Cascade Radio Group sees cascading changes

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Heidi Persson takes over as new general manager

Based in Bellingham, Cascade Radio Group owns and operates multiple radio stations in the Whatcom County market, including FM stations 92.9 KISM, 96.5 KGMI, 97.9 KPUG, 98.9 KBAY and 104.1 KAFE, and AM stations 790 KGMI, 930 KBAY and 1170 KPUG. The family of stations, which broadcasts everything from news radio to classic rock, recently hired Pacific Northwest radio veteran Heidi Persson as the group’s new general manager.
Business Pulse sat down with Persson for this month’s issue to learn more about her experience in radio, her vision for Cascade Radio Group, and how she sees radio and audio content becoming even more important to local business in the years ahead.

BP: Can you share a little more about your role at Cascade Radio?
HP: I am the new general manager here, having taken over after Don Curtis retired. It’s a big role and a lot to bite off. I am really, really blessed to have an experienced staff who know the market. They have been very gracious in bringing me up with them and teaching me the ropes. I’ve been a little hamstrung by COVID-19 in getting to know the community, but things are coming along.
I am getting to know more and more businesses all the time and am really optimistic about where we are headed.

BP: Did you come from another market, or did you work your way up through the Cascade Radio Group?
HP: I came from another market. Previously, I worked in the Olympia area. I’ve been in radio for over 30 years, working in various markets before being recruited to Cascade. It was an awesome fit because my son and his family live in Ferndale. Being closer to my son and grandchild was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. It seemed like it was meant to be. And we love it up here.

BP: What about radio grabbed hold of you and continues to hold you?
HP: Radio is unique. You can make it anything you want. I started my career being a board operator for Mariners games, back when they were really terrible. I started at the board and then for a while became an on-air personality. After doing that for a while, someone thought I had an aptitude for selling advertising to small businesses and helping them succeed.

In radio, you get to do a bit of everything — you’re on air, you’re out in the community. You could help save a business or build a business. No two days are the same. It makes 30 years in one industry go by quickly. That, and seeing the difference we make in our community made me a lifer in this industry, right from the start.

HP: How has the last year affected Cascade Radio?
BP: You hate to say words like “happy” when talking about 2020, but there were bright spots. Thankfully, radio was essential work, so we never had to close completely. We worked remotely but could also stay on the air, providing companionship and comfort in times like these. Everyone pulled together so well. It solidified everyone and brought our team together.

I want to give a huge shout out to our advertisers. They remained committed to our community and our stations. They understood the importance of our work, especially in trying times. I will forever be grateful to so many of the businesses in Whatcom County. We needed their support.

At Cascade, we did our part as well, giving away a significant amount of free advertising to local businesses. This has been a situation that has called on everyone to do more than their part, and we saw that up and down the line.

BP: What are some trends in radio, locally and nationally?
HP: People think radio is a dying thing, but audio is having a resurgence. The number of listeners and streamers has actually increased for some stations during the pandemic. There is a lot of high-quality content and programming out there, and people are paying attention.

Radio is just a big part of people’s lives, and that remains unchanged. Radio is a companion. We are a friend, and more than anything we are trusted. That trust factor is why partnering with radio can be so effective. Radio works into the fabric of our day.

BP: With so many media options out there, what can you get from local radio that you just can’t find anywhere else?
HP: At an advertising level, local radio is the one knocking on your front door asking how they can help. Chances are the television station didn’t call up a family business and ask how they can help. We do in radio. That’s what makes us different. We were literally assisting some of our advertisers in creating campaigns and programs designed to save their business.

On the listener side, COVID-19 is an outstanding example of very localized information that may not be, or likely is not, available on any other platform. Depending on the market, information about local hospital capacity and local infection rates may not be available anywhere else. In 2020, local radio definitely demonstrated its value, and the community responded to that.

Last year, our worlds shrank to our homes and the communities we lived in. That’s a very local world. It is the most local world. And a local world needs a local news and entertainment source.

BP: Five years from now, where would you like to see Cascade Radio Group?
HP: That’s a big question. I would like to see the group even more invested in the community than we already are. I see an enormous growth in the promotions and events we have across the county. We are going to be on every platform we can be on. Listeners will find us in so many new places.

We will continue to do the things we’ve always done, but we are going to expand the personal touch of radio to more digital platforms than ever.

BP: Since you’re in radio, what is your favorite album ever?
HP: I came up through country radio, so I have always been a big country fan. Garth Brooks’ first album was one of my favorites. I just love what he brought to that genre of music, and he has always been my sort of spirit animal. I had the good fortune of meeting him several times, and he is just a really kind and talented person.

But I don’t have a single “favorite” album. There is just so much good stuff out there. That’s one reason I love what I do!