Much has been written on the passing this week of broadcast industry legend Dick Kernen, including a storied career that began in the 1950s and included iconic stays at WXYZ-AM and WRIF-FM where he hired a teenage Arthur Penhallow. I had the great honor of working with Dick on many occasions over the years and I felt compelled to share a few thoughts on this great man.
I first met Dick over 20 years ago in the course of conducting PR services for the business place he held court beginning in 1972: The Specs Howard School. There, he was involved, over the years, in mentoring and guiding thousands upon thousands of graduates into the world of radio, television, design and film. His knowledge was vast, his connections unparalleled. So many owe their starts and careers to him including these Hall of Famers. You may just recognize one or two names.
Though he and I would often appear in local media coverage on radio news happenings, it had been several years since we last spoke. One of those occasions was at his favorite deli (StackerZ in Southfield) where I interviewed him for the updated version of my book: “No Static At All.” I could have listened to him all day. Among the topics were his early experiences with and great love of radio. (All quotes are excerpts from the book): “Radio was such a significant part of every day life. Driving up Woodward Avenue, everyone was listening to CKLW.” He actually started at ‘XYZ, I learned, as a mail carrier. “The station manager told me later he hired me for two reasons: My mother evidently called and begged him, and, no one else applied. My life in radio has been a series of happy accidents.”
We talked about what, at that time, was the new proliferation of music streaming services and the growing popularity of satellite radio and how those things might impact terrestrial radio. “The delivery system is irrelevant,” he told me. “If you create compelling content, they will come…they will find you.” Still, he lamented industry consolidation and those behind it. “These weren’t broadcasters and radio was just an investment. Early on, they had an idea: cluster stations and save money; work at cost savings and run with less people. Unfortunately, they got carried away and started a downward spiral. Now, they have no choices.” He added, “It’s easier to cuts costs and harder to raise revenues.”
A preeminent historian, industry watcher, analyst, and commentator, his words of wisdom will be greatly missed. So too his ability to jump start careers and connect broadcast talent with opportunities. But more than that, scores of family, friends and colleagues will miss simply a great man. Someone we were all privileged to know – and learn from.
Thousands upon thousands of professions their careers to his astute guidance, mentoring and relationships.