You may not recognize him if you met him in person, but without a doubt Kansas Citians would recognize the familiar voice of former radio talker George Woods if they heard it again.
After years as a successful radio host in Omaha and several other cities, Woods came to KCMO in 2002 and was the station’s morning talk show host for three years. He moved on to St. Louis, but soon realized he was in a no-win situation and realized he was tired of moving at the whim of station managers.
After analyzing the radio business and where it was headed, Woods created Radio George in 2008, where listeners can go to his Internet site and listen to their favorite music. Within five months his venture based in KC was profitable and today is growing by leaps and bounds.
We sat down with him in September 2010 and talked to him about his career and the success of Radio George.
YOU INITIALLY WANTED TO BE AN ACTOR?
I went to a state university in New York planning on becoming the world’s next greatest actor. But I wandered into the college radio station one day and “sort of never left.” My decision to turn from the stage to the mike was finalized in my sophomore year, when I landed my first professional radio job, at WDOS, the local 1000-watt AM daytimer in the upstate mountain town of Oneonta, NY.
AND THAT STARTED YOUR RADIO CAREER?
Yes. That first job in radio then took me to Charleston, SC, Charlotte, NC, Erie, PA, Omaha, NE, KC and St. Louis, MO. In the 70’s and 80’s, it seemed that if you were in Top 40, you stayed in Top 40; if you worked at a country station, you would only seek work in the same format. I was either very talented or very lucky, since I was able to move between formats with ease, without being branded as a particular single format personality.
YOU SPENT CONSIDERABLE TIME IN OMAHA
I went to WOW-AM in Omaha, where I was hired as the morning host when Wichita-based Great Empire Broadcasting bought the station and changed formats from AC to country. My previous station was an oldies-formatted one. Eight years later, I was lured away to crosstown rival KFAB-AM to become the station’s first full-time talk show host as its new owner Henry Broadcasting phased out the MOR programming that had been on the air there for decades.
I later joined KKAR-AM, Omaha’s second news-talk station, where I became a “fill-in guy” who was on the air almost full time. It was one of the strangest and most fun times I’ve had in radio.
TALK ABOUT YOUR TIME IN KANSAS CITY
I came to Kansas City in early 2002 when I was hired to do mornings on KCMO. Shortly after a top-level management change there in 2005, I found myself “on the beach” for awhile. In 2006, I went to KTRS in St. Louis to host yet another morning talk show.
DID YOU JUMP INTO A BAD SITUATION IN ST. LOUIS?
Yes, but I took the job realizing that the station’s track record for personnel both on and off the air was not very good, and had no illusions about it. I was the 19th of 20 new hires made by Program Director Al Brady Law. When he was canned 7 months after I started, I knew that my days were numbered. I was also the 19th of Al’s 20 hires to be fired in February of 2007—4 days before my mother died. Not a good year.
YOU THEN RETURNED TO KC?
I moved back to my house in Lenexa (which I had rented out “just in case”) and realized that I had grown a little tired of moving around the country to accommodate my profession. After pondering how I could stay active in broadcasting without having to move—no small proposition—I decided to do an analysis of Kansas City radio.
WHAT DID YOU FIND?
I very quickly saw two format holes in the market, smooth jazz and “real” oldies (“real oldies” being defined as oldies from 1955-1975). With ten years of Internet website experience, I decided to launch Radio George, a collection of online stations specializing primarily in those formats.
WAS RADIO GEORGE AN INSTANT SUCCESS?
Not really. To make the Internet stations especially attractive, I put together a business plan relying on display advertising and newsletter sponsorship and wanted to bypass traditional radio commercials. The music was provided by three services, who provided the music at no charge in return for the privilege of selling CDs or downloads on Radio George.
WERE YOU SUCCESSFUL?
I would say I had a “less-than-enthusiastic” response locally. I then bought a series of Google ads keying on “smooth jazz” and “oldies” and geo-targeted to Missouri, Kansas, and the KC Metro area. The results were the same.
SO, YOUR KC FOCUS FAILED?
Yes, but then something totally unexpected happened: fans online in the world outside Kansas City found out about Radio George. To my astonishment, at the end of the month-long ad campaign, the stats for Radio George showed listeners in over 2,500 cities in more than 70 countries!
TALK ABOUT RADIO GEORGE TODAY
Radio George launched officially in February of 2008, became profitable 5 months later, and continues to grow today. In July of this year, Radio George became a licensee of ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Sound Exchange, enabling me to assume total control over all music on all channels, as well as making it available for purchase through Amazon.com as downloads, CDs and in many cases, even vinyl LPs—with Radio George getting the revenue instead of a third party.
WHAT AUDIENCE ARE YOU TARGETING WITH RADIO GEORGE?
I’m not afraid to admit my primary audience is baby boomers. They are the fastest-growing and largest consumer group in the county that no other stations really want to target.
TALK ABOUT TRADITIONAL RADIO VS. INTERNET RADIO
One of my favorite things about Radio George is that across 30 channels of smooth jazz and 37 channels of Real Oldies, no songs are repeated across channels. This is by design, utilizing over 2,600 different pieces of music. In traditional radio, this would be impossible. But on the Internet, it’s a whole different game.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF RADIO GEORGE?
People can listen to exactly what they want when they want it on Radio George, without having to download anything, anywhere.
BE HONEST, DO YOU MISS TALK RADIO?
Not really. Understand that I’m a RADIO guy first and foremost. I love the business and maybe that’s why I’ve been successful in multiple formats. Now I get to call all the shots without having to contend with an office staff, a sales department, or outside ownership/management. I must confess that after more than 30 years of getting up between 2:30-3:00 a.m. to start my day, I enjoy sleeping until 8 or even 9 nowadays.”
WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER GOING BACK ON THE AIR?
For some reason, I’ve been asked that a lot lately, and the answer is “maybe,” leaning toward “yes.” Thanks to my broad background, I’m pretty sure I could determine quickly whether or not a station and I would be well-suited for one another. That’s the key to a great-sounding, comfortable, and profitable show for both parties. Because I can perform all necessary functions for Radio George anywhere via the Internet, I’ve had the chance to travel extensively with my wife—something I never had the chance to do more than a few days at a time for most of my life. That has been great.
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST MOMENT ON THE AIR?
Although the KTRS experience in St. Louis was a big loser overall, the station arranged for me to broadcast my show on the fifth commemoration of 9/11 live from New York, in a location overlooking Ground Zero. My guests included policemen, firemen, and other first responders. I was very pleased to be able to talk with these guests and honor that day with a live broadcast from there. It was compelling and unique.
YOUR WORST ON-AIR MOMENT?
Interviewing ABC’s Ted Koppel one morning, who seemed very uncomfortable to the point that I asked him if something was bothering him. He said that he really didn’t want to be doing the interview because he felt it wasn’t a good use of his time, and that the only reason he was doing it was because ABC News was making him do it! I was caught very off guard, did not have much talk experience at the time, and sort of stumbled through another 3 or 4 minutes to fill up the segment, feeling like a real fool.