It's a funny thing about radio. It attracts families.
I don't mean families of listeners. I'm talking about families where a patriarch or matriarch got into the business eons ago, and before you knew it, their kids followed suit.
While I'm sure there are other lines of work – law enforcement, automotive, and farming come to mind – where generations wear the same career uniform.
But in the world of media, I'm hard-pressed to think of another industry that has historically been as family-oriented over the decades as radio.
Consider – some of the biggest and best companies in radio today were started by broadcasters more than a half century ago – and are still going strong today. The Beasleys, the Fields, the Hubbards, the Walkers (Mid-West Family), and others come to mind, each being run by “the next generation.”
Even iHeartMedia – formerly known as Clear Channel – was spawned by Lowry Mays, and eventually his sons, Mark and Randall. Cumulus was formed by the Dickeys – Lew and John – influenced of course by their dad, Lew, Sr., who owned stations.
But those are the ones you read about and hear about. There are scores of other families that have flown below the radio radar. They may not make the trade headlines every week, but their imprint and impact on the business has been significant – and at times, fascinating.
One of these lesser-known broods is the Voss family. Ring a bell?
For many of your reading this post, perhaps not. But Gary Voss and his wife, Tink, have been in radio for the better part of six decades.
Gary started in radio in Danville, Illinois, at the age of 21, and worked his way to Niles, Michigan, and a nice run at the old Stoner Broadcasting System.
Before he turned 40, Gary became a station owner, and that was the game-changer for the Voss family. WNNO-AM/FM were licensed to the Wisconsin Dells – a well-known tourist town.
And the Voss family became a radio family. Sister Becky Puetz worked at WNNO in the early years, before spending most of her career on the air, entertaining in small town radio in East Central Illinois for more than three decades.
Then there's Bruce Voss – or more radio familiarly, Bruce Gilbert. After working for the family's stations, Bruce went on to program radio stations in Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
But his big moment was taking over the PD gig at The Ticket in Dallas. Under Bruce's leadership, it became a Sports Radio powerhouse, featuring “guy talk” and a focus on formatics.
From there, Bruce became the GM at ESPN Radio in Bristol, working with Dan Patrick, Mike & Mike, Colin Cowherd, and other legendary hosts. He went on to work for Dan Snyder's Red Zebra Broadcasting, and held senior programming positions with iHeartMedia and CBS Radio.
Today, Bruce Gilbert runs the sports show for Cumulus/Westwood One. Those who have worked with Bruce know him as keenly smart, creative, focused, and a guy who has helped a lot of people succeed along the way.
And that brings us to Mike Voss – or Mike Thomas, as you may know him. I worked with Mike decades ago when he started programming Saga's WYMG in Springfield, IL. We hooked up again many years later at WZLX in Boston.
Not only was Mike a superb rock music programmer, he architected the mighty Sports Hub with market manager, Mark Hannon. WBZ-FM has become a legendary force in the hyper-competitive Boston market.
Amazingly, Mike won Marconi Awards for ZLX, a Classic Rock station, and Sports Hub in two consecutive years. I'm not sure that's ever been done before.
Earlier this year, Mike Thomas Voss moved back to the midwest where he now serves as Market Manager for Good Karma's WMVP, ESPN Chicago.
I had the chance to catch up with Bruce and Mike to find out more about the amazing Voss family.
FJ: There are five broadcasting professionals in your immediate family. Is this a record?
Mike: Other than the Beasley Family, we might be next in line.
FJ: How did this happen? Was this part of your dad’s master plan? Was it organic? Or was it something else?
Mike: My Dad is passionate about radio. Radio has been his entire life, but he never tried to persuade us to get into the business. He “exposed” us to radio and the perks of this industry at a very young age and I think me, my sister and brother all just realized this could be a really fun way to make a living.
FJ: Tell us about your parents – they worked in radio, owned stations, and went on to work at other radio jobs after they sold the stations. How are they doing?
Mike: They're doing well…as they approach their 8th decade.
After my Dad sold the stations in The Dells in the mid-80’s, he worked for Stoner Broadcasting again, was a General Manager for Saga Communications in Des Moines, and bought and sold a couple more stations. He continues to sell radio near his home to this day. He would tell you that he is a “street fighter” at heart. He loves talking about radio and selling it…and he has always been great at it. He, like my sister, has the gift of gab.
My Mom ran the “radio nuthouse.” She also was instrumental in keeping the books, paying the bills and making sure we were getting paid and had food on the table! Moms always have the most important role!
FJ: You guys have been movers & shakers in the sports radio wing of the business – working with legendary stations, the Ticket in Dallas, and Sports Hub in Boston. Were you always both interested in the format (and sports)?
Bruce: I had two great passions growing up – radio and sports – in that order. Radio was everything. It was magical, it was glamorous, it was creative, it was bigger than life. It was show biz and it could be anything you wanted it to be. Sports fed the analytical/statistical side of my brain and got me into statistics/standings/historical performance and accomplishments.
Both radio and sports were fueled by competition. You wanted to be the best, you wanted to win, you wanted to stand out and be recognized for your greatness.
When I started in radio in the late 70's, there was no all sports format. There were two hour sports blocks in the evening on most talk stations – and, of course, play-by-play.
When I got the opportunity to do sports radio at The Ticket – an AM station at 1310 on the dial – in 1987, I figured it was either the greatest thing ever (combining my love for radio & sports) or career suicide because I was leaving powerful music FMs for a small AM station in a major city.
Looking back, that move to spoken word, all sports, radio was a seminal moment in my personal broadcast career.
Mike: I will honestly say that music was more important to me…and probably still is. I have learned to love sports radio…but my career was always about music radio, specifically rock radio.
I loved being a talent on rock radio, programming it and the attitude of it. I was fortunate to program some legendary rock stations…WTUE, WFBQ, KGB, WZLX and WBCN.
But, I also love sports! In addition to my Chicago Bears tattoo, I have a tattoo of a Shure vintage microphone that says, “Every Moment Has A Song.” That pretty much sums me up…rock and sports.
My success in rock radio is completely responsible for my transition to sports radio. When we launched The Sports Hub, the strategy was that it was going to be an FM sports station that ROCKS. That strategy could not have been more successful.
FJ: At the holiday table, is it non-stop radio talk or have you managed to find other topics to discuss?
Mike: This is where my mom comes in again! She put up with a lot over the years. Radio, as we know, is 24/7. Long days, weekends and some holidays. My mom is the glue that held us all together. We could talk about radio forever, but she would make us talk about other things…and turn it off. It was the 80’s version of “put your phone away” at the dinner table.
FJ: Is there a “next generation” of radio for the Voss family?
Bruce: I have a stepson – Michael Dingess – who worked in the promotion department at the Ticket in Dallas when he was in high school. He is a walking sports encyclopedia. He has always been a passionate sports fan that absorbs himself in his favorite teams and sports, and he also loves to argue (in a good way). That passion led him to doing part-time on-air work at then CBS-owned 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. Michael did weekend and swing work for them for seven years.
My eleven year-old son – Hudson – picked Dallas Cowboys games every Friday during the football season for two years when he was in 3rd and 4th grade on the Hawkeye in the Morning show on New Country, 96.3 KSCS in Dallas. He continues to do occasional voice work for the station for their annual radio-thon.
Mike: I have two boys in their 20’s, who both live in Chicago, they are Chicago sports fans…but don’t have any interest in radio. My youngest does listen to sports radio…I’ll take that as a win! Becky’s kids have never really shown any interest in the business either.
FJ: You and your family have a unique perspective on radio. What does the future look like?
Bruce: It is such an interesting time to be in radio. On the one hand people want to lump us in with newspapers and all forms of “old media” and insist that we are destined for death. On the other hand “audio” has NEVER been hotter. Here are the flat out facts: RADIO STILL WORKS. You talk about a product on the radio, and people will trust what you say and purchase that product on your recommendation. Radio is there in every crisis, every weather event, every imaginable emergency as an instant, important and FREE source of vital information.
Radio is intimate and personal and provides companionship – for FREE – to millions of users every day. Radio creates hours and hours of useful, meaningful, purposeful, fun, interesting, imaginative, entertaining and informative content every hour of every day. Radio is the soundtrack for America's working class. We're in the car with you on the way to work, on the way home with you and when you go out on sales calls or appointments during the day.
The future is properly re-defining what radio/audio IS. The linear push broadcast will continue to have a place, but those who have spent careers creating incredible real-time radio must learn how to create similar on-demand content. We must push our productions to all platforms where consumers consume audio. We must not be worried about minuscule shares of audience as dictated by today's clunky, under-sampled radio ratings and focus on “impressions” and “reach” – that has been and always will be our foundation from which to build a successful business.
Major Hollywood studios, extremely powerful YouTube Stars, and individual celebrities with numerous accomplishments are reaching out to agencies and radio companies and asking for advice on how to build an “audio strategy.” We are seen as the audio experts; we need to act like the audio experts that we are.
We are living in a time when AUDIO podcasts are being shaped into screenplays and series pilots. Audio is POWERFUL and radio people understand audio.
The future is bright if we focus less on our antiquated AM/FM ratings system and focus more on building channels of content that exist on a multitude of platforms which can all be monetized singularly or holistically and which can all play into development of a personality or station brand. When we aggregate our unique audio personalities and/or formats, we can begin to command the type of CPM that elevates our monetization possibilities and reinvents our business model.
FJ: Any final thoughts?
Mike: My family was and continues to be very, very proud. We are all proud of each other, because we have all had a ton of success in our own way.
My parents were there when The Sports Hub won our second Marconi Award. (photo above). To stand on that stage, with my Mom & Dad, holding that trophy…mic drop…bring out the Kleenex.