Not many radio PDs can say they’ve been at one station for 25 years. Even fewer can say they got their start at that station mowing the lawn.
Both of those things happen to be true for Deb Turpin, the PD and morning co-host at KSOP (Z104) Salt Lake City, who celebrated her 25th anniversary with the station in December.
She remembers with amusement how she wrangled her way into a job at the station she grew up listening to via a combination of talk and tenacity. She was 28, working in customer service at a textbook warehouse, and quite certain that wasn’t what she wanted to be doing with her life. Radio, she decided, was her next career.
After several unsuccessful attempts, she finally landed a meeting with Greg Hilton, then-president/GM of the family-owned KSOP. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any jobs available. That’s when she decided to make her own.
“I said, ‘Well, your yard kind of looks like crap. Can I landscape?’” she remembers asking Hilton. He agreed, as long as she’d do it for $4 an hour. She gave up her $12.50-per-hour customer service job to take it. “I just wanted to work in country radio because I was obsessed with it and was just willing to do anything,” she says.
Soon, Hilton had her doing other tasks, including organizing the station’s loyalty club database, then housed in boxes of paper cards listeners had filled out by hand. When she began questioning why the station wasn’t playing certain songs, she was offered the music director job, a position she held until Hilton’s death in 2009. At that point, brother Don Hilton took over as GM and Turpin was promoted to PD.
At a small operation with just a dozen employees, Turpin’s willingness to do whatever’s necessary had helped ensure her longevity. “I still mow the lawn sometimes,” she says. “I have cleaned the toilets. I recently re-painted the upstairs and the downstairs, and I [built] a little addition off the front of the building, a little breezeway.”
That willingness to do anything is shared by the entire staff, she says. “We all pitch in with promotions [because] we don’t have a promotion director. We all do parades. We all help with the front desk. We do all kinds of stuff.”
But it’s really the music that has kept Turpin engaged all these years, and particularly having the freedom to “do with the music what I think needs to be done. I think if I got a [safe] list faxed in to me every week . . . I wouldn’t find it very rewarding,” she says. “I get really excited about new music, and really passionate about it. If I had to leave it on my desk without it being heard week after week, I would be really frustrated and unfulfilled.”
Label reps have taken note of her enthusiasm. Republic Nashville West Coast director of promotion Lois Lewis calls Turpin “one of the most dedicated, loyal, hard-working people I know . . . The passion she has for our format and the way she cares for our artists, her radio station and her listeners is something extra special.”
In 2011, KSOP underwent a major re-branding to become “Z104.” Turpin says that before the change, “our median age of listener was 55 . . . Not that all heritage stations are old and boring, but we kind of were.” The change was a successful one. The median listener age has dropped to 33, according to Turpin, who says, “In two and a half years we’ve turned that around.”
In a market that’s family-focused and 60% Mormon, country is “huge,” says Turpin, despite the format’s sometimes heavy emphasis on drinking songs. “It’s surprising how well country does here because they don’t drink,” she says. “You can put a beer song on here and it’ll do great . . . They may just be substituting the word ‘Sprite,’” she jokes.
With 25 years under her belt at KSOP, Turpin is still loving every minute of it, and still grateful for the “chance of a lifetime to work in this industry. I’m really glad that 25 years ago I got to start mowing the lawn, and it’s turned into a job that not very many people get to do.”