After a long spell when all were kept apart, the Arkansas Broadcasters Association (ABA) is preparing to meet again this spring at ARKCON 2022. After a postponement in 2021, this year’s reconvened convention — which takes place May 12 and 13 in Little Rock — will be free for all members.
Radio World spoke with Luke Story, president and CEO of the ABA, about the upcoming show, recognition of the centennial anniversary of Arkansas radio and what’s important to understand about broadcasters in our nation’s “Natural State.”
Radio World: How does it feel to be able to finally meet in person after being apart the last few years?
Luke Story: I think we’ll all agree we live and work in a people-first world, especially in our profession. It’s the life blood of what we do.
RW: What will the show do to support Arkansas broadcasters, especially in light of the long absence between shows?
Story: It’s all about providing our members ample time and opportunity to reconnect, to catch up with colleagues and to network. On day one we’ll have a reception and open networking times and time to get with vendors. The second day a full-day engineering seminar will run simultaneously. The [breakfast on Friday] will include an ABA business meeting.
RW: Is there one big issue that broadcasters from Arkansas need to keep their eye on?
Story: Streaming is big. In trying to get a handle on it, we [conducted] a survey of membership and it was eye opening to the association to see the need here. [Education] is a multistep process — to educate them and explain to them why it’s important. It all ties together. We have to convince broadcasters that this is a new technology to capitalize on. We want to put it before them, ease their nerves. Many have said that they don’t have the manpower. But it’s not a huge capital expense. Now is the time to strike.
RW: What are other issues of concern for radio broadcasters in Arkansas?
Story: Streaming is one. We’ll have a session on streaming that will be split into two: the how and the why. [Josh Braun from BlueFrame Technology will talk about how broadcasters can go about streaming high school sports programs]. This session will explain how to get started, the equipment needed and who to talk to. Really, it will offer a full encompassing explanation on how to begin. The second session will be the why. [Braun will delve into why stations should start investing in streaming.] We’ll talk about how broadcasters can monetize this.
The second thing we’ll talk about a lot, other than streaming, is big tech. We’ve got to remind broadcasters that they are technology, they have been at the forefront [in the media industry], but many see big tech as competition. But I say, maybe you can use some of that technology to augment what you do. It’s okay to embrace it. We’re going to look at what could be on the horizon.
RW: Who will be leading some of these discussions?
Story: We will have a legal and regulatory fireside with an associate counsel from NAB. Larry Walke, NAB legal and regulatory associate counsel, will speak alongside Frank Montero, a broadcasting, media and technology lawyer with Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth as part of the convention’s Legal and Regulatory Fireside Chat. [Issues covered include multiple ownership rules and regulations, political broadcasting rules and big technology.] This session will be moderated by incoming Arkansas Broadcasting Association Board Chair Kyle King.
We will also do a deep dive into big tech policy and how that is impacting our industry.
A session keynote with [former NFL player] Keith Jackson will offer a rally call and deliver an uplifting message about being out there, to continue being leaders in community.
The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) will be represented as well. RAB Senior Vice President Jeff Schmidt will conduct two sales sessions: a ‘what now/what’s next’ question as we approach this post pandemic time and a session on branding advertising strategies that are platform agnostic.
Discussions during the engineering seminar will talk about supply chain issues. Broadcasters are in need of equipment such as transmitters. But vendors can’t deliver for several months. So some vendors will be at the show.
We’re also celebrating the centennial for Arkansas radio. This will be held at the Arkansas Old State House at a reception for past presidents and current board.
RW: Why did the ABA decide to open the 2022 convention to members free of charge? What is the option for non-members?
Story: We felt it was the right thing to make this a free event. It’s free to all association members. We are also offering reduced pricing to non-members because we want all to have an option to attend.
RW: The past two years have been tough ones for so many people. What have you noticed as our industry starts to emerge into a post-pandemic world?
Story: I will that say our members showed — through the past two years — that they will put service to others over self and profit in order to serve the communities they’re in. We recognize what [they have been] going through.
Over the last two years, our work as all been advocacy based. While our advocacy will never diminish in value, the life blood of what we do is to bring people together. I’m excited about it. I think what our members will take away from this is that they get to talk with their colleagues and their competitors and learn that “I’m not the only one going through this,” such as handling staffing, how much advertising should go into digital and what tactics exist.
All of those conversation can happen here at this convention. I have been telling the board and staff that no matter what happens or how many people show up [to the convention], that it will be a victory. It’s a victory that we are able to host an event and to give our members the opportunity to come.
RW: There’s a story, isn’t there, that really illustrates how deep family ties and community support runs in Arkansas radio broadcasting?
Story: As a special tribute to our state’s radio centennial, we are going to have a fully restored GatesAir 250-A transmitter on display at ARKCON. Making it even more special is that we will be surprising the current owner of station KBTM(FM) with that restored 1938 transmitter.
The gentleman who is now the station’s current contract engineer, Palmer Johnson II, was named after his father — who in turn was named after the original owner of KBTM, Jay Palmer Beard. [The younger Palmer] is now the station’s contract engineer. Palmer Johnson II’s grandmother was also part of a singing group called The Johnson Family that performed on the station. In fact, his grandmother went into labor on-air at KBTM.
RW: What’s your assessment of how Arkansas broadcasters have managed over the last two years?
Story: I’m proud. Without a doubt. I think the pandemic brought the meaning of the words “community service” to life through the actions of our members. They are literally saying “I don’t care about making a profit at this point, I want to do what I’m expected to do for my community.” I think that now more than ever it’s [necessary to have] local journalism for news and information. There was severe weather here a few weeks ago and [stations had] cots in the studio because the staff was not going to miss a second of delivering the news.
I have been so impressed by the commitment of our members to the industry and the association. [At the start of the pandemic] so much was happening so fast and broadcasters were being asked to deliver what they’re always expected to deliver, times 10. So this show will be a relaxed, fun environment with some professional development so all can reconnect and have some fellowship.