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From Rock to Jock; Musicians in Radio posted on December 11th, 2023

by Brian Wheeler

Passion. It’s a common thread among broadcasters and musicians. You need passion to get into and stay in both industries. Passion is what drives and fuels us. For that reason alone, radio and musicians are a solid match. While not every musician has the chops to make interesting radio, there are at least a few artists I’ve found that have hit the airwaves and are carving a niche for themselves in the broadcast world. To get a glimpse of radio from their perspective, I caught up with Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe and Ron Keel of the bands Keel and Ron Keel Band. I would be remiss to not include Steve Gorman, formerly of The Black Crowes and currently doing mornings on KQRS in the Twin Cities, but he politely declined to participate.

Brian Vander Ark recently signed on with WLAV-FM in Grand Rapids, Michigan as their afternoon drive host. It’s a sort of homecoming for him, as he grew up in western Michigan. Along with appearing on podcasts, Brian’s also had a YouTube channel for several years.

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Ron Keel launched his syndicated radio program called Streets of Rock N Roll in 2012. In 2014, Ron signed on as the midday host at KBAD-FM in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. KBAD folded in 2017 despite solid ratings, but Ron’s syndicated program marched on. In 2022, Ron launched RFK Media LLC and continues to broadcast on that platform.

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I asked Brian and Ron to tell us a little bit about their respective stations and how their initial interest in broadcasting came about.

BVA: I was approached by Michelle (McKormick) and Gregg (Henson) about the possibility of doing a show – I jumped at the chance.

RK: KRFK is a hard rock and heavy metal streaming station administered by my company RFK Media. It is not a hobby station; although I love what we do this is still a business, so it’s built to succeed and deliver an entertaining listening experience for people who love this kind of music. The playlist is as diverse as they come, featuring all genres and eras, the legends, the rising rockers, and some of the artists and songs that may have fallen through the cracks over the years.

While the meat of the sandwich is the music, we’re also proud to host the best syndicated shows in the business – headliners like Eddie Trunk, Charlie Kendall’s METALSHOP, Dee Snider, Joe Elliott from Def Leppard, and many more throughout the week.

My interest in broadcasting stems from hosting my own weekly syndicated show, STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL, since 2012. I graduated to hosting the midday show on KBAD 94.5 FM in my adopted town of Sioux Falls, and learned so much from the rock radio royalty that surrounded me.

How has the audience responded to your show?

BVA: The response has been very positive, which is inspiring. I think once I get my footing and start choosing more of the playlist, everyone will enjoy it even more. 

RK: My show STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL is an acquired taste – it’s not for everyone, and I’m cool with that. That’s my hour to create the kind of show that I would personally enjoy; always built around strong feature interviews with rock stars and other celebrities, and usually about 90% new classic rock. Some people just want to listen to “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” but as a fan I’m still excited to discover new music and share it with my friends, and that’s what we do on the STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL.

What drew you to radio/broadcasting? 

BVA: Nothing specific, although I wear my love of classic rock on my sleeve for sure. 

RK: I’m an entertainer by nature, a storyteller, a musical artist. Radio is another outlet for me to entertain people. The inspiration to dive in came from friends and heroes like Kevin DuBrow, Dee Snider, and Alice Cooper who paved the way with their radio shows; you hear these guys having fun, you want to host your own party. So in 2012, while performing on the legendary Monsters Of Rock Cruise with dozens of other rock artists and bands, I just wandered all over the ship with my portable recorder getting quotes and soundbites from all the rock stars and the fans, edited all that together with the music from those artists and some commentary, and all of a sudden the STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL was in high gear.

Can you share some memories of listening to the radio, both growing up and later while in the music industry?

BVA: Absolutely. WTAC in Clio (Flint) had a huge influence on me – I used to let the AM station play all night when I was a kid— many of the songs incorporated themselves into my dreams. 

RK: The common story about being a kid in the 70’s, and that first little AM transistor radio was like a bridge to another world – turning the dial and exploring all the different styles of music, from stations in faraway exotic places like Chicago! I would sleep with it under my pillow all night long.

Then of course there’s no thrill like hearing your own music on the radio for the first time, every artist remembers that.

As I really began to mature as a songwriter, my head started filling up with my own songs, and listening to other music becomes a distraction. It’s still that way now, as I have a half dozen songs spinning in my brain at any given time. So I gravitate to talk radio – sports, politics, public broadcasting and especially Coast To Coast AM, the iconic late-night paranormal show. I listen to that type of programming when I’m in a creative phase, and then when I’m creatively exhausted, I’ll binge-listen to music for weeks. That’s why I usually take a break from hosting my radio show a few weeks every year to focus on songwriting.

As a successful musician, you enjoy a unique perspective when it comes to your on-air product. You’ve been on the music side of the product and the mic side. How does this play into your role and personality on the station? 

BVA: I’ve always had a sarcastic or sardonic approach to talking about the things I love. Having a sense of humor towards music and the industry has been an important element- it kept me sane through all of those years. So my approach with the show is very much the same. People will either get it or they won’t, but I’m guessing they will and we will be able to build a massive audience.

RK: At first, the rock star thing was both a detriment and a benefit; there’s always been a comfort factor between me and the artists I interviewed, because we could relate to each other. There’s always a lot of common ground. But when I first started, the performer in me was trying to “put on a show” – in my business it’s always New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July, Halloween, everything’s overdone. But I found that the working class, which is really my audience, were just regular people trying to make it through another day. I learned two invaluable lessons doing live radio on KBAD for two years: one, just be yourself, and two, you’re not trying to entertain a million people – you’re just spending the day with that one person out there listening on the job.

In your opinion, what makes ‘good radio’?

BVA: Good radio is a host that can usher you from one song to another with ease. Genres are crossed, and it all makes sense with the on-air personality being the common thread. 

RK: That’s a great question, because the medium has evolved due to the streaming revolution and the decrease in full time disc jockeys. Rock n roll is especially meant to be a shared experience – not a solitary listener with a curated playlist. It should be live, dangerous, unpredictable, fun, and interesting. Most of the shows on KRFK are pre-recorded and syndicated, but the hosts are fans first and that tangible human excitement is something you can’t get from Spotify or YouTube Music. Good radio must have an identity, a sense of community; no matter if you’re broadcasting from a tower or streaming online, you gotta treat those listeners like family, not like customers.

As a singer/songwriter, you can relate and tell stories which potentially lends itself to interesting on-air content. What advice would you give other musicians about considering an on-air role as a radio personality? 

BVA: Be honest. Be forthright. Don’t hold back. Get into trouble on occasion. 

RK: The same advice my mentors gave me – just be yourself. And always remember you’re not talking to a million people, you’re talking to that one guy on a construction site, or that girl at the office with her earbuds in, or that trucker who’s just trying to stay awake. You’re not trying to hold a sold-out arena in the palm of your hand. It’s really cool that at any given point, I’ve got 25,000 people tuned in, but if I think about it that way I’ll start “acting” and radio listeners don’t relate to that.

What would you tell radio stations that might reach out to an artist for a potential on-air position?

BVA: I’ll wait for the ratings to come in before I comment 😉

RK: I would tell them to reach out to me at, because I have twelve years of experience on the air, and my show is available for syndication – let’s take your listeners on a ride down the STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL!

Anything else you’d like to add?

BVA: Nothing really! Thanks, dude!

RK: Well, I want to thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts and feelings on radio, a topic that I’m obviously passionate about. I owe a huge debt to friends in the industry who have helped steer me in the right directions and taught me so many valuable lessons; I like to think I have a nice balance between being able to listen and learn while still doing things my way, and the proof is streaming right now at

A big THANK YOU to Brian Vander Ark and Ron Keel for taking the time to participate and share their thoughts.