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.
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"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.
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"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