10 Questions with ... Mark Keefe
October 6, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started in radio at Xavier University's WVXU. My first commercial gig was at WIMJ/Cincinnati (Soft AC, but I sat in the studio and listened to indie rock discs between breaks). Then came some noncomm stations including WNKU/Cincinnati, WNCW/Spindale (first as OM, then PD), created WUIN (The Penguin)/Wilmington, NC. I then moved on to KTHX/Reno (PD of The X, OM of the cluster) and then WYMS/Milwaukee (PD). Now I am at noncommercial WNRN/Charlottesville (GM/PD)
1. How did you originally become interested in radio?
Watching WKRP in Cincinnati in the late '70s and early '80s. Seriously. Almost 30 years into my career, I feel like I've lived almost every episode...
2. You have been at both commercial and noncommercial stations - which side are you more comfortable with?
Noncommercial. Both have their pros and cons, but there is still room for good ideas and creativity in Public radio. Plus, being responsible to your listeners in noncomm I believe to be better than being responsible to someone outside of your market, which is often what happens in commercial radio - at least it was that way for me.
3. What prompted you to go to WNRN?
My predecessor, Dave Benson, clued me in to the opportunity and I realized that it is a station where my particular experience with translator communities (we have five of them here, I had five at WNCW) could be put to good use. Believe me, it has, and then some. Plus, I knew almost the entire staff from conferences and past markets, so I knew I was going to like everyone I would be working with before I even arrived.
4. As GM, in addition to programming, what new skills will you need to nurture?
Balancing programming and fundraising with community outreach and community service. Just as was the case at WNCW, the footprint is large, but much needs to be done to better serve the communities we broadcast into.
5. What are some of the biggest challenges for noncomm radio?
It varies at each station, but depending on the longevity of the station in the market, it really comes down to the balance between being an alternative community resource primarily run by volunteers and one that's primarily professionally run. I'm referring to the progressive music stations - the news/talk and classical, jazz, or block program stations have their own unique challenges. Once a progressive music station like ours evolves to a point, the trick is to stay connected to the community and manage the growth responsibly.
6. WNRN has a far reach, tell us about that.
More than just a geographical challenge, it's about being tuned in to places that you don't visit as often as you should. It's a work in progress to be a good community servant within all the points in our listening area, but it's difficult when you consider it can be a three-hour drive from our westernmost translator (Lexington, VA) to our easternmost (Richmond, VA). But, it affords us the opportunity to turn listeners from a broad area onto people, places and activities they might not have known about had they not been listening.
7. What is your biggest challenge specifically for WNRN because of that reach?
Being aware of relevant activities and community issues in all of the towns we reach and working to give them exposure on our airwaves that communicates their needs effectively.
8. Do you feel it is important for the station to remain musically adventurous?
Yes, without a doubt. Music discovery is a service the station has provided to its listeners since its inception 18 years ago, so listeners have come to rely on it and often base their financial support on it. Without good music, it's a get-together; with good music, it's a party that keeps people coming back.
9. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
The best listeners listen as much as they can to your station, but the best stations always listen to their listeners.
10. What is the best advice you would give to young programmers/promotion people?
Rarely do things turn out the way you plan, but if you listen more than you talk, you'll end up learning a lot and develop skills that come in handy wherever you find yourself next. Oh yeah, and our industry has more good people than bad ones, so don't get discouraged if you run into a few of the bad ones.
Last Non-Industry Job:
My uncle owned a cleaning service, so I cleaned banks in Cincinnati while I was in college for money.
First record ever purchased:
The DeFranco Family - "Heartbeat, It's A Love Beat"
The Rolling Stones, Freedom Hall, Louisville (Tattoo You tour, The Wild Tchoupitoulas opened - my mind was blown before the Stones even took the stage)
Favorite band of all-time:
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Lately, I've developed a fascination with historical markers and driving around/walking around to get a closer look at them (I've always liked history, so I moved to the right place).