Keith Cunningham is the Program Director at Cumulus’ 95/5 KLOS in Los Angeles. He’s been a successful PD for two decades now building up quite a resume at some of the country’s biggest brands including WXRK K-ROCK in New York, WKQX Q101 in Chicago, KSJO The Rock in San Francisco, WMMR in Philadelphia Rock and WBOS in Boston, among many others.
His Market Manager Dawn Girocco says Keith understands the finesse of keeping your core audience while growing cume through authenticity. “He has continued to grow a brand that played the giants of rock music when they started on Sunset Strip and can play incredible new music by bands such as Rival Sons and showcasing LA talent.”
Cunningham will be featured in Radio Ink’s Best PD issue which comes out in one week. Here is our extended interview with one of radio’s best, KLOS PD Keith Cunningham.
Radio Ink: How are you able to accomplish everything a PD needs to get done today?
Keith Cunningham: Every day is a circus with a to-do list that is miles long, but Mary Berner and Mike McVay have all of us at Cumulus focused on being HABU (Highest and Best Use of our resources, people and time), and approaching each day through that lens really helps prioritize daily and weekly items.
Radio Ink: Who do/did you look up to or admire, and why?
Keith Cunningham: There are too many names to list here, but there have been several people who have been very instrumental along the way, whether as teachers, bosses/supervisors or simply advisors, and they are, going back to the beginning: Anne Millison, Mike O’Connor, Scott Arbough, Bob Richards, Don Howe, Dave Benson, Steve Smith, Tom Owens, Roy Laughlin, Charlie Rahilly, John Sutherland, Fred Jacobs, Paul Jacobs, Greg Strassell, Pat Paxton, Brad Hardin, Paul Anderson, John Dickey, Mike McVay, Dawn Girocco, Troy Hanson, Scott Jameson, Drew Hayes, and Dave Milner. I didn’t even touch the on-air people I admire so much and I could add another 20 names to the list, but each of those people have played a key role in my career, in one way or the other, and I’m grateful to each of them.
Radio Ink: How do you manage talent to get the most out of them every day?
Keith Cunningham: Every talent deserves a unique approach and their own set of performance goals. At KLOS we’re pretty lucky, everyone here is already talented and every member of the team is consistently self-assessing and always looking for ways to grow, so while my role as a talent coach differs from show to show, a big part of it is keeping everyone focused on the larger goals (audience and brand first, us second) and reminding them that while being innovative and unique are critical and their core personalities are so vitally important, so is being brilliant at the basics. When you study the best of the best, every one of them is brilliant at the basics, from Stern and Limbaugh to Oprah and Tom Brady.
Radio Ink: What is your biggest accomplishment (outside ratings) the past year?
Keith Cunningham: The team we’ve built and our evolution, no question. We’re basically a stand-alone station without support from other FM cluster-mates, because our awesome sister station 790 KABC is N/T so they can’t really block or tackle for us like a lot of our competitors benefit from, so the continued resurgence and evolution of this heritage brand in what is now one of the most crowded rock markets in the country is a big achievement. Standing out when there are six rock-based brands isn’t easy, 10 stations if you count non-comms and fringe signals, and I’m proud that KLOS is building new and legit success stories, cutting through the noise, and continuing to evolve and smartly reinvent, all while being true to the heritage of brand.
Radio Ink: Tell all the young broadcasters reading this who want to be successful PDs exactly what they have to do to make that happen.
1. Have a vision.
2. Be willing to admit you don’t know everything and be open to learning every part of the business, from promotions and sales to traffic and beyond – the best PDs know how to navigate all departments and they aren’t afraid to ask for help.
3. Realize the audience does not listen as much or as closely as you’d like, and everything you do is truly for the audience, your parent companies and the brand itself, not your own personal tastes.
4. Just because you’re a PD, it doesn’t mean you’re not in sales. WE ARE ALL IN SALES.
5. Having good ears is a prerequisite, but knowing where the puck is headed and how listeners truly consume media and what they expect and want from your station is knowledge you must have to put together a winning strategy.
6. Be prepared to take smart risks, don’t be afraid to fail, always admit and accept your mistakes, and never be without a Plan B
7. One of the most important skills to learn is the ability to accurately decipher research, as data can lead you in the wrong direction if you’re not looking at it correctly
8. Realize the law of averages apply in radio. You’re going to have up quarters and down quarters, all brands do and one of the hardest things to do is avoid changing something that doesn’t need to be changed. Whether a brand is up or down, truly learn the whys first, so you can take the appropriate action
9. All young PDs should believe in her/himself and be courageous enough to sometimes challenge the status quo, as the media landscape and what works and doesn’t is constantly changing, especially from market to market
10. Be available and committed to paying it forward and helping others get ahead. I try to talk with or respond to every young programmer or DJ that contacts me. We need to all work together to develop the next generation of radio stars, it’s not going to just magically happen without some assistance.
Reach out to Keith to congratulate him on being one of Radio’s best [email protected]
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