Bruce Erlandson: Up to Eleven
BY Jelli ON March 19, 2015 IN Up to Eleven
Today, the Jelli team shines a spotlight on Digity Media’s Watertown, South Dakota’s Operations Manager/Regional Engineer Bruce Erlandson in our latest installment of “Up to Eleven.”
The people we’re interviewing for “Up to Eleven” are turning it up past ten every day and Bruce is no exception. He has been working in radio for 41 years and juggles two jobs for Digity as both the Operations Manager and Regional Engineer for its six stations KWAT-AM, KSDR-AM, KSDR-FM, KIXX-FM, KDLO-FM and KKSD-FM.
We hope you enjoy March’s “Up to Eleven” feature!
The Jelli Team
Operations Manager/Regional Engineer, Digity Media
Jelli: What led you to a career in radio?
Erlandson: I was drafted into the Army and then spent a week taking all of these tests. I was told I had an aptitude in both language and electronics so the Army gave me two options. I could either go to language school or I could go down to Fort Benning, Georgia and attend radio school. I chose radio school. After I got out of the Army I went to a two year electronics school here in Watertown. Along the way, I was offered a six week course to take if I wanted to secure a first class FCC license. The license would allow me to work at a radio station that had a directional antenna system. After my first year of schooling I was contacted by a local radio station asking me if I wanted to interview for an engineer position that was opening up as the guy was retiring. I got the job in 1974 and I’ve been here for 41 years.
Jelli: How would you describe the radio landscape in your market?
Erlandson: Watertown is a town of 23,000 people—we’re considered a big town in South Dakota! We’re the fifth largest city in the state. We have a wonderful radio market here—we have our six stations and there are two standalones. I respect our competition. That’s what makes things fun—having some healthy competition. The reason we have a good broadcast radio market in Watertown is because we’re very localized with our content—local sports, news and weather and farm. We can have an impact on what’s going on in the community and we have real people doing real radio. We’re not depressed—it’s a good financial market for us all.
Jelli: Are you wearing more “hats” than you have in the past?
Erlandson: If I went back 15 years, we had 32 people on staff that worked at four stations. Now, we have 22 people working at a total of six stations as we’ve added two more radio stations into the mix. The current consolidation is driving most of that now that corporate has gotten involved in radio. It’s become a different landscape. We escaped that in Watertown for many years but in 1999 that changed. They (corporate) drive the dollar and they want the most bang for their buck. There were staff cutbacks and responsibilities got increased for the people that continue to work in radio. My responsibilities have increased more on the engineering side by the addition of more radio stations.
Jelli: What is your favorite part of the job?
Erlandson: People! That’s what I look forward to and I’ve always been really blessed to work with great people. If you have a great bunch of people to work with it makes it easy. And, I also enjoy problem solving on the engineering side—you’re presented with some sort of disaster and then get to come up with a solution. It’s always fun to have a good project.
Jelli: What is the most challenging part of the job?
Erlandson: I’ve been doing this job for so long that not too much is very challenging anymore. I remember in Hot Springs, South Dakota I was installing a new control room and had walked into the station manager’s office and saw a sign above the door that read “This job would be easy if it wasn’t for the people.”
The biggest challenge in radio today is finding good people to hire. People are just not going into radio anymore. Granted this is Watertown, South Dakota but we still have some pretty good radio here. I remember asking a tower crew I was working with a few months ago if I was one of the youngest engineers they’ve worked with or one of the oldest ones. They told me, “You’re one of the youngest ones we work with” and I’m 63!
Jelli: What are you doing social media-wise?
Erlandson: Well, I’m definitely a Facebooker—when you’ve got grandkids spread around the country you’ve got to keep up with them!
The stations have Facebook pages. I get up at 7:00am and log into Facebook to see what my stations are doing and then I check on my grandchildren. We stream audio at four out of our six stations. We also do some video streaming at our AM talk station and have a camera in the studio so people can sign on to watch our video stream. We also video stream our sporting events. Some people can sit down in Mesa and watch their grandkids play basketball.
Jelli: What makes your station “unique?”
Erlandson: I would say the longevity of the staff that I have. Most of the people that work here I hired in the late Seventies and early Eighties. I try to hire local people. Then, once I have them on staff I try to get them married, buy a house and have kids. If I’m successful with that strategy that means they’ve established roots and will stick around!
Jelli: Why do you think terrestrial radio stations should invest in technology… like programmatic?
Erlandson: Here’s what I’ve been involved with in the past 10 years… in 2004 we were purchased by Three Eagles and it was the best company I’ve ever worked for in terms of radio engineering because they invested in technology. I rebuilt every studio—over 25 new studios and replaced every single AM transmitter at six stations. It was a breath of fresh air. We were able to bring everything up-to-date and install state of the art equipment greatly improving attitude and reliability. I’m all for bringing in technology that will help radio make additional revenue. Anything that fits into what we’re currently doing and runs ads in a professional manner is a positive. That includes Jelli. My Jelli fish—that’s what I call ‘em!
Jelli: What advice would you give to people new to the business?
Erlandson: The first thing I would tell people is to get some training and education. Another thing I’ve always done over the years as a manager is personality testing. I went to school for it and I started using it and my general manager finally came around to giving the tests. The ones you bring in to train for the sales team—if you bring in the wrong personality type you just end up having to start all over again.
Jelli: What was your favorite radio station to listen to when you were a kid?
Erlandson: KOMA- Oklahoma City! It was my favorite station when I was in high school and you could only listen to it at night. It was Top 40 music. I also always liked KDWB out of Minneapolis.
Jelli: Bonus question (#11): For someone vacationing in your market, what one thing would you say they “must see?”
Erlandson: You have to go and see the lakes. We’re called Watertown because we have two lakes and one is within the city limits. It’s the third largest lake in South Dakota and called Lake Kampeska. If you’re a camper you can pitch a tent or rent a cabin at Lake Kampeska. You can also fish, water ski or just relax on a nice beach. Visitors also need to go see the Terry Redlin Art Center. Terry Redlin is a wildlife artist and when he became famous he decided to build the center and display all of his artwork in his hometown of Watertown.