waitt Jr.'s family business, says Pelletier. "Norm Waitt Sr. was instrumental in our decision to have such a strong commitment to agriculture; after all, it is his livelihood and his father's and grandfather's before him."
Waitt Media has grown by acquisition. It has added radio, television and an impressive presence in the billboard industry. Pelletier explains that a key factor in remaining strong in the world of mergers and acquisitions is keeping your focus local. "We believe that being successful in small market radio stems from an active engagement with local communities, if we provide relevant programming for the people we serveÖthe rest will take care of itself," he says. "Norm firmly believes in being a leader in community service and each station we have is committed to that service on a daily basis."
KKSC has taken this philosophy to heart and become a big part of the local area by broadcasting sporting events, 4-H events and even playing the music for community events, such as a Sept. 11 ceremony.
"People are really grateful that we are here and that we are very visible. After all, the county has never had a radio presence before," Kleven notes. AM