What would Keener be like today?
By Scott Westerman – firstname.lastname@example.org
I spent the morning with WKNR’s Bob Green today. He is the most revered and most humble of the legendary Keener Key Men. And as the years go by, he’s still surprised at how what he calls “a fleeting moment” still resonates with so many of us.
I was in Houston with MSU and was honored to be with my radio mentor. He took me through the city’s neighborhoods, remarking how the town is much more heterogeneous in both geography and demography than most realize. In what we boomers like to call “late middle age”, Bob looks great and is as sharp as ever.
We walked through the Galleria shopping center, along what is Houston’s equivalent of Woodward Avenue, to visit the Apple store. This is the epicenter of the devices that are forever changing the paradigm of how we consume audio entertainment.
It was the beginning of a conversation about what we would do if we were both 25 and wanted to spread the Keener magic today.
Bob told me a story from the height of WKNR’s popularity, when he would get request line calls from fans on the East Side, who had no way of hearing Keener’s deficient night time broadcast signal.
These were people who couldn’t even hear the Keener sound, but identified with the Keener brand.
I write often about the importance of a personal brand, how the brand we build for ourselves is something we lease, for a time, to the companies we associate with. I warn that what you say on Facebook, or write in a blog comment can come back to haunt you years later, and how it’s the nuances… the polish you put into your personal brand that will set you above the rest.
Bob’s favorite definition of Brand is: “a promise, wrapped up in an experience.”
I think that’s perfect.
Many of those Keener fans in Roseville, had learned about the promise about this great radio station from their friends. They may have never heard Keener, but they might have seen the Keener brand in action on remote at Cobo Hall, or when Bob and his fellow Key Men came to their high school for a record hop.
Those events were part and parcel of the Keener brand.
So what would Keener be like today?
It might or might not be expressed on a broadcast transmitter. But it would definitely have a website with an audio stream.
It would have a mobile app that went well beyond pressing a button to hear music. All the aural features that the jocks used to promote over the air… concert info, community announcements, contests and news would be part of the functionality on Blackberries, iPhones, Droids and iPads.
The record hops and personal appearances would still happen. Bob emphasizes that the human interaction was a crucial component of the Keener brand. But there might also be virtual appearances. Scott Regen’s Motown Monday would be something you could experience at your laptop, in real time or on demand, even if you couldn’t get tickets to the liver Roostertail event.
Instead of calling in requests, the Keener application would have realtime statistics on what the most popular tunes are, not just this week, but in the last hour. If you wanted to “testify what your love has done for you,” you would do it in the Keener chat room, or via Skype video message which would run over Parliament’s instrumental track. Bob still thinks that there should be request lines. He told me that the best part about broadcasting was getting instant feedback from the listener, that visceral sense for what was working and what wasn’t. The new Keener would have to have a similar mechanism, but in addition to hearing the nuances of the voice on the other end of the telephone line, the Jocks would have to decipher emotions in 140 character Twitter chunks.
Jock interviews with the artists wouldn’t require the star to be in Detroit and would be two way video, with a Twitter stream crawling below where Keener fans could ask real time questions.
The DJs would still be the key to the Keener brand, only in the new world, WKNR would aggregate their personal brands, not interfere with them. Bob Green’s concept of “intelligent flexibility” would still rule. You could link to Scott Regen’s personal site and talk with him directly about the Beatles and perhaps take a virtual yoga class there.
All Keener Key People (not just men anymore) would have iPhones with UStream capability to be able to go live in an instant from anywhere, anytime. They would also carry MP3 recorders that could capture high quality audio as they interact with Keenerfans, wherever they may be.
Advertising on today’s Keener Brand would be hip, interactive and meaningful. Listeners would have the opportunity to fill out a personal interest survey. Their total Keener experience, from the skin on the application to the advertisers delivered would be customized, as much as possible, to the micro tastes of the listener.
The database back end would facilitate instant purchases of products, including downloads of the tunes the new Keener plays. The servers would have a buffer capability so that if someone tuned into the stream in the middle of a song, they could rewind to hear the DJ’s intro and get the whole experience. And you could press a button to hear your favorite song, Keener style, anytime you wanted.
The new Keener would still be hyper local, but inevitably would draw an international following. During my stint at Real Oldies 1600 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we had on line listeners from Australia, Japan, China and England. Technology allows the new Keener to serve up content and advertiser messages based on those listeners’ preferences (and IP address locations), too, necessitating a local, national and international sales force, and a merchandising manager to deal with the ringtones, t-shirts, mouse pads and branded iPods Keener would sell like hotcakes.
Bob Green and I pondered all of these things across a New York style deli lunch this Spring day in Houston. I asked him what his job might be like if he could rewind to his 20s and start all over today.
“There are so many avenues to promote and entertain today, ” he said. “But the concepts of audience engagement still work the same way.”
True, a musical artist might sell what we used to call 45s at a fraction of the coast of a CD single, but Bob says today’s performer’s personal brand is multi-dimensional.
I thought of Wolfman Jack, back in the day when he worked at Mexico’s XERB, blasting a 200 KW signal at LA. Listen closely to the sound track of American Graffiti and you’ll hear the Wolfman hawking T-shirt, baseball caps and bumper stickers.
Disney figured out long ago that more money is made off of the brand in the gift shops and restaurants than they earn from ticket sales.
And so it would be with the new WKNR, Bob Green believes.
Perhaps Marshall Mcluhan original postulation that “the medium is the massage” has turned upside down. In a world where content must be platform agnostic and where anything digital can be duplicated, it’s the message that is the medium. Disney has an incredible brand, and they express it everywhere and every way. That’s how we would consume the Keener brand, too.
The new Keener would still be agile and very listener focused. It would have all the techno bells and whistles. But it would also have the personality and the interactive engagement that touches what’s important in a Keenerfan’s life, just as it did four decades ago.
WKNR began it’s slow decline when the advertising became more important than the message. When revenues sagged Keener did what every other radio station in America has done: it cut costs and released the talent that had collaborated to take the operation to the top.
Radio today has forgotten what a brand is all about. But the tools are there for reinvention. At some point, broadcasters, podcasters, streamcasters and webcasters may rediscover that ever evolving alchemy of art and science that fuses true customer sensitivity and true talent into a promise wrapped up in an experience, where everybody wins.
Then as now, that is what profitable relationships are all about.