The Keener Towers Come Down
Every time our family would make the drive from Ann Arbor toward Detroit, there were two things we looked for: The Uniroyal Tire and the WKNR tower site. I learned later about how the highly directional array allowed 1310 kc to be inserted into the Detroit radio market, how after dark, Keener literally disappeared from certain parts of the city, and how underpowered this radio station truly was.
Starting on Halloween night, 1963, none of the technical stuff mattered. The WKNR brand literally overwhelmed anybody else who tried to compete in the rock radio business. Such was the talent and the philosophy that Bob Green calls “intelligent flexibility”, that better funded operations didn’t stand a chance.
For those of us who loved Keener, those years were Camelot, where a radio station provided the sound track of our lives and the Key Men of Music were our best friends. Important dates were defined by the songs Keener played. The most memorable concerts had a Keener connection. And the blue collar energy of a hundred different Michigan garage bands blended seamlessly with Berry Gordy’s Motown Sound to define Michigan Rock for the entire world.
The brightest stars shine but briefly. Such was Keener’s story. But the long comet tail of men, women and music still glows in our minds. It was a Keener alum, Steve Schram, who helped guide the former WKNR FM frequency to renewed dominance in the midst of the consolidation maelstrom. Dick Purtan became his own brand, the ringmaster of the longest running, most successful morning show in Detroit radio history. Pat St. John and Jim Kerr, Keener’s Robin Stone, have been on the air in New York almost non-stop since their Detroit days. WKNR legends like Philip Nye and Bill Bonds made indelible impressions on other media. And the people who migrated behind the scenes, like the inestimable Jim Brooker, made key contributions to an ever evolving industry.
Facebook provides a place for those who remember WKNR to congregate (Visit out Keener 13 page there). And the airchecks, memorabilia and memories I continue to receive five decades after WKNR was born is continuing testament to what the Keener experience meant to so many.
15001 Michigan Avenue is no longer a radio studio. And as of December 31, 2012, the wire and steel that radiated the Keener sound into the ether will be no more.
But for those of us who were there, WKNR will always be part of who we are. Long live Keener!
The last moments. With thanks to Joe Kirklin for the video.