10 Questions with ... Mike Kennedy
May 24, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
MIKE KENNEDY's radio bug started in 1976 while attending high school in EMPORIA, KANSAS, landing a job at KVOE. He continued pursuing the business while attending college, earning degrees in Broadcasting and Business. In 1984, he became the youngest station owner in the UNITED STATES with his purchase of WFXI/HAINES CITY, FL. He rejoined KVOE in 1985 for mornings, sales, and play-by-play duties, and then moved to KEGS/EMPORIA where he assumed GM duties. A three-year stint at Top 40 KXXR followed, prior to his joining KBEQ/KANSAS CITY in 1991. In 1993, KENNEDY oversaw the station's move from Top 40 to Country as PD/Morning personality, positions he continues to hold today. Kennedy will be among five new inductees to the Country Radio Hall of Fame on Wednesday, June 24th in Nashville.
1. Mike! Thanks for taking the time for 10 Questions. Let's begin by asking what induction into the Country Radio Hall of Fame means to you and what you think it says about your radio career.
I am absolutely thrilled, shocked and humbled at this induction to say the least. At no point in all my visits to Nashville did I envision joining all of those talented broadcast professionals in the Hall of Fame. I hope it says that I got into a business because of the true love for it and for music and have basically done nothing else since about 1976. I hope it says that I made radio and music my life and my passion and I hope I've lived up to what's expected of me.
2. OK, so exactly where were you, and what were you doing when you got the news?
Oh, easy. I was in the studio doing the morning show waiting for a call from Toby Keith so we could talk about "his" induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He quickly did a 360 on me and let me know that I was chosen to be inducted into the Country Hall of Fame. I had no idea what he was talking about for a couple of minutes and then the staff walked in with champagne and it hit me. Moments later John Rich called me. Stunned is all I can say. ALMOST speechless but that's about impossible.
3. What station or personality did you listen to most growing up and how did either - or both -influence you in pursuing a radio career.
I grew up listening to our local AM station in Emporia, KS. There were three younger guys on the air playing music after the full service news, weather, sports, markets, Paul Harvey station had its day. I used to call in like a crazy kid to talk to these guys. But I would also listen to the station all day and all the local guys were high profile, small market radio guys. Heck I'd listen to the swap shop, funeral reports, hospital admissions, the police blotter, Royals baseball, etc. I just thought it was so cool. As I got a little older, I, like many couldn't wait for the sun to go down so WLS, KAAY and KOMA would power up! And I could listen to the great talents on those stations. Of course John Records Landecker was a total fave! I liked winter because the sun would go down earlier and I could get those powerhouse stations earlier! Then in 1977 I went to the University of Kansas and discovered KBEQ, which was The Super Q at the time! Had to be one of the coolest stations ever! I was a 17-year old college freshmen and Super Q was the station I wanted to be on! Little did I know I'd join that station in 1991 and never leave!
4. Tells us about your first radio job - and your first-ever live break on the air. Certainly, you remember both, right?
Ha, of course. My first "job" or exposure to radio was keeping stats at a girls high school game in Junction City, Ks. My neighbor was the PD and the PBP guy. We sat in the stands hooked up to a phone line, using an old dial up phone and some alligator clips tapped into the line to send the game back to Emporia. Lyle Brown was the PD. He let me go with him, keep some stats and actually read the stats on the air. That was my first moment on the radio. Shortly after that the station hired me to do weekend, fill, summer fill, etc. etc.
5. Mentors - everybody has a few of them. Who was it for you that helped you, challenged you and made you believe you could actually make this a career?
For sure. Let me tell you first off I was hideous. Just hideous. But the ownership was local, kind and very patient. My PD and neighbor was Lyle Brown. Lyle was the man that let me in that radio station for the first time. I'm glad he liked my Dad. Up until then I was a bus boy and cleaned windows at the bank! Al Higgins was my Radio/TV instructor at Emporia High School and probably the very first person that believed I could be a broadcaster because he literally made me the PBP guy in high school for our locally produced TV coverage of high school sports and he had me host one of the radio stations in the school that only broadcast to our class! Like 20 people BUT he made us prep and present the show like we were on real radio! He worked with Lyle at KVOE and between the two of them they helped me fall in love with radio, TV, music, media, etc.
6. You're part of a rare breed anymore - the personality that has stayed in one market for a long time - the majority of your career. Was there a deliberate decision to "Marry the market" as they say - or did it happen organically?
There was no conscious decision to marry the market. In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd be on the air in Kansas City. No way. I was a small town kid. It was a fluke that I even ended up here. I got canned in Emporia (great story if you ever have five minutes) and accepted a sales position at what is now our CHR in the cluster. That was simply not me. We parted company quickly and Brian Burns gave me the opportunity to join the mighty KXXR as a part timer in 1988. I joined KBEQ in 1991 having absolutely no idea that I'd be here 24+ years later. What I did was make a conscious decision to never be away from my daughter as she was growing up. I was so very lucky to have some incredible opportunities come my way over the years but there was not one of them that was worth not being within driving distance of my only child. Would that count as organic!?
7. You're also the PD at your station. How do you balance being part of the on-air staff - especially a morning show that sometimes has to break the rules and paint outside the lines - and maintaining order, discipline and programming strategy for KBEQ?
Longevity. It has its upside and downside but that has been a huge help in the balance. I think you know that we built this station on painting outside the lines and breaking a lot of the rules. The fact that I've been working with two of my teammates for 22+ years, another for 17+ years and my newbie at six years helps a lot. I wear the PD hat during the morning show when it's needed. The programming goals have been consistent over the years and we pretty much all stay on the same page. My strategy from day one has been to build the playground, with boundaries, let our talented people do their thing! IF they cross over the line we deal with it.
8. You've done literally every job at a radio station, including ownership, sales and management in addition to being on air. Explain how all these experiences helped your career to be successful.
Absolutely no question that being allowed, able and fortunate enough to be involved in every aspect of our business has been monumental to me. I was scared to death to make a sales call! I just wanted to be on the air and have fun. But then I found a need to eat and pay bills so I learned to sell. While I was selling I learned a lot about what our clients went through in their businesses. Invaluable over the years. Sales led to management and the combination of sports, sales, on-air, etc. lead to becoming a GM and eventually gave me the confidence that I could build and run a radio station. Now, take me out of the equation. What all that did was give me the ability to work with sales, promotions, NTR, etc. at this level today. I know what it's like to sell. I love going on sales calls if I'm needed. I have an idea what these kids go through so I'm sympathetic - most of the time! I've never bought off on the us vs. them mentality with sales and programming. Never made sense.
9. I have a programming question and an on-air question for you. First, programming: Country has traditionally been an adult-targeted format, specifically25-54 - but we seem to have moved more into the 18-34 arena recently. Long-term, is this the core audience for Country radio, or do you see us shifting in emphasis and appeal, back to mature listeners?
I think we're experiencing the latest, hottest thing. I "prefer" what feels like the more stable home of adults but let's face it that's not what's been on fire the last few years. And yes I do think soon that this too shall pass and we'll have another adjustment ahead. I know I'm pointing out the obvious but if I had both country stations in one market I'd treat one like our CHR here and the other like our AC here! It feels to me that that break has occurred. The question I ponder is as the heat of the format subsides some, will we consider what was red hot for the last few years be a solid piece in what the format sounds like moving forward? It almost makes my head hurt! I love the "bro-country" (hate that term) because I'm a disco guy from the 70's, I love the singer, songwriter, storytellers we have in the format and I love Glen Campbell, Johnny Lee, Garth, Reba, Tim, Toby, Keith, Kenny, on and on. So what I'm saying is I guess I'll be doing classical music programming soon.
10. Now from your on-air perspective: There's also industry-wide concern about the thin on-air talent pool and its lack of development. How will we get younger talent ready for prime time, and where will we find younger creative types, in a time where radio isn't seen as cool as it once was? In short, where are the future Mike Kennedy's coming from?
I think the future Mike's are coming from those paroled early for good behavior! OK I'm going to take a different stance. I'm with you RJ as a person that's heard radio just isn't cool anymore and we can't attract talent. I suppose a lot of folks have experienced that. I'm not a buyer of that philosophy. It feeds like a cop out and a self-fulfilling prophecy. We've got a lot of kids around here and even some more mature talent in our midst busting their humps waiting for an opportunity! Here we just don't have much movement. I will concur that the opportunities have certainly diminished greatly and that's horribly sad. BUT the kid that really wants to be on the radio and possesses some good, raw skills will have a place here. If you look at the crazy creativity you see on You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever ... I'd say there is a ton of talent and genius out there and it would be our job to go get them! If they are taking the time and effort to spend time and brainpower on these types of entertainment projects they must be hungry for exposure and attention. Why not get them in your radio station and put them to work? And here's crotchety Mike's last comment on the subject: Give me a kid that says radio just isn't cool and he's got this app, that app and his I-pad ... let me take him to the radio station. I'll put him on the air for a few hours. His pals can hear him. He can tweet out that he's on the radio! He can post some video of him being in the studio. Heck he's live on the web cam too. Wait Mom and Dad are listening to him on our stream in another state and they are so proud they are telling their friends. OH and then we'll head down to see some live music that the radio station is sponsoring. His name is Keith Urban and you can say hi to him and Sam Hunt is opening for him ... bet your girlfriend would dig that!? Now, if THAT'S not cool, I've wasted the last 39 years thinking it was!