This year, WLKG-FM 96.1, Lake Geneva’s award-winning radio station, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. To recognize this on-air achievement, At The Lake caught up with Tom Kwiatkowski, the station’s founder, owner and president to get his thoughts on the station’s success as well as his many career achievements.
Kwiatkowski grew up on Chicago’s south side and is quick to point out the area’s industrial and blue-collar personality. He graduated from St. Rita High School, Chicago State University and received his master’s degree from Loyola University.
Kwiatkowski started teaching in Burbank, Illinois, in 1968, but was a summer resident of Lake Geneva beginning in 1955. He started dating his wife, Barbara, in 1967 and the couple was married in 1970. They have three married daughters and five grandchildren. His teaching career in Lake Geneva began in 1970 at Eastview Elementary School and he served as principal of Star Center School from 1974-1994. In 1994 he started WLKG-FM 96.1 and continues to play an active role in the station’s success.
YOUR EARLY CAREER WAS IN EDUCATION. WHAT MADE YOU TAKE THE LEAP INTO RADIO?
I loved education, but to make money you really have to move to bigger school districts with bigger budgets and that means moving around the country. I was very content to live in Lake Geneva with an established family. One way to grow financially is to own a successful business. I met with Skip Bliss of Bliss Communications in 1990 and he and his team encouraged me to pursue radio license 96.1 FM with an assignment to Lake Geneva. The new business would allow me to stay in Lake Geneva, and in a way, still be in the education business through radio.
WLKG IS CELEBRATING 25 YEARS ON THE AIR. WHAT DOES THIS MILESTONE MEAN?
Barb and I are coming up on 49 years of marriage and we were reflecting on all the Lake Geneva businesses that we’ve frequented that no longer exist. WLKG-FM’s sales in the first 15 months were pretty skimpy. We made changes and grew into success. Twenty-five years is a long time, and Barb and I are proud to have a business that has served Walworth and the surrounding counties, not only with music, but with news, weather, sports and information for a quarter century.
WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE WLKG’S MOST RECENT RECOGNITION BY THE WBA AS THE BEST MUSIC RADIO STATION OF THE YEAR?
We’ve done two things pretty well for 25 years. We have had talented program directors who have picked the right music for our adult contemporary format. We have to sound like the major market stations, and we do.
Our second strength is the creativity of our commercials in house, and our sales staff led by General Manager Nancy Douglass, do an amazing job of making the commercials stand out.
YOU SERVED ON THE WATER SAFETY PATROL FOR OVER 50 YEARS. WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS?
I wanted to be on the Water Safety Patrol since I was 10. I started as a lifeguard; in 1965 moved up to the boat crew; and in 1972 became one of Wisconsin’s first boating safety instructors. I was hired as operations director in 1978 and stayed until 1989. Then I was appointed to the board of directors in 2017. While operations director, we moved into the computer age and improved our communications system. We went from two reliable boats to five. The Patrol advanced its training and expanded boat patrolling hours greatly. The Patrol and its board of directors are dedicated to making Geneva Lake the safest lake in Wisconsin, and the municipalities of the Town of Linn, Lake Geneva, Williams Bay and Fontana have been strong supporters.
WHAT’S THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS AS A BUSINESSMAN AND COMMUNITY LEADER?
There is no secret to success. You just work more hours than you thought and you spend more money than you thought. I’ve been fortunate to find a passion and desire in everything I have done. I loved teaching, I loved managing a school, I loved managing the Water Safety Patrol and love being in radio. None of my success would be possible without the help of hundreds of people over the years. The most important person has been my wife, Barbara, who is the wind beneath my wings.