The Keener “Originals”
When we think about our own relationships with WKNR, they invariably gravitate to the air personalities. Keener emerged from the pack with a carefully crafted playlist, but the real magic were the Keener Keymen of Music. These were the entertainers who ultimately invented the WKNR vibe and elevated it to a high art.
Consultant Mike Joseph crafted the original on-air strategy, but those who were there report that it was quickly modified, with a total focus on connecting with the audience. A culture of “intelligent flexibility” emerged, that empowered the air personalities to take calculated risks, trusting their own sense for what the listener wanted.
The true key, of course, was in the hiring. Frank Maruca pulled together a series of all-star line-ups. Radio pros who were still on their way up the ladder of success, people who had the drive and the desire to learn the market and to create an entertainment and information service that added unique value.
Keener launched with some of the more notable names from the WKMH days, mixed with fresh, high energy talent. That energy sometimes caused friction. Mort Crowley ended up leaving the station as the result of a disagreement with management about the capacity of the Keener hit lines. But often, the Keymen leveraged what they learned at WKNR to grow into new roles in other markets. Keener originals like Crowley, Gary Stevens, Bill Phillips and J. Michael Wilson all moved on to bigger markets. Others, like Robin Seymour plied their trade elsewhere in Detroit with equal success.
Eventually everyone moves on. But the continuity of excellence that the WKNR air staff was able to sustain over a career in the highly volatile business of broadcasting is a testament, not only to Frank Maruca’s ear for talent, but to the professionalism and adaptability that made it possible.
Today, the surviving Keymen still look back at their WKNR experience as a highlight of their professional lives. Social media has made it possible for them to remain in touch and as Keener celebrates it’s 50th birthday, many of the WKNR “originals” will converge on New York City to reminisce about the days when WKNR ruled the Motor City airwaves, and all Detroit was Keener.
Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall at that gathering?