10 Questions with ... Darrell Anderson
March 17, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
As a pre-med student in college, I started working part-time at the campus radio station. It was fun and I tried a newswriting course, which led me to change my major (sorry, Mom) to Mass Communications. My first job after college was assistant news director at KVOX-AM/FM in the Fargo/Moorhead market. Since it was only part-time, I arm-twisted the GM at KDLM-AM/KVLR-FM in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to hire me as the assistant ND there and I became the news director a few months later. I did news and a daily talk show for nine years before partnering with a couple of guys to buy KEYL-AM in Long Prairie, Minnesota, in 1988. I was the GM. We added KXDL-FM in â€™92. In â€™94, I came back to KDLM to manage the FM, but left a few months later to start our syndication company.
1. You've been doing "Successful Farming Radio Magazine" since 1996. How did the feature come about, and how did your involvement with Successful Farming come about?
North Shore Productions started in 1995 with no clear direction for what it was going to be. You know, like most small businesses start out. I wanted to focus on syndication but, until that got some traction, I produced radio spots for local advertisers and did consulting/program production for a local cable access channel. Iâ€™d grown up on a farm and Successful Farming was a fixture in my Dadâ€™s magazine pile, so I pitched their editor the idea of a daily radio feature. They were interested and told me to find out if stations would run it. I mailed cassettes (!) with five sample shows to 200 stations that were carrying ag programming at the time. Forty four of them said, â€œyes,â€ and we were on our way.
2. How do you keep up with what's going on in the ag industry? What's your process in creating and writing each broadcast and determining who to interview?
The ag industry is changing and advancing so rapidly, itâ€™s a real challenge to keep up. I get news releases by email daily and I spend a fair amount of time on industry-related websites. The folks at Successful Farming keep me posted, too.
Many of my shows are repurposed from articles in the magazine or something Iâ€™ve run across on SFâ€™s website, Agriculture.com. I do a lot of phone interviews with their sources, and I frequently try to explore angles different from the magazine so the radio shows wonâ€™t be just a simple rehash of content. I have full editorial control of the show, however, so Iâ€™m able to cover topics of my choosing. And there are lots of those.
3. Agriculture is of critical importance to the entire country, yet in urban or non-farming areas, you won't hear farm reports much. What issues facing the farming industry are ones that non-ag-news people should be following? What topics that you cover should more people be alert about?
When radio was getting started back in the 1920s, there was a lot of programming targeted to farmers. It was their daily connection to the rest of the world. Gradually, many of the high-power metro stations stopped running farm programs and now only a very few are still doing so. Fortunately, there are many small market stations that still consider farmers an important audience.
One thing thatâ€™s happened as a result is that agricultural topics are covered by reporters who know little about the subject. I hear and see a lot of these reports, and, as a journalist, itâ€™s worrisome. The public needs to know about food safety, biofuels, agricultural sustainability, and many other issues, but the information needs to be accurate. Just because it comes out of someoneâ€™s mouth doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s true.
People need to know that farmers and ranchers areâ€”with few exceptionsâ€”good people who take good care of the land and their livestock. They work their butts off to not just feed the world safe and affordably, but they provide alternative fuels and energy sources, biopharmaceuticals, and other products. My show has two audiences: the farming/ranching community and the nonfarming community, and my goal is to keep both interested.
4. What about the feature has contributed most to its success and longevity? Why do you think the show has lasted over 5,000 episodes?
Itâ€™s a niche topic. Stations that want to run ag programming donâ€™t have that many choices, but those who produce the few shows out there that cover agriculture are really good at it so everybody wins. My program is only 90 seconds of content, but I canâ€™t tell you how many times affiliates have told me they get more favorable listener response from this little feature than anything else theyâ€™re running. I have several affiliate stations that have carried the SFRM since the first episode. Given how often formats and owners and programmers change, thatâ€™s some kind of miracle. Or maybe they forgot itâ€™s still on the schedule.
5. Recent research showed radio remaining a primary source of agricultural news for farmers. Why do you think radio in general remains a leader in disseminating ag news? Do you think that digital delivery will ever become bigger than traditional radio, or will AM and FM remain the leading delivery system for news and market information? Why/why not?
Farmers and ranchers are constantly on the move and radio is a mobile medium. Successful Farmingâ€™s also done some research, and their readers picked radio and mobile (smartphone and tablet access to the web) as their top media consumed between 5am and 6pm daily. Farmers know when to tune in to their favorite radio station for the ag markets or the weather. As long as stations keep delivering that desired content, they will have an audience.
I mentioned earlier that radio was a key source of information for farmers close to a hundred years ago. It was really the only real-time medium operating then. When you own 100% of an audience, you can only lose share from there as competitors come into play. As far as digital vs. AM/FM delivery is concerned, hereâ€™s my prediction for the future. What is now AM and FM will eventually be consolidated into one band, all digital (not IBOC/HD Radio), that can be tuned in on the personal communication device of the future. Stations will continue to produce content because that is what listeners care about. The adoption of digital by traditional radio content creators and deliverers is just the lead-in.
6. Of what are you most proud?
When I was managing my own station, I always thought syndicators could do better by their affiliate stations. So when I became a program syndicator, I implemented a revenue-sharing plan with affiliates. I had to discontinue that plan recentlyâ€”hey, this business is no slam dunkâ€”but for many years I was able to channel a fair amount of revenue to a lot of micro-market stations that never wouldâ€™ve seen those national dollars otherwise.
7. Who do you consider your mentors and inspirations in radio and in life?
My boss back at KDLM (first time through, not the second) was Dave Knutson (pronounced kuh-NEWT-sun). Dave was the quintessential small-market GM and he helped me learn what I needed to know to run my own station, though I know I could never be as good at it as he was. Another was Don Schermerhorn, who set me up to partner with him and let me have pretty much a free hand in the business of station ownership and management.
My wife, Maureen, and our daughter, Katie, are also inspirations. They are two of the smartest people I know and the best examples I can think of for how to live life to the fullest.
8. You also produce your wife's show -- what's the best thing about working with your spouse?
Wasnâ€™t I just talking about Maureen? Iâ€™ve had some great business partnerships but I canâ€™t imagine a better one than I have with Maureen. North Shore Productions is just two people: Maureen and me. We work at home, in the same office, literally inches from each other, nearly every waking minute of every day. This type of thing would, with most couples, lead to very bad things. Yet we are having a blast. We syndicate three shows nationally -- the SFRM, Maureenâ€™s weekend talk show "Doing What Works," and a daily vignette version of "DWW" -- on a combined list of some 400+ radio stations. We are best friends and each otherâ€™s biggest fans. Who could ask for more?
By the way, our home town of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, (pop. 8900) has perhaps the largest number per capita of nationally-syndicated radio hosts in the country. Ed Schultz lives here, too.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
...coffee, Ibuprofen, and a few laughs with Maureen. Not necessarily in that order.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
Oddly, I believe it was both the best and worst advice. It came from a bad boss who will remain unnamed for obvious reasons. Upon hearing of my entrepreneurial aspirations, he told me, â€œYou canâ€™t be a nice guy and succeed in business.â€
It was the best advice because it was a warning that Iâ€™d run across many not-so-nice guys (and gals) in the course of doing business, and that was true. And it was the worst advice because he and I apparently had different definitions for success, and his vision blurred the goal for me for a long time. He may end up dying with more toys than I have, but Iâ€™ve had the privilege and the fun of working in a business that I love with a lot of nice people whom I love. Iâ€™m okay with that.