If you've made a career out of radio, chances are you picked up a great deal of knowledge along the way. You know how the industry works as an entertainment and information medium. You appreciate the business model, whether you're working for a commercial station or a non-profit. And you have no doubt gathered a strong understanding of the inner-workings of radio, the ebbs and flows of stations as the seasons change and as the quarters roll on.
But one thing that may have eluded you is precisely how most people get hooked on radio to begin with. I've met thousands of people through my journeys as a researcher, programmer, and consultant. And I've found the best ice breaker when I'm introduced to someone I don't know is to ask her how she first got into radio.
Or “How were you bitten by the radio bug?”
Like fingerprints, they are unique to each person. Everyone has a story. And while they bear similarities, most are novel, fascinating, and even revelatory. Sometimes that first brush with radio was by chance. Or part of a school tour. Or meeting someone in the business. Or watching American Graffiti and being charmed by the night studio occupied by the amazing Wolfman Jack. Whatever that first encounter was, there's an addictive quality to radio that most of us cannot quite explain.
But chances are if you're in radio, you remember that charge – somewhere between electric and nuclear. But palpable and memorable. You remember where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with. And perhaps you recall breaking the news to an astonished parent who maybe couldn't quite get their heads around why you had taken leave of your senses, turned your back on their guidance, threw caution to the wind, and proudly announced:
“I'm going into radio!”
Many of our parents are still trying to figure out precisely what we do for a living. But we know.
And those are the moments I think about a photo like the one you see at the top of this post. It's the young Scott Westerman, shown back in 1971, a recent “bitee” of the radio bug. Here he's working for 25¢ an hour to file records at his local Ann Arbor radio station, WPAG. (He would have no doubt done this job gratis.) Scott went on to a brilliant, accomplished career, making waves in campus radio at Michigan State, joining the staff of the legendary WVIC, and distinguishing himself in the cable TV industry and at his alma mater, MSU.
But while Scott has done some amazing things in the business, perhaps his most amazing feat is resurrecting the radio station he grew up with – WKNR, better known as Keener 13 in Detroit. Like virtually every one of those AM Top 40 stations from the 1960s, Keener is long gone. But not if you've got an Internet connection and you're a big dreamer.
Scott has written the book on Keener – literally – collecting all those old Keener Music Guides, those unforgettable jingle packages, and everything that was Keener. You've heard of tribute bands? Scott has build a tribute station, paying homage to the sound that helped him dream his big dreams growing up.
It is a gift to be able to hold onto that as an adult now enjoying his seventh decade of life. While some of us go to radio reunions, Scott has created the radio version 24/7/365. He even has the entire collection of staff memos from the era – “Inside Keener” – that tells the stories of the inner-workings of the station and how it evolved.
Along with old radio buddies like Steve Schram who he grew up with in the business, Scott has mixed the classic with the contemporary, building a mobile app for Keener, smart speaker invocations, while streaming on Live 365, along with a website. Keener 13 also has a full line of merch – shirts, hats, mugs – you name it.
Through his journey to bring back the station he grew up with, Scott has befriended those great Keener 13 jocks, many of whom are very much alive and still kicking today – Scotty Regan, Bob Greene, Jerry Goodwin, Gary Stevens, Dick Purtan, Pat St. John, and other legends.
Growing up in Detroit in that era, we had Motown, the Bob Seger System (yes, and Bob Seger and the Last Heard), Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and some amazing bands that are still revered here more than six decades later. And we had the radio stations that provided the soundtrack of our lives – in cars and transistor radios: CKLW (The Big 8), WXYZ, and WJBK – all before FM came along and ate the radio world.
But for Scott Westerman and Steve Schram, Keener is not just a radio trip down memory lane. For both of these accomplished pros, the “Keener Way” has become a way of doing business. Here's how Scott explained it to me:
“Steve and I had a maxim. Anything Keener has to be excellent. ‘What would Keener do?' became my business mantra, a magnificent obsession with distilling the essence of success and applying it at every stage of my career.”
I thought about those seminal moments when many of us first got into radio and the impact it had on many of us while at Ford Field last week – not for a Lions game – but for the second annual Michigan Association of Broadcasters' Great Lakes Broadcast and Sports Media Academy.
More than 900 high school and college kids showed up for the program on a blustery November morning in downtown Detroit, curious about a career in radio or television. And if I squinted at the throngs of radio (and TV) wannabes, I could've sworn I saw the young Scott Westerman in the crowd.
I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, as well as the compelling story of an endangered high school radio station here in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula, for those of you who don't live here) that just received a stay of execution, due in no small part to your generosity and the spirit of radio.
After all, the more things change….
- In Radio, Whatever Happened To “4 And Out The Door?” - December 7, 2023
- An Open (News)Letter To Radio - December 6, 2023
- The Case For Handcrafted Radio - December 5, 2023