MUSKEGON – He’s come a long way since the days when he used to play disc jockey and spin records at home on his record player while growing up.
Or when he’d hitch a ride each day as a teen-ager to a neighboring high school so he could attend the school’s broadcasting class.
Yet the gee-whiz enthusiasm of those days remain with Jeff Morton, who at 35 years old is now managing a West Michigan group for the largest owner of radio stations in America, Clear Channel Communications Inc.
Sitting back in his office just off Mona Lake in Muskegon, Morton says radio “is just something that struck my fancy” while growing up and stuck with him.
“It’s a passion. It’s not a job,” said Morton, general manager of Clear Channel Radio Lakeshore, which as of today will grow from four to five radio stations with the debut of a new news-talk station.
Those stations – WMUS FM 107, WMRR FM 101.7, WHSZ AM 108, WMHG AM 1600, and news-talk WMUS AM 1090 – combined dominate the Muskegon area radio market, where one of out every two adults each week tunes into a Clear Channel stations.
That kind of listenership instills Morton with a certain responsibility that he takes seriously as he puts more focus on involving the stations and their on-air staffs more in the community. While Clear Channel may be big, the emphasis for the Muskegon stations is all local, Morton said.
“It’s really pretty simple. As long as we can continue to serve the community, and have them first and foremost in what we do, we’ll be fine,” Morton said. “If you work hard to take care of the community, the community will take care of you.”
That’s why Norton has retooled WMUS and WHSZ by replacing satellite feeds during the key timeslots with on-air talent.
“We needed to show people we were local, we were part of the community and were tied to the community. We felt that in the long run that was going to be a bigger payoff for us,” said Morton, who began his radio career in Detroit following his 1987 graduation from Central Michigan University with a degree in broadcasting.
His initial foray into the business, however, didn’t go well and he was about to look for new work when his wife, Denise, a Mt. Pleasant native whom he met in college, heard an ad for a sales job at WGRD in Grand Rapids.
“I decided I’d give it one more shot before I try a different career path. I really haven’t looked back,” said Morton, who went to work for WGRD in 1988.
He jumped ship to WOOD AM&FM in 1993 as an account executive, then returned to WGRD two years later as general sales manager. He joined WMUS in September 1998 as general manager when the station was still owned by Greater Muskegon Broadcasters, which had gone two years without a general manager. In mid-1999, Greater Muskegon Broadcasters acquired three other Muskegon radio stations, only to sell the group late that year to Connoisseur Communications, which ran the station for several months under a local marketing agreement.
On the day the deal closed last September, Connoisseur immediately sold the group to Clear Channel.
“It’s been an interesting time for us,” Morton said of the changes in ownership.
Morton welcomes the certainty that Clear Channel brings and has on his agenda the debut of WMUS AM, which formerly simulcast with its FM sister station and will carry conservative broadcast icons Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura. Morton is also busy planning the consolidation of the stations from two location into one, which will undergo a major renovation in the future.
“There’s a feeling of relief, if you will,” Morton said. “It’s cool to finally have things settled.”
A father of two, Morton says he sees himself staying put for awhile as he works to grow the stations and solidly link them with the community. While he’s had professional opportunities to move, the native of Sterling Heights in suburban Detroit said he’s settled in West Michigan.
“I hope I can continue to do well and earn those opportunities, but none of those have been better than what I have now,” he said.