WEKT - Community Focus + Modern Tech = Success

By Clark Novak on Jan 30, 2024 2:55:59 PM

AoIP isn't just for big markets

Kentucky's WEKT is community radio at its best

In a broadcast world dominated by mega-corporations, community radio's relevance is sometimes questioned. Just don’t question it with Beth Mann around. Mann, the President and CEO of Kentucky-based Edge Media Group, has proven that commitment to local programming, community involvement, and a view to the future are keys to a loyal listener base.

Beth Mann, CEO Edge Media Group

Beth Mann, CEO, Edge Media Group

A 40-year broadcast veteran and lifelong radio lover, Ms. Mann began her career at the age of 17, mentored by legendary Kentucky broadcaster D.J. Everett III. As a college student at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, she made a 400-mile round-trip each weekend to work at a TV station in Hopkinsville, spending nearly 10 years in television before transitioning to radio, where she learned sales before moving to management. She became owner of WKDZ-FM, Cadiz, in 2015 and soon added WHVO and WPKY to her group’s portfolio.

We sat down with Beth to discuss her newest station acquisition, WEKT, a non-directional AM station (500 Watts daytime, 18 Watts at night) licensed to Elkton, Kentucky, about 49 miles west of Bowling Green.

Telos Alliance: So, tell us how you became interested in broadcasting.

logo@2xBeth Mann: My love for this business started when I was eight or nine. The very station that we just bought, WEKT, was being built right across the street from my grandmother’s house. And I came home one day and told my mom, “When I grow up, I'm going to own a radio station.” So, I’ve literally known all my life that that's what I wanted to do. 

Telos: And then you bought the station you grew up across the street from!

Mann: Yes! The opportunity to add WEKT to our group occurred over the summer last year [2023]. It all just came full circle, you know? To come back and own my hometown station where all my love for broadcasting started is just thrilling beyond words, and the community, I think, is just over the top, delighted to have good, strong, local broadcasters in their market. 

Telos: What was your first order of business once you acquired WEKT?

Mann: Our transmitter site and backup studio is in the original trailer put in place when the station was built. It's still on the same site it was on when I was a little girl and fell in love with it.  But we felt that we needed to be in a more visible location. So we took over operation of the station under LMA on July 1st, 2023, and by August 1st, we had built a brand new studio on the Courthouse Square in Elkton with all new equipment. We flipped the format from gospel to classic hits, put in all new automation from WideOrbit, a new traffic and billing system from Radio Workflow, and, of course, Axia studio equipment from Telos Alliance.

IMG_0981Telos: It sounds like you and your crew were running flat-out!

Mann: Oh my God, it was wide open crazy. But we needed to get everything done so that we could sell and broadcast to promote and market high school football. Todd County has only one high school, so you can imagine how the community rallies around that school system. So we needed to go from July 1st to the first football game, which is the second weekend in August. We created a new website, a web stream, and a new streaming app, all in about 60 to 90 days.

Telos: Your goal with WEKT is to super-serve the community?

Mann: Right! We do lots of local programming. There’s news every hour, on the hour, from 6 AM to 5 PM. We partnered with Todd County Schools to put a curriculum in place for the students to be able to be a part of our stations, working with high-school kids on all aspects of what we do. Whether it's writing and recording news and sports coverage, creating graphic designs, or even marketing and sales or promotion, we're working with those students at Todd County High School to do that. 

Telos: So you really are a full-service station. There aren’t a lot of those around anymore.

Mann: Yes. We do comprehensive weather coverage and a lot of agricultural programming; we're working with the local FFA and 4-H clubs, and they are writing and producing ag information for the community. And we run those every hour: it's a point of pride, an ag fact about Todd County with a 10-second sponsorship, and the kids are the ones doing those messages. It’s a very cool feature in a county that's highly, highly ag-driven. And, of course, we do remotes and tailgate parties for all high-school home games.

We did not buy WEKT to have a jukebox in the corner. That was not our plan. At any point, that was not the plan. So yeah, we're putting a ton of local programming on it.

WEKT studio with Axia iQx consoleTelos: You decided to install an all-IP Axia system for your studios; you have an Axia iQx as your main on-air console. Why did you make that decision?

Mann: I think the greatest threat to our company and our industry is not teaching the next generation to love the business and the industry the way we love it. We need to be bringing up the next leadership group. So in January of 2023, we created a “futures team”, basically choosing six or seven people that we felt would be the future leaders in our company. Each of these people has a mentor so we know who our next program director will be, who the next sales manager will be, who the new ops manager will be. And when the WEKT opportunity came up, a few months after the team was formed, it seemed to me the stars were perfectly aligned to teach each of them their roles using WEKT. In January, we promoted two of our futures team members; Joshua Claussen will serve as PD, and John Morgan Francis is now Community Leader for Todd County.

Now, our group program director and operations manager, Bill Booth, was fairly opposed to going IP, because as he will tell you, “I'm an analog guy in a digital world.” But we talked and decided that WEKT was a good place for us to learn digital at a low risk, and allow us to train our new young people so that when we do put it in our other operations, we have people who are knowledgeable and can help teach other people how to do it. 

So we chose Axia and IP because it was bringing the future into the current times and it made sense to me from a timing perspective. And we were trying to build something that was exciting, that was tech-driven, that our young people would be proud to be part of. 

WEKT Studio

Telos: The pictures of WEKT’s studios are really beautiful.

Mann: Thank you! The space was really a lucky find. The courthouse there is the oldest operating courthouse in Western Kentucky; it's a beautiful historic area. Elkton citizens are very proud of their community, and our studios needed to reflect that. At the same time, we knew we would have a lot of students in our facility, so we built them to be very modern, very contemporary, a very high-tech environment, because they need to be engaged.

We're even using IP codecs and fiber to send audio to our transmitter site and to feed our streams, because we wanted to be respectful of the beautiful historic courthouse square and not clutter the view with STL dishes and such.


Telos: So the Axia equipment really works for you.

Mann: It does. I've got several friends that I trust a lot who were already using Axia products, and my engineer, Russell Lafferty, has done some recent installs with Axia. It just all kind of made sense; it was the right time to pull the trigger. 

It’s pretty neat. Because we went digital, we were able to build the studio with contemporary furniture instead of the heavy console furniture you needed to hide analog wiring. I mean, in an analog environment, we have closets that size! Instead, we've got wide-open spaces, where your chairs slide right up under the countertop. IP really allows a lot to happen in a much smaller space. And it looks right out onto the historic town square, which is absolutely beautiful. 

WEKT Studio

Telos: Beth, thanks so much for your time and insights. Do you have anything to add?

Mann: I really want to challenge our industry, our station owners, to take a look at resources right in front of us and to maximize those resources. There are many, many small stations that are unused. There are many AM stations not doing a very good job of programming, that are jukeboxes or repeaters for something else. 

If you will focus on local and focus on programming and focus on today's kids, you can do great things. Our station, we've quadrupled the billing on that station. Now, I didn't buy this one thinking I was going to get rich. But the revenue's there - if you will go all in and give the community what they need. 

People today don’t care what band they’re listening to. With today's dashboard, you set your preset one time - nobody cares whether it’s AM, FM or a webstream. What they care about is what they're listening to. If you have the right content, they will find the best platform available to listen to it. And so we built this thinking that we were building a stream, a really good app and easy to listen to format.

Telos: Thank you again, Beth.

Mann: You are sure welcome. And thank you guys for for a great company. We're excited about being in the Axia world!

Kirk Harnack streams TWiRT from WEKT

Kirk Harnack hosts TWiRT #677 from WEKT, featuring Edge Media Group CEO Beth Mann, Group Operations Manager Bill Booth, and WEKT Program Director Josh Claussen (pictured). Watch it here.

Topics: independent radio, AoIP studios, axia iqx, 2024

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