In her early 20s, Liz Kiley had already worked at some of the legendary stations of Top 40 — WPGC Washington, D.C.; WABC New York; WIFI Philadelphia; and KFI Los Angeles — before becoming part of the early years ofAC powerhouse KOST Los Angeles.
After a career that included the early days of viral video and the beginning of the streaming revolution, Kiley is helping another 23-year-old, former child prodigy Jackie Evancho, now in the process of reinventing herself as an alt-pop/rock artist, in Marketing & Strategy with Nashville indie Melody Place Records. Here’s what Kiley told Ross on Radio about some of her key stops, and her current projects.
Her childhood favorite station was the toughest job to get in radio. She was there by age 22: I started listening to the radio when I was four years old; it was so magical, and I was obsessed! I grew up in the New York area and loved 77 WABC and later [WXLO] 99X. [PD] Glenn Morgan brought me to WABC when I’d just turned 22. The air personalities were Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, Dan Ingram, George Michael and Chuck Leonard. I grew up listening to them, so it was a bit daunting. They were very welcoming, as I was the first and only female air personality on WABC in its Top 40 era. My first day there, Barry Manilow sent flowers with a note, “Dear Liz, looks like you made it!”
Kiley’s first PD job was WIFI, one of the first CHR rebounds of the early ’80s, but quickly overshadowed by the launch of “Hot Hits” WCAU-FM. Soon she was recruited to KFI Los Angeles, becoming MD/night host shortly thereafter at its new sister station, KOST, soon to become one of the format’s defining stations. Being the Music Director of a station programmed as perfectly as KOST 103 was at that time the pinnacle opportunity. Jhani Kaye and Mary Catherine Sneed created a truly magnificent radio station. We spent hours every day scheduling music, refining and adjusting every song placement. That just doesn’t happen anymore. The care in selecting every song, every line, even every air personality [reflected] KOST’s stationality. That’s what’s missing in some, but not all, stations [today].
In the ’80s, Kiley helped build the station’s “Love Songs on the Coast” into an enduring franchise. A few years ago, a listener in Newport Beach sent this Facebook message. “Just wanted to say a very belated thank you for facilitating our engagement. You were on KOST at the time and John proposed over the airwaves. 35+ years, five boys, and now six grandkids later … we still have the cassette recording and I still tell people that I was proposed to by Liz Kiley!”
Kiley launched one of the earliest Adult Hits formats at crosstown KKBT and stayed on through that station’s successful transition to R&B/Hip-Hop the Beat. Her next project was, in many ways, the TikTok of that generation, at least when it came to the viral spread of music.
Les Garland convinced me to leave radio and join him at The Box Music Network. It was the Wild West and so creative. Viewers in their local areas could watch the channel over the air or via cable and see which music videos others ordered and paid for via a 900 number. Or they could order what they wanted to see — a novel concept. It really was early social media.
Songs exploded from play on The Box, and radio responded to many of them from the early days, from “Ice Ice Baby” all the way to “Cha-Cha Slide.” That’s a story where radio broke the song first. In my position at The Box, I formed partnerships with local radio stations. Elroy Smith, PD then of WGCI Chicago, came to me with the video for “Cha-Cha Slide,” and we put it in the Chicago area Box and the numbers absolutely exploded. It was expanded, and the same happened nationally. The Box was eventually sold to MTV.
Kiley’s MTVN co-worker, the late Jay Frank, was one of digital music’s prophets. His 2009 book, Futurehit.DNA, How the Digital Revolution Is Changing Top 10 Songs, anticipated the time when songs were constructed for streaming, not airplay.Jay had started his company DigSin/DigMark and needed some help with radio. We worked radio and, in the early days of streaming, marketing – specifically with playlists. We used the basics of radio programing to create the best playlists for both cume and TSL, and it worked very well. We had tremendous success, and Jay sold DigMark to Universal Music Group and we became their global streaming marketing team.
Jay was one of the few people who could really see where the music business was headed. He was a true futurist and an all-around wonderful man. I miss him terribly and incorporate the core business values he instilled in us today.
Earlier this year, Kiley joined Nashville label Melody Place Records. The label is in the process of relaunching Jackie Evancho as an adult pop-rock artist with a new single, “Behind My Eyes,” and an upcoming album produced by former Smash Mouth member and principal songwriter Greg Camp. Melody Place’s roster also includes veteran Country hitmaker Sara Evans and vocalist Makena Hartlin, whose new single, “After the Holidays,” was written for Judy Garland, but never recorded until now.
I began working with Sandy McGraw and Tony Gottlieb at Melody Place Records in January on Marketing & Strategy. It’s wonderful because the label is smaller and very focused; the artists have the attention and can shine. Jackie Evancho is one of those artists. She dazzled us on America’s Got Talent at 10. Now, at 23, she’s launched her 2.0 alt-pop sound. John Butler and Crystal Lowe are helping us bring Jackie to radio.
At 40 years old, KOST remains one of AC radio’s flagships, but the format itself is far more conservative, and the sort of music-director enterprise that Kiley was known for is rarely seen in ay format. If you’re in the MD position today, that’s a tough spot, as many don’t have the ability to champion songs they believe in, as we did. If they’re in the right competitive situation, I would hope they would take those opportunities to highlight new music, but the stage has to be set; that air personality too has the responsibility when that microphone is on, the curtain is up! Sell the song, the artist and the story behind it – it works.