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February 2005
The Conversation Station
By Lindsay LeCorchick

We all have them. The acquaintances that make everyone uneasy. The abrasive co-worker always looking to push his views on you at the water cooler. The corny uncle with the bad jokes. The dry neighbor who wants to talk politics.

The new WXNC-AM 1060 radio station is your answer to all these acquaintances on the airwaves. The “Conversation Station,” which came on the air the first of this year, intends to compete with talk radio stations around the area that focus on politics, policy and comedy. It is exactly what the Charlotte market was missing, bringing back to the area national radio hosts such as Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. Joy Browne – hosts that cater mostly to women and issues they may be facing.

In addition to these two radio giants, on any given weekday, you may catch station owners Kris and Kevin Geddings hosting their live local call-in show during the morning commute. While much of the station's programming is syndicated, the morning and evening drive-time shows are broadcast live from WXNC’s Independence Boulevard studio, as are some of the weekend broadcasts. The brightly lit, cheery office space with a view of the uptown skyline is the perfect setting for upbeat conversation about the city and what goes on within its limits.

Also featured on AM 1060 is the nationally syndicated Dave Ramsey with a mid-day call-in show focusing on money matters. Afternoon drive-time listeners are treated to another local show, hosted by Mike Stiles, who encourages listeners to call in and “shoot the breeze.” The station goes off the air by 9:30 every night, but before the day at AM 1060 is wrapped up, listeners can tune in to “Chick Chat,” an hour-long program tackling concerns and questions for men and women.

The Geddings decided on this format when they realized this is exactly what the Charlotte radio market was missing. For such a large city, there was really only one talk radio option, compared with four or five talk stations in markets like Tampa, says Kevin Geddings. Because Charlotte’s one talk station is very politics-centered, the Geddings are doing many listeners a favor by offering non-political conversation about issues that hit close to home.

“There’s nothing wrong with political talk, but you sort of get done hearing it, and that’s it. There’s nothing about it that really changes your life or makes you look at things much differently,” says Kris Geddings. “We felt like if we are going to make this format change, let’s do something positive with it. We’re trying to give people information that’s really relevant to everyday life, and not just talk politics.”

Their target demographic is clear: “Affluent men and women 25 and up who watch Oprah, Dr. Phil, The TODAY Show and Dateline when they’re home, listen to us when they are driving to work,” says Kris.

Oprah and Dr. Phil certainly have their followings, and, by appealing to the same audience, AM 1060 is well on their way to finding theirs.

While the station and idea may be brand new, the owners behind the business are anything but rookies to this game. The Geddings know what they are talking about. Forty-year-old Kevin has been in radio since he was a high school student in Sumter, S.C., and 45-year-old Kris has experience in television reporting as well as writing, producing and hosting a syndicated radio show in her hometown of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.

“We’ve always been around this, but we haven’t been ’inside’ a working radio station until we bought this one a couple years ago,” Kevin says.

 

Se Habla Espanol?

The Geddings originally purchased the Monroe-based station WKRE in April 2003, and transformed it into a Spanish-language station to tap into the area’s booming Latino market, more than 100,000 by the Geddings’ research.

For a homegrown radio operation, business was booming for the newly formed Spanish station. But the Geddings are as savvy as business owners as they are passionate about their jobs, and they realized there was only so far they could go with WKRE.

“From a business perspective, the Spanish format was doing pretty well. It had only been Spanish for a year and a half, it was generating profit, it had a good growth curve to it, but neither one of us speak Spanish,” Kevin explains. “We’re not part of that culture. Part of this is business and you want to make money, but you also want to make money doing something you can have fun with and be a part of.”

Feeling that the station had reached a plateau, the Geddings decided a change was in order.  They decided on a completely different format, talk radio, and moved their studios to Charlotte. They increased the transmitter strength to 5,000 watts to bring a stronger signal to the greater Charlotte area and parts of surrounding counties. Their holding company, Geddings and Phillips Broadcasting Corporation, also owns WKMT-AM 1220, a radio station in Gaston County that will simulcast most of WXNC’s programming.

Now, this new chapter for AM 1060 will place the couple right where they want to be – in the midst of an environment with which they are familiar, a community of concerned citizens and parents, looking for a change.

 

A Mom and Pop Operation

The simple fact that a husband-and-wife team is trying to make an impact in the radio market is, in itself, a big deal in this day and age. The Conversation Station’s competition is formidable – a couple of radio stations owned by Jefferson Pilot, a communications giant that owns media outlets throughout the southern states.

“This really is a David versus Goliath situation, because radio has obviously evolved to the point where really mom and pop operations were pretty much bought up in the eighties and nineties,” says Kevin.

“Particularly in bigger cities; I think they still exist in smaller communities,” continues Kris.

But despite its small town charm, Charlotte is no longer a small community, and the Geddings have their work cut out for them. After the seamless switch from the Spanish format, because of the language and culture barrier, the Geddings now promote their new station the old-fashioned, community-based way. The family van has become an advertisement on wheels, after the couple found a company who could emblazon the station logo and programming information on the doors and windows.

“It’s a conversation starter,” laughs Kris.

The couple’s 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter are also part of the team advertising effort. Their parents often recruit them to pass out signs and spark the word of mouth attention on which they hope to rely. The family effort is refreshing, and having live-in volunteers helps the budget, as well. While competitors can drop seemingly endless amounts of money on advertising, WXNC will grow thanks to loyal listeners quickly jumping on board.

Advertising is not the only thing piece of the budget that needs to be measured carefully. The Geddings’ corporate competitors have studios full of top-of-the-line equipment and money to spare for updates and repairs. The Geddings are taking baby steps, investing in equipment wisely and with an eye to the future. Just recently, they spent $36,000 on a system upgrade.

When asked about the overwhelming aspects of the start-up process, especially from the self-proclaimed “David” position, the Geddings smile, chuckle and admit that they weren’t overwhelmed at all. It is clearly the attitude of confident business owners who love what they do.

The Geddings are involved with many groups around the area that will help to recruit listeners, guests and advertisers. Kevin is involved with the Charlotte Rotary, Charlotte Advocates for Education, the Mayor’s International Cabinet, Leadership Charlotte, and many other groups.

Kris is busy handling the children and their activities, as well as getting involved with their respective schools. And she believes that involvement with her kid’s schools will also be beneficial to business, as much of AM 1060’s programming is geared toward parents.

During this critical time of growth for the station, interest in such personal issues as parenting also serves as advertisement. Charlotte Parent is a current partner with the station, and representatives from the publication make guest appearances on various shows such as the morning program “Good Morning Carolina!” to initiate conversation with local parents.

 

Talking About the Future

Kevin and Kris Geddings are a refreshing break from corporate America. No strangers to running a business, they have had their own public relations firm out of Washington, D.C. for years. However, when asked about the game plan for the Conversation Station, they laugh and say they would like to sell an ad.

All joking aside, the advertisers will come. Their holding company is currently in the black, thanks to the cash flow of the recent acquisition of WKMT. In the near future, the Geddings would like to develop this station even more. With some of WXNC’s shows already being simulcast across the Catawba River, their listener base should expand rapidly west of the city.

A little farther down the road another acquisition may be a goal; perhaps a station to the north of Charlotte to expand even more. For now, though, the Geddings are working on developing their own studio, where a team of engineers is always at hand troubleshooting problems that arise.

Trying to cut down the 14-hour workday should probably be a future goal, but you won’t hear any complaints from the Geddings. Their warm demeanor coupled with aggressive work ethic will keep them busy, and keep the conversation going, as Charlotte tunes in.

Lindsay LeCorchick is a charlotte-based freelance writer.
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