Welcome back to the Journey Podcast! In this episode Jeff and Sarah interview special guest, Matt Dean, station manager at 101.9. In this interview, Matt recalls his story of coming to 101.9 and the goals of the radio station.
Transcription of the Podcast
Matt: Our goal is just in between those songs to bring encouragement, to put something positive into people’s lives because there so much that is negative in the world today.
Jeff: Hi, this Jeff. We are here for another Journey Podcast and great to have a couple of actually very good communicators in the studio today. So, we’ve got Matt Deane who is the station manager at 101.9.
Matt: Yeah. Good morning. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Jeff: Good morning, yes. Very fun.
Sarah: Thanks for coming, Matt.
Matt: Yeah, you bet.
Jeff: And that other voice you just heard is Sarah and she is here to interview and talk to Matt and to just basically hear a little bit about his story. So, I’m just going to let her jump right into this.
Sarah: Well, thanks for being with us, Matt. I really appreciate you coming all the way down to Cedar Rapids.
Matt: Yeah. It’s great. I’m just really glad for the opportunity. So, thank you.
Sarah: So tell us a little bit about your story because you’re a newer manager. You took over for Doug.
Matt: That’s right. So, Doug Smith was our station manager for 19 years and certainly some big shoes to fill. Just tracking back a little bit, our family’s been in Eastern Iowa for not a long time, about three and a half years now. And I came to Life 101.9 as the program director, which just basically means in charge of all of the things you hear on the radio. So the music, the stuff in between the music, everything basically fits that program director job description. And at that point when we moved here, I had been at a radio station in Wausau, Wisconsin, which is kind of right up in the middle of the state of Wisconsin, for almost 15 years and we had looked for new jobs at certain points and nothing was really a good fit and so we were just under the assumption that God was just wanting us to be in Wisconsin.
Matt: And we were cool with that. And so we were raising our girls. And out of the blue one day, I got an email from Doug Smith. And at that moment I didn’t know who Doug Smith was. So, I literally almost deleted the email without looking at it because I thought it was a junk mail thing or something. But I opened it up and it was an invitation to come to Waterloo to potentially be the program director at Life 101.9, so that was different than junk mail message. So, we came down again. We weren’t looking, but it was an opportunity so we thought we’d come visit and several weeks later I accepted the program director position.
Matt: So, that was something unexpected, but something we were really excited to start on. So, fast forward now a couple of years later, and I get a phone call from one of our big bosses at our home office in Minneapolis and he tells me that Doug Smith has accepted a new position in Fargo, North Dakota, at our Northwestern media station there and that he wanted me to replace him. Doug and I had talked about that. At that point, being the four- or five-year plan when Doug retired, but then this obviously turned it into more of a four-week plan when he was moving. So, this last few years have been various levels of stretching and stretching in a good way. I feel like God’s really grown me in a lot of areas. But yeah, it’s been about a year and a half now that I’ve been the station manager and I’m really enjoying it.
Sarah: Very nice. So married with daughters. How many kids do you have?
Matt: Yeah, so Anna just turned 14. Kate is 11 and so we’re in that teen tween whatever you call it these days land. And it certainly keeps us on our toes. Kate, our youngest is in cheer and so we’re going to competitions all over the Midwest several times during the season and Anna’s very involved in music. So, she’s in her middle school band. She’s in jazz band. She plays the piano. So, if one of us is not running Kate to all of her activities, the other one is running Anna to all of her music stuff. So, we’re busy. We’re on the move.
Jeff: And what’s kind of interesting is when you’re talking about your daughters’ ages is that’s kind of our daughters spread.
Matt: Oh, okay.
Jeff: Close to their spread in ages. And I just think back to those years, 11 and 14, and I just go, “Oh my. Let me give you a hug man.”
Matt: Thanks. I will accept that hug.
Jeff: Yeah, those are interesting times, aren’t they?
Matt: It’s a challenge. And in fact, my wife, Jenny, and I were just talking about this last night. How different it is just because of the technology and the things that when we were teenagers that just weren’t available. I mean, we would listen to the radio in our room or pull out a cassette or a CD, which was brand new technology back then. And now they’ve got social media at their fingertips. They’ve got really the world at their fingertips with smartphones and different technology and that can be a wonderful thing, but that can also be a really scary thing too. So, trying to help our girls kind of navigate that whole world and make good choices is a challenge really on a daily basis. So, that’s the world that we’re operating in right now.
Sarah: So Matt, okay, you had mentioned just a lot of growing and stretching. I wanted to ask you a question about that, but I don’t know what to ask.
Jeff: Well, it’s interesting too because a lot of … my sense is you’re really good at what you do because people have really reached out to you, which is really cool. But that is often rare. I mean, it’s often rare in this economy, in this world today, because you can be really good at what you do but a lot of people hit those walls because companies downsize or get sold or restructure or there’s just different positions that move around and so forth. So, just the fact that doors open, I mean it’s almost good for you and in what you were doing for those in those roles that you served in because people saw that.
Jeff: And those doors open, but it had to be challenging when all of a sudden, you said you had what you and Doug thought was like about a four-year plan moves into four weeks. What does that feel like? Because one of the things we talk about in Journey is growth and one of the things we just try to be honest and transparent and if that was me, I think just the level of angst would rise there because it’s like, “Oh, so you mean I’ve been sort of co-piloting this plane. Now I’m going to be piloting this plane?” I mean that’s got to be an interesting feeling, right?
Matt: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I will tell you when I received that phone call, I was actually driving from our Northwestern media station in Duluth where I was there helping out and driving home. So, I get this phone call, this great news, but this kind of scary news is shared with me and I can tell you for a fact, I do not remember the next 30 minutes of the drive. I know I was driving. I’m still here to prove that fact. I didn’t drive off the road. But just processing all of that in the moment was pretty amazing and then I remember thinking, “Oh, I need to call Jenny.” So, that was my next step. So, it was a crazy time.
Matt: I’m super grateful for the four weeks that I had with Doug. It was kind of like station manager boot camp a little bit and he couldn’t teach me all the ropes and the things that he had accomplished over 19 years at Life 101.9 but having that time was amazing to help me hit the ground running rather than one person leaves, one person comes in and you just start from scratch, so to speak. So, I was really grateful for that. But yeah, to say it was stressful, to say there was anxiety that might be putting it lightly honestly. But I was just really grateful for the people that I had around me. Not only our team at Life 101.9 which is great and we’re super grateful to have the people that we have who I get to work with every day, but also the friends around our Northwestern media network.
Matt: I got emails from everybody and texts from everybody saying, “Hey, whatever you need, if you have questions, let me know.” Having those relationships and having those people was super helpful to making the transition an easier one.
Sarah: Well, and the fact that 101.9 doesn’t have a high turnover rate either.
Sarah: I mean, I don’t know who the guy is, but there’s a guy on there that has been on the early morning or very late-
Matt: Yeah. Lyle.
Sarah: Yes, Lyle. Since I was a little girl.
Matt: We lovingly refer to Lyle as the longest tenured part-time radio station employee in the country because he’s been doing Saturday mornings since the early to mid-seventies and he had a different full-time career that kept him busy and that he really enjoyed but he loved the opportunity. So, when I moved here, I did not know the history of Lyle and the great work that he’s done here.
Matt: Yeah. We’re really grateful. We have several great longterm employees and that goes to show … and I’ve been here for roughly three and a half years, but it’s an amazing place and I’m just really grateful to be a part of it.
Jeff: Well, and the industry is really prone to turnover, right?
Matt: Big time.
Jeff: Yeah. So, I mean, not only is that cool, but in the industry you’re in, it’s really unusual.
Matt: Yeah. And radio can be an industry where if you want to move up, you have to move on, so to speak, because there’s only so many positions at any given radio station. So, that can be the case. It can be really a revolving door. So, we’re grateful for what we have in the way that God uses Life 101.9 in Eastern Iowa.
Sarah: Well, let’s explain what Life 101.9 is because, personally, it’s my favorite radio station. I’ve listened to it since I was a little girl.
Matt: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Sarah: I was really happy when you guys got your higher range tower probably around 2000, 2001 because that was when I got married and moved to Ames.
Matt: Oh wow.
Sarah: Yeah, you guys got the longer range tower right before I moved to Ames and that was really cool.
Matt: You could pick us up in Ames?
Sarah: I could.
Matt: That’s amazing.
Sarah: Yes, I could.
Matt: Yeah, we were really grateful for that. We had a great tower to begin with and we just were able to move. The thing with radio is power of your transmitter and how high your tower is. So, those two things. And so we have a hundred thousand watt transmitter, which is basically the strongest you can have and we are on a super high tower now. I mean, even higher than the one that we were at. So, that’s really great.
Matt: But yeah. To explain, if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “What is Life 101.9?” So, Life 101.9 is a Christian music radio station. Our offices are in Waterloo, Iowa. We are owned by the University of Northwestern in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Northwestern Media Network, really, if you go all the way back, has its roots to Dr. Billy Graham who helped put KTIS on the air in Minneapolis. That was the first radio station. And he had this vision to share the gospel on the radio. In the 1940s this was like breaking technology. This was an unbelievable opportunity. So, that first station went on the air in 1947 and then in 1953 KNWS AM went on the air in Waterloo, Iowa.
Matt: So, initially we started as just an AM station, which is still on the air today. Am 1090. Then, about 10 years later in the early sixties, KNWS FM went on the air. And it’s interesting to think about. People didn’t use to listen to FM radio for music. Everything was on am. And so in the 1960s, this was again kind of experimental, kind of new. But yeah, so we have the opportunity to share encouragement and share God’s love on the air in Eastern Iowa and wherever people are, they can listen online and it’s amazing what technology can do these days.
Jeff: Well, and what’s interesting too is before we started recording here, you said something about, was it like 30% of the people are sort of the non-church, maybe not non-Christian, not church folks though?
Jeff: So, that’s the other thing to people listening is, check out the station. I mean, you’re not going to hear like organ music and church music. It really is really good uplifting music that if you have cross on the face, it’s great. If you haven’t, it’s just really good uplifting music.
Matt: Yeah, thanks.
Sarah: Well, the branding is amazing too. I like the billboards.
Sarah: And just the audio branding too, I mean, is just solid. And it’s true that when you’re driving around the country you can tell what is without … I mean, they say it a lot, but before you hit that, you can tell that it’s a Northwestern station.
Jeff: So, your new tagline could be, “If you’re feeling crappy, listen to the station and then you’ll feel happy.”
Matt: Okay. Do you have a notebook? I’m going to write that one down.
Sarah: That was super corny.
Matt: Well, our goal at Life 101.9 is to speak to everyone. So, something we try to think about is to communicate biblical truth in ways that everyone can understand because if you’ve … like I grew up in the church, so people who grew up in the church are prone to using churchy words that “normal” people don’t understand. And so that’s our goal. The Christian music industry has come so far. Like I said, I grew up going to church and in Christian school and looking back I’m grateful for what was there, but a lot of them, the music just wasn’t really all that good and it wasn’t produced all that well. And fast forward to today and you have artists like MercyMe and Lauren Daigle who are making strides in mainstream music, selling out big arenas. That wouldn’t happen if the music itself wasn’t good and it wasn’t connecting with people.
Jeff: Well, I don’t know if we want to go down this road, but wasn’t it really … if you look back, a key person to move that forward … I think of Amy Grant.
Sarah: Yeah, I was going to say Amy Grant.
Matt: Absolutely. She was really one of the first to make that crossover and I remember back then-
Sarah: That was hard.
Jeff: She got push back.
Sarah: She did get push back.
Matt: Yeah. Yeah. Big time. But she was making those strides. She was making good music and that was the case. I remember that because I was in middle school, high school and going to all of a sudden those really big concerts in big arenas. So, we’re grateful that the product that we have is better. And then our goal is just in between those songs to bring encouragement, to put something positive into people’s lives because there is just so much that is negative in the world today. So, if we can share an encouraging thought or say something that just puts a smile on someone’s face … I think if you make someone laugh or you put a smile on someone’s face, you’re encouraging them. So, that’s our goal with what we do on Life 101.9 every day.
Sarah: I feel like Life 101.9 is like an IV, an infusion, of good news and peace and purpose. And I know this is all … you guys have these little audio clips all the time where people say that the right song came on at the right moment. And I just think all the time, I mean, multiple times a week, I’m like, “Wow, there must be a lot of prayer going into Life 101.9 because it’s so true. Years ago … it’s probably, well, I mean time goes by fast, but about seven years ago, I took my first trip overseas. I’m not a morning person and I had to leave really early in the morning by myself and I was super anxious. I’m very, very, very anxious. I was going to Ethiopia for my first time and I was going with people I didn’t know very well and without any family and I had to leave home around 4:00 AM and I was just incredibly anxious.
Sarah: I ended up taking some medicine that my doctor had prescribed once I got to Africa, so that’s how anxious I was. I didn’t know if I’d actually get on the plane and I remember before I left the house thinking “God’s with me, Jesus is with me” and I felt in my heart that like Jesus was trying to pull me along saying “I got an adventure” and it’s been an adventure since and I ended up going back three more times. What was really cool as I got in the car and every single song on 101.9 got me from Marion, Iowa to the Eastern Iowa Airport, which is a 30-minute drive. 20 to 30-minute drive and I will tell you one of the songs was Give Christmas Away, which I had never heard before.
Sarah: Never heard before. And it was Give This Christmas Away. I was leaving right after Christmas but before Ethiopia’s Christmas. It was literally like God was holding my hand through that and that was one time that it’s just amazing. And then another time was when we were homeschooling, we went to put our kids into public school and again, so incredibly anxious about that. And we were putting them in on a Wednesday and on a Monday, two days prior, was the first PTO meeting.
Sarah: And so I was going to go to that and I was so anxious and driving just three minutes down the road. The song that came on, which again I’d never heard before, and I can’t even remember what song it was now, but it was about, it was like speaking directly. I’d never heard it before. I really haven’t heard it very much since. But it was like speaking directly to that like something about being the light, being a light. That’s what it was.
Matt: Wow. There it is. That’s awesome.
Sarah: And it was the first time. But yeah, I mean, that kind of stuff happens all the time and I can’t even imagine life without 101.9. I mean, honestly since I was a little girl, you guys have just been such a huge blessing to my life.
Matt: We meet as a staff together on Monday mornings and we pray for each other. We pray for some of the needs that people call in or send emails and ask for prayer. But that’s really a big prayer for us too because it’s our job to run a radio station and to do all the mechanical work that makes sure that there’s music in the computer system that runs all of that. But at the same time, we can’t make what you described happen. It’s our job to make sure there’s songs on the air and people think, “Oh wow, you knew.” And we didn’t know, but God knew exactly what was going on.
Sarah: But you’re faithful. You’re faithful with putting the songs on the radio and making sure that the technology is working and that the staffing is where it needs to be and that you’re sourcing the newest music and everything like that. You’re being faithful with what you can do and God is just taking it and running with it. And it’s amazing.
Matt: Yeah. And so that’s our prayers, that God would take our efforts and the cool thing is he knows who’s listening at any given time. I mean, he knows everything obviously, but that’s just a mind-boggling thought to us in the building. So, he knows that you needed those songs when you were driving from Marion to the airport and when you were getting ready to go to the school meeting and he’s been so faithful to help us stay on the air financially in that way. We’re just grateful to be a part of what God is doing through Life 101.9.
Jeff: So, I’m sitting here going, “Wow, this is just so cool. I mean, it’s just really neat.” But, again, at another level you just go, “If you’re feeling crappy, listen to the station and you feel happy.”
Matt: Here it comes again. He’s really trying to sell that one today.
Sarah: And I do just want to play … Matt did not ask us to do this and I want to do this just because I think it’s important. You guys just finished your Winter Share last week and I will say that Life 101 … I’m going to speak for you what I hear on the radio. Life 101.9 does not run on advertising even though you do some very minimal advertising that’s done very, very well. It runs on the support of listeners.
Matt: That’s right.
Sarah: And so if anyone does want to support 101.9, how did they do that?
Matt: So, you can either go to our website, you can give at Life1019.com, or you just want to call us, you can do that too. Our phone number is (866) 515-1019.
Sarah: And I have a funny story about this. When I was a little girl, I was probably eight years old and I called in for my first sharathon. And I said $1 thinking it was $1 a month. I still remember this moment. I remember standing in the kitchen and the announcer was so sweet and she goes, “Sarah from Solon, Iowa.” because I was living in Solon with my parents at the time. I was little. “Sarah from Solon, Iowa donated $1” and she was so sweet. I was so embarrassed because I was like, “It was supposed to be a dollar a month.” Which to a little girl … $1, $12, or whatever. But I still think about that whenever I call in. I’m like, let’s make sure that …
Matt: Well, there’s a lot of moving parts to a shareathon. So, stuff sometimes gets misunderstood.
Sarah: Well, I think it’s just being a little girl. Like this little, seven, eight, nine-year old calls in or whatever. And I never ended up giving that $1. I was so embarrassed and I think they sent me the little form or whatever and I don’t know what happened, but I’ve made up for that because every time there’s a shareathon, I think about that $1.
Jeff: And along with that, you have the sponsorships with businesses, which we do with Warehouse Auto. If you’re listening to the station … again, if you’re not listening, check it out. Again, it’s great music. But if you are listening give because it’s really nice. I don’t know how most people feel. I would guess I’m going to get agreement with 99.9% of the people. It’s really nice not to hear all the ads. And as we move into this coming year, it’s going to be really nice to not hear all the political ads.
Matt: There’ll be zero political ads. There will be zero.
Jeff: Your listenership is going to skyrocket.
Sarah: Well, that’s going to help the station too because I know with other … I don’t really listen to other radio stations, but if I ever do, I just flip them as soon as the commercials come on.
Matt: I mean, it’s a different model for sure. But we are grateful that we’ve been able to get by for literally decades basically on listener support. We do have some businesses like Warehouse Auto that we’re grateful for that help us to even out the budget and solidify things that way. But it’s not something where we have a big team of people out on the streets trying to do that. So, we’re grateful to be able to do that. I mean, I don’t think we could say that we were positive and uplifting if we had political ads on Life 101.9.
Matt: I don’t think that would work. So, heading into election year, it will be political ad and just politics free because everybody’s got an opinion. Man, you scroll through social media. There are some opinions being shared.
Jeff: I love this concept though. See, now you could go to all the politicians and say, “Guys, here’s the deal. We’ll let you on the air, but you only have to say what is a positive thing that you will be doing to help the country.”
Jeff: Boy, wouldn’t that be a movement?
Matt: Maybe that’s an angle. Who knows? I don’t know if they’d be able to do it though. It’d start there and it would just go somewhere else. So, yeah.
Sarah: Okay. So before we close out this podcast, I have one question for you.
Sarah: Okay. Well, I want to ask what is your most unique, surprising but fun thing that you’ve been surprised with about being a station manager? Like something that you really enjoy that surprised you.
Matt: This was really surprising to me. As a program director, which again was the job I had before I was promoted, I was in charge of picking music and that’s a fun … I mean I got to pick the music that people listen to. I mean, that’s a pretty fun job and a lot of other things too. But I didn’t ever really do budgets. Didn’t do a lot of spreadsheet work. And so in my four-week station manager boot camp with my friend Doug Smith, I quickly realized that that was going to change and I was really nervous because I didn’t have a lot of experience with Excel and all of that kind of stuff. And I have come to find that doing the station budget is really fascinating and really interesting and I really love it.
Matt: We have to obviously make sure that all the bills are paid and they’re paid out of the right accounts and all of that and I didn’t see that coming. At our house, my wife Jenny does the budget stuff and whatever, so I don’t even really have a lot of experience with it. But when I got done doing my first fiscal year budget, I was like, “That was kind of fun.” And I just got done with my next fiscal year budget and it was still fun. And so who knew that doing radio station budgets and combing over spreadsheets all day could be fun? I did not see that one coming. So, that was a surprise.
Sarah: So, are you going to take over for Jenny at home then too?
Matt: Maybe that would be too much and then it would be less fun.
Sarah: Then it wouldn’t be fun for you.
Matt: She likes doing that so we’re going to let her have her fun. I’ll have my fun and it’ll be all good.
Sarah: Well, thanks for being on the journey podcast, Matt. It’s been a joy to have you on.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. And the thing is next steps, how do people again connect with, … I mean it’s probably pretty easy. You go to 101.9.
Matt: There you go.
Jeff: But are there other ways to connect with you then?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. So, if you’re in Eastern Iowa, you can probably hear 101.9 on your radio. If not, you can listen at Life1019.com and see what we’re doing there. We’re on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Just search for Life 101.9 there and wherever you are you can tell your smart speaker to play Life 101.9. It’s just amazing what technology allows us to do.
Matt: So, we’d love to connect with you. So thank you.
Sarah: And your website has the most recently played songs. That’s very important. I find myself using that quite often.
Matt: Yeah, remember that one song you didn’t-
Sarah: Especially when you’re driving down the road at high speeds, you have to go back 30 minutes later, get the name of the song that was on.
Matt: Yeah. Lots of good information, concerts, articles that we again, hope will grow and strengthen people in their walk with Jesus or maybe point them to him for the first time. So yeah, lots of good stuff at Life1019.com.
Sarah: Your concerts are amazing too.
Matt: Oh, thank you.
Sarah: Love the concerts. Big Daddy Weave is my favorite though.
Matt: Did you see them last year? They were here.
Sarah: Every time they come I try to come. So, probably. I’ve been to too many. I’m sorry, I think they’re a better artist than MercyMe and MercyMe is like … you can’t say anything. You can’t agree with me.
Sarah: So, MercyMe is huge and very popular, but I personally think Big Daddy Weave is hands down … I don’t know, just above and beyond. Their concerts are like …
Jeff: You’re a weaver. A weaving fan.
Sarah: I’m a weaver. Yeah. Anyone listening to this, if you haven’t heard Big Daddy Weave, you got to listen to Big Daddy Weave and go to their concerts. Their concerts are great. They’re like church services but like the best services.
Matt: Best picture of what that looks like, absolutely.
Sarah: And they’re so neat. They’re just such neat people that have been through a lot. And I think that’s what it comes down to is, I don’t know MercyMe’s story, but I know that Big Daddy Weave has had a lot of health problems and issues like that and it just comes out in their music and if you’re hurting Big Daddy Weave is a great band or group to listen to. So, yeah.
Jeff: Well, thanks again Sarah for being a part of this. Matt, for coming in.
Matt: Yeah. Thank you.
Jeff: It’s just very cool with these Journey Podcast to hear people’s stories. It’s cool to hear what’s happening at the station because you guys do reach out to a lot of people so it’s just really cool.
Sarah: And you guys do it really, really well.
Matt: Oh, thank you.
Jeff: You really do. So, thanks so much for being here. And again, if you are … it’s very simple. Just tune the dial, check it out and then after that, check out Journey Coaching at journeycoaching.org and thanks everybody for joining us today.
Sarah: Thanks for joining us.
Matt: Thank you.
Thank you for listening. Tune in next time and make sure you like and subscribe. Visit us at journeycoaching.org and check us out on Facebook and Instagram. Start your own journey at journeycoaching.org. [Singing 00:31:31].