During the past two days, our blog has focused on the power of station mascots and the wisdom of celebrating station milestone anniversaries with a “digital first” mindset. In today's post, we turn to a station that has wisely applied both of these lessons to its strategic game plan, KSHE 95 in St. Louis. The Emmis-owned station celebrates its golden anniversary this year, and they're doing it in style.
If you're in the radio business, you know KSHE. They're as synonymous with St. Louis as The Arch and the Cardinals. And their mascot – Sweetmeat – is a true icon, seen in many forms all over the market…and the world.
Earlier this year, KSHE announced the launch of its “Real Rock Museum” as part of its 50th anniversary as the market’s rock station of record. For programmer Rick Balis, this event is the culmination of years of work, bringing the history, heritage, and glory of KSHE to the web.
The “Real Rock Museum” is one of the best representations of how a radio station can translate its persona to the digital space, complete with “museum wings” that features the station’s history. From videos to photos to DJs to the music itself, this virtual collection is unlike any other in the radio industry.
You can watch the “Real Rock Museum” trailer here:
Balis started with Emmis-owned KSHE 95 back in 1976, becoming program director four years later. With the exception of short stints at KSD and WLUP, he has been a core part of the KSHE story for decades.
But don’t take it from Balis. Rock stars have been a part of the station for five decades, often citing KSHE as the station that first played their music or interviewed them on the air. Here's how “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar views it:
“With KSHE, St. Louis and me…it’s like rock-n-roll history. I love the city so much; every time I play here I want it to be the greatest performance of my life.”
Jacobs Media: How long has the KSHE 95 Real Rock Museum been in the planning stages? How did it come together?
Rick Balis: Twelve years! The KSHE product team core was at a regular, weekly meeting. I brought up the thought that we needed to memorialize the radio station. With such a rich history, it simply needed to be done. I had seen a couple efforts, by other rock stations, to display the history of the stations. Those efforts amounted to little more than a modest collection of photos on their website.
I challenged our team of 10 to construct something that was really remarkable. Really remarkable, with photos, videos and audio all packaged up as a project separate from the station website. And, with KSHE stationality. We came up with a starter plan and everyone was assigned specific responsibilities.
Fast-forward fifteen months and we launched a virtual museum for our 40th anniversary that in retrospect, was a beta test, a dress rehearsal for what we just launched in celebration of our 50th. This is the real thing!
JM: Some stations run away from their heritage, fearing it may date them. Talk about why KSHE embraces it.
RB: We cherish the past, live in the present, and plan for the future. Staff and listeners have fond KSHE memories. We grew up together and went through so much together. We’re going to enjoy sharing those memories together, but we’re also going to have fun together today and make new memories.
JM: Before the web, building the Museum would not have been possible. Can you tell us how the KSHE team was able to embrace the digital tools to make this happen?
RB: Our “Web Daddy,” Tony Jordan, did the embracing. Everyone else gathered and created content that we passed on to him. The “50th Anniversary Real Rock Museum” was built using the latest and greatest digital technology available to us.
JM: How have sponsors and advertisers responded to the museum?
RB: We have three sponsors and are more than prepared to join up with others. Each is extremely visible within the museum and are, of course, mentioned in on-air promos. I feel that with the museum now launched, others will follow because they could actually experience the museum, rather than just hear descriptions and look at screen shots in presentations.
JM: Many rock icons have been named to the KSHE Hall of Fame (Sammy Hagar, Kevin Cronin, Geddy Lee). How excited are they to participate in this celebration and do you have a favorite rock star quote?
RB: We couldn’t have scripted their quotes better! When videoed, they were all so very genuine. The Hall of Fame videos, actually, give me goosebumps. A favorite quote is by Alice Cooper. He says: “…rock and roll’s not going to die, but neither will KSHE.” Several of the inductees have shared their induction video in their own social media. How cool is that?
JM: The Museum has an entire wing devoted to the U-Man – John Ulett. Talk about his contributions and what he's meant to the station and St. Louis.
RB: John could probably run for mayor and win. He’s a St. Louis native. He’s been on-air at KSHE since May of 1976. He’s been the public-address announcer for our beloved Cardinals at Busch Stadium for decades. He certainly knows his rock and he’s just a darned nice guy. He just turned 60. He anchors the morning show with Lauren “Lern” Elwell (half his age) and “Carl the Intern” Middleman (40-something). The contrasts are great, all with a common love for St. Louis and rock KSHE-style.
JM: There's also a wing that celebrates listeners – the You-seum – where KSHE fans submit photos. Why is this an important part of the project?
RB: KSHE’s audience is “generational.”
It’s absolutely awesome. We regularly hear from listeners that point to being turned on to KSHE by their parents and in turn have turned their kids on to KSHE. The “You-seum” puts these stories on display. Also, our listeners are generally quite engaged and just want to be a part of it.
JM: You've had a lot of support with this project – from the company and from your staff. Why is it so important to have the group effort?
RB: This has been the biggest project of my career. It’s safe to say that applies to most that have contributed in a big way. The original group of 10 that started out in 2005 to put this treasure together grew to, maybe 15. There is no way that the result would be what it is today had the group effort been something less.
JM: The quality is exceptionally high here. Many radio stations struggle to publish first-class web content. Why is that a key aspect of the Museum?
RB: We wouldn’t have developed the museum without setting the bar extremely high for ourselves. KSHE is a legit piece of rock radio history and deserves being memorialized in a top-quality way. So many talented people have contributed, throughout the years, to making what KSHE 95 is today. It’s actually, amazing.
More amazing, though, are the incredible listeners that we have had and have today. It’s rare. And, we cherish those relationships. The relationships are, as I mentioned above, “generational.” Grandparents, their kids, and the kids of those kids are listeners, today. We look forward to the next 50 rocking years with current listeners and, hopefully, the listeners that haven’t been quite created, yet.
This “KSHE 50th Anniversary Real Rock Museum” is our best effort to help us all fondly look back and for just a bit, escape to simpler times… fun times… memorable times. I simply can’t attempt to single out all those that have given so much to construct this museum. However, here’s a big, “High 95” to our “Web Daddy” Tony Jordan, our Director of Video Jim Modglin, and Emmis Digital Technical Team Lead Brett LaBombarda. All three are my museum-making heroes!
Wow! What a long, strange, and wonderful trip it’s been. Now, on to making new memories…
Check out the KSHE 95 “Real Rock Museum” here.
INNOVATION QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“KSHE was the first station to play an REO Speedwagon song…obviously, that was a big thrill for us!” We go back with KSHE …time began when KSHE began!”
-Kevin Cronin, REO Speedwagon
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