10 Questions with ... Mark Keefe
September 30, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started in radio in the '80s at Xavier University, experience in Cincinnati, OH at WVXU, WNKU and WMJI; to western North Carolina and WNCW mid-'90s - 2003, started WUIN/The Penguin in Wilmington, NC; to KTHX in Reno in 2006 as OM/PD/middays; then became PD of WYMS.
1. How did you become interested in radio?
I was a radio junkie even as a little kid in Louisville, but I wanted to be like Andy Travis after "WKRP in Cincinnati" hit TV in the late '70s
2. How did you get the job at WYMS?
The desire to get closer to my family was getting stronger, so an industry friend let me know WYMS was looking for a PD with my kind of experience - commercial and noncommercial. A few phone conversations later I was interviewing for the job.
3. 88Nine Radio Milwaukee is taking a unique approach to its music mix. How would you describe the sound of the station?
We're certainly one of the more unique stations reporting to the Triple A chart. The plan has always been to musically represent what Milwaukee's city population is comprised of, but that, like the population, is ever-changing. We incorporate Indie Rock and World music elements into our mix, but our Urban lean attracts a lot of attention and keeps us from being easily labeled Triple A.
4. Is there much music overlap with other stations in the market?
We share some artists with the full-service NPR affiliate, WUWM, when they're playing music, but we also share artists with the Urban stations, the Alternative station, and even the ACs
5. How committed is the station to the local music scene?
Like no other I've been involved with. "Milwaukee Music" is not just for branding; we play a song from a Milwaukee artist every hour, every day. That type of commitment keeps local music as a constant throughout our programming, instead of isolating it here and there. We also have "414 Music" each Friday afternoon where we invite a local artist into our studio for some live music and conversation.
6. The station is very involved with community building. Tell us a bit about that.
Again, the commitment to public affairs is like no place I've ever been. We broadcast "Community Stories" throughout our regular music programming, seven days a week. Each is designed to spotlight a person, organization, or activity making a positive difference in Milwaukee. We solicit ideas from a community advisory board that meets five times a year, and we fit their suggestions into eight topic areas from Neighborhoods to Voting and Elections.
We get constant feedback from our listeners who appreciate learning about the community they call home, plus, we get suggestions about future stories that our Managing Producer, Nate Imig, follows up on. It continues a dialogue about positive change in our city with our listeners who are often inspired to get involved and/or give back.
7. You have worked at both commercial and noncomm stations. What do you like best about working on the public radio side?
Several things, first among them is the ability to make public service an integral part of our overall sound and not just a "requirement" fulfilled for a half-hour on Sunday morning. A close second would be playing music that fits our sound without waiting for someone else to take a chance with it. The success of what we play is determined more by the number of people willing to financially support us and not by its test score.
8. How did the idea for a new studio complex come about?
Believe it or not, when I interviewed for the job in 2010, it was already being discussed. The broadcast facility had always been housed beneath the central services office of the Milwaukee Public School system (which is where I worked until 8/23), but there was not enough room for our administrative staff, so they were in a house across the street from us. But, that was just the practical side of our operation; the real impetus for the change was that we were accomplishing our goal of being a community resource but had no place to host the community in any way. We've successfully integrated community stories throughout our programming but it stopped with the stories being broadcast. The new station allows us to bring the audience in to participate.
9. What did it take to realize the idea?
Our Exec. Director, Mary Louise Mussoline, and our Development Director, Francesca Kempfer. formulated a capital campaign plan after we toured the building that is now our home. Add to that our Board's enthusiasm, several other committees that Mary Louise convened for various aspects of the acquisition, construction and fundraising, the zealous participation of our entire staff, and we went from zero to new station in less than a year. Most amazing is that the goal of the capital campaign is $2.8 million and we're just past $2.5 million - in less than a year. The response has been tremendous!
10. Tell us about the facility?
It is 14,000 square feet, with two floors and a roof. Contained within is what makes it so unique; the ground floor is direct street access and shared with Stone Creek Coffee - the southwest corner of our building is their newly opened 10th location. It flows into a community area which also can flow (when the garage doors are raised) into our 100-seat performance space. The air studio shares a window with that space.
The second floor contains the offices for our staff of 16 (and growing!) as well as studios (we went from two at the old place to five now), a conference room that fits the whole staff, common areas for meetings, and a green room reserved for musicians playing any of our in-studio sessions and used by the staff other times. On top - a green roof with a small stage and deck to accommodate another 100-person seated audience. We've taken to calling it "The Sound Garden." It comes with a spectacular view of downtown and our neighborhood - Walker's Point. We can also see the Summerfest grounds - less than a mile away. Probably the best thing I can say about our new building is not so much that it has all this new space for us, but that it has unlimited space for our ideas for great radio in the community.
Not to sound too wishful (and wordy), but we hope to make it a more representative physical manifestation of what we are on the air - in the ether and the virtual world. I don't want to destroy the illusion that radio can create in the minds of the listener, but I do want to be an outlet that allows listeners to develop a tangible relationship with the music and ideas they hear. We've spent six years informing and entertaining Milwaukee, now we want to get them more involved in their community in both areas. Listeners tend to be a bit suspicious of putting too much energy into a station; so many times they've been burned by format changes or a lack of a local voice or community involvement. Our new home is proof positive that we're here in Milwaukee for Milwaukee - we hope they get involved and that our audience continues to grow with the station and the city.
Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ...
... devouring new music and literature (often at the same time).
Last non-industry job:
I worked part-time for a physical therapy company in Cincinnati in the early '90s
First record ever purchased:
The DeFranco Family "Heartbeat, It's A Lovebeat"
The Rolling Stones w/The Wild Tchoupitoulas, 1981, Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY
Favorite band of all-time: