The Tennessee Broadband Association has launched Lead Tennessee Radio as a tool to both communicate important policy issues with listeners and build relationships with legislators. Checkout Lead Tennessee Radio.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: How can podcasts play a role in the way that you interact with legislators? That’s what we’re going to be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns with WordSouth. I’m your host once again, and I’m joined on this episode by Levoy Knowles, who is the executive director at the Tennessee Broadband Association. Levoy, thanks for joining me.
Levoy Knowles: Well, thank you Andy for having me.
Andy Johns: We are out here at the epicenter of the rural broadband world this week at NTCA’s RTIME, a great big show out here in Phoenix. Levoy was nice enough to come by and talk a little bit about Lead Tennessee Radio, which is, full disclosure, something that WordSouth is working with the Tennessee Broadband Association to do. But Levoy kind of sum it up for us, if you don’t mind. What is Lead Tennessee Radio?
Levoy Knowles: Well, Lead Tennessee Radio, Andy, is a way for our listeners to get to know the legislators. We interview them in an office setting. Some of them have been in their offices. Others have been in small conference rooms. But the point is that we get to know them, know who they are, and we’ll get a little background. I’ve learned things from every podcast so far that we’ve done. I’ve learned something about legislators that we were interviewing that I did not know before we started. It’s really an interesting concept, and it’s really grown in importance. And I was maybe a little leery on the front end, but I guess I’m convinced now that it is actually a way to broadcast to folks information that they would not know otherwise.
Andy Johns: Sure. And if you look at the numbers or podcasts, you know, it’s gone from five, six, seven years ago, something that very few people had ever heard about to being more and more mainstream. And while I think a lot of the podcasts are the true murder mystery kind of things that are real popular, I think there’s definitely a niche for something like this. So the Tennessee Broadband Association, obviously a lot of what the association does is advocating for its members and lobbying, you know, for the important issues. We’ve obviously gone over a lot of that before. But how does something like this, when you set up a meeting to do an interview with the legislator, what does that do for a relationship between the association and the folks in the legislature?
Levoy Knowles: Well, Andy, I think it really does help build a relationship. They see that we’re just trying to get our voices heard like other folks are, and it gives them a chance to share some of their personal information on our podcast with our members and listeners. And it really helps build the relationship, and they get to know us better too.
Andy Johns: Now you guys started off at the top, pretty much. You’ve had some really great guests to start off with.
Levoy Knowles: We did actually, the very first one we did was the new speaker of the house, Speaker Cameron Sexton, and that was a very timely podcast. Number one, he was the new house speaker, but secondly, he was also the house member that serves three of our members. And so as I told him, we were all excited that he’s now the speaker, because we have a legislator from our area that has moved up the ranks of leadership to the highest pinnacle possible in the house, speaker of the house.
Andy Johns: Right, right. Absolutely. That is good that it works out that way. Now this comes at an important time for the association. Last year, we helped Tennessee Broadband Association turn into the Broadband Association instead of the Telephone Telecom Association, as it had been in the past. Do you think that something like this helps kind of get that name out there? Does this help folks realize who the Broadband Association is, if they were familiar with the TTA name?
Levoy Knowles: I think it does. There’s been a few that’s been a little confused about the name change, but for the most part, overwhelmingly a majority of folks have said, “huh, that was a really good thing to do, because it really reflects your focus of your work.” The Tennessee Telecommunications, Tennessee Telecom Association, Tennessee Telephone Association has been around since the 1930s. And so the previous name changes, we only had done a variation of telephone or telecommunications, and this is a whole different direction. But it’s a new industry. The focus is no longer on telephone. Now telecommunications is still becoming an all encompassing idea. But broadband is more specific. And I think it gets the idea across that our members are focused on providing broadband service. As I tell legislators, our members have, even though we’re small to midsize in Tennessee, they have committed to be investing over $400 million over the next three years in broadband networks. That’s huge.
Andy Johns: That’s huge. Definitely. And that helps get get the word out there. Absolutely. So one of the more exciting things that I think about the Lead Tennessee Radio has been the reaction. Because like you said, there may have been some who were a little leery of it. But tell us a little bit about what the reaction has been from the folks who have been on it or for the folks who may be scheduled for down the road.
Levoy Knowles: Right. First of all, I’ve not had any negative comments whatsoever. It’s all been very positive, very good feedback. And, actually the first two we did, as I mentioned, Speaker Sexton was the first one. Lieutenant Governor McNally was the second one, also very supportive and very courteous and serves members in his area, has our members as well. And those two were the first, and that kind sets a trend. Because some of the house senate members were maybe a little bit leery, but most of them knew us already and knew that we were trying to promote a legitimate type of process. And so there’s a level of trust there already. But we’ve actually gone through now all the house and senate leadership, you know, majority leader, caucus chair, assistant majority leader on both sides. And so it’s been a very good process. Now I’m having folks come to me and say, “I heard the podcast. It would be a really good way to advance our ideas.” And actually in one sense, ask to be on them. And we’ve had a couple that way. We’re trying to schedule those as we speak. But it’s really interesting. I’ve had other folks, not even in the legislative arena, tell me that “Hey, I heard you on the podcast. Oh, I like those things. It was really good.” And actually out here, Les Greer, NTCA’s own executive. And he said, “I liked that podcast. It was a really good way to get your word out.”
Andy Johns: Yeah, that’s great. There are people all over Tennessee and apparently all over the United States listening to do you guys do the interviews while they’re mowing the grass or washing the dishes or driving somewhere.
Levoy Knowles: Apparently, so.
Andy Johns: They’re very portable. So, well last two questions for you here. If there is a state association who is, has been, like you said, telephone or telecom for a long time, what advice would you have for them? Or what have you learned over this process in terms of changing that identity to become a broadband association? Is that something you think most associations need to consider or kind of to each his own? What advice would you have for those folks?
Levoy Knowles: Well, you have to be comfortable in the direction you take, but I would definitely promote all state associations at least consider changing their name. Some may have reasons they don’t want to, and that’s okay. But if you have any second thoughts, I think ours has been totally successful. You guys helped us with the name change and with the signage and that sort of thing. And it gives you a chance to kind of maybe re-invent yourself in a certain way, and gives you a new purpose for talking to legislators, talking to members, getting them energized. And I’ve had a really good, really good response. I would recommend highly that all states consider at least a name change.
Andy Johns: Great. Now you are on the podcast for at least most of them anyway. You are the host. You’re the interviewer on there as well. What, have you learned in terms of being a part of a podcast, or in terms of being with the interviews there? Has there been anything that you’ve you learned along the way? Or any advice that you would have, as we wrap up here, for somebody who may be a little leery? Like you said, you were at first leery about doing something like this.
Levoy Knowles: Well, I think the important thing is to kind of relax and be yourself. And it’s still, you know, somewhat stressful being in a microphone if you’re not used to doing it, you know, on a daily basis, and I’m not. But I think just be yourself and really enjoy it and have a good time. Because once you get with the legislator, and they relax — or whoever you’re interviewing for that matter, it didn’t have to be in the legislature — but whoever you’re interviewing, it takes a couple minutes to get a level of comfort that you’re okay with, but once you get that comfort level, then enjoy it. Just have a good time and don’t really worry about the microphone with the recording. Because I’ve told you before, just cut out the bad stuff. Make me sound good.
Andy Johns: Sure, absolutely. That’s a good thing, that it’s not live so.
Levoy Knowles: Exactly.
Andy Johns: Well Levoy, I appreciate you joining me.
Levoy Knowles: Oh sure. Absolutely. And, I’d like to do it anytime.
Andy Johns: Great. He is Levoy Knowles, the executive director of the Tennessee Broadband Association, former CEO at Ben Lomand there in middle Tennessee. And I am your host, Andy Johns with WordSouth. We’ve got a few more podcasts we’ll be recording here at NTCA’s RTIME event. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.