10 Questions with ... Bob Schmidt
September 4, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started interning at Hot Rockin' 104 in Twin Cities, got a job as an overnight board op while going to Brown at KDWB AM, interned at 101.3 KDWB, got first part time job at WHMH in St. Cloud, worked overnights at KLSS in Mason City, did all shifts at KMOR in Scottsbluff, and worked the last 20 years in La Crosse, Wisconsin: 15 years at WIZM, the last couple working for the La Crosse Radio Group stations, Magic 105 and, since July 1st, at Today's Talk 1490.
1. You've launched a new morning show at WLFN, where you've been doing afternoons on a sister music station. How did the new talk gig come about?
Flipping Adult Standards WLFN to Today's Talk was the vision of our General Manager Pat Smith. I had previous experience in talk, and Pat asked me if I would be interested in doing talk radio again. It was like he read my mind. He assembled a team lead by Program Director Neil Klos and put together a great line-up. Our lineup includes: Dennis Miller, Michael Smerconish, Vicki McKenna, Wall Street Journal radio, Alan Colmes, Jon Grayson and my show, "BS with Bob Schmidt."
2. What's changed the most about radio since you started in the '80s?
When I first started in radio, my first full time job was in Mason City, Iowa at KLSS. It was a music station, and we played albums and carts and very few CDs. We had a full on air staff with live people 24/7. Over the years I saw albums, carts, CDs, and people fade into the woodwork.... everything now is computerized, and automated. With that being said, I think that show prep has gotten lots easier; with the internet and TiVo, the world is at our fingertips and we can watch it all.
3. What's your favorite kind of topic for your talk show? What kinds of things, all else being equal, do you like to talk about?
I love life and talking about it, including what is going on in La Crosse, what you are talking about at work, or around the dinner table. I want you to get to work and say "did you hear what Bob said about the La Crosse Police Department or the flag at Grandad Bluff?" I find that talking about things other than strictly politics makes for a more fun show. My favorite show I have ever done was one on building the best sandwich; Everyone has an opinion about a sandwich, and they aren't going to tip their political hand when describing the perfect sandwich.
4. You're a local talker in a smaller market, and there aren't as many of you as there used to be. What evidence can you point to - listener reaction, community involvement -- to indicate that people are hungry for local talk in smaller markets?
Everyone has an opinion, and we are on the air to help people have a voice for that opinion. I always am shocked when someone throws back my words to me, or comments on the stories I have told or interviews that we have had on the air. I was able to interview Governor Scott Walker after the recall, giving our audience a chance to talk with the Governor, and with other media sources you could not get that; this is why local radio rocks. We try to get involved in as much as we can, and, as you know, staffs are lots smaller than in the past, and I am the only local on air personality at our station, so between my PD and myself, we try to get to all the parades and be involved in the community as much as we can, helping different organizations promote their events. We have been getting good feedback from the community on the format switch and have been getting more of the callers that I used to get when I worked across town at another talk station.
5. What's your process -- how do you prepare for each show? What resources do you use?
It's funny when I was in school I hated doing research, HATED IT. I now find myself doing it all the time. I like to listen to the national radio guys, read the paper, watch TV, check All Access, and ask my kids and friends what is going on. Between all of them, I come up with stuff to talk about. I am a big believer that life is show prep: I have 4 kids, a wife of 22 years, bills, and a mortgage. I have the same struggles as my buddies and my neighbors. I try to keep it real.
6. How do you use social media in conjunction with your show, if at all? How do Twitter and Facebook enhance your work, or do they?
I used to use Myspace (before it died), Twitter and Facebook. I found that my life was being consumed by all these social media time wasters, I now only post on Facebook. I found that I could always be looking or reading something with Twitter and I really don't care when you are shopping or going to the bathroom or what you had for lunch. With Facebook, I have my account and one for the station, I post topics on the station page and my thoughts on both by use of tags. We also just added a chat option on our website www.todaystalk1490.com.
7. What would you say to someone seeking to get into the radio business today -- would you encourage them or discourage them, and what advice would you give them?
I am kind of iffy on this one, I have had tremendous opportunities because of radio. But when I started there were lots of small market stations that helped you to develop as a talent. Now they are few and far between; not too many stations will allow you to get your feet wet. I went to Brown in 1987, and of the 20 or so students that started with us, 14 graduated, and of the 14 I am the only one left in the business.
Advice I would give to the newbie is to always be asking why. Talk to everyone at the station, and don't avoid the salespeople, because if they like you, they will sell you, and that is how you make money. Also get to know everything at the radio station; with the way this business has changed in the past 25 years, I am sure the next 25 will bring even more changes.
8. The last time we talked, three years ago, you said that you were getting more passionate about politics, with stronger opinions creeping into your conversations with friends. Is that still the case in light of the discussions over the past few years about the "coarsening" of political discourse? Is the election year, and Wisconsin's state house drama of the last year, affecting how you feel about politics?
It's funny: the older I get the more I tend to gravitate to friends with the same political views I have. We do talk politics around the card table on Friday nights and do give and take crap from each other. I find myself talking more politics with my friends and being more moderate while on the air, allowing the guest to shine rather offering up my thoughts; I try to ask the questions that I think the listener would ask, always asking why. I am guessing I am like most people, sick of the political ads, and with us being a talk station I am guessing as we march closer to November we will be getting our fill of negative ads from all sides. It is funny that with the recalls we have had here in Wisconsin, the only people happy about them were TV, radio, newspapers, and attorneys, because they were all making money.
9. Let's say radio didn't exist or wasn't an option for you. If you hadn't gone into radio, what do you think you'd have been doing today? What would you like to be doing if radio wasn't in the picture? You've been working as a website builder alongside your radio career -- how important has it been to have something else going on in your career alongside your radio work?
My Dad and I had a conversation about this very subject about 15 years ago; he said, 'Bob, I am glad you found radio.' I asked why, and he said, "because your Mother and I had no idea what in the hell you would do with your life."
With that being said, I think if I wasn't in radio I would be an entrepreneur of some sorts. I always have 4 or 5 irons in the fire. I have a passion for improv and will be teaching a class on it at a local theater starting next month, and have done some teaching of basic web classes and have substituted at Radio 1 Broadcast School. It's kind of funny that the smart ass in high school actually likes to help others learn. As for the internet business I am glad that I have had that, because when I got laid off a few years ago, it was my source of income till I got back into radio full time.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in the business?
Listen. We all think that our job is to talk, but we forget that half of it or more should be to listen. You don't always have to be right, and it is OK to say you don't know. Show prep is king. A couple other things I have picked up from others along the way: As a talk show host, do not expect calls, and it is your job to educate, inform and entertain.