Radio has connected the world for 100 years and is still a powerful force. Alongside his wife, JoAnn, Tom Boyson has become a force as well, buying his first radio station in 1999 while still working for another.
Now three stations play The Bug with its hits of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. WAUH 102.3 FM is based in Wautoma and WISS AM 1100/98.3 FM is licensed in Berlin and Oshkosh. In 2016, the Boysons added WRPN AM 1600 out of Ripon, carrying news, talk and 50 years of the greatest hits with a signal that reaches all the way to Stevens Point and even into Milwaukee. As of just last month, that signal is additionally broadcast on 93.1 FM as well.
Boyson isn’t slowing down, and his success only confirms the power of radio. By the end of this summer, Hometown Broadcasting is moving its broadcast headquarters to Radio Road in Ripon for all five of its stations.
How did you get started?
My business career started while working at Pioneer Inn & Marina in Oshkosh as a bartender and in various other hospitality jobs. I attended UW Oshkosh from 1965 until my graduation in December 1971 with a bachelor of business administration in marketing. My fraternity adviser at UW Oshkosh was Dr. Robert Snyder, the founder of the campus radio station WRST-FM. After graduation I stayed in the restaurant business, managing a restaurant in Manitowoc, where I met my wife of 41 years, JoAnn.
In 1974 we came back to Oshkosh and I began working at WAGO radio (in Oshkosh) for five years, followed by almost 35 years at KFIZ radio (in Fond du Lac). In 1999 there was an opportunity to purchase AM 1100 in Berlin, where I was born. Randy Hopper, the owner of KFIZ, allowed me to both work for him and follow my dream, so I did until about five years ago when I came to operate our company fulltime. The decision was just to see if I could own and operate a radio station and it has proven to be very successful.
You started expanding right away?
In 2001 we built 102.3 FM, WAUH The Bug, from the ground up and have been broadcasting the same format ever since. In 2016 Hometown Broadcasting was able to purchase and construct 98.3 FM as a translator in the Oshkosh market. Shortly thereafter, we purchased AM 1600 in Ripon, and in May added a translator in Ripon on 93.1 FM. We are in the process of moving all five stations to Radio Road in Ripon, a Heritage radio station property, recently celebrating 60 years of broadcasting excellence.
How did deregulation help?
The Federal Communications Commission deregulated a lot of the laws and made it possible for small town operators to acquire an FM signal. This allows the broadcaster the ability to simulcast what is airing on their AM dial on the FM dial.
We opted to move our translator to Oshkosh on 98.3 FM, which gave us a city-grade signal in Oshkosh and up into the Fox Valley, which translates into significantly more potential listeners and delivers better results for our advertisers with another music choice in the Valley.
How has technology changed business?
Technology has both cost and saved money. Disc jockeys are able to pre-record voice tracks and do other responsibilities in our studios while on air. The obvious saving is in payroll, which in most small businesses is your No. 1 expense.
There were – and still are – many forms of competition, including cable TV, internet, satellite radio, other FM stations, cell phones, etc. We continue to be local and actually embrace technology and turn it into a revenue stream for radio sales.
One of the many reasons radio has survived over the years is that local radio is the town crier. As a result we are involved in many groups and organizations to get the pulse of what is really going on. We are expanding our news department as we speak to keep our listeners closer to us. This will include more opportunities for local government and public service, which builds a loyal local listening audience.
How does the internet help sell ads?
We do podcasts, Facebook and streaming of our programing, with the exception of professional sports. Our websites stream our stations and we sell gateway ads (prior to the stream loading), banner and tile ads. We also link our clients to our websites.
Advertising revenue is our only resource for survival and the ability to pay bills. There is a symbiotic relationship between the radio station, the listeners and the advertisers. We must be vigilant and good stewards of our responsibilities, and pledge to all three to succeed in a very competitive market.
What’s a regular day like?
There are no two days alike in radio, and that’s what has kept me interested as I have somewhat of a curious mind about businesses and how they function.
I love people and radio brings daily challenges. As a result, I printed on my business cards “Problem Solver/Owner.” It’s a fun business. When it ceases to be fun, maybe I will look for a real job – but this has worked just fine for almost 45 years.
What’s it like working with your wife?
My wife, JoAnn, has been involved with my radio career since day one in 1974, allowing me to follow my dream, and has provided a normal family life for our two sons and myself, as radio is time-demanding career. She works fulltime doing the daily office responsibilities and is our prize lady for our on-air giveaways on all of our stations, and does remarkable in whatever she attempts. That’s why I married her!
Our youngest son, Johnnie Ray, will be 28 years old on June 6. He is our program director/operations manager. He does mid-days from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on the Bug stations. His niche is playing vinyl during his air shifts and doing many remote broadcasts. He has single-handedly made our studios show places that are more functional and fun to work in. He started working officially for Hometown Broadcasting about 10 years ago.
But you aren’t on the air?
Now in my 45th year of broadcasting, I have never had an on-air shift and am scared to death of a microphone. As a result, I have been in sales, management and ownership, having never really worked a day in my life.
The hardest job for me is dealing with negative personalities in the workplace and in the field. When I am around negative people I try to nicely get away. Management is not easy for me, but it’s necessary to succeed. We have a dozen employees with most being part time.
I am a born salesperson since I love people, but being stewards of Hometown Broadcasting requires management to serve all of our needs. We have a great broadcasting family that we have built in the past 20 years, so it is getting easier to manage every day!