One in a series
of profiles of successful stations in all market
It was 1 a.m. on a Friday in January,
but Tyson Conrady, program director of “Giant 96: Real
Radio” in Shelbyville, Ind., was wide awake, out covering a news
story for the station’s morning newscast.
|The station has hosted the local Cornstock festival/benefit on several occasions.
It’s typical of how he sees
his job. Like others on the staff, he handles a variety of duties: He is not
only the afternoon drive announcer, but he also does production and
engineering; and he reports on breaking news, whenever and wherever it
“People come to us for local
news,” he said. “People trust us. They may also listen to
the Indianapolis stations, but they know us, and they know we can give them
[the information] they need.”
Giant 96 is about 30 miles from
Indianapolis, market No. 38, and the station is within Nielsen’s
Indianapolis metro. But the station does not pay much attention to
what’s going on in the Indianapolis market. Like other successful
small-market stations, Giant 96 has found a formula that works for it, seeking
to be hyper-local and super-serving its community by covering local news and
local sports; telling the audience about openings of new stores; providing important
information for farmers; and broadcasting from local festivals and fairs in and
around Shelby County. (“We can go live from just about
anywhere,” Conrady says. “We use a refurbished Marti.
It’s ‘Old Reliable.’”)
|Then-Governor Mike Pence and wife Karen pose with
Giant 96’s Tyson Conrady shortly before Pence was named as Donald Trump’s
The station began in 1961 as a
directional AM daytimer with call letters WSVL and the slogan “The
Giant of the Blue River Valley.” Today, WSVX(AM), owned by 3 Towers
Broadcasting Co., is 260 watts non-directional by day with 4 watts at night,
but also covers the entire county via an FM translator it acquired in 2008. So
now Giant 96 is heard on both 1520 kHz and 96.5 MHz. Conrady believes the
station was the first AM in Indiana to obtain an FM translator, a strategy that
has since boomed in popularity around the country.
With only four full-time staff members
and one part-timer, Giant 96 is able to serve its target audience in Shelby
(population 18,000) and Shelby County (40,000). The station has no syndicated
programming. While it does use some voice-tracking, it is live and local during
most of the broadcast day, and it will readily break away from voice-tracking
for an important story. In winter, that means keeping listeners updated about
potential weather emergencies like ice storms.
Giant 96 has owners who live in the
community and work at the station: Scott Huber is general manager, and Johnny
McCrory is the news and sports director.
Huber, 47, was raised in Shelbyville;
he worked for the local newspaper and he ran a printing and office supply store
before coming to Giant 96 in 2001. McCrory, 45, came to the area after working
in college radio in Carbondale, Ill., and at several small-market stations; he
joined what was then WOOO in 1998. Two other members of their original business
group, Douglas Raab and Todd Glidden, have since died.
Owning a small-market radio station has
had its challenges at times, but Giant 96 has surprised a lot of people. Huber
remembers their early conversations about buying the AM, which by 2005 was
failing, its owners ready to give up on it.
Penny Lane talks with Paul Gable from Helping Hands for
“People thought I was crazy
to want to buy it. [The station] was losing money hand over fist. But I
didn’t want to see it go dark. Back then, nobody thought
we’d last two years, let alone 10. But we’ve more than
doubled our revenue from when we bought the station. The economy has had its
ups and downs, but our revenue has been very steady.”
Huber declined to state the
station’s revenue but said Giant 96 has been consistently profitable,
and he praised area businesses — especially the local hospital,
several car dealerships and several banks — that have been consistent
Typically, Giant 96 runs between 10 and
12 half-minute spots per hour. Huber says, “There are lots of
packages for events like high school sports.” The station has found
another revenue stream with its website, where online ads now generate between
8 and 10 percent of its sales.
Huber sees being in a smaller market as
“Small markets perform very
well in tough economic times. [Stores] want to bring in customers, and
they’re looking for people to help them grow their business. [Radio]
can help them with that. Because we’re in a small market, we can stay
ahead of the curve, and react to new trends.” Having the translator,
he said, helped the station through the hardest part of the recession and also
to keep up with an audience moving to FM.
|Johnny McCrory interviews a nurse at a local hospital.
The station is unrated, by choice.
“It’s not worth it for us,” Huber said. But he
can sense that the community pays attention to what Giant 96 is doing.
“We measure by interactions on social media. We get 70,000 views a
month on our web page, and we have about 80,000 followers on Facebook and
YouTube … We’re not just on the air; we can use our website
and social media to enhance our on-air product.” The station also has
a mobile app that allows listeners to hear it anytime from anywhere.
Co-owner Johnny McCrory hosts the
morning show and covers local sports, including play-by-play of such key events
as the Shelby County basketball tournament and covering Shelbyville High School
football. McCrory is also actively involved in the station’s
day-to-day operation. He’s up early to prepare for the morning show,
and on many nights, he’s working late broadcasting the games. He
rewrites the latest news stories so they can be posted to the
station’s website, and like several others on the staff he sometimes
While such work keeps him constantly
busy, McCrory says he loves every minute of it. He’s proud of the
station’s reputation. “I want people to hear a station that
comes from a small community but doesn’t sound like a small [market]
station,” he says.
On a recent February day, top stories
on the station website included a fire at Fairland First United Methodist
Church; the death a local restaurant owner; and the hiring of a vice
president/agricultural manager at a local bank. The site also featured a
section called “Giant 96 TV,” which had a number of video
interviews with local newsmakers, done by station staff.
|The Giant 96 Real Radio “Action Trailer” is a full
The AM airchain includes a Harris Gates
One transmitter, Orban processing, EV microphones, Dynamax console and
iMediaTouch automation; critical FM components include a Crown FM300
transmitter, Omnia processor and Jampro antenna. The station’s
343-foot tower, located in its backyard, serves both the AM and FM
Giant 96 has a top-40 format and uses
MusicMaster to schedule songs. It airs its own unique version of top
“We don’t live and
die by the [pop] charts,” said Conrady. “We try to play the
songs that are right for our audience. We know we are competing with Spotify
and Pandora, so it’s important for us to play the very best songs. We
play some local music, and some national hits. We’ll even play
country if it fits.”
The variety of music on the station
means mid-day announcer Penny Lane Diersing can play some blues. In fact, she
takes her show to Memphis for live coverage of the annual International Blues
Challenge. She is also known for her interviews with local and regional
musicians, some of whom have played live, acoustic sets on her show.
Whether she is interviewing a musician
or talking to a community leader, “I’m always trying to
create a connection with the audience,” she said.
“It’s like [they are] sitting on the couch listening to the
stories the guests are telling, or listening to musicians playing
live.” In addition to her air shift, she does some sales, a job with
which she is familiar. Prior to working at Giant 96, she sold cars; and she and
her husband ran a business that trained people in how to sell.
|Mitch Columbe signs up a listener for a drawing at the
Shelby County Fair.
Working for a small station often means
long hours, and everyone at the station acknowledges they could make more money
in a larger market; yet the staff express loyalty to Giant 96. Penny Lane said,
“I would never want to work for a corporate station. I have more
Huber understands that feeling.
“We can’t offer huge salaries, but we’re very
family-oriented. We’re there for them when they need
And people do stay for long periods of
time. “General Sales Manager John Schoentrup has been here off and on
for 20 years; and his mom used to work here … People want to feel
like they’re a part of something, that they have a say in how the
company goes forward.”
The sense of involvement in the
station’s future is important to the staff; so is being able to
interact with the audience. Tyson Conrady, who would like to work in politics
someday, loves Shelby County. “I can walk into a local store and
people know me, and I know them.”
Terrestrial radio is changing, he acknowledges.
“But I think there will continue to be a place for local radio
— we are the heartbeat of the town.”
Donna Halper profiled
WATD(FM) in Marshfield, Mass., in the Jan. 4 issue; read it at radioworld.com/watd.
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