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Retention and Recruitment Drive Advocate for Michigan Broadcasters

Russ White | MSU Today
Sam Klemet

Sam Klemet is a Michigan State University alumnus, and he's the President and CEO-Elect of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB).

Klemet recounts his career climbing the ladder in radio after graduating from MSU in 2007 to now returning home to lead the MAB. Before returning to Michigan, Klemet was the number two guy at the Indiana Broadcasters Association.

What attracted you to the MAB?

“At my core, I'm a broadcaster,” Klemet says. “I’ve loved it since I was five years old. I was listening to Ernie Harwell and George Blaha growing up. And those were my guys and I just fell in love with it. Being on air was great, but I got to see another side of it, which is fighting for broadcaster rights and helping the next generation and making sure that they're equipped in terms of support and connections that they can make. Associations play a huge part in doing that.

“Michigan does it about as well as you can do it in the country. There are 50 broadcaster associations across the country, and Michigan is one of the best. I give Karole White and her staff, I'm replacing Karole, a lot of credit for that. She's been doing this for a very long time and has been very innovative in how she's done things. So, to have that infrastructure in place and to build on a place that's already successful was incredibly attractive. Karole's been great in helping me in that transition.” What is the Michigan Association of Broadcasters?

What's the mission? What are some of the key issues you're working on?

“It's a 501 C (6), non-profit. And the mission of the MAB is to promote broadcasting and to work for our members. There are more than 300 TV and radio stations that are members of the MAB. The goal is to support the next generation, to get ahead of what is coming, and to be an advocate for our industry. There are a lot of challenges. We want to make sure that our members feel supported, that they have someone who's there to help them stay ahead of the trends, and to be a voice for them on a legislative level. And that's where the MAB really has its strength.”

What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing Michigan broadcasters and are they different for radio and TV?

“The main issues are retention and recruitment. There are many more media options for consumers even from when I was in school 15 or 16 years ago. And that landscape has changed. There are so many more options. When I was a freshman, I think is when Facebook started. And so, to think of just how that has completely shifted the entire dynamic of media is incredible.

“Attracting people to our industry is a challenge. We have a lot of opportunity there. But it's harder and harder to get younger people into broadcasting because they do have so many options, and I completely understand that. But I think there is real opportunity for us to connect with a new generation who may not have grown up changing the dial on a radio in their car. It's very conceivable that they're consuming radio in a very different way. Or they may not think to turn on Channel 7 to watch the nightly news. They are consuming news differently. And that's okay; that's completely fine. Things change, and the way we consume content evolves. That's fine. But I think it's very important for our industry to connect with those people and meet them where they are to keep our industry alive and strong.”

Do television and radio stations care how consumers get their content, or would they prefer it get consumed over the air? Should the MAB be called the Michigan Association of Content Deliverers?

“A couple weeks ago, I met with a young woman who’s in sales for a radio station. And I asked her if she listens to radio. She flat out said no. So, I asked her how she sells it then. She said, ‘I'm not selling radio, I'm selling content.’ I understand that, and that makes sense to me. You don't have to sell necessarily 95.5 on the FM dial. That's okay, but you can sell personalities. You can connect what we do as broadcasters in a very different way.

“It's important that we are flexible on meeting them there, while again, still maintaining our core. And just because we're trying to attract young people doesn't mean that we still don't have an audience base who did grow up with radio. We need to ensure that the content is strong and to ensure that the accessibility of radio and TV is easy. If that means that you're tuning it to your smart device, we need to be very adaptable in making sure that we're meeting people where they are.”

What are some short- and long-term goals you have as you get going at the MAB?

“In the short term, I really do want to make sure that we're making connections with the college students here at Michigan State's campus and across the state of college and universities because that's where the talent is. Ultimately, we're going to have to pass the torch. And so I want to make sure that they feel equipped and that they have the skills coming in. I'm not just talking about from an on-air standpoint. A huge gap and a huge priority for me is on the engineering side. If you go into any radio station or TV station, the average age is probably in the mid to upper fifties. And these are traditionally men that have been doing this for 30 years. And when you ask them, ‘How do you fix this?’ It's not in a handbook. It's in their brains because they just know how to do it.

“We need to find and train the next generation so when the current group of engineers retires and moves on, there has to be someone that they can help or that can step in for them. They need to think differently but still make sure that they're doing what is necessary to keep us on air. That is a real challenge but also a humongous opportunity. And these are very stable jobs. These are jobs where you can start and you can grow and you can be in this position for 10, 15, or 20 years. You can make a complete career out of. I think sharing that and sharing the opportunities with young people is very important. So, a short-term goal is to continue to make connections and recruit the next generation, but also to make sure that our members feel like they know what's coming.”

Klemet talks about the exciting ATSC 3.0 television technology and talks about why he chose MSU to attend college. And he describes how his time at MSU prepared him for where he is today. And he shares the names on his personal Mount Rushmore of Broadcasting. Ernie Harwell and George Blaha top the list. He also talks about Spartans in the media across the country who inspire him, some of whom were classmates. And he shares his advice for students who want to get into careers in broadcasting and communications.

“Don't be afraid to take the job that you're unsure of. I think it's better just to get your foot in the door and then figure it out. The plan that you have right now as a student is not what is likely going to happen. If you are the one percent for whom it all goes perfectly then good for you. But it likely won't. Be flexible and open to new opportunities. My former boss in Indiana, Dave Arland, gave me some great advice. He said, ‘Never turn down a job that you weren't offered.’ So, take some interviews and have that meeting with someone that you might have no idea what they're about or what they could do for you. Take the meeting and have conversations, meet people, extend your network as much as you possibly can because you don't know in 10 to 15 years where you may cross pass again.

“It’s important that people challenge themselves a little bit in stepping outside of a comfort zone. So again, you might have that plan that you want to be that young reporter who goes to ESPN, but you're not going to get that after your first year. But the steps that you take and the new things you try can ultimately get you there. Be patient as well. These things take time; careers take time. Be patient in getting to where you ultimately want to go.”

Klemet explains what “localism” is as a focus for radio and television broadcasters.

“You can pretty much get the national news from your pocket every day on your phone. You can find news content everywhere. A local perspective for broadcasters allows community voices to be heard. That is really where TV and radio are going. It's always been local, but I think hyper local is the future of our industry.

“The biggest focus for us is to create opportunities for students, whether it's through a scholarship program or career fairs or simply putting on events that connect students to broadcasters. That's where our opportunity lies. I know over the last five years we've given away about $150,000 worth of college scholarships to students at colleges and high schools. We're going to continue that and really put a focus on that because we want to make sure that the students who are coming out feel supported. And a financial burden is always a concern, especially from a broadcaster.

“The other thing is just to make sure that our industry feels strong and that it has a future. And it does. I am a huge proponent of TV and radio on a local level. We need to stay ahead of the trends and create programs that allow our members to feel like, ‘Okay, we can step into that next generation of whatever broadcasting looks like because we're hearing from the people who are making that happen.’ It's our job as the MAB to help connect our members to those trends and those decision makers.”

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