Kenny Smoov is a hardworking and respected PD whose well deserved recent promotion has put him at the forefront of many Radio Station s, 37 to be exact. With stints in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina, he admits: “My come up has been the grind out.” Honored that he has worked with many of the industry’s heavy hitters like Tony Gray he said: “I’ve been a principal working with him on a lot of projects with his company and learning under his tutelage for a couple of decades.” Kenny started his first gig in Killeen Texas at KWIZ.
The former club DJ was previously in the military. A Desert Storm Veteran with 6 years of military service to his credit with tours of duty in South Korea, Ft. Hood, TX, and a host of other assignments. His decorations include Army Commendation Medal 2 Clusters, Army Achievement Medal 2 Clusters, and others.
He got his first shot in radio from Mike McGuire (DeDe McGuire’s brother) and he said his big break came when he was in a nightclub one night and somebody didn’t show up. McGuire said: “Hey man can you just cover this remote for us man because I’m in a bind and there is nobody here to cover this remote?” He covered the remote and has been on the radio every day since. He admits he wasn’t initially trying to get into the game, things just happened.
Kevin Ross: So Mike McGuire put you on the air with no experience?
Kenny: Well he knew me from the clubs of course in Texas at the time but I didn’t do any radio stuff so I’m on there, I’m flipping it straight over to the LP version I am not playing that radio stuff, I was in the club so it was that whole night he was standing in the box with me and handed me the records, I go through them and we blew it out that night man. I remember that night like it was yesterday and he’s still one of my really good friends in the business and we talk all the time.
Kevin: So you recently got promoted, tell us about that.
Kenny: A change in the guard was going on and I’ve been with Cumulus for a long time. I’ve been anassassin for the company, when they need something done and something needs to get fixed they send me in, I’ll go and fix it they know I’m going to work hard. What I lack in talent, I’m going to beat you in hard work, the army taught me that.
I’m known for coming to a Radio Station with a sleeping bag. I’ll come in the Radio Station I will stay for four days straight if I have to get it done and you don’t find that kind of tenacity from a lot of the psychos that are in the business that just love doing what we do and we go in there man and so whether it’s been Kansas city or if it was been Fayetteville I’ve done some Pop work for the company too for i106 etc. There was a guy that just left and the next day the VP comes in and says, “Can you just watch this for us for a minute, we’re going to fix it later?” Four years later we took the Radio Station to number three in the market 18-34 and somebody came and bought it because it was in a trust.
So it’s just that kind of stuff being a person that’s just willing to get in and do that or the talent side, hosting the Grammys, hosting billboards, hosting red carpets all over the country for the company, whatever needs to get done, I’m your guy.
Kevin: So how do you develop talent? I mean if you didn’t have the training that most jocks have and what’s your philosophy on training new talent and is there any new talent?
Kenny: I think the new talent pool is sitting right there on the internet, the new talent pool is on YouTube, podcasts etc now. What you gotta do is get those people that do that work. What I know about them is that it takes a lot of effort to get followers.
If you’re building some kind of audio based entertainment service, it takes a lot of work and so I know that you’re a grinder. That’s the first element for me, I can teach you technique but I can’t teach you passion so if you’re not going to come into the game with passion you’re not going to make it anyway.
And so I’ll take that and then I’ll see that they have some moxie and from there mold what they already have into what we need in radio and then take that and just put it into a form. A lot of the guys that are on the podcast, they have a lot of passion about whatever it is they’re talking about but no form.
That’s kind of where I’ve been the last four or five years in my opinion where I think that’s going to come from but if I got somebody that’s in the game already and they’re at a Radio Station and they’re doing part-time work, Saturday nights where I started at and I see that they have it, then you just kind of stay at them and air check them and, “Hey you might want to try this clean your diction up.”
You can still be lit on the air without saying ‘deese’ and ‘dose’ and this ‘dis ha’ You can still get to the people without having to do that matter of fact the ones that clean that diction up and still got the intensity are the ones that get the money, they really do.
Kevin: Do you think that if somebody is online though and they’ve trained themselves to promote themselves and market themselves on social media that they’d want to come to a situation where they may have a leash?
Kenny: That’s the other thing too because I have to tell them like if you’re going to come on this side, there’s going to be some rules whatever it is that you’re trying to give up. If you’re like, “Hey man, I’m sick of my 90 or 120 day paychecks coming in and I want to get something more consistent then you might give that up to get this every two week check but here’s what you’re going to give up to get to every two week check.”
I think if it was me starting right now and I’m 25 again and I’m starting all over and I’m doing my social media thing I’m doing everything to try to make these things ride together I’m doing everything I can to keep what I’ve already built and I think that’s the reason the company looked at me in the first place you liked what I was doing online so why would I take that away and then find a way to kind of mesh it into what we’re doing.
I think guys like Zach Sang who does Pop and when he was doing Pop, he came from that world, he came from totally online YouTubing and we hired him and now he’s over at Westwood One doing a chain of Pop Radio Station s for our company and he’s really talented.
Kevin: Have you hired somebody from online?
Kenny: It’s been a chore; it’s been like you said stepping up to the spot and trying to get it to turn over and I’ve missed twice but I am not giving up because I know that there’s synergy there. I know that there’s synergy there and I know that our business is heading in that direction every day, I think it’s a smart play.
Kevin: What do you think when people say that radio is a dying industry?
Kenny: I’ll say that they’ve been saying that about this industry for decades, every time the new toy come out, “Oh radio’s going to die off for this, radio is going to die from video, radio is going to die from the internet, radio’s going to die from satellite, radio is a roach.”
It’s going to exist in some form, maybe it won’t be I mean hell you remember they used to play orchestras on the radio, they used to have live acting on the radio and it just keeps morphing to where it needs to go. And I think you’re going to see another morph from radio but it will be in some kind of tact.
Kevin: That’s interesting because actually that’s actually happening, public broadcasting is doing plays again on the air like in the 50s and they’re doing concerts I don’t know if you’re into public broadcasting but the tiny desks concerts-
Kenny: The tiny desk concert is tough.
Kevin: – They have come so far from where they used to be the joke, always asking for money and having telethons, they have really come up and in a lot of ways when it comes to commercial radio they’ve surpassed it. They still ask for money but they found-
Kenny: A lot of Americans love what they do.
Kevin: – Yeah they find unique ways to ask for money. And some of them are even union Radio Station s when it comes to being more commercial.
Kenny: I think you’re going to see some of the bigger podcasts that are out there on the urban side eventually get those two-hour weekend slots and eventually continue to morph from there. I think it’s just going to be who is going to be bold enough to go out there and get it and put it on the air.
You can’t say that, “Oh I didn’t know to talk about this and cut the songs out while they’re on podcasts and they’re crushing whatever we got going on digitally, they’re killing us and they’re not playing music.”
So the people obviously have an appetite for it we have to figure out a way to put it inside our little clock structures that we have, quarter hours and figure out how to get it in there but you see like you said public radio has figured it out we’re going to be next.
Kevin: What do you think about the iHeart Black Information Network?
Kenny: I think it’s a good play, I always wonder about the appetite for it because you’ve seen BET, they used to have Ed Gordon and all these different things and the appetite for it wasn’t there and then they took it off you see Roland Martin stuff that was going on and I don’t know if there was some politics behind it because I’m not in that room at all and I don’t know if there was an appetite and there wasn’t maybe an appetite for the talent but I’m hoping that the appetite is there for the market because we need the information but I tell people my people die every day with their medicine on the table.
They know it’s there; they’re supposed to take it but they won’t and they die in their beds with what they need on the dresser. So will they do that with this? Hopefully not, hopefully they ingest it, we need the information, we need people that can speak truth to power about our situations because we have got a bunch of them.
Kevin: I think that it depends on how they do it, I agree with you, I think it may have been the hosts with the BET situation. I don’t think it was engaging and compelling when you watch Don Lemon is a great example, when you watch Don Lemon now, he’s compelling, he’s interesting but it’s like before he wasn’t. He finally found his niche and he’s interesting, so you want to hear what he has to say.
Kenny: I tell people all the time, look at the top TV shows and look at the top things that African- American people, women in particular are moving towards, I know she’s got a master’s degree in economics but she loves Housewives and so you can’t take that out of the mix and only want to give her these highfalutin tea and crumpet type of you know TV shows or radio shows because she has a masters degree in economics.
No she should want to get lit so you got to figure out a way to put the Maxwell with the Migos and I maybe being a little far-fetched on that but I think you get where I’m going, it has to match you have to put some of them in there and people just want to just no let’s put you know Migos and or not Migos let’s just give them a Maxwell and then throw in some other some other high from you know Brian Brownberg or some jazz shit and it’s like it’s not going to work, not now.
Yeah the 40 year old woman now, hell is finer than some of the 30 year olds. She’s out there, man, balling, doing her thing, this is a different 40 year old woman, you’re not going to pin her down with just Maxwell and Kem.
Kevin: What’s the situation there as far as the coronavirus in Nashville?
Kenny: We have a really smart market manager, her name is Allison Warren and I’m proud to say that that she gets it and I told her if a program director if they say the terms, “You get it” that’s the biggest compliment you can get because we think nobody gets it.
She’s cautious about it, she’s like, “We’re optimistic but we’re not going to run everybody back in the building and then everybody gets sick and we have to shut the building down.” So she’s rolling out a plan to get us back into a groove starting with our bigger shows first of course the revenue generators and then slowly work everybody into the building.
So that’s kind of what our plan is and I’m hoping everybody else is going to be smart about this because you see it spinning backwards and you just have to be cautious you really do. You don’t have to be terrified but be careful.
Kevin: How many Radio Station s are you in charge of right now?
Kenny: 37 Radio Station s. And every day I’m looking to manage the perfect day. That’s my goal. Get all the stuff done, get all the interviews done, get all this management stuff done and sit back and go, I did that shit. I haven’t done it yet.
Kevin: What do you think the future of the industry is?
Kenny: If we are forward thinking, the future is to get more digital, to become more entertaining, and to let talents be talent, that’s if we’re doing it right because if not man it’s going to be a grim outlook, talents run. The product is the way to make it, you get the product right, everything else is going to take care of itself.
The sales are going to come, the audience will build everything, but if you constantly stranglehold and handcuff the talent, and you’re not doing the stuff that you got to do to make that work, we’ll be in trouble, man. I don’t think it’ll die, but I think you can put yourself in situations where you don’t need to be, and then you’re digging yourself out of that just to get yourself to zero where you could already be a zero and building yourself to a 10. So, that’s kind of where I think we were looking.
Have you ever thought about owning a Radio Station ?
Kenny: That’s always in my mind, the multiples. I remember back in the day when there was 10 times cash flow sales and it was ridiculous, and some of these Radio Station s priced themselves out. I’m hearing about people making deals for Long Island Radio Station s for $900,000 now, and that was unheard of 10 years ago. So, I think it’s in reach and it would definitely be something I’d like to do, but it had to be the right situation and somewhere where I know I’m not going to be going into bankruptcy trying to do what I love.
Kevin: Has there ever been anybody in the industry that treated you like trash? I mean, that absolutely was the worst to you?
Kenny: No. There were some people that didn’t believe in what I could do and they said it to a degree, “Man, you are just a mixer, you, are never going to be this, this and that.” And two years later in our adultness now that they’ve called and apologized for it.
Kevin: Oh, okay.
Kenny: I never asked just, well, maybe one other person that never did, but it doesn’t trip on me. It gave me fuel. I’m like, I needed you to do that.
Kevin: Isn’t that amazing how you realize one day, you might hate them in the moment.
Kevin: But you realize one day that it actually serves you. When somebody tells you, you can’t do something and they tell you you’re worthless or they treat you like crap. Either you’re going to live or die after that. You’re going to live or die because I’ve had some, maybe one person that treated me the worst.
Kevin: And I hated this dude for like 20 years. It was really the fuel for starting Radio Facts.
Kevin: The funny thing is that I couldn’t figure out how not to be mad anymore because it was like when I started out, I was pissed off. Then when the business succeeded I was like, wait, I’m not pissed off anymore, so how do I keep doing this shit?
Kevin: Record people have the edge on radio because they are taught about money, stocks, investing etc. Do you know a lot about money, or how do you educate yourself?
Kenny: Talking to folks that I know that got it, dealing with people with a hundred black men organizations and people like that to be able to just kind of bend their ear to help steer me into some better stuff. Admittedly so, it wasn’t until well into my adulthood that I understood that, hey man, you need to start doing these things over here and moving this money around like that.
Kenny: Because again, radio doesn’t prepare you like that, it just doesn’t. It was always something that I was saying that I wanted to do for radio. Somebody has to be like the person that I go talk to in radio that’s like, ‘This is what you need to be doing with preparing yourself when you’re not doing this because none of these companies have a parachute for us.’
Kevin: I have never heard DL’s whole show just what’s online and maybe he does an outro here and there. How is his show doing in Nashville? How much is music and how much is talk.
Kenny: You know what? It’s about 60/40. And when I say talk, what I’ve learned to do is encompass everything that is not music. So, I’m talking about spots, promos, traffic, weather, all of that you do inside of the break and then back to music, it’s about 60/40.
Kevin: How does the audience respond to it?
Kenny: My audience for Nashville, it’s been a good response. I think the more that you have, the more you lean with a higher HDBA, the better the show. Nashville was only about 15.8, 15.9% black. Eight counties and that’s in a higher density in Davidson County, so overall it’s only about a 15% black city. But you go to Baltimore, you get to DC, you get to Memphis; he crushes in Memphis.
Our Radio Station took over Memphis the last four or five months up there, RBO. And so, with that, I think it performs well here, but I think it could perform better if there were more black people in the market. They get about five records an hour. On average. Sometimes they’ll try to slip in another one, but he does pretty well, man. I think the people here, he had the episode (collapsed on stage) here. And so –
Kevin: Oh, that’s right. Were you there?
Kenny: No, I was there the night before. It was a 92Q night at the Spot. And so, I always open up that first urban show that comes to the market.
Kevin: What was a club doing open?
Kenny: Man, look, the Tennessee governor, let those dudes that came to the Capitol steps with them AK 47s and, “We want our rights, open up.” And so, he said, “Okay, we’re going to do a rollout and we’re going to do this kind of plan”. And so, that club was a part of the open strategy. So, I try to be a good community partner and go, “Okay, well, look, man, hey, we’re getting back to normal.”
So, I wanted to get on stage and welcome everybody back. “We’re getting back to normal cases of spinning backwards, looking good.” Wham. D.L. got COVID. Nobody knew. So, I had to self-quarantine for two weeks because not me. Me and DL, wasn’t all up on each other and dah, dah, dah. But I was in the VIP room with him. So, I was like, I got to self-quarantine.
See the extended interview on Radio Facts