Career Capsule: I started my own station in my basement at 11 years old! With a mic, two turntables, a reel to reel, and a radio shack transmitter that my Mom and Dad bought me. The neighbors listened nightly and called in their requests. I attended Westminster college, PA – where I hosted my first CCM show.
I Interned in promotions at Z100 New York and then was hired at Z100- as “Bubba” on the Z-Morning Zoo and Keith Stevens on weekends! Living the dream at America’s #1 radio station. Then it was onto WWDJ (CCM) New York for PM Drive, followed by mornings & PD. I helped launch Web Radio for Lucent Technologies in the mid 90’s and spent weekends on New York’s Classic Rock Q104.3. Other stops included New Rock Y100 ,and “Rockin’ Hits” ALICE 104.5, Philly.
In 2003, I helped re-launch the new STAR 99.1 NJ in PM Drive/APD.
In 2010, I moved to Minneapolis-St Paul to take on the Program Director position at KTIS and then added Afternoon Drive.
I’m in my 10th year as PD at the amazing KTIS MSP and recently took on Mornings. What a blast! This year I also celebrate 10 years on “Keep the Faith”- America’s most listened to syndicated CCM radio show.
Keith, tell us what’s new at KTIS… news, changes, & new with YOU… etc?
In February of 2019, after a fun time in PM drive for over 8 years, I switched to Mornings. Andy Youso moved from Mornings to Afternoons. He is doing a tremendous job continuing to connect with our listeners, and build an audience in PM Drive. I enjoy working with Pam Lundell in Mornings! She is a trusted voice in the market and a real pro. The show is called “Keith Stevens in the Morning” and we have a good thing going. Waking up Minneapolis-St Paul is a huge honor and privilege, and the numbers have shown steady growth. So, I am encouraged. We have a fresh sound and hit it hard each morning to be competitive in the market. It’s fun building a morning show and reaching new listeners. Recently, Theresa Ross joined our line up to voice track evenings, and Tony Mansmith came to us from I-Heart as our new APD!
KTIS consistently does well in the Nielsen ratings… how important is that, and why do you believe the station does so well?
Actually, it’s been a great run. I was thinking about it the other day. We are in a “blue” state – and a very liberal city. And yet, we’ve been able to take a CCM station, KTIS, to all-time highs in both share and ranking. I’ve had the joy of working with a very talented and highly motivated team, and watching us hit #2 & #3 P6+ several times. Our average share is way up, and I think people are seeking. Really seeking for truth and peace in their lives. We give them that. It’s pretty amazing. I clearly know what the product is we are offering our audience, and we serve it up in bite size pieces. It seems to be working as a very consumable format in a very “non-bible belt” part of America. That’s the true test. In my opinion, the last several years in particular, drive home an example of how the CCM format can really grow and connect in a major market. I credit our team. They are the best. We have professional air talent who really work hard on their craft. If you’re live, local, create a vibe musically, and reflect your target listener’s values, you can’t miss. Combined with our amazing engagement & marketing teams, and social media initiatives, it’s the perfect trifecta.
While the ratings have made us smile lately, our greater purpose is always to reach the Twin Cities for Christ- and nurture believers in their faith. I used to run the board and jock at Z100 and thought…I would love to do this someday…in the CCM format. That day has come…and it’s a blast to have had the opportunity implement many of my ideas here in Minneapolis- St Paul. Over the past 10 years, we’ve continued to see more lives changed, hearts touched, and a community grow- that’s impacted by the love of God through our listeners. Wow. Just amazing. I’m learning so much.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Some of the best advice I’ve been given is:
*Create common ground.
*Take as long as you need but be as brief as you can. And start with the listener, the subject or yourself.
*Never be boring and don’t waste your listener’s time.
My own standard for myself is to be good enough to get audience response without having to ask a question – or give out the phone number.
As for bad advice….years ago, someone told me not to go into Contemporary Christian Music radio. So glad I followed my heart.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
Hard to say. Twice, I have been in ideal situations. Absolutely ideal. I have worked in New York and Minneapolis, – in both situations, we’ve been the only game in town – with 50K watts or 100K watts in the middle of the dial. In some cases, the report card on “how well you’re doing” probably determines whether or not there is room for another CCM in the market. So, do the best you can, program well, and carve out a huge audience. Then serve them with all you’ve got.
What’s your opinion on podcasts… is it necessary to have one, are they a threat to radio… etc?
Podcasting is a must for radio and we’re looking to branch out more into that space. It coincides with radio- as long as your brand extends itself into the arena. All stations have an automatic advantage as our hosts and talent have an edge over the “average joe” podcaster and that’s where we can secure a spot in that area. However, it takes resources. It’s so important to create additional revenue streams and I am hopeful that CCM radio will seize and lead with these opportunities.
In what area do you believe Christian Radio needs to improve most?
As a station, we always focus on being live & local, and known for something larger than just playing music. That’s the winning combo for us. During my time at KTIS, I’ve learned about creating a community with personalities and imaging that connects with our “tribe”. I believe that’s the greatest opportunity for Christian Radio.
I encourage air talent to develop the discipline to really filter content through the lens of our target listener. Knowing what not to put on the air is so important. When in doubt, leave it out.
Musically, I think Christian Radio needs to stay current, be bold, and have a vision musically for your station. Don’t be afraid to move music through the pipeline. Always fully know what’s on plaympe. Keep it fresh. When you listened to radio growing up, the currents on Memorial Day were not the same as the currents airing on Labor Day. Just sayin’. I’ve found that this strategy will help you build more listening occasions, and greater time spent listening.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
The stigma that Christian Radio is not relatable, the need to become relevant to the next generation, and reach beyond the traditional radio delivery platform to build new audiences.
To get through the cold Minnesota winters, I love a good wood burning fireplace, and we burn fires on most nights. But fire has a tendency to go out. Same with radio. Our playlists, promotions, anchor initiatives etc. So I keep stoking it, tending to it, etc. adding “wood to the fire” so that the station burns steadily and it glows. That’s why it’s been such a good run. It’s something I do and the programming team does daily; Not just once in a while. And the testimonies of listeners has been amazing of lives changed.
Stay on top of new delivery methods for content, (stoke the fire) and be where the next generation of listeners are headed. If you are diligent, and get there ahead of time, they will learn of your brand and grow with you.
Who are your radio heroes of your early days and influences? and why?
Scott Shannon gave me my first break – on the Z-Morning Zoo on sticker patrol, and weekend air shifts on Z100, New York. I learned a lot from Scott and soaked in every bit that I could. He was my radio hero and PD legend. I still implement what he taught me on the air and as PD of KTIS. Marty Wall at Z100 hired me out of college in Promotions. Marty is a promotions and marketing guru and shared that visibility is the key to winning at any station. Frank Reed at WWDJ taught me so much. He gave me my second job and I still apply the things he taught me 30 years ago to my show each day. And Joe Battaglia at WWDJ, a pioneer of the CCM format, continues to inspire me with his wisdom, leadership, and faith. Almost 20 years ago I met John Frost and he has helped me become a better air talent, and to be a student of the craft.
As a kid in NJ, I listened to the amazing Ron Lundy on WABC. His delivery was unique – “Hello Love… it’s 10 o’clock in the Greatest City in the World”. Also Dan Ingram on WABC. Susan Leigh Taylor – Middays at Z100 was pure gold. I couldn’t believe I got to work with her. She would listen to my air checks and give me critique. She’s bright, fun, and knew how to deliver on every break. “Sunshine, 85 degrees, and Susan Leigh Taylor on Z100 New York”. Nothin’ better.