The Keener Towers Come Down

imageEvery 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.

Dec 31st, 2012 | Posted in Keener
  1. Earl Clark
    Dec 31st, 2012 at 23:45 | #1

    Scott this is a very sad day for radio lost on the air now is all;l the fun times that we all in the past were able to enjoy
    Radio is just not fun any more just to many bean counters
    to much debt no money to many mp3 players the internet so on
    The world is sure changing
    Happy New Year Earl and Pamela Clark

  2. Frank Hartge
    Jan 1st, 2013 at 00:06 | #2

    Long live Keener, indeed! Happy New Year 13, 2013 that is!

  3. larry Moyer
    Jan 1st, 2013 at 00:35 | #3

    They just played the National Anthem and shut down. As a guy who at one time (1976-1977) worked at WBRB radio in Mount Clemens, MI as a board operator this is so sad!

  4. Jan 1st, 2013 at 10:49 | #4

    It’s too bad the site is being demolished. Besides being a landmark on I-94 the towers also served as a visual checkpoint for pilots.

    It’s probably just as well. The site has most likely deteriorated over the years and would need a total rebuild or to be moved in order to optimize coverage into populated areas, such as what has been done with WWJ and WXYT.

    I’m old enough to have collected the Keener 13 music surveys as a kid. I knew when they were dropped off at Carty’s Music and would head over there after school. Wish I still had them around but you can’t save everything (though some say I try).

    Is there more about the history of the transmitter site? Two of the towers are different from the other four, leading me to think the array was expanded at some point to allow for a power increase. Even the beacons are arranged differently on the “newer” towers.

    The site has also been sort of a “monument” to Jerry Martin, the chief engineer at WKNR for so many years and who has since become a “silent key”. Jerry was a highly respected broadcast engineer and had many friends in the engineering community. Few broadcasters realized that Jerry was also active in the Boy Scouts and his memory lives on as he generously provided funding for the camp headquarters building which bears his name at D-A Scout Ranch near Metamora.

    Nice photo by Scott Fybush, who has photographed and documented hundreds of tower sites across the country. I’m glad he was able to get here before the teardown.

  5. Mike Piesik
    Jan 1st, 2013 at 11:28 | #5

    In addition to listening to Keener13 in my youth, I was also familiar with the tower array on I94. Our (then) house in Taylor was just south of the old Ecorse Drive-In screen on Ecorse Rd. On winter nights (particularly, since the leaves were off the trees), I could see the blinking red lights on those towers from my bedroom window. It was magical to think that the sounds I loved on my radio were coming from those blinking lights!

  6. Joe Kirklin
    Jan 5th, 2013 at 23:51 | #6

    The towers came down today. The site was in very rough shape, and financially, I do believe the right decision was made by the guys at the top. I made a short video of the last two towers coming down and posted it up on YouTube… also look for the link to the photo album in the video description if you’re interested.

  7. Bob Hardt
    Jan 6th, 2013 at 02:11 | #7

    Thanks for the video, Joe. It saddens me to see this. Fred Knorr and his GM Walter Patterson hired me on my 16th birthday at WKHM in Jackson and I worked for them through college. WKMH 1310 was the key station in our group of 5 stations and I fondly remember listening to it fed down the Tiger baseball line. It was Mr. Knorr’s first station, started as a 1kw daytimer on 1540, later moving to 1310 and gaining night time operation at 5kw with the addition of those 4 extra towers. It was highly directional at night and only protected from interference to it’s 9mV/m contour. When it was key station for the Tigers (which Knorr co-owned), they got WWJ to simulcast the night games so the broadcasts could be heard on the east side of Detroit. It’s all the more remarkable that the station as WKNR was able to dominate the ratings. I was morning news anchor at WXYZ in those days, had many friends at Keener and always respected the station as a competitor. RIP 1310 Dearborn.

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