Brian Kelly's Kidney, Anyone!?
May 26, 2015
Truly, most radio programmers go their entire careers without true accolades. The hundreds of platinum and gold records they've accumulated over the years says more about the record labels' needs to keep that programmer influenced than it does the job that programmer has done as an innovator of music from the radio perspective.
And trade awards aren't that much different, most often an award of popularity, being another tool to keep a door propped open to a potential relationship or, at least, an opportunity, again, for label or Independent Record Promotion influence upon that specific programmer.
Now, I'm not poo-pooing industry awards and artist-based achievement tchotchkes, just minimizing their "truth" of actual achievement, because, by doing so, I can highlight the opposite.
In the May 9th edition of Billboard Magazine was a list of the Top 10 most influential Pop programmers in the Country. The list featured programmers in some of America's biggest cities, i.e. New York, L.A., Miami or VP's in charge of the format for their respective companies. And then, there was Brian Kelly, VP for the Entercom cluster in Milwaukee. See that article here.
One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other
Having worked on the record-side of this Industry from 2000 -- 2004, I got to witness firsthand how Brian Kelly would take what looked to be high risks, that would reap high rewards, and often transform our Industry or take an unknown artist to stardom, or give an aging artist one-last hoorah, when all the rest of us would have said it was curtains.
Fast-forward to 2011, when Travie McCoy made a surprise visit to a concert we were putting on, during my time with CBS in New York City. We were backstage when I simply mentioned the name, 'Brian Kelly.' Travie, who had been somewhat quiet up to this point, beamed with a huge smile, and began to reminisce about the moment that etched his name forever in music history.
Not unlike KROQ PD Kevin Weatherly hearing the Goo Goo Dolls "Name" when he listened to their album back in the mid 1990's, when very few people knew who they were, but taking the shot that made them known, Travie happily recounted the moment as it was explained to him.
"An intern and an iPod, and that was it," Travie proclaimed.
Of course, that was it, but a little more too. An intern had the song "Cupid's Chokehold" from Gym Class Heroes on their iPod, and if Brian Kelly didn't have a heart for music, and a curious nature, the perfect storm that built a career for an artist would have never occurred.
By the way, that intern later became the promotions assistant, and today is the Promotions Director for the cluster.
Curiosity Fueled The Cat
By the time Brian Kelly had discovered the song, the record label had already released the group's next album, As Cruel as School Children, in a sense, moving on, and in fact, releasing a new single for radio, "The Queen and I."
Brian Kelly's discovery would not only halt the process of the single, but eventually the label would strip an updated version of "Cupid's Chokehold" onto As Cruel as School Children, and the rest as they say…
Years before this, and years after, Brian would repeat this process, truly being an innovator with an art for Top 40 programming, a format that too often forgets to look at the peripherals for what's coming next. Brian has great peripheral vision.
His gift for music is only outdone by his heart to help his fellow programmers.
I had been out of programming for almost five years when Clear Channel called to see if reviving that part of my career with a job in Charlotte would be a benefit to them. Although excited to return, technology had advanced so quickly in those five years that I was concerned that it may had passed me by.
But, Will He Lend You A Dollar?
CC had asked me to lay out what 90-days would look like under my direction and with that task, I called Brian for guidance. He put time aside so he and I could discuss this at length, and by the time we were done, I had a renewed confidence, not only in my programming skills, but also in the clear vision we had brewed up for Charlotte.
It was enough to get the interview, and that was going extremely well, when I decided to dig even deeper while I was in Charlotte. I called Brian again, this time from a Kinko's (wasn't yet a FedEx Office), and in spite of it being a weekend, Brian took the time, again.
We broke down the competitive landscape of Charlotte, from Top 40 WNKS, and Urban WPEG, and this time, when we were complete, I had absorbed the programming philosophies of each station, allowing me to go further than my vision of the 90-Days, but now adding a layer of psychographics to the demographics, and backing up strategies with market history and habits.
The 90-Day Plan
In 90 days, 96-1 The Beat, WIBT in Charlotte had overtaken its competition, and it wasn't a fluke. It was a well-designed plan co-created by a man who has just been named one of the Top 10 most influential at Pop radio by Billboard magazine.
Because Brian is a friend, I have been able to witness the numerous times throughout the years where the major markets would come to offer him a job, and watch him turn it down, for some reason or another; whether he didn't see the station existing in eighteen months, or and most often, because he was secure, knowing that he's working for people who have shown him loyalty for so long that he wasn't willing to trade that in for a question-mark.
He is as smart as the Billboard article alludes, but if you needed a kidney, he'd give you his. And it is this trait that truly makes him honorable.
Sorry, Brian if I just, accidentally, gave up one of your kidneys for you.
Travie McCoy beamed with delight at the sound of his name. I will show you my great set of teeth, too, including those three veneers, if you utter the name around me, as well; as his instincts gave my career new life.
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Also read…How Radio Almost Drove Me NUTS…