Every year at this time, my mind goes back over the different Christmases and New Years' I've celebrated since moving to Ionia and buying WION radio. Most of the time, I find myself counting my blessings for a few things. Then more things. Not a bad thing to think about at Christmastime.
In the case of "our" WION, first concern and first thanks was for "survival" of the station. (The first few years were scary as we proved we were here to stay through our commitment to community and the fact we lasted longer than any owner except Monroe MacPherson, the original owner.)
After being thankful for "survival" comes the fact that each year brought it's challenges, and that despite all those challenges we grew as a company, and became more trusted as a community partner. We survived lightning hits that completely ruined our transmitter. We survived a failing roof and got it replaced with a lifetime metal one. One winter we survived the well at the station failing during a morning show, and the fact we needed to cough up six grand for a new one! We grew in reliability when we took on additional debt to install a generator that has served us well in many a power outage, and kept us on the air during emergencies. We grew again when we modified our AM to travel farther in the daytime than it ever has, followed by the addition of our FM signal on 92-7 for Ionia County.
When the ability to stream came our way with the 60th anniversary of the station in 2013, many Chamber members came to a morning show and celebrated with us as we brought this town's little AM stereo station to the world, and joined the ranks of the "big boys" who stream with their own app. Again, great growth, and a success in the fact we do it all locally, without having to partner with any larger radio company to distribute our programming, (100 percent duplicated, nothing blocked) on the web!
There's been so many times that others have helped me personally, and helped WION to get through the rougher times...and each time we found success and a little more growth. I can recall the very day we were having the generator installed. The station's power had to be turned on and off/on and off many times. Nerve racking for a station owner and morning host..but we had to do it. Then came the knock at the front door, and a very polite and proper gentleman, known for his community service and his way of blending good financial decisions with good people was well known. In his arm was a 6-pack of Killians beer, and he placed it on the front office desk saying, "you've had a rough day, but it's all for the good...." then left. The early days of WION under our ownership did indeed have many hours of work just to get the station back on track as a business, as a resource, and as a functional radio entity, and moments like that I will never forget. Yes, I enjoyed the beer knowing the generator was now installed and we were safe from power glitches....something that even many big stations don't maintain today.
At other times, it's just been the warm wishes on the phone or in person which keep me going as the Manager of WION....For instance, during food drives....or during our Treasures for Troops Campaign, which in 2016 set a new record for donations just this month! Sometimes it's the warm words from those organizations to which we contribute...like Bertha Brock Park.
We've always been thanked for our donations and our concern as a station for the park. Even now that our Park Director has moved on, and my association with the park now happens at the county court-house instead of the park office, I still get a warm thank you from the ladies on the third floor for caring...and it's not just me that cares. Our advertisers raised a thousand dollars for the park in 2015....on WION...and a partnership with the Ionia Moose this year meant that WION'S donations to the Christmas in the Park event were doubled! Why does the Moose do this? They believe in the power of local radio, and local partnerships.
I'm humbled and so amazed almost every day by the people behind the scenes that lend their talents to us. Penny Beeman, who volunteers to be on the air many Wednesdays as our "Community Events Coordinator." Engineers who lend or give us equipment that is removed from other stations when the stations upgrade, knowing that small station budgets don't buy new (equipment) and that it will help us to sound our best! There's the many voices you hear in commercials on WION, who are people I've known since I began in radio 28 years ago, and they lend their voices to us from far away via the internet because they love local radio. They love what we do as a station. It's "unique" to them. There are people who right now are planning the "food" part of our annual on-air Christmas party who would be embarrassed to have their names mentioned, yet they take no pay for their cooking, baking, planning, and executing a good old fashioned gathering of friends on the last morning show before Christmas.
I'm a very blessed man. For 28 years, I've been in radio, doing what I love to do...which is being on the air. Somehow I got given the chance to own my own stations, and have a nice small-town lifestyle which is exactly what fits me. Some of you know that there are times my voice has issues in the morning, but you put up with it, and laugh with me at the times I sound like "Mr. Haney" from the old Green Acres show. (Luckily that's not a year-round issue, only during colds and allergies.) For those 28 years, I've seen holidays come and go, and each has a memory or three. I went from PLAYING "A Christmas Carol" on my night show at WKHM in Jackson in the 90's on Christmas Eve, to PRODUCING a local version for 5 years straight that we'll air again this year for your enjoyment. I went from a part-timer filling in on Holidays back before radio automation, to an owner who WORKS holidays, but...many times a listener brings food, a card, or calls to say, "thank you." This thing called radio has it's rewards, and not all of the rewards come in denominations. I've had the pleasure of Garry Osborn doing our afternoon show now for 12-plus years, and he originally only signed on for a month or so...but, you've welcomed him to your homes and businesses, extending the fun relationship we developed when he was my boss and program director a few stations ago in my career. You've also supported young people like Popeye John who are just now starting their radio careers here at WION, and you welcome them as part of the team. All of this points to one word, an over-used one, but one I like. "Community."
So this year, as Christmas approaches, I can honestly tell you that after 12 years and 13 Christmases of being among you in the Ionia community and being the morning host, manager, and program director of WION, there's plenty more years ahead, God willing!
More importantly, I personally need nothing. I'm quite content with my "things" and my life. The best gifts to me are visits by close friends, and time spent with people I enjoy. This Christmas, my wish would be that you, and those you care about are as blessed as I have been with a career that gives back after hard work. I wish for you a career and life that is fulfilling to you personally, and like the famous Mr. Scrooge, I tend to believe it's never too late to find this.
I've come to realize at slightly over 50 years old that it's not the bank account that matters, it's the quality of life in-between those paychecks. It's what we do with our time...with our resources, and with our talents. It's how we use them to better OTHERS when the opportunity arises....and, believe me, when you reach that place, it's a good place to be. And so is Ionia County.
I hope we have many more Christmas seasons together on the air and in the community. Ionia's been good to this radio owner, and I'm grateful at Christmas for everything that's brought me to reach this Christmas 2016, and allowed me to be in radio for nearly 30 years, all in small towns, all with real people, very important people, and very good friends surrounding me, on and off the air.