Back in 1983, a certain insurance agent was presented with the opportunity to buy a radio station. Had he been interested in buying a station? Did he secretly want to get into broadcasting? Well, no. But he threw out a low-ball offer that was accepted. He jumped head first into his new role as owner of WEIS in Centre, Alabama and throughout the years has used the radio station to serve a community like no other. For this, the ABA is pleased to honor Jerry Baker as the 2018 Broadcaster of the Year.
WEIS assistant manager Sheila Richardson, who has worked at the station for 27 years, says she’s not surprised Baker went full steam ahead into broadcasting.
“They really didn’t have a format – they were just like every small town station with maybe a little bit of news and not much else but obituaries,” explains Richardson. “But Jerry saw the need for more local information and was able to hire some people who had broadcasting experience to help him with things like programming and on air.”
“He went big-time with everything local,” she says. “Jerry just has such a good business sense and such a drive to accomplish whatever he sets his mind to. It’s amazing what he’s done.”
Shortly after WEIS fell into Baker’s lap, he found he needed someone to do the 5 – 8 am time slot. Although he had no on-air experience, he decided he’d fill in until he found a replacement. Some thirty-plus years later, Baker continues to be the first voice many residents of Centre hear every morning.
And Baker doesn’t just talk local, he is local, taking a hands-on approach in all station activities. “You know, we’ve had several devastating tornadoes and we went on the air to raise money,” says Richardson. “I have seen Jerry go out and literally hand checks to people in need.”
Baker also brings the community “news you can use” … not as a slogan, but in a real sense. “Every election year, Jerry invites all the candidates in our county to the station the Monday night before voting and gives each of them five minutes,” Richardson says. “After the forum, his phone starts ringing before he can even leave the station – people calling to thank him for offering this service to the community.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation honored Jerry Baker with the Broadcast Communications Award during their 96th annual meeting in December, 2017. Federation Director of Communications Jeff Helms thanked Baker for his commitment to sharing agriculture news over the airwaves and on the station’s website. “In this day and age, most local radio stations have cut staff jobs and turned to syndicated radio programs to fill air time — but not WEIS,” Helms said. “The station’s programming is 100 percent local.
Cherokee County Farmers Federation Reporter Randy Jones nominated Baker for the award, noting his dedication to covering local farm events. Jones said, “If you tune your dial to 100.5 FM or 990 AM while driving through Cherokee County, you’re sure to hear news that matters to local folks.”
Even though Baker programs the station with locals in mind, his decisions have proven to have an impact on people outside the market … way outside. When WEIS presented a series on suicides, someone sent an email saying they were going to take their own life. Baker immediately contacted local authorities who tracked the IP address of the message and contacted authorities in the individual’s community. His quick thinking led them to a home where they found the person unconscious, but still alive. What’s even more amazing is that the person who made contact with WEIS, thanks to their series, lived in another state that is nowhere close to Alabama.
Richardson says Baker has a caring attitude even when it comes to advertising. “He doesn’t just sell ads to get the money, he wants to help you grow your business,” she explains. “He really tries to do everything he can for our local businesses with the idea that the advertising just falls into place.”
Jerry Baker doesn’t think much about getting recognition for all he’s done in the community. Richardson, who nominated him for this award, wonders how she’ll get him to show up to receive it. “He’s the type of person that doesn’t want a lot of recognition – he thinks someone else is more deserving, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Richardson. “In fact we’ve had some little arguments about that … about how I think he should get more acknowledgment, so he’s going to be surprised about this.”