This writing is overdue by a couple of days now, but hopefully still as significant. Seems like each year we hit the anniversary of WION coming to life as "I-1430" with our team, I am compelled to write. Some say it gets too "sappy"...but that's a minor risk I'll take...
It's 13 years this weekend since WION was put back on the air by a team of talented people who love radio. September 1st of 2004 was the actual day, and who knows how many listeners we had...the Sentinel-Standard had done an article on us, and we had a few visitors on the air that morning, but I'm sure, given the time it's taken to grow the station, that the date of Sept. 1st 2004 was bigger for us, than for most listeners to radio.
Personally, I never saw Ionia when I came here as my destination. It was a stop along the way, providing my first radio station to own (with Jim Aaron), and a step closer to wanting something different, which, at the time included a license I had filed for out west.
I'm happy to report things have changed. The station, which came back from the dead had no website. There was no following, no official current logo, no accounts receivable, no client-advertisers, and most importantly...no listeners. But, slowly and surely those problems were solved, one pair of ears at a time, one issue at a time. You've developed trust in us, our on-air personalities, and our presence in your communities (not just Ionia.) You've helped us fund-raise for many great causes. You've helped us grow.
I can remember many a trip back from my former hometown in Lenawee County to Ionia, thinking, "I'm heading back to...the station"... and, I can remember one night on that 100 mile drive finally saying to myself, "I'm going HOME." What a difference that makes when you settle in to a place in your life, planned, or unplanned, and finally call it, "home."
Tonight, I was traveling home from that area once again, after visiting family. I passed through Jackson, the town where my first fulltime radio gig came to me on AM 970, and I got thinking, how blessed I am...to have had the fortune to work for some GREAT radio stations, each of which, through my employment, taught me things which help me each day at WION. WKHM was a full-service AM at the time, 24 hours a day live, no FM, and doing GREAT. An incredible team it was! Later came time in Escanaba as a program director, and Hillsdale, MI as both the night man who signed the station off at midnight, and later, as morning host before coming to revive and own WION. There was WITL in Lansing on weekends as both Jim Carlyle, and "Jim McIntyre" when management wanted a different name in the big city vs. my name at nights on WKHM. WITL taught me music radio, and I learned from the best, (the late Jay J. McCrae and Jordan Lee.) to whom I'll always be in debt. It was there that "Steve, the Voice Guy" as you know him, and I first met as part-timers for WITL. I spent nearly a decade, (the longest running morning host, I think...) on WLKI in Angola, IN and met Garry Osborn and Randy Edwards who now are part of our station here! I learned localism, live phones, and how to be in "touch" with listeners in a way that promoted community and station together. And, I even unofficially taught some students "radio" at Tri-State University, taking their on-again/off-again station to being noticed in the community! While I was never a real "teacher" by pay or by diploma, I taught RADIO, and one of my students is successfully working and has-been in radio for many years now as a program director. He got bit by the bug, just like I did years ago.
So, landing in Ionia, while not the goal, became my place. My "Now." And, as I look at how this close-knit community works together and plays together, I honestly can't picture anywhere else I'd rather be doing radio right now! Having spent 13 years as your morning host, and showing you how "hokey" I can be at times has been wonderful, enjoyable, sometimes challenging, but...always rewarding.
It's amazing sometimes how a plan we have for ourselves changes....for the good. Nearly 20 years ago I thought I'd be working and owning a station in Colorado, and here, WION continues to grow, WGLM was brought on board, Jim Aaron, my friend of many years manages and hosts there, and we have had the pleasure of sharing a dream. As I recall it was worded something like this: "To do radio fulltime, in a small town, and make a respectable living doing it!" Well, with our team of announcers, engineers, volunteers like Popeye John, Penny Beeman and others, BOTH Jim and I have been able to do that. He now handles everything at WGLM AM and FM, and I have remained here, at WION....to bring you AM Stereo, bad jokes, and hopefully some support when the community or charities need us.
I'm sure Jim Aaron echoes my sentiments of thanks, and from MY seat, I've never had more challenges, and yet more FUN in radio. It's been great building back the historic call letters, (WION) and. then adding the county-wide FM, the larger AM signal, AM Stereo, and streaming!
It's not easy being in business these days. Not for ANY kind of business, but...in our case, at WION, it's because of trust...between listeners and WION, Client-advertisers and WION, and of course, between team members, too. Most of our advertisers are small businesses, the "Mom and Pop" style of store or service, but they're not alone! We try hard to market them well, treat them well, and grow with them. 13 years says, it's working.
So, this weekend, a huge thank you to ALL of you....listeners, advertisers, engineers, volunteers, listening businesses, and EVERYONE, who for 13 years have helped us grow. You may not know it, but you're enjoying AM in an era where some people say radio is slowing. We're Not. Some say radio won't make it in the digital world. We ARE. And, some say AM just can't be done in a small town and be done locally without "all talk radio." We do it every day.
I'm a grateful owner and announcer, blessed very much to have found Ionia, and to have all the great relationships in business and personally that make life here my HOME. I can't imagine not knowing the people I've met here, or going through life without them, now that they're part of this station and it's circle of friends.
Who knows what's next after WION. I'm in NO rush. It's my place to be for now...and that's MORE than good enough...that's GREAT.
Thanks for 13 years!