Denver Radio Legend Steve Keeney Retires

When radio executive Steve Keeney commented for a March 6 Message column about changes in the local radio scene, he was exceedingly forthcoming, noting the reasons the outlet formerly known as Sassy had flipped to a format dubbed One FM and outlining an audio revamp at Martini, another property under his charge. However, he kept one little factoid to himself until the following week: He's retiring from management of the stations and the radio business in general.

Keeney has been a behind-the-scenes powerhouse in Denver radio for decades. From 1973 to 1986 (the era to which the attached photo dates), he served as vice president and general manager of KIMN, a station that ruled the local market like few signals before or since. He played the same part at country juggernaut KYGO, which he co-founded with the operation's current chieftain, Bob Call -- and in addition, he oversaw KHOW and a cluster of outlets that included KOOL before taking a managerial and ownership stake in Sassy and Martini as a principal in a firm dubbed the Denver Radio Company.

It's been a bumpy ride for the last two stations, which filed for bankruptcy last year. Still, there's no indication that Keeney was forced out. Blake Mendenhall, the new president and GM, is a Keeney protege who he hired as the DRC's director of sales a couple of years back. Moreover, Keeney plans to stay on in a consulting role. "I didn't want to disappear from the radio stations," he maintains -- but he also wanted more time to enjoy life, having turned what he accurately describes as "a dashing 65" on March 15.

"A big part of this is the timing," Keeney goes on. "I've really felt a very strong obligation personally and professionally when we made the Chapter 11 move to work us through the early part of it, which was particularly tough. And I also wanted to see us through these format changes, which we had decided on in early fall. There was a lot of stuff going on, and I didn't want to leave major things on the table that I'd have to turn over to someone else. In a peculiar way, I think it worked out pretty well."

The same can be said for Keeney's life in radio. The seed for his broadcast obsession was planted when he won a radio-station contest as a teenager living in Tampa, Florida. "I wound up on the air with a disc jockey, and I thought, 'This is what I want to do,'" he recalls. Shortly thereafter, Keeney's father, a career military man, was transferred to Okinawa, Japan, and in 1960, while attending high school there, Steve got a chance to helm a show called Teenage Review on a station that broadcast to other Americans stationed there. His love of radio only grew over the years that followed.

"I've never had a single regret," Keeney says about his decision to stay in the radio industry. "There have been times when you feel like you were going crazy, but I never thought about getting out of the business. You and I know a lot of people who hate going to work, but I've never been one of them. Being able to be creative in some fashion has been a great source of satisfaction."

So has Keeney's vinyl collection. He owns an astonishing cache of approximately 40,000 seven-inch singles, supplemented by thousands of LPs -- the vast majority original pressings. Listening to this treasure trove of material, most of which first appeared between the late '40s to the mid-'60s, should keep him busy and blissful for another half-century or so. Too bad we won't be able to tune in. -- Michael Roberts

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts