Don Kurtis is the General Manager of Cascade Radio Group, which consists of five locally produced and aired radio stations: KISM, KAFE, KBAI, KGMI, and KPUG.
How did you get to Bellingham?
I’ve been here 26 years. I grew up in the Gig Harbor area and went to college at WSU, where I got a degree in advertising. I worked for radio stations in Seattle, and progressed up to Director of Sales. I got disenchanted with big city radio. Everything was ratings driven; they lost sight of what was going on in the community.
I was looking for a place to go and had an offer in Wenatchee and here. I was feeding my twins oatmeal one morning, and my wife and I couldn’t decide where to go so we flipped a coin, and it landed on Bellingham. I’d been to Bellingham twice.
Now that you’re here, what’s your favorite place in Bellingham?
I love to waterski. It’s awesome that Bellingham has Lake Whatcom. I waterski three days a week before work. I love the recreational opportunities here.
How about downtown?
It’s safe and clean. I feel like I can walk anywhere safely. You can’t say that about a lot of downtowns. When I first came up here, downtown was closing up; in the past five years I’ve seen businesses perk up. Downtown is alive again.
What is the value of local radio for a community?
We are the only source of instant news information. When you want to know what’s happening locally, you can tune into the radio and find out what’s going on. We try to take the lead in making people aware of community events, nonprofit organizations, and activities. We try to stay involved in everything.
And, high school sports are huge in this area. It’s very seldom that you go through a season that one of our local teams are not represented very well, or state champions. That’s why we feel it’s important to broadcast their games, it’s a way of staying relevant.
Too many broadcasting companies have focused too hard on increasing profits through cutting expenses. That means cutting people. What they don’t realize is they’re cutting the reason people have to tune in. You can get almost anything my stations offer in a million different places, but you cannot get local news or information. You can’t find out what’s going on at the park, what’s happening this weekend, or what that big noise was, unless you’re tuned in. I want to be the most relevant news information and entertainment source for our community.
What do people not understand about what you’re doing here?
One thing they think is that we make it up as we go along. For the most part, it’s fairly scientific in how things are put together. People think that because you are live, it’s totally impromptu. We’re a little more planned than that. I don’t mind being misunderstood in that way though, I like that people think we’re involved and on-the-go. But our morning shows just don’t go up and say “what are we going to talk about today”.
What do you like best about your job?
We start with a blank slate for businesses—for their advertising message. We find out what they’re trying to accomplish, their deadlines, and budget. Then we basically build from scratch something that we feel will grow their business.
We can make up a commercial campaign, tie them into an event or promotion we’re doing, create an event or promotion that we can use not only on air but any one of our digital properties. We can do targeted display advertising with geo fences. We can set up text based advertising for them, or we can show up on-site and broadcast live.
I love that there’s no box that we’re in. If it’s not illegal or offensive, we can figure out a way to do it. Every day is different.
Is there something that Bellingham doesn’t have that you wish it did?
Yeah. I wish we could pick up the Xfinity Arena in Everett and plop it in Bellingham. This city lacks a big concert venue that could seat 7,000-8,000 people. You could have a major concert come through town that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, or any type of trade show, minor league hockey team, or traveling ice shows and much more. You do something that would be generating traffic and business to Bellingham, instead of people driving through town on their way to Seattle or Vancouver to see events. That’s what’s missing. I’d love to see it on the old GP property.