Commercial radio sucks, man. They play the same crap over and over!” We hear that all the time. Who’s to blame? Not me. Not “the Suits” at Clear Channel, CBS, Citadel or Emmis, who couldn’t give a damn whether I play the Who or Rory Gallagher. So who is responsible for the repetition? You. It’s YOUR fault. Okay, maybe not the musically passionate person who reads this magazine, but the collective you who does not want to hear new music or deep cuts from a familiar band but wants to hear “Stairway To Heaven.” Again.
With the entertainment attention spans of hummingbirds, we demand instant gratification. If I’m not entertained in five seconds, I switch.
FACT: Given a choice between A) a song we know and love; B) a song we know and hate; and C) a song we don’t know at all, the average listener prefers A, B, C, in that order. Play “Europa” by Santana? The radio gets switched off in droves. Play “Black Magic Woman?” Love it!
During the renaissance of music, films and literature in the late ’60s and early ’70s, listeners expected to hear new music and new bands. DJs on FM were introducing this music to the world…but now my role has changed.
My job is simple, but hard to do well: to be a friend to the listener. Satellite radio, with all its options, has failed to make a dent in ten years because we have the music—in our iPods, phones and CD collections. What we need from radio is a friend to wake us up, to keep us company when we’re lonely, to sit with us in crappy traffic every night and to share. The best compliment I ever get: “Hey, Ken, the boss is beatin’ on my head all day, my wife (or husband) and kids give it to me all night—that hour in the car with you is my only chance to catch my breath, hear your take on the world and cool concerts, and hear my favorite tunes…. Thanks, Man.”
From sharing my sadness over the earthquake in Haiti to my love for the New York Jets, I get to entertain—and keep the music front and center. On Breakfast With The Beatles, I share my passion for four Liverpudlians who shook the world, and the audience shares why each song means something. The listenership varies from little kids having pancakes to Donald Trump (yes, The Donald listens), who explained how moved he was while looking at a few souls aimlessly walking through a near-empty midtown Manhattan, as Donald listened to “Eleanore Rigby.” “It was as if Paul were writing the song at that moment.” Yes, that is the magic of great writing and performing: it crosses all generational lines, all eras and will be timelessly cool.
Listen to me, I’m telling you as a friend.