Smile Project Winner #9: Bryan Bjorklund, Cinemark Movies 12, Ames


Hello shoppers…

Happy stinkin Columbus Day

I woke up this morning owing my hair a perm and Bryan Bjorklund $25: being in debt is no way to start a Monday.

I’m in arrears to the happy 17 year-old Ames High School senior because a) he smiled at me Saturday night while working the 8:40pm snack bar shift at the Cinemark Movies 12 in Ames, becoming winner #9 in The Smile Project (click here to read about more winners), and b) I didn’t have two tens and a five on me ($25 being part of The Smile Project’s award, along with being showered with blogging accolades) but told Bryan I’d hit a nearby ATM after watching the highly touted David Fincher flick, The Social Network.

Roger Ebert lied and so did I; forgive my terrible customer service, dude. I walked out and forgot all about you, blowing you off like I worked at American TV and Appliance.

(BTW, the performances in the very good but not epic biopic about the inventor of Facebook were solid (especially Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake) and Trent Reznor’s soundtrack was stunning but Aaron Sorkin’s script played a little too loose with the truth and the subject matter wasn’t quite as interesting as the movie wanted it to be.)

Bryan’s stand-out performance warrants repeated viewings.

The son of a career Navy man offered a quick and easy smile and naturally engaging manner at the snack bar, plus a reasonable explanation for both (not the snack bar – it’s pretty self-explanatory).

“I think kids that move a lot have to make friends faster,” said the 17 year-old, who has already called Hawaii and Maryland home. “You just learn to be happier around people.”

New Buyosphere recruitment philosophy: Hire happy transients. Train skills.

Bryan enjoys band and Boy Scouts, and has a particular affinity for swimming, which he hopes to parlay into a scholarship, albeit to a college smaller than Iowa State.

He’s already cashed in on that grin.

“A lady tipped me $5 because she said that nobody smiles anymore.”

Here’s another tip, Bryan: Keep the smiles coming, and the size of the paydays will keep growing.

Sorry for my bad memory, Bryan. Be happy you’re young. Wait – looks like you already are.🙂

Meantime, check’s in the mail, kid and I’m the mailman – see you tonight.

(Note to self: write more notes to self) 

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       


Ways to contact Jonnie:


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Phone: 515-480-4190

Smile Project Winner #8: Manny Patel, Super 8 Motel


Hello shoppers…


If you’re a fan of Iowa, Iowa State, University of Northern Iowa and/or Drake football, you probably looked like this on Saturday.


If you’re a fan of warm, sunny, dry Iowa weather, you probably looked like this on Sunday.






If you’re a fan of presents, you’ll probably like what Jonnie’s got for you…


I hope it’s okay if I already unwrapped it.

“It” is Manny Patel, the owner of the Super 8 Motel on 5900 Sutton Drive in Des Moines, and the 8th winner in the Smile Project, which was started in May (click this sentence to read more about why, other than what I’m about to tell you) to reward any employee who smiles at me when I encounter them while they work. (Click this sentence to read about other Smile Project winners.)

Manny not only smiled at me when I met him at the Motel’s check-in counter, he also picked up my name off my sign-in info and then used it throughout our conversation, smiling all the while.

I was impressed and told him so, and mentioned how rare it is. He responded with a simple yet powerful explanation for all the glad-handling.

“When you greet people with a smile and their name,” said the Alabama native, “it gives them a welcome feeling that makes them comfortable. That makes a big difference in their stay with us.”

Indeed, Manny has been making a big difference in his Super 8’s overnight crashers’ experience since he started smiling, greeting, engaging, thanking and following up with them in 1997 (which also happen to be The Five Pillars of Great Customer Service which also also happen to be the foundation of my customer service training program – read more about it by clicking this sentence).

While this is no secret to his loyal patrons (“I’ve learned a lot of names over the years because a lot of people keep coming back here”), what is a mystery is Super 8’s Mystery Shopping program, which is done once a year at every Super 8 location in the country

“We usually score very high,” Manny said with a huge grin that never seems to leave his face, even when he’s not smiling.

Also smiling? Your Super 8 Corporate bosses and your loyal patrons, who know first-hand about your incredible warmth and kindness, Manny.

Now others do, too, on a day when we needed some good news.  

Thank you for the wonderful gift. :)

Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      


Ways to contact Jonnie:


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Phone: 515-480-4190    


Secret Shopping Michael Libbie


Hello shoppers…

Before you get all excited that a new high-end boutique called Michael Libbie has opened in Des Moines’ downtown Skywalk, let me clarify that a) Michael Libbie does not carry designer wear although he must wear it, since the guy looks like a million bucks, and b) my Secret Shopper score of Michael Libbie, based upon my Five Pillars of Great Customer Service is BOFFO!

That’s in spite of the fact that Michael, President and CEO of, and mad evil scientist for Insight Advertising, Marketing and Communications, a highly successful advertising agency in Des Moines, temporarily lost his good sense and invited me to appear on his wonderful webcast show called Insight On Business, which he hosts every weekday from Noon to 1 on Webcast One Live, ensconced in plush, ornate boy-toy-filled studios inside the Skywalk.

Michael is somewhat older than me, looks better than me and has forgotten more about marketing, advertising and life in general than I know, or will ever figure out. Because of this, I had to subdue the strong urge to beat him with his own microphone. I eventually managed to relax and enjoy the hour we spent together, watching a media genius and genuinely nice man, at play.

Go to the link to Monday’s show by clicking this sentence.  (If you watch and listen while Michael is on camera, talking, then cover your eyes whenever I chime in, you’ll be happier.)

Michael followed the Five Pillars of Great Customer Service to a T (smiled, greeted, engaged, thanked and followed up), then added about a thousand more of his own.

Maybe a Michael Libbie boutique isn’t such a nutty idea after all; call your banker, Michael.

Bank on me having Michael on my terrestrial radio show (Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT) in the very near future.

Tomorrow’s Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, speaking of which, will feature what is kindly referred to as “an encore presentation” and more commonly known as “I’ll be in Kansas City watching the Iowa State Cyclone football team try to prove that Northern Illinois wasn’t a fluke and the Hawkeyes aren’t a trend.”

Prediction: ‘Clones 20, Kansas State slightly less.

The weather(wo)man’s prediction for the weekend seems more secure: rain. Enjoy dancing between the drops. See you back here on Monday.

Please shop and serve happy – for yourself, and the rest of us.🙂


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      


Ways to contact Jonnie:


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Phone: 515-480-4190    


Guitar Center: Striking A Customer Service Chord


Hello shoppers…

One of my great joys is telling you about companies that offer great customer service – especially when I tell you on Mr. not-so-great Monday, when the reflection of the weekend’s glorious journey has all but disappeared from our rearview mirror.

Then here come the staff at Guitar Center to blow up my metaphor.

I stepped through the GC front door – at 3910 University Avenue in West Des Moines – on Saturday, searching for an external microphone for a video camera that didn’t do a good enough job recording my voice during videotaped training sessions; heaven forbid someone watching the session playback, miss one scintillating word.

What scintillated next was the amazing customer service.

No matter where I walked through the large Guitar Center store, every employee I passed – we’re talking about over half a dozen staff members looked me in the eye, smiled and greeted me…and meant it. I felt like Miss America riding through on a parade float.

Combine the consistent glad-handling with the wonderful tapestry of music being strummed, pounded and scratched on guitars, electric pianos and DJ turntables and you had one of the happiest, happening retail environments I’ve ever stepped into: Electrifying.

Take that, cemetary-quiet raTget. (Click this sentence to understand the reference.)

As good as it was, it got better, in the form of Bryce.

He is the wonderfully engaging young man who spent over an hour trying to figure out how to get an external microphone to work with my Sony HD Handycam.

He patiently connected adaptors and wires to the base unit and headset; everything checked out, everything worked until he tried connecting it to the Sony, which had other ideas. (I found out later that there’s only one external mic that works with this unit – made and sold by Sony.)

My minor disappointment at the lack of a solution was obliterated by the joy of finding Bryce and his co-workers; they are an extraordinary group of smilers, greeters, engagers and thankers (which happen to be four of the Five Pillars of Great Customer Service that I teach – click this sentence to find out more).

Later I asked David Trotter, one of Guitar Center’s Assistant Managers, if the company has a customer service training program.

“Not really,” he replied. “We just speak to and acknowledge all customers to avoid customer complaints. Plus it protects us from having stuff stolen.”

It wasn’t romantic. But you can’t question the results. In fact, engaging customers so they’re less prone to get sticky fingers is a retail philosophy also practiced by Quik Trip, another great customer service provider. (Click this sentence to read my review of QT.)  

David also told me that Guitar Center doesn’t use Secret Shoppers, but “we do phone shop other stores.” Good call.

There are 214 of them across the country: three in Iowa, including Cedar Rapids and Davenport. The Guitar Center location in Des Moines opened in 2005.

One of their newest hires – and brightest stars – is Bryce, who will celebrate his 1-year anniversary in October.

The Boone native is modest about his customer service talents – “I like to help people” – and quick to give credit for his happy vibe – “I got it from my parents.”

Hire happy. Train skills. It ain’t rocket science.

Another one of those non rocket-sciencey but cool things they do at Guitar Center is to say “Good afternoon Guitar Center” whenever an employee pages another. Simple. Smart. Fun. Ditto the sign greeting customers as they walk through the front door: We’re glad you’re here.

Yet nothing says it better than the smiling faces of Guitar Center’s employees, who create a soothing music for their customer’s souls without ever playing a note.

Members of the Guitar Center ensemble (l to r): Matthew, Brian, Bryce, Joe, Mikiel, Paul and Harold


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page   

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Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog   

Click to email Jonnie (   

Phone: 515-480-4190



, checking that it worked yet mystified when it didn’t work with the Sony.


 and headsetsnew products he popped right outThe “bad” news (more just marginally irritating, really) was thatSheer joy. Take been inside. It hat needed help recording audiolooking for an extern

Smile Project Winner #7: Kay Roberts, Cambridge Court Apartments


Hello shoppers…


…and welcome to the start of the work week.

While we may be less than thrilled at the idea that next weekend is five times further away than the fun-filled one we just finished, there is light at the end of our tunnel – and you lucky blog readers don’t even have to wait till the tunnel ends to get it…

May I present the non-stop smiling face of Kay Roberts, Smile Project winner #7.


I met Kay – who has been renting 1, 2 and 3 bedroom dwellings for Cambridge Court Apartments in West Des Moines for about a year – while searching for a new place to call home; I didn’t have to get any further than CCA’s office to feel like I’d found it.

That’s where Kay greeted me yesterday with the sort of ingratiating smile, warmth and genuine desire to please that one normally associates with someone who is paid to sell a house, not rent out a 900 square foot two bedroom apt with cat deposit and optional garage. (Click to see how often Des Moines real estate agents smiled during similar visits.)

When I let the cat out of the bag and told her she’d just won $25 for doing what she likely does naturally and for free, Kay wasn’t buying – at first.

“Is this for real?” she asked.

I let Jackson and Lincoln answer for me.

Kay was equally surprised when I told her I’d only been smiled at seven times by someone in retail, since The Smile Project began four months ago. (Click to find out how it got started.)

“I can’t believe that.”

Tell me about it. (Click to read about previous Smile Project winners.)

What’s equally hard for the world’s unsmilers to understand is the complicated process which Kay uses to ensure that potential renters will see, feel and experience her grin.

“It’s easy. I just smile.”

I hope all retail frowners are taking notes.

Meantime, your endearing smile and contagious joy is enthusiastically noted here, Kay, on display for the blogging minions to see and not just those stopping in, seeking a place to call home.

For them, the garage may cost extra. But Kay’s smile is on the house.🙂


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.      


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page   

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Click to email Jonnie (   

Phone: 515-480-4190    


Smile Project Winner #6: Bill Jack, Borders


Hello shoppers… 




Did you think that last night – while you were people-gawking at half-price night at the Iowa State Fair or relaxing in your backyard barbecuing while the kids threw around a frisbee or guffawing with friends watching Family Guy – was the last time you’d see a smile for a while, either on your own puss or someone else’s?   

Ohhhhh! It’s SO much fun when I get to give you a happy Monday morning present that blows all of that stuff up! 

May I present the non-bookish smile of book store employee Bill Jack, service manager for Borders at 4100 University Avenue in West Des Moines and Smile Project Winner #6. (Click to find out how the The Smile Project works, and how it got started.) 


Stop by Borders and enjoy Bill's "bookish" smile, that's anything but

I had the pleasure of being greeted by Bill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning grin while shopping at Borders for a bathroom/bedroom reader (short chapters for quick potty breaks, extra heavy to fatigue arms for rapid decent into sleep before scary closet monsters emerge). 

If you believe (as I did, until yesterday) that book store employees are mostly quiet, contemplative, unsmiling intellectuals, then you clearly don’t know Jack.

When I told Bill he’d just won $25 for doing something that is relatively rare in retail (only 60% of respondents to The Des Moines Customer Service Survey said they are smiled at while shopping) the Davenport native was pleasantly surprised, and wonderfully humble. (Click this sentence to take The Des Moines Customer Service Survey.) 

“It’s just the way I am, I guess,” Bill said. “I like to greet people with a smile because it makes them smile, and that makes me feel like I’m doing my job.” 

Bill has been doing his job at Borders for just under a year, and his philosophy about working there may have something to do with his Sharin o’ The Grin.  

“I’m happier at work than away from it,” he admitted. 

We’ll try to keep that a secret from your bosses at Borders, dude, just in case you’d ever want to negotiate a raise. 

As for keeping the rest of your feel – good smilin’ story buried in the discount stack, Mr. Jack? Too late – it’s now on everybody’s Monday best seller list. :) 


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.    


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page 

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Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog 

Click to email Jonnie (

Phone: 515-480-4190  


Get Your Great Customer Service Fix At The Iowa State Fair


Hello shoppers… 

Find great customer service at the Iowa State Fair? Man, these tough assignments… 

Yet someone must do it. And since he’s busy, I’m game. 

Finding four of the Five Pillars of Great Customer Service (that I teach with The Buyosphere) – smiles and greetings from engaging and thankful Iowa State Fair-goers is about as tough as finding an expletive at a Chicago Cubs game. 

Yet that is exactly what your friendly neighborhood Unsecret Shopper went shopping for at the 1,286th (in cow years) Iowa State Fair: cuss words. 

With none heard (moderate temps, very few bugs, short ride lines, an abundance of flop shovelers) I turn instead to a pictorial overview of the smiles, greetings, engagings and thankings that I Fair-found in barn-fulls. 



To get to the Fair, you first gotta park. 

I spotted Matt as I cruised down Grand yesterday morning around 8:30, and quickly gave into his charms, the kind that comes with standing out in the middle of the road and motioning with a large, dangerous stick towards one’s driveway.

I whipped into his yard at 2901 Grand and forked over the $10 that then allowed me, along with 15 other Fair visitors driving their own wheels, to tear up his yard and give him an excuse to not mow for the next 10 days. 

In spite of his weapon, Matt was charming. He talked about park-pimping his yard to make a little extra jack while he’s in-between gigs. “Every little bit helps,” Matt said with a smile. He’s engaged, and so really meant it. He plans on marrying the love of his life in January 2011, around the date of his girlfriend’s birthday. 

Chicks dig that entrepreneurial spirit, my friend. 



Carolyn, at the Fair box office, made me another 5 bits lighter. But with her pretty smile, I was happy to do it. 



Somebody sells ’em, somebody takes ’em: Harold did the honors. He told me he’s semi-retired, and that working at the Fair “keeps me out of trouble.” 

One look at that devilish grin, Harold, and there is no doubt in any of our minds that you are a man who can, indeed, get into mischief.   



After strolling a bit down the main boulevard, I took a turn into the Natural Resources Building, where Ben shared all of his natural smiling resources. 

This very engaging Fisheries Biologist with The DNR comes from good stock: his grandfather was a game warden. “I’ve always loved the outdoors,” Ben said.

He also enjoys the inevitable requests for law enforcement intervention: Somebody’s trying to square dance at the round house. Bring yur gun!

“People look at the patch on my arm and assume I’m a cop,” he said bemusedly. While this Iowa State (and North Carolina State) grad doesn’t pack a weapon, Ben does carry an unconcealed smile, which will disarm anyone. 



It was time to get some breakfast and sugar up, for the hours of walking ahead. 

I looked for the longest line, and found it at The Wooden Shack, where Loren and Judy VanGorp have been serving up Pella’s famous dutch letters and other sweet treats for 10 years. “The stand has been out at the Fair since 1947,” said Loren, who shouted out “Who’s next?!” as Judy expertly filled patron’s orders, grabbing and wrapping Bismarks, Turnovers and the very popular Puff Pillows. 

Pastry has its own built-in customer service. Loren and Judy were the wonderful extra powdered sugar, free of charge. 



            (A Drop Popz ball)                    (What happens when you drop it) 

Properly shugged up, I moved onto The Shoppers Mart at the Grandstand. 

I perused dozens of displays, ready to stop at the first one where I saw a smile, which finally came with Jen, who brought her beautiful grin and engaging manner all the way from her native Cleveland. “I’ve been traveling and selling for a company out of Atlanta for three years,” she said, “but this is my first trip to Iowa,” which she likes better, now that the heat has subsided. 

Noticing the confused look on my puss, Jen explained that a Drop Popz ball is “a ball that you turn inside out, then spin the half, drop towards the floor and catch when it bounces waaay up.”  

I was having waaay too much fun watching her catch it, to try it myself. 

It’s awesome that Drew Carry isn’t the only uber-happy, fun-loving person to come out of Cleveland. 


Some must learn to smile. Others are born that way - at the Varied Industries Building.



Inside the Varied Industries Building, I saw an engaging young man, Evan Stumpges, standing and smiling in front of an unsmiling but still engaging car. 

Behind him, said the Mechanical Engineering student entering his fourth year at Iowa State, was one cool solar-powered car. 

“We just finished the American Solar Challenge Race in June,” said the Southern California native, who has been working on the car, along with other members of the ISU student team, for two years. “The race is 1100 miles, starting in Tulsa and ending in Chicago.” Evan drove a six-hour leg – in a car that can hit top speeds of 70mph, but normally cruises at 40. “We had some electrical issues early on and ended up 11th. But we finished real strong.” 

Evan is also making a strong impression at the Fair, during his first visit to it. 


No matter how or if it turns, the Ferris Wheel is always smiling, along the Midway


The unsmiling man on the right is either the security detail, or an unhappy voter

Another thing – in this case, person – who always seems to be smiling is Governor Chet Culver, who greeted people at the entrance to the Administration Building, minutes before he began MC’ing the parade. 

I wanted to go back and pay the Pink Panther guy $100 to rent his costume for 5 minutes, then come back and see how many questions I could ask the Gov about Iowa’s endangered panthers (so much so that there aren’t any, and never have been) before the security guy took me to the ground. 

Dare to dream, foolish blogger…dare to dream. 



The smiling celeb-fest continued, as WHO TV-13’s Brooke Bouma didn’t initially notice I was taking her picture. “Hey! I didn’t see you there!” she exclaimed, after looking up from signing an autograph. I quipped, “A TV personality that doesn’t sense a nearby camera?” That brought a laugh, and a made-for TV-smile. 


Not posted: "Politicians," with arrows in every direction



Too inept to win anything at the Midway but still want to claim you scored 10,000 at Skee Ball? 

Talk to Katie. This New Mexico native, who teaches English as a second language back home, is making her first visit to Iowa, and setting a happy standard that her Sponge Bob brothers attempt to emulate. 


Even the 1,323 pound pumpkin is smiling. See??


"Keep the line mooooving, people - and tell the sculptor to keep her cold hands off my udders."



Traci – working hard at the Ag Building – has been serving up sodas and smiles at the Fair, alongside her mom, Karen, for over 30 years. 

This year, there’s even more reason to be happy. 

“My mom is having me work the booth this year,” she explained, “and letting me keep the proceeds, which will go towards my son’s tuition, at Iowa State.”  

Jonathan, her ISU engineering student son, will hopefully return the favor one day by designing a smiling robot that will do the pouring. 

Sergeant Ford shows potential Marine recruits that you can have a strong AND soft side


No smiles here, just as you'd expect - but you can't help but smile, and feel proud, as you watch the Color Guard step past



In the Cattle Barn, I found a man who is as proud of his work, as we Fair visitors are thankful for it.  

Warren has been working at the Fair, in “maintenance,” for four years. Yet this city boy – and by that, I mean Warren “grew up in New York City” – has come to love what Iowa offers. 

“I don’t know how I got here, or how it happened,” Warren smiles as he recalls, “but I know it beats living, and almost dying on the streets.” 

Cow flop, and the freedom it has brought to one man, never looked so good. 


"The Fair? BOARRing..."



"I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille. Left profile only, please."

Lily, a three year-old Belgian beauty from Sparrow Farms in Zearing, posed beautifully at the Horse Barn. 

Owner Paul Sparrow spoke fondly of these magnificent draft horses. 

“Belgians were originally bred in Europe to carry knights in armor, for battle, so they had to be large” he explained, as we watched family members battle the clock, to prepare Lily to be shown. 

Lily will likely be showing her stuff in front of smiling Fair onlookers for many years to come, as Belgians live well into their 20’s and 30’s. 


"Closed ended questions? Baaaaaaad..."



Outside, where no livestock hung out but you knew they weren’t far away, Sherry Gonder, along with hubby Brian, happily tended to tire kickers and browsers of their many Featherlite trailers. 

This ain’t their first time at the rodeo. 

“This is our 19th year at the Fair,” Sherry said, and not in a I’m-tired-of-this tone that one might have expected. 

Her positive energy could be one of the reasons why the Gonders operate the 2nd largest Featherlite dealership in the country, in Bondurant. 

“We love it out here. The people are great, and we have a lot of fun.” 

Expect to see her shining smile and the couple’s shimmering Featherlites next year, their 20th, at the Fair


Katdaddy keeps visitors smiling, singing and clapping, on the Budweiser stage



As Emma and Jenny give a smile and a wave at the beginning of their Fair journey, it’s time to end mine. 

Whether you’ve been to the Iowa State Fair recently, not for a long time, or perhaps never, it hardly matters: the Fair is a sun-kissed childhood fantasy frozen in time, patiently waiting to be thawed by each August’s summer sun, to lure us back with the promise of familiar smiles and sights and tastes and sounds. It provides us with the ultimate customer service experience, by being exactly what we remember it being, and nothing else. 

And therein lies the greatest joy of all for us…it doesn’t have to be: It’s The Iowa State Fair  – going on now through Sunday. 


Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.    


Ways to contact Jonnie:


Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Facebook page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s Twitter page 

Click to be taken to Jonnie’s blog 

Click to email Jonnie (

Phone: 515-480-4190