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KMRY radio’s Rick Sellers retiring after 5 decades in the industry
He’s owned the radio station since 1998, plans to sell to Sports Director Jim Ecker
CEDAR RAPIDS — For as long as he can remember, Rick Sellers has loved radio.
“I became interested in radio when I was a small child and was fascinated that a voice would magically go through the air and go through the radio,” Sellers said.
“My mom went shopping in downtown Akron, Ohio, and took me the department store where they had a radio station on the fourth floor of the department store and I’d watch them endlessly while she shopped. I was in heaven.”
Sellers maintains then that he never learned to dance because he spent his teen years being the disc jockey for high school dances. And not surprisingly, he hung around the campus radio station while a student at Miami University.
After getting his undergraduate degree and a master’s in mass communications, Sellers has spent the rest of his career in the radio industry.
Set to retired July 1, Sellers got his start in the radio business some 50 years ago. Born and raised in Akron, his first job was at a small station in Oxford, Ohio.
When he began looking for a new job, he spotted a listing for a station in Cedar Rapids, and came here to work first at KCRG Radio and TV before joining WMT Radio in 1976. There he served as promotion director, program director and vice president for operations and programming for both WMT AM and FM.
In 1998, he purchased KMRY and has been president and general manager of that station since.
“The rest is sort of history,” he said. “My claim to fame is community involvement both through the station and personally, and I think we achieved that over the years,” joking that he recently packed up four boxes of awards received by the station over the years to take home.
For the past 23 years, he said his focus at KMRY has been improving what he calls the three Rs — revenue, ratings and respect.
“If you have all three,” he said, “you really have done something well.”
“I think KMRY is a pretty good radio station compared to a lot of stations that are out there. We are fun to listen to. Our announcers are encouraged to use their mind as well as their mouth and be intertwined with the community.
“And for me, it's a gratifying experience coming to work.”
Being in the radio business for five decades, Sellers has seen a fair amount of evolution.
“The industry has changed so much, a lot of it for the better but some of it for the worse,” he said.
He believes the reliance on computers to run radio station these days instead of using on-air talent has taken much of the personality and fun out of listening.
“When I got into radio, you played records and taped commercials and you had remotes and direct broadcasts.”
Over the years, Sellers has acquired plenty of memories.
One of his prouder moments in his career involved his two older children, when he was at WMT.
“We used my kids in a public service announcement for seat belts and we won an Addy award for it that year,” he recalled. “I was so proud when my daughter, she was probably eight or nine at the time, went up on stage and accepted the award. ... That was a crowning moment of my career.”
Every once in a while, someone in the community would recognize his voice.
“I'm not on the air anymore and it’s been a couple of years since I've done their shift, but back when I did, I was shopping at Kmart one day buying some underwear, of all things,” he laughed. “The lady behind me said, ‘Are you Rick Sellers?’ and I said, ‘Yes, hi. Nice to meet you.’ And then she said, ‘I don’t believe it. I’m watching Rick Sellers buy underwear.’”
Sellers has been associated with and volunteered through several different organizations over the years, including Downtown Rotary, the Red Cross, the Freedom Festival and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Sellers is involved in the industry outside the Cedar Rapids area, too. He served as the president of the Iowa Broadcasters Association from 2007 to 2009. Seven years before that, he was recognized as the Iowa Broadcaster of the Year.
Sellers knows he’ll have to find something to do in retirement, but for now plans to travel with his wife, Wanda, and spend time with his three grown children and grandchildren. He said he’ll face a test of his retirement will power by driving to Ohio to visit some friends and listening to the car radio the whole time because he’s always analyzed as he’s listened over the years.
Sellers said he actually hadn’t given retirement any consideration until current KMRY Sports Director Jim Ecker approached Sellers about buying the station earlier this year.
“He's always been so kind and generous and helpful and everything I've ever done at the radio station,” Ecker added.
Ecker started in radio in 2016 after spending most of his career in print journalism.
“He could have put the station on the open market, but he was worried about a giant radio chain buying it and making changes that he wouldn’t approve of,” Ecker said. “He wanted somebody within his radio family, as he calls it, to step forward, and that turned out to be me.
“He's been guiding me every step of the way, explaining the business of radio, running the office, the advertising,” Ecker explained. “I couldn’t ask for a better mentor or to have a better person to be buying the station from. I’m really so grateful to be in this together.”
Ecker plans to expand local sports coverage — at the collegiate and high school levels — this summer.
“I’m a sports guy and I’m excited about seeing KMRY become more active in local sports,” Ecker said, citing plans to cover Kirkwood Community College, Coe College and Mount Mercy games. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. he intends to have the station program its usual music, news and weather.
Knowing that makes passing the baton that much easier for Sellers.
“A station is only as good as you are local,” Sellers said. “You won’t succeed without that community involvement, and I’ve preached that for years because I learned that from good management.
“My mentor, Frosty Mitchell, said that if you own a radio station, you want to your goal to be to leave it in better shape than it was when you bought it. And I think I did that. Now I’m passing the baton and Jim will be great.”
“It has been fun,” Sellers added. “Yes, it's challenging sometimes some days, but all in all it’s been a great career.”