Forums » Radio News

Retiring Radio Ad Salesman Makes Hometown News

    • 1113 posts
    December 19, 2015 11:47 AM PST

    Radio advertising sales is a wonderful profession for those well-suited to it, and it was a pleasure to see this article from the Waterloo Cedar Falls (IA) Courier newspaper giving recognition to NRG Media's Ken Hensley, a local radio sales veteran of 43 years' service to businesses he helped grow. It's not often we see this kind of recognition, as ours is largely a behind-the-scenes profession. So, I thought fellow RSC members, in particular veterans of decades of service in their communities, might enjoy reading the article, too:

    WATERLOO | Ken Hensley gave more than four decades of his life to local radio; yet, few listeners are likely to have heard of him.

    Hensley, 66, retired Nov. 30 from Cedar Rapids-based NRG Media, where he was a salesman for local stations KFMW-FM, KOKZ-FM, KXEL-AM and KPTY-FM/AM.

    In all Hensley, toiled in the business for 43 years – including the last 38 in the same sales job, based in Waterloo.

    “That’s magical all by itself,” said Hensley, a Waterloo native and East High graduate.

    Hensley launched his career at small stations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, before coming back to Waterloo for good in 1977.

    “I don’t know I made my name, but I helped people grow their businesses,” he said. “I’d put ideas together that included print, TV and radio (ads). I figured if they grew, I was gonna grow.”

    Indeed, developing a passion for a client’s business crucial to longevity in the business, Hensley said.

    “You have to be a people person,” he said. “I’ve seen many types of salespeople out there, and the ones that will fail are the ones who are in it for the money. Your salesman’s got to care about whether what they’re doing is going to help (clients).”

    That was true then, and it’s perhaps even more applicable now, when customers have seen their advertising options multiply.

    “In today’s world, with multiple opportunities to advertise, they’ll go elsewhere,” he said.

    Straight talk

    A good salesperson also has to learn to tell a customer what they need to hear, as opposed to what they want to hear, Hensley noted.

    “I’d build a trust with them and if they ask what I think about something, and I’d give them an honest answer,” he said. “We interact and cross-promote for you, and that means you’re going to gain customers, and that’s how I help you gain customers while using my product.

    “I found if I cared about them, they would be long-term customer.”

    Jack Taddeo, general manager of the local radio group, said Hensley lived up to those words.

    “Ken has been with our stations through three owners, so obviously he was successful over the years,” Taddeo said. “KXEL, KOKZ, Rock 108 and 1330 AM/107.3 FM The Party have been a part of his daily routine for so long that I joked he might unconsciously drive his car here in the morning. And, if that happens, we’ll have a desk for him. Ken is a great guy and I’ll really miss working with him.

    Indeed, Hensley worked his way through an era of change in radio – switches in formats, acquisitions, the dawn of the digital age and competition that seemed to keep getting younger.

    “Back when we started, KXEL was a station that I sold, and it had a 50,000-watt transmitter in Dysart, and the tubes that ran it were 24 inches across and about 3 feet tall,” Hensley said. “We had a chief engineer who had to crawl in there when he had to fix something. So, the technology has changed.”

    The technology has grown more complex, and so has the business it supports, Hensley said.

    “From traditional marketing of print, radio and TV to cable to the subscription music services, with people getting ads on all of that, it has changed,” he said. “Of course, they can use the computer to contact and certain group of people and it has gotten very scientific in splitting down to age groups. It’s very hard for businesspeople to try to sort it out sometimes.”

    Some things haven’t changed, though, Hensley said.

    “The need for every business you call on, you must keep their interests top of the list, because they have to make money to stay in business,” he said. “There’s all kinds of choices out there and people will go to what they remember they read or see last.”

    Learning the business

    Hensley landed his first job in 1972 at a small station in Durand, Wis., near Eau Claire, and he learned all aspects of the business, he said.

    “There, you did everything from play-by-play to selling ads to reading news to running a music show,” Hensley said. “I had a 1st class engineering license, so I’d check the transmitter. Those were small spaces, and I just was careful not to put my hands on anything that was electrified.”

    After two years in Durand, Hensley moved to a station in Maquoketa, and he stayed there until moving on to KXEL and KOKZ – and, after an acquisition, KFMW and KWLO -- in Waterloo in 1977.

    “I had the four to sell, and that was nice, because you could match up demographics the clients wanted to what the station had,” Hensley said. “KXEL at that time was a country station, so we could really cover rural areas. The thing that was so big on KXEL and KOKZ was we could venture 60 miles out and had people that were getting business from the big power.”

    More important, he said, he was home. He got married and settled in for the run of his career.

    “I got up every morning and thought, ‘Gee, I get to go out and help businesses grow,’” Hensley said. “It sounds cheesy, but that’s how I felt.”

    Hensley got involved in the community in other ways, too, he said.

    “I was one of the founding members of the Fourth Street Cruise,” he said, referring to the annual springtime parade of vintage cars through downtown Waterloo. “I’ve been there every year with them. It’s a fun event and it’s good for the city of Waterloo.”

    Hensley said he hasn’t yet hammered out a definitive retirement plan, but he said he is working on a few things. His wife, Penny, may have a few ideas, too, he said.

    “I’ve got to do something,” he said. “I’m not the personality who’s going to meet the guys for coffee and spend half the day doing that, so I’ll find something to do.”

    He already has had some inquiries about some part-time work from a couple of companies.

    “I already told them I don’t want to work 40 hours a week – maybe 20 to 25,” he said.

    There’s no hurry to make a decision yet, Hensley said.

    “I’m going to take a couple of weeks and just kick back and relax and get into that I’m not in the radio business anymore,” he said.


    • 14 posts
    December 24, 2015 11:46 AM PST

    At age 80, I'm still working (Than God for the computer) because I work from home. When I left the BIG stations, I thought I knew everything. Put my sons through college (One went to Coe College in Cedar Rapids). But I didn't know how to sell to direct clients. It took a while to realize DIRECT is different from the agency scene. Thank you Ken for showing me what I should have known. Direct selling is tougher then talking to the agencies.

    I thought about retirement - but WHAT WILL I DO. Let me know how it works out.

    Bill Wayland

    WCAP Lowell Ma.