A veteran of the Detroit radio market who migrated to Northern Michigan a few years back to change scenery and begin a series of new projects that included a management stint at KHQ and starting the Freeway Internet company with his brother Marty, Scott is now CEO of Michigan Talk Radio Network (MTRN), an ambitious and visionary effort to marry talk radio, local issues, and statewide coverage.
It was a daunting challenge from the beginning, but more than two years later, MTRN is doing quite nicely, thank you, having landed some of the most formidable radio talents across the state on its team, and building up its sales inventory and its affiliates, which began with six on January 1, 2000, to 26 and growing at present. MTRN also provides a complete Michigan news and sports audio service called MTRNNews, as well as radio production and satellite uplink services.
Scott, a renaissance man who helms his own show every weekday morning at six and frequently flies his own plane to visit stations, took a few minutes from his incessantly-jammed schedule to talk about the complexities of being a radio pioneer in a medium where changes happen on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
NE: The concept behind Michigan Talk Radio Network was something that has been bandied about for a number of years, but no one ever tackled it head-on. Why did you, and how did the idea evolve?
Scott: MTRN had its roots in a number of places, from Pat Gagliardi having introduced me to people in the legislature about five or six years ago to the Freeway Internet company here in northern Michigan, which was sold nearly four years ago. As part of the purchase, I had to consult with the company, but I wanted to get back into radio, so I used the capital from the sale to make that happen. I had thought about buying a station, but with huge conglomerates in each market, the prospect of trying to compete as a stand-alone seemed overwhelming and not much fun.
There were and still are a lot of AM and some FM stations all over the state who were looking at and needed programming, especially in the non-Detroit markets, and the time seemed right to seize the opportunity. We put together a game plan, built studios in Charlevoix, and went on the air on New Year‘s Day 2000 with a talk radio format that is far more regional in focus, more than just Rush and Dr. Laura. No one‘s been making it easier for radio stations to do that and there isn‘t a lot of regional coverage. We had six affiliates the day we signed on, in Greenville, Traverse City, Petoskey, Newberry, Mt. Pleasant, and Grand Rapids, and now we have 26, the furthest north being Marquette, and Benton Harbor/ St. Joseph in the south.
NE: That‘s quite an achievement. What else are you proud of having accomplished in the past two years?
Scott: One of the best moves was basing the organization in Charlevoix and securing the talents of a lot of people from northern Michigan, like Bob White and Bill Vogel, to name a couple. These are talented folks and some of the best broadcasters in markets of any size. From that point, we filled in from around the state - Dave Barber from Flint, Norm Jones from Traverse City, and meteorologist Darrin Rockcole from Lansing, and it all worked.
We‘ve also pushed the envelope on satellite technology and the Internet so that we can connect people from Flint, Lansing, Mackinac City, and Charlevoix all at one time and make it sound like they‘re in the same room together. Beyond that, advertisers have started to buy and more people are listening. I‘m proud that we‘re still on air because we broke new ground with a new concept, and no one else in the nation doing is what we‘re doing. It‘s a credit to us and the staff that we‘ve hung in there, because there have been some tough days.
NE: You work in a business where change is a constant factor. How do you keep up with it all, or even stay ahead in the game?
Scott: (Sighs) Change happening in radio? There are more groups and clusters of stations, but they‘re all downsizing and finding ways to make money with fewer people and more syndicated programs. The people involved with us can do global, interesting, provocative talk that hits home, and from a programming standpoint, that‘s exciting. There‘s a lot happening in the state that doesn‘t make headlines in the local papers but affects our lives. On the political scene, major decisions are being made and not a lot of places have Lansing bureaus for coverage anymore. It‘s astronomical what‘s things happening at state government levels. The most glaring example is the recent 37% pay raise the Michigan legislature gave themselves and talk radio should have been all over that. It didn‘t get near enough media coverage, but we were on it, and pleasantly surprised that Lansing responded fairly well.
We‘ve been getting a modest level of recognition that we exist, and we work to earn that respect every day. Now when something significant is going on at the governor‘s office, we get a call. We‘re as much of an insider as we can be in Charlevoix, but there‘s also a lot of advantages to sitting where we do. The biggest challenge to any new business is making the business end work and we‘re making real progress there as we grow more stations and affiliates. We launched a new news network in addition to our talk, so we‘re in the business of providing content to stations.
NE: What about new threats to the radio industry, like the two direct-delivered radio services in XM and SIRIUS? Some fear they‘ll revolutionize radio to the point where you won‘t have to listen to local stations.
Scott: We knew that was coming, so we positioned ourselves to have shows with the potential to continue to develop. The Captain and Crew have one of funniest shows I‘ve ever heard. This is a guy Northern Express readers label as their top radio personality, and he‘s hooked up with George Baier, who used to be with WRIF in Detroit. Having people discover them is important to us, and we want to see them grow.
NE: Where do you want MTRN to be in five years?
Scott: We want to be financially viable, and maybe build up another company. We can make this happen. We‘re on the right road. People love talk radio news and talk radio is the #2 format in state, and certainly in the cities, talk stations are strong performers. On September 11, what was first thing we all did? We went to the radio. It was how news was best shared once it was out. Talk radio has to be relevant to local people, and it takes a lot of creativity to do what we do. It‘s why the Captain decided he didn‘t want to play the same consulted-to-death 200 songs over and over again. This has been an enormous undertaking, to say the least, but we all still get up everyday and like the mission we‘re on, and that says a lot. I think we‘ll say the same in the future.
(Locally, you‘ll find MTRN shows at 1270 AM)
6a-9a Michigan Morning Show with Dave Scott
9a-12p Dave Barber Show
12p-3p Don Chiodo Show
3p-7p Big Michigan Afternoon Showgram with the Captain and George Baier
7p-10p Michigan Sports Tonight
10p-6a Best of Michigan Talk Radio Network
6a-8a Outdoor Magazine with Mike Avery
8a-9a Consumer Insider with Kathy Wilbur (Director of the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services)
9a-11a Travel Queen with Jane DeGrow
11a-12a Talkin‘ Technology with Heather Newman (Detroit Free Press)
12p-4p Michigan Weekend 4p-7p Michigan Sports Weekend
6a-10a Michigan Weekend
10a-12p Outdoor Magazine
12p-1p Talkin Technology
1p-3p Travel Queen
3p-4p Consumer Insider
4p-7p Michigan Sports Weekend