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Scott Voorhees Hasn’t Had a Conventional Road to Leading 1110 KFAB

Scott Voorhees and his wife were finishing their basement in Kansas City in the summer of 2006. While Voorhees had previously performed on several shows at KFAB in Omaha, he believed the station had moved on from his style after attempting to impress program director Gary Sadlemyer with some unconventional ideas.

At the time, Voorhees and his wife kept their pregnancy under wraps. As they admired the progress of their basement, Voorhees mentioned that even though he loved their home and envisioned staying there forever, he would have to consider relocating back to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, if KFAB offered him a job. 

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Before his current radio job, Voorhees only occasionally participated in talk radio, filling in only when needed. Despite having some radio experience in Kansas City, he felt the need to find the right market to establish a strong sense of community. Voorhees longed to be part of a close-knit town where neighbors truly cared about each other’s well-being, even if they didn’t live in the same area. Although passionate about radio, he understood that finding the right station and opportunity was crucial to success. 

After several years, he received a phone call from KFAB Hall-of-Famer Gary Sadlemeyer to welcome him back to the station. Scott is now the mid-morning host and Program Director at KFAB.

In an interview with Barrett News Media, he discussed his radio journey, how he balances trusting his instincts as a program director and relying on ratings, and his thoughts on the new afternoon host, Emery Songer

Ryan Hedrick: Gary Sadlemyer, the former director of programming at KFAB, told Omaha Magazine that you were the best hire he ever made. Could you elaborate on your connection with him? 

Scott Voorhees: Gary is an absolute legend. It’s true he’s not our program director anymore, but when you have a guy that has been a part of this radio station for coming up on 47 years, it doesn’t matter what his title is or isn’t; he’s the leader of this radio station. He’s also a member of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. 

I’ve got the title now of program director, and all that means is that I’m on the conference calls and in the meetings, and he doesn’t have to be. He can focus on being Gary which is taking care of a legion of listeners in this town and some great advertising partners as well.  

RH: Do you remember when you first talked to Gary about joining KFAB?  

SV: I started at KFAB as the mid-morning host, a spot I still have from 9:00-11:00 AM. My first contact with him was about two and a half years before I got hired here. KFAB was looking for an afternoon drive host, and at that time, I was 25-26 years old, and they let me come in and do a couple of shows, and I didn’t do too terribly. I brought some comic bits on the air that some people had never tried. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing for the radio station, but it certainly put me on the radar.

Gary said, ‘Thanks a lot for doing this,’ as it turns out, I went to high school with his daughter, and she never knew that, and I didn’t either. I didn’t get the job because I know his daughter.

Two and a half years later, I hadn’t any contact with this radio station, and I was living in Kansas City, and things were going well for my wife and me. We had a baby that we hadn’t told anybody about yet. We had just finished our basement, and I said, ‘Honey, we are never leaving this house unless KFAB in Omaha ever called. We would have a decision to make.’

Gary Sadlemyer called me essentially out of the blue the next day. I know a sign when I see one. I’ve been back here in my hometown of Omaha ever since.  

RH: How did you get promoted to the program director at KFAB? 

SV: The program director position did not pass directly from Gary to me. Jim Rose, a former WIBW guy in Topeka, Kansas, was an interim PD and decided he didn’t want that responsibility, so I’ve been programming this station for the last six years or so.   

RH: Before joining the team at KFAB, what was your previous professional experience? 

SV: I think I was about 29 years old when I started at KFAB. Gary [Sadlemyer] received a card when he hired me that read, ‘Congratulations on the birth of your new baby boy, Scott.’ Somebody in their 20s getting a talk radio gig is rare because this is stereotypically a job for older people and older listeners, which is not necessarily true, but that’s the stereotype.  

In the five years before that, I had done an afternoon drive radio show on Hot Talk 1510 KCET Kansas City. Before that, I was hired to do marketing and public relations for everything from the Christian Ministry to the Miss USA Pageant and for people on the TV show Survivor. 

I had never been to New York City, and the next thing I knew, I was in the offices of CBS and ESPN, like every other week, with the people who were on Survivor who wanted to parlay their success into a different role in the entertainment industry.  

It was a great gig, but I missed radio. At that point, I was still young enough, and I thought to myself that if I could get back into the business, I would still be young enough for stereotypical talk radio. So, when Gary called me, I wasn’t doing a regular radio gig. I would jump in and fill in for different markets here and there, but I just really liked what I was doing, and I was happy to do that for a while.  

RH: How is the Omaha Radio market different from other markets? Also, which radio stations compete with KFAB? 

SV: There is a good sense of community in Omaha. Even people that just moved here talk about our support of the [Nebraska] Cornhuskers, our passion for the College World Series, and the fact that if something happens in one part of our town, it matters even if you’re on the other side of the community.

I don’t look at our competitors as other radio stations, and that’s not from an ego standpoint. When we’re trying to get somebody to listen to us on the radio, we’re not just vying for their attention from other stations, there are a lot of things that can draw attention, and most of it is on the cell phone. Our competition is binge-watching Succession, playing solitaire on their smartphones, or scrolling social media.

The way we compete for attention is by trying to make connections locally. Why does this matter to you? Why should you care? What does this mean for your family, your pocketbook, and your safety in this community? We also try to entertain with local flavor and references. That has served this radio station well for the past 100 years.

RH: You recently hired Emery Songer as the new afternoon drive host at KFAB. Can you highlight his unique qualities and give KFAB listeners an idea of what they can expect from his new show? 

SV: Emery reminds me a lot of myself at that same point in my career. He has been the producer for the morning show at WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa, for five years. He’s also done his own weekend show and is the go-to guy to fill in for the mid-morning or afternoon guys, Jeff Angelo and Simon Conway. He’s hosted so many radio shows, but his daily responsibility is to sit there at the controls and listen to the regular morning show hosts do their show.  

It doesn’t matter how great the hosts are. After you have had a several-year taste of doing your own show, you’re no longer sitting there with a producer mindset, you’re going to be sitting there thinking ‘I would do it this way’ or ‘I would do it that way’. You are so hungry to take on the daily responsibility [of hosting a show, and that’s where Emery is, and we’re glad to give him this shot at KFAB in Omaha. 

He’s already bursting at the seams with infectious positivity. He’s not jaded by everything happening in the news. He’s hungry, ready, and excited about all these different things. I love having that in a co-worker, I love having that on our radio station, and we look forward to having him on the air for years to come.  

RH: How do plan to attract younger audiences who prefer streaming services and FM radio and may not be as familiar with AM radio? 

SV: I had an illuminating conversation a couple of years ago. I have a daughter who is now 16. Sometimes I would drive my daughter and her friends around, and occasionally her friends would say, ‘My dad said to tell you that he listens to you on the radio and he likes your show.’ And then I get the inevitable question [from my daughter’s friends], ‘What do you talk about on the radio?’  

There was no way I could answer the question to their satisfaction until one day when I said, ‘Have you ever listened to a podcast?’ Once they said that they had listened to podcasts, I told them I do a live podcast on the radio every single day, except it’s not recorded; it’s live. Suddenly their minds were blown. The concept had never occurred to them.  

We are trying to reach people who don’t know what radio is. So, to try and connect them with music and on-demand podcasts, iHeart Radio has done a fantastic job with that, and to remember we are live every day, we must instruct younger listeners on that. 

It’s funny how so many younger listeners are at the point now where Emery [Songer] is in his life. They’ve gone through living with their parents, graduated from college and started a career, and got married. It’s amazing how some of these life experiences can turn them into talk radio listeners. Suddenly we get an influx of 30-year-old talk radio listeners; it’s amazing how often life experiences push people to us.  

RH: How important is networking in the broadcasting industry? How can young broadcasters expand their professional networks and make valuable connections? 

SV: I was lucky enough to have gotten into this business when we still needed a live human being on every single radio control board 24 hours a day, which meant there were a lot of jobs. Those days are gone. You have to try and find a way. If you want to do radio, it never hurts to reach out to the person you want to work with and offer your services.

You have no idea how many programmers are like, ‘Really? Because I don’t have anybody for this’. Somedays, it feels like you’re all alone with no one who wants to do any of this stuff. You’re never bothering these guys. If you are, they’ll stop getting back to you. Big deal. You didn’t have that job anyway. You have to put yourself out there.   

RH: What is your opinion on social media influencers and their impact on the broadcast radio industry? Do you view them as potential partners or rivals?

SV: When we had this opportunity in the afternoons, I did think about who in Omaha has a lot of followers on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram and how they are doing it. I watched influencers do videos and even contacted a couple of them. It was funny, there was one person who was fantastic when she thinks about what she wants to do in advance, but the prospect of live radio without a net that was longer than a two-minute video was horrifying to her.  

Some people are just comfortable doing what they’re doing. Even though these influencers are not in radio, they’ve made a connection with our community and are making money doing it. That’s what we’re doing in radio. 

We’re all essentially the guy that dresses up like the Statue of Liberty at tax time. We’re like carnival barkers who are like, ‘Hey, look at me, and buy this stuff we’re advertising.’ If you can find a way to do that, you’re going to be valuable to somebody, and it very well could be radio.

RH: What is the ideal balance between relying on ratings and trusting your instincts as a program director when shaping your radio station’s programming strategy? 

SV: As you look at the ratings for Omaha, we are number two right now, and I’m upset that we’re not number one. If it matters to the person who’s advertising to that group, then you are number one. The ratings are a nice thing to pat yourself on the back, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not getting the revenue associated with that.  

We are in a ratings world here in Omaha; we have to have good ratings, and we have to have good revenue. With this radio station, the way that I’ve always tried to figure out how many people are listening is to throw someone’s name out there on the radio and see how long it takes them to text or email you and say, ‘I heard you were talking about me.’ As quickly as they can get back to me, that’s when I know that we’re having a good day.  

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