By Scott Westerman
¬©2003 keener13.com – All Rights Reserved
In spite of our best laid plans, the events that define our lives are often the result of serendipity. And as we look deeper we look into the Keener story, its clear that the factors that lead to WKMH’s transformation from worst to first is a web of unlikely events that positioned the right people at the right place at the right time.
For Bob Green, the road to Detroit began in Antoinette Hondelink’s math class. Robert Greenstone had an eye for structure and an architect’s gift for envisioning the symphonic mixture of glass, steel and stone into an integrated whole. His only interest in affairs of the ether was a fascination with amateur radio and the technology that translated sound into neatly arranged iron particles along the Mylar of his neighbor’s Webcore tape recorder.
High school geometry was the barrier between Bob and the world of Frank Lloyd Wright. When he couldn’t get past Ms. Hondelink ‘s cosines and vectors he decided to seek his passion at Bard College, a liberal arts institution on the Hudson River. It was mid-semester in 1957 when Bob noticed a bulletin inviting students to join the college radio station, WXBC. He landed a job with the station, but before he could get on the air, the dormitory that housed the station burned to the ground. By the time the facilities were rebuilt, the 22 enthusiastic broadcasters had diminished to a quartet, and Bob Greenstone found himself in charge of the home brew operation.
It was the beginning of a four decade career that put him at the center of the WKNR maelstrom. In the end, Bob Green became that architect, weaving the elements of music and message into an historic audio edifice that even today generates admiration and awe from people who never had a chance to experience it live.
BOB GREEN: When we finally rebuilt the campus radio station, we had a ten watt transmitter that was supposed to send the signal to the dormitories. I couldn’t wait for the official closed-circuit hook-up. I strung along wire across the athletic fields, attached it to the transmitter output, put a tape of my show on the reel-to-reel and drove my 51 Ford twenty miles down Route 9 to Kingston, New York, listening to myself on 630 AM.
KEENER13.COM: Who were your early radio heroes?
BOB GREEN: In those days WBZ’s signal could literally be heard from London to Los Angeles. Bruce Bradley and Jim Holt were my mentors. Bradley started at WWOL in Buffalo as Guy King, a moniker that Dick Purtan would use when he worked at the station. Later when I was working at WSAY, I stopped by WWOL to meet Dick. Holt’s shtick was his singing. In addition to playing music from other artists, he had a Nelson Riddle album with music tracks to classic Frank Sinatra records. Holt would sing the vocals as part of his all-night program.
KEENER13.COM: What happened after college radio?
BOB GREEN: My first commercial job was at WSAY in my hometown, Rochester New York. It was a marathon shift, from 3:30 PM to 12:30 AM under the name of Mac McGuire.
KEENER13.COM: And then it was on to WGVA.
BOB GREEN: In Geneva, New York. We were chicken top-40 with CRC jingles. Very similar to my cherished WBZ. I worked the 6-midnight shift and basically copied all the good stuff I heard the day before on WBZ. I tried to emulate Holt’s sing-along act. It took about a day for me to realize that singing wasn’t something I wanted to include in my show. It was a great place to learn. and keep weight off. The equipment was all over the place. The jingles were on ET disks in one place and the commercials were on five inch reels along another wall. The Ampex that played the spots was in yet another corner and it had no remote start button. It was leap and fling to execute a show. We didn’t have a separate production studio, so I had to do all the production after we signed off at 12:30 on the one Ampex tape machine we had.
KEENER13.COM: You’ve said that it was the jingles that first attracted you to WKMH.
BOB GREEN: One of my friends sent me a tape of this great Four Freshman Hi-Lo jingle package using the WKMH call letters. I found Larry Fisher’s name listed as the program director in one of the books and sent him an audition tape with a note saying that I was planning to be in Detroit the following week. It turned out that Larry got his walking papers and Frank Maruca had been hired to replace him. It was a shock to get Frank’s phone call.
KEENER13.COM: What were your first impressions of Detroit when you drove into town for the interview?
BOB GREEN: I was impressed with what was happening on the air. WJBK, WXYZ, WKMH, and others were all aggressively going after the audience. There was a tremendous talent pool and a lot of excitement on the air. I had no idea how a kid from Geneva with a Pee Wee Herman voice was gonna fit into the picture, but as the saying goes, “hope springs eternal.”
KEENER13.COM: How did the WQAM gig come about?
BOB GREEN: I got a call early one Sunday morning from WQAM’s PD, Charley Murdock. They had heard of me and invited me down to Miami for an audition. Back then, an audition consisted of reading some copy and introducing a record. Vermicelli got me the job. I pronounced the word properly and was hired on the spot.
KEENER13.COM: What was WQAM’s appeal?
BOB GREEN: WKMH was not happening at the time and I was restless. We knew that we had to dump Mutual, play top 40 and kick up the energy level several notches, but management wasn’t ready to make that commitment. Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon are credited as the inventors of Top-40 and WQAM was a Storz station. Their reputation was legendary, even back then. I had the pleasure to work with talented pros like Ted Clark, Jerry Goodwin and Lee Sherwood, among others, and get acquainted with that format. And while I was getting great experience in Miami, the ducks were lining up in Detroit to make Keener a reality. Miami in those days had a lot of outstanding talent. Rock Robins, later Keener’s Scott Regen, was across town at WFUN. It was a place where great radio was being created.
KEENER13.COM: Storz stations perfected the highly processed, reverb laced sound we associate with rock radio in the 60s.
BOB GREEN: WQAM had the best sound I’ve ever heard. You can get a feel for it when you listen to the WQAM air check on the Reel Radio site. Jerry Martin tried to emulate the WQAM echo and compression with Keener and came pretty close. The station had two studios, one at the beach and our main facility at the McAllister Hotel. The McAllister location had a small control room.. So small that the jock had to leave when the newsman came in.
KEENER13.COM: Do you remember your first day on the air?
BOB GREEN: It’s a day I’ll never forget. We had an old Shafer automation system with a wall of Ampexes, McKinseys and Cart Machines that all worked by remote control. I was on the air and there was some sort of event outdoors that got everybody’s attention. It was afternoon and we were about to get one of those typical South Florida thunderstorms. There was a crack of lightning, a flicker of the lights and all of the Ampexes went in to rewind mode – on the air. I couldn’t play a thing! So for about fifteen minutes, I opened the phone lines and talked with people who called. When the staff started to straggle back in from outside someone ran to get the engineer. It took him another fifteen minutes to reset everything. My first and foray into using the phone on the air, something that became a staple of my Keener presentation.
KEENER13.COM: Did you keep in touch with your Detroit contacts?
BOB GREEN: I talked with my friends in Detroit about once a week. Detroit was a break-out market for new music and Dave Prince would tell me when something was starting to take off. I passed that information on to our PD, Charley Murdock, and got a reputation as a hit picker.
KEENER13.COM: It sounds like you had a lot of fun in Miami.
BOB GREEN: Absolutely. But I missed Detroit every minute. There was an energy there that was missing in Miami. When I heard that WKMH was going to get serious about changing their direction I gladly returned to Detroit.
KEENER13.COM: How did you get the evening gig at Keener?
BOB GREEN: They had originally wanted Dave Prince to do the night time show.
But he didn’t want to leave WXYZ. I benefited from his decision.
KEENER13.COM: That was around the time that Mike Joseph was the programming consultant.
BOB GREEN: All of us, including Frank Maruca, had been telling management that things needed to change for a long time, but it took a consultant to convince them to take the risk.
KEENER13.COM: Gary Stevens says that you threw out a lot of what Mike recommended soon after Keener launched.
BOB GREEN: There were some features and format elements that we felt just didn’t make sense. The lost dog reports disappeared pretty quickly. WKNR was one of the first stations to brand with a word, rather than call letters. As the concept for the new WKMH evolved someone mentioned that WKNR was “keener” and it stuck..
Art Vuolo: Bob Green is quick to share the credit for WKNR’s success, but he was the unsung hero of Keener 13. Everyone thinks first of Mike Joseph and then Frank Maruca and Nellie Knorr…but it was “Greeny Bob” who gave Keener THAT distinctive sound and style none of us will ever forget.
KEENER13.COM: Even though Dave Prince demurred, a few of the former WKMH personalities hung around.
BOB GREEN: Robin Seymour was there at the beginning as were Jim Saunders and Bill Phillips. When Jim left for Chicago, I told Frank Maruca that we had to get Jerry Goodwin up here. Ted Clark came soon after. Your readers know the story of how Scott Regen came to Keener.
KEENER13.COM: Scott redefined night-time radio in Detroit.
BOB GREEN: Part of our objective was to find someone who could connect with the artists. Scott did a fantastic job. Connection was a real key word at Keener. Listeners connected with the jocks in a way that doesn’t happen today.
KEENER13.COM: In spite of its deficient signal, Keener ruled Detroit until the start of the Drake era at CKLW.
BOB GREEN: Keener pioneered the concept of a consistent station sound in Detroit. There were a lot of great jocks at the other stations, but each man was an island. In the beginning, our competitors had long format breaks for news and network programming, while Keener was able to develop a consistent brand that you could always count on.
KEENER13.COM: Your presentation on the Keener Philosophy talks about intelligent flexibility. What is it?
BOB GREEN: Intelligent Flexibility is the leeway our jocks had to be creative within the framework of the format. Keener played 31 records, a Key Song and a couple of album cuts. We had news at 15 and 45 past the hour and some pretty strict requirements about how often we had to say the call letters. But there was room for creativity. The jocks were encouraged to take risks. The format was there to serve us. We weren’t there to serve the format, as is the case today.
KEENER13.COM: It was a great way to develop talent. Scott Regen has said that his program evolved from a nighttime version of his Kansas City morning show, into something completely different and a lot better. Listening to early Dick Purtan work compared to his later stuff you can see the metamorphoses.
Scott Regen: Bob made it possible for me to come to Detroit. I sent several audition tapes to Keener before I got the job offer. Bob would call me after each one arrived and say, “That sounded good. Try doing this and send another..” When I hit on the right combination, I heard from him right before Frank Maruca called. Bob was a great proponent of taking creative risks.
BOB GREEN: Intelligent Flexibility allowed us to take advantage of opportunities. Scott Regen created the Groove Yard on the spot one night. Purtan’s Top 13 Auto Accidents is another example of something that happened on the fly. Good judgment sometimes superceded format dictates.
Paul Cannon: Bob was Keener’s production director for obvious reasons…he is a genius. Bob could produce the greatest promos and spot ever done. I am convinced much of the success of WKNR was due to the terrific sound of our production.
KEENER13.COM: When did you know that the Keener magic was starting to fade?
BOB GREEN: I had just built a house. That’s the kiss of death in radio.. CKLW was coming on strong. We had this huge payroll and were running the legal spot limit and the ratings were trending down. The numbers were still good, but were 15.5s to 12.5s, not the 18 to 25s we were used to. One day we were all called into a meeting and there was Mike Joseph. I left the building. That was the beginning of the end.
KEENER13.COM: Over the next few months nearly all of the marquee talent was fired.
BOB GREEN: Dick Purtan was the only one who remained.
KEENER13.COM: But you were back in 1970.
BOB GREEN: By then the die was pretty well cast. The popularity of FM was rising. We brought together some talented people like Jim Tate, Mac Owens, Ron Sherwood, Bill Garcia, Dan Henderson and Pat St. John. We made a good run but Keener’s time was past.
Pat St. John: “A good run” is a bit of an understatement. During Bob’s service as PD, Keener’s sound was as exciting and creative as ever. I would have to consider Bob Green the “Mayor” of Keener. There from the beginning, his creative skills not only shaped the sound of WKNR, his genuine enthusiasm and on-air (and off-air) friendliness came effortlessly. He “communicated” and “entertained”, the two main ingredients that made for great radio.
KEENER13.COM: How did you end up in Houston?
BOB GREEN: Jim Tate was one of the last of the Keener morning men. He and Ron Sherwood left Keener for KULF. They called and said that they were looking for a new Program Director. KULFS was a middle of the road station that I felt could benefit from more energy and personality. I thought I could help infuse a new spirit there.
KEENER13.COM: How did it go?
BOB GREEN: My wife Sandi is a great judge of people. We were talking one night after she met the GM and she said, “You’ve got trouble,”. She was right. I was always on the same wavelength with Frank Maruca and didn’t have that connection with the GM in Houston.
KEENER13.COM: How did Bob Green Productions happen?
BOB GREEN: I had been at KULF for about a year when someone asked me to do some spots for Texas International Airlines. I saw the equipment that Houston’s “top production facility” had and thought that I could do better. That was the genesis and we’ve been at it for over 29 years.
KEENER13.COM: How has that business changed?
BOB GREEN: There is only a fraction of the production happening in Houston compared to when we first started. There used to be 37 agencies in Houston doing broadcast. Now there are only two. A lot of my business comes via the Internet and my clients are mostly out of town. With the advent of computers, ISDN, MP3 and digital production its possible to do most of what I do out of the house.
KEENER13.COM: Is that the direction you are going?
BOB GREEN: For 24 years we owned our own building. About three years ago, I got a great offer and sold it, moving into smaller quarters. We learned earlier this year that the landlord is selling the property. I saw it as a sign.
KEENER13.COM: Are you surprised by the esteem that Keener continues to generate?
BOB GREEN: I remember a conversation with Gary Stevens at the 1988 Detroit radio reunion. We came out of a dinner meeting and there was this crowd of people who wanted to see us. Gary wondered why, in a market with so many great radio stations, so many people focused on Keener. Frank Sweeney put it best ten years later when he said that no other Detroit station grabbed the public’s fancy in the same profound way that Keener did.
KEENER13.COM: Do you think that there is a bigger focus on nostalgia since the events of 9/11?
BOB GREEN: I think people are looking for safety. something to grab onto that reminds them of a time when they felt more secure.. The popularity of XM’s 60s channel and the response you’ve had to Keener’s Dream Cruise reincarnation are testaments to that fact.
KEENER13.COM: Do you think that the Keener concept can ever come back?
BOB GREEN: It will be tough to do in today’s environment. Intelligent Flexibility is not something you will find in the cookie cutter formats on the air now. But I think that a new generation would likely embrace at least the presentation aspects of the Keener concept, just like we did.
Pat St. John: I have the utmost respect for this man, who not only gave his all to Keener13, he had the foresight to archive everything, as he did it, and we all benefit from that. His spots and promos were innovative and influential, and were copied by the many who recognized that fact. Listening to him was a pleasure, working with him was an education, and knowing him is a privilege.
KEENER13.COM: The website and the Dream Cruise broadcast would not have been possible without your generous contributions from the Bob Green archives. You’ve made it possible for people who never heard Keener to appreciate its magic.
BOB GREEN: The WKNR experience provided some of my happiest radio memories. It was great fun to be there when it happened and I’m glad to be able to help perpetuate Keener’s memory.