For nearly 30 years now I have worked in the communications field. For the first 13, I was on/in radio (on-the-air, programming and research), with my voice heard over both current (WWJ, WXYT) and now defunct (WLLZ, WLTI) Detroit stations. I wrote for the national radio industry trade, “Monday Morning Replay” and, more recently, authored a book, “No Static At All—A behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music.” Yet, I had never spoken at length with one of the true legends of the medium—Dick Kernan—until this week.
As I work on an updated version of my book (originally released in 2005), I actually reached out to Dick, whose career in radio dates back 53 years (54 in July) via, ironically enough, Facebook. While his name, for several decades, has been associated with Specs Howard School, his Detroit on-air legacy dates much further back—to the early days of WXYZ-AM and the very first days of WRIF-FM, where he hired a young Arthur Penhallow for $150 a week (he’d been making $125 in Toledo). In the wake of recent on-air star firings (including Penhallow and Chris Edmonds from WNIC), I could think of no one better to muse on the state of the medium and where it is going.
Like me, he laments the jettisoning of top on-air talent but concedes it is sure to continue: “It is easier to cut costs than raise revenues,” he said. In the end, though, with the right programming in place, “content is king,” he is confident radio will evolve—and survive: “In 1956 I informed my dad I had taken a job (my first) in radio. He said to me: ‘Radio is dead. T.V. is where it’s at.'” Perhaps there is hope after all.