Career Capsule: My career started in 1989 at Ohlone Community College in Fremont, CA. My Dad happened to work there, so years before getting into the College Radio station as a student my Dad & I would cruise the campus in his Patrol car. He is my hero and inspiration to work hard and provide for your family. I left there in the early 90’s making stops all along California’s I-5. I spent time at Hot 103.5 in Chico, then 97.7/98.3 KWIN/KWNN in Stockton where I met & married my wife Celeste, then Z95.7 in San Francisco where we had our first daughter Isabella, followed by K-LOVE & Air 1 in Sacramento where Grace and Victoria joined our family. Today, the 5 of us are living here in Los Angeles where I work for Salem Media Group.
Rodney, let’s catch up… tell us what’s new at KKLA… any news, changes etc… and what’s new with YOU?
In Jan. of 2021 Terry Fahy my VP/GM blessed me with the opportunity to become the Program Director of 99.5 KKLA and the Operations Manager of our 3 other stations. KKLA is the flagship Christian Teaching & Talk station for Salem Media Group. Our biggest P1 listener is non-other than Salem’s CEO David Santrella. David, Terry and I have a deep passion and understanding of how KKLA impacts lives every day in So. Cal. In my very first KKLA on-air staff meeting I informed everyone that we were getting rid of the station liner book. KKLA was no longer going to be a juke box of talent voice tracks with station info followed by 25 minute ministry programs. Instead, I encouraged them to start sharing their everyday real life stories with our KKLA listening families. Today, I would challenge anyone that hasn’t listened to KKLA, please tune into Donna Rusch (5a-10a), David James (10a-3p), Scott Furrow (3p-5p), Katy Evens (5p-11p) or Chandler Haynie (11p-5a) to hear what hope sounds like in So. Cal.
The other big addition to KKLA has been our Thankful Thursday on-air promotion. This idea came to me during “the covid”, where I noticed that mainstream radio stations were highlighting all of our first responders in their communities. I decided KKLA was going to highlight all the great work that our local Church Pastors and staff were doing in our communities. Our KKLA listeners nominate their local Pastor and staff for a free lunch. Then, our morning show host Donna Rusch calls the nominator to get their Pastor’s story and plays it back at 7:20a on Thursday’s. That afternoon our KKLA promotions team goes to the winning Church to provide the free lunch. While there they interview the Pastor and bring that audio back to Donna for her to play every Friday morning. Not only has this one promotion created great local content every week, but our major sponsor America’s Christian Credit Union tells us that in their office on Thursday’s & Friday’s they listen to find out which local Pastor and Church won.
How do you balance work & family, how important is it for someone in Christian Radio to ‘have a life”?
I’m working really hard to create a better work/life balance. The silver lining for me during “the covid” was realizing that I could create programming strategies or a better process for certain projects while working remote. I’ve tried to continue working at least one day a week remotely. This time away from the office noise allows me to be more strategic or looking ahead to new ideas, it also allows me to build up my employees who are looking for new challenges or opportunities to grow. It is extremely important for me to be at all of our families big life moments…high school Choir or theatre performances, tennis games or traveling.
Overall, what is the programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Casey Keating was my Program Director at Z95.7 in San Francisco. Almost everything I do today here at KKLA is based on my time with Casey. He taught me the rules of programming music, ratings reports, how to image the station. Best advice though was he always had a positive attitude in the station hallways. I never noticed him get angry or upset when the Arbitron numbers came in or an on-air promotion went sideways. Instead, Casey would stay calm, rally the troops and give us solutions to do things better next time. I don’t have enough space in this column to share about the worst advice I ever received, plus it just doesn’t benefit anyone to live in the past.
What’s something you’ve learned about Christian Radio due to the pandemic, that you didn’t know before?
The pandemic taught me a ton about how to be a leader with empathy for my 25 employees who work 24/7/365. They were the only ones allowed in the radio station, so I made it a point to call or e-mail them a “thank you” for keeping us on the air. I also found myself covering a few board-iop shifts during the holiday season to give them more time with their families. Leaders need to lead by example and not just tell others what to do.
Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years? Please explain…
Over the next 5 years radio stations like KKLA & The Fish will be thriving and growing as more and more listeners leave the podcast, alexa or web streaming juke box of audio and return to their local neighborhood radio station hosts who share their lives with them every day. I believe stations like KLOVE or WayFM will need to continue to work hard at avoiding the detached out of market sound. They will need to equip, train & work with their local promotions teams on how to gather audio from their listeners at station events. Then, using technology play back the listener stories between songs and into breaks promoting the local radio station. If the Network on-air team is unable to be local, then your listeners in the community must become your on-air talent.
What is a unique characteristic for your market, that many wouldn’t know about and how it affects KKLA?
When most people think of Los Angeles, they think one thing…Hollywood. However, for the 14 million people that actually call Los Angeles home we never go to Hollywood…haha. Southern California has some of the best authentic food from around the world right in our neighborhoods. KKLA listeners live next to Disneyland in Orange County, then another batch of them live on the beach in Santa Monica and another batch of live on Olvera Street a historic street in downtown Los Angeles. I didn’t realize until moving here 12 years ago just how vast the Southern California landscape really is, but within it there are all types of people looking for grace, hope and love from their neighbors.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
My answer in the “next 5 years” covered this area pretty well.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Jeff & Sharon Bonds who (as a 16-year-old kid) allowed me to train and become the best local DJ for high school dances. Jeff was my first Program Director at Hot 103.5 in Chico. Casey Keating from Z95.7 who taught me how to not only program a major market station, but coach the on-air talent, Johnny Milford from our time together at KWIN/KWNN who taught me everything I know about producing great radio station commercials and working with “special “ clients, the on-air teams at KLOVE & Air 1 from 2001 to 2009 who showed me what a relationship with Jesus looks like in a Christian workplace.