Why CMG’s Keith Hastings Is One Of Radio’s Best

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Keith Hastings is the Director of Branding & Programming for Cox Media Group’s KISS-FM and KTKX-FM in San Antonio, and he’s CMG’s Rock and Classic Rock Format Leader. He’s been in radio for 40 years, and 31 as a programmer. On May 8, Hastings will be featured in Radio Ink Magazine as one of Radio’s Best Program Directors in America.

CMG San Antonio Market Manager Ben Reed tells Radio Ink, “Keith loves his craft, his products and his team. He has the highest of standards for himself, and he coaches his staff along the same lines. A wicked sense of humor, coupled with amazing content knowledge and a strong competitive spirit, make Keith the excellent brand manager he is today. #oneofthegoodguys.”

In our May 8 issue, we interview every PD, including Hastings, about how they manage on-air talent, who they admire, and what advice they have for the PDs of the future. It’s a programmer’s training manual for sure. Where else are you going to get expert advice from radio’s best programmers? Here’s a special extended interview with one of radio’s best programmers.

Radio Ink: What are you responsible for every day?
Keith Hastings: I am directly responsible for balancing both the art and science that are the twin foundations of two Cox San Antonio stations, the legendary rocker KISS and our latest superbrand, Classic Rock KTKX, The Eagle. I coach all talent in all dayparts and keep my ears open for new talent that can be developed. The Billy Madison Show originates on KISS and I spend time helping them build out their syndication and expand into new markets. I collaborate with our team to create and direct top-shelf imaging and loud, sticky marketing and promotion that connects with our audience. I captain a digital crew that sees to it we connect with and entertain our listeners via all social and Web platforms and our top-shelf station apps. I deliver ratings and active audience engagement that our salesforce can confidently harness to achieve our financial goals. I work with my staff to make sure the music works wonders for the audience. I manage station research on the local level, ensuring our strategic team arrives at consensus on our master plan, and the buck stops with me when it comes to execution, and knowing when the audience, market, or competitors are shifting. I also serve as the Rock and Classic Rock Format Leader for Cox Media Group — I assist as part of the strategic team for our stations in Houston, Atlanta, Long Island, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tulsa, and Dayton.

Radio Ink: What is your day like, and how are you able to accomplish it all?
Keith Hastings: Every day is different and they’re all wonderfully challenging and busy — I love it! A typical day locally might involve connecting with the Billy Madison Show team, doing some writing and brainstorming, a weekly one-on-one with a team member, huddling with the marketing and promotion team to make sure we stand out and raise the bar for everything we do. There’s always music logs to stay on top of, unique imaging to create and schedule, and typical operational-type duties that every PD has. I hit the road for my format leader duties every few weeks, or connect with them via Telepresence, and I really enjoy carving out time to work with any of our brand managers on specific issues that they feel I can help them increase their learning with. I thoroughly enjoy this type of mentoring and Cox highly encourages it. As far as accomplishing what seems like an impossible workload, I will tell you that as busy as I am, the work I do and the company and atmosphere in which I do it serves greatly to allow me to feel like I’m not really working, as much as I’m doing what I dearly love to do. It keeps me incredibly engaged, energized, and just plain happy. On top of that, I have a really special team that I work with here. They are also very dedicated, engaged, and love what they do. For sure, I could not serve as a format leader in the company without their dedication to the two local brands I program. There’s no one here just putting in their time. We get it done, and we have fun doing it.

Radio Ink: Who do/did you look up to or admire, and why?
Keith Hastings: To a person, I admire the entire chain of leadership in Cox Media Group, beginning with CMG President Kim Guthrie. The tone she sets for our organization occupies rarified air in American business. The company vision she evangelizes is equal parts motivational, inspirational, direct, clearly communicated, and contains high expectations that we expect to meet consistently. Our Cox Radio President Bill Hendrich is a master strategist with razor-sharp focus who instills confidence in all of us. And, there is not a GM in this entire company I’d ever want to compete with. They are as talented and complete a group of managers as a broadcaster will find, and I have been fortunate to work with all of them as a format leader, and directly here in San Antonio with two of them — Dan Lawrie who is now in Tulsa, and Ben Reed who returned to the market from Atlanta. On the product side, I greatly admire our Sr. VP of Digital Audience, Tim Clarke, and our Sr. Director of Research, Bill Thiel. They have a natural love for the medium that dovetails with innate talent and intelligence that makes them lethal weapons. And not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for the incredible vision and passion of our VP of Programming, Steve Smith. His sense of how I could excel in a vital role both here in San Antonio and across the company was spot on and I openly credit him for challenging me with this amazing opportunity to balance the art and science of great radio in an incredibly successful and satisfying way.

Radio Ink: How do you manage talent to get the most out of them every day?  
Keith Hastings: I believe it’s much less about management, and much more about leadership. I sometimes joke that great radio talent were “raised by wolves,” in that they are all different and unique. They stand out in a crowd. They have a compelling story and they want badly to tell it to millions of people. They’re passionate, emotional, and they don’t fit in most people’s idea of a box. To “manage” that is to put a chokehold on the things that make them special. Cox encourages all our people with the slogan, “Be yourselves, make us better.” That’s not just a slogan, they really mean it. I encourage talent to be themselves, to truly connect with the audience in their own innate way. If we’ve done our job and hired true talent, I’d rather stay out of their way and spend my time blocking and tackling for them, getting them the tools and support they need to feel appreciated and encouraged to raise the bar for themselves.

Radio Ink: What is your biggest accomplishment (outside of ratings) the past year?
Keith Hastings: Hey, I think an active Rock station like KISS ranking #1 25-54 adults in the year 2017 is a huge accomplishment by our team, not to be overlooked. You don’t see that everywhere, for sure. But if you were to force me to give you an answer, I would say collectively it’s the passion we incite in our audience. Our events are always packed — as in nearly 30,000 at last year’s Rockfest. Our app downloads are among the most robust in the company — we’re right on par with stations in top 10 markets. This is an amazing brand steeped in longevity that matters to our audience.

Radio Ink: What advice do you have for young broadcasters who want to be successful PDs?
Keith Hastings: You have to do what you love, and love what you do. Never give up. When things don’t go your way, learn from it and grow. Don’t be arrogant, but be confident. Listen as much as you speak. Treat people with respect — your career will only go as far as the team that you build and coach. Great content matters, but great people matter as much, or more.   As great as Spurs coach Greg Popovich is, his life might have been very different had Tim Duncan landed with a different NBA team. The same can be said for the NFL’s dynamic duo of Belichick and Brady. And the single most important piece of advice I can hand down is this: Believe in yourself and your vision. Don’t let fear paralyze you into inability to take a chance. You are the only person that can ever hold you back completely from achieving your dream.

Reach out to Keith Hastings to congratulate him on a fabulous programming career of 30-plus years at [email protected]

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