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Omaha Magazine

A Fabulous Director: Scott Voorhees Talks Radio Management

Feb 01, 2022 11:57AM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
scott voorhees in radio recording booth

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 Scott Voorhees has managed a station during a two-year period that has brought COVID-19; the worst season for Nebraska football since 1957; local, state, and national politics; and everyday news events such as vehicular homicides and city council meeting information.

It’s all in a day’s work for Voorhees at KFAB.

“It’s not work when the passion of this staff makes it all worthwhile,” Voorhees said. “When I walk in the door and the first person I hear is someone who has been working here for 40 years.”

That someone is Gary Sadlemyer, the previous program director and KFAB’s most notable voice on-air.  “He’s the best hire I’ve ever made,” Sadleymyer said of Voorhees. “He’s amazingly talented, he’s smart, he’s efficient, he’s capable. Beyond that, he’s got a great demeanor for this job.”

Being program manager is a big job, all the same, and requires more than deciding what is going to air on any given day and managing the on-air staff. Like many media companies, KFAB has reduced its staff over the years, and as part of iHeart Radio, there are corporate duties to be performed alongside the Omaha-centric management. It’s often a job that requires much more than eight hours a day.

“The little things,” Voorhees said of what keeps him up at night. “Like, why did both these commercials come on at the same time? It’s a little thing, but what if a friend or the business owner is listening and thinks, ‘wow, what happened?’”

Through the 25 years he has been on air, however, he has learned a few tricks to keep him sane. “It took me a long time to learn patience,” Voorhees said. “Becoming a father was a great lesson in that. I’m also a big believer that life is golf and golf is life.” 

Voorhees came to the station in 2006 with eight years of experience from a station in Kansas City. “We [Voorhees and his wife] had just finished the basement of our house, and I said ‘I am never moving again,’” Voorhees said. “I’m not kidding—the next day Gary called and said he had a
job open.”

“We’d kind of talked a bit back and forth, and he had been a fill-in host for a couple of days,” Sadlemyer said. “I was really happy with what I heard. A couple of years after that, we had an opening…we were able to bring him up here.”

In many ways, Voorhees loves what he does because he loves his hometown. “Gary was not born and raised here, but has been here a long time. Jim Rose bleeds scarlet and cream. I’ve been here 15 years. When you turn on KFAB, you hear Omaha, and that’s what the city needs.”

That includes making sure advertising dollars are coming in. Voorhees and company, like most media stations over the past couple of years, have dealt with the fallout from advertisers who no longer had, or have, money to spend with
the station.

“There were a lot of longtime partners that said ‘I just don’t have the money right now,’” Voorhees said of the downturn in 2020. “That hurt, but more than hurting the station, I felt bad for them. That’s why we came up with the ‘Spend Local Omaha’ campaign. It was important to us to let the listeners know ‘here’s a list of businesses that are open’ even though everyone was locked down. We gave away a lot of freebies. A lot of longtime advertisers just didn’t have the money, but relationships are so big. It was important that they continue to be a part of us. We were able to ride it out a bit.”

Part of how Voorhees and the staff were able to weather the last couple of years was because Voorhees, as program director, intentionally shaved down the lengths of the segments and reduced the clutter on air. It’s not something the average listener will notice, but things sound more professional, and that helps keep listeners engaged.

Add to this the fact the Voorhees is still on-air. Sadlemyer said Voorhees’ management duties have not diminshed the quality of his show.

“He’s always identified a couple of topics and done enough researching to bring relevant information to the table,” Sadlemyer said. “It can be easy to get overwhelmed with other work. He doesn’t do that. It surprised me a bit in the beginning when he took over as program director.”

Sadlemyer then admitted it should not have been a surprise, as the on-air part of the job is in the blood of all the personalities at KFAB. 

The political nature of talk radio has only become heightened with social media. “OK, address this—let’s talk,” Voorhees said. “Social media isn’t going to go away…when people think of media these days, they think of social media. The best companies realize you can’t just post and forget it. A Yelp review isn’t going to go away. The best companies have someone who will reply immediately and say ‘can we get back to you?’” 

He’s learned about leading from other businesspeople as well as his KFAB colleagues. “Sometimes the perception is that those people who are in power are there because they knew the right people. The reality is that those leaders who are in family-run businesses, a lot of them grew up in the business and still love it. So many of them have a passion for what they are doing. It’s in the way they talk to their employees. The best ones know all the components to retain good employees, have a passion for their business, and have a passion to help others.”

“Sid Dillon…I had never met him until a couple of years ago,” Voorhees said. “I was getting my car serviced, and he was walking around picking up magazines in the lobby. He looked at me and said, ‘How are you? Are you being helped?’ I said I was and asked who he was. He said ‘I’m Sid Dillon, I’m the owner.’”

That’s the kind of connection to customers and employees that Voorhees respects. “It’s my hope that people still need connection,” he said. “It’s purposeful when we say, ‘thank you for listening.’” 

The hardest part about the media business in this day and age, however, is that everyone is now a broadcaster. “We’re competing against all online news, against the two dozen streaming services, and everyone’s phone,” Voorhees said. “People want to learn new information. They only have a few minutes, and they have a lot of ways to decide what am I going to listen to?”

Voorhees is making sure as many people as possible decide to listen to KFAB.

“I’m continually impressed by his ability to run really fast in multiple directions,” Sadlemyer said. “He just handles it all. He’s much better at it than I was.”

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This article originally appeared in the February/March 2022  issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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