Friday, March 13, 2009

Mark Klose

Like just about every other facet of the economy, the broadcasting business has been hit hard by the recent downturn. While looking for information on the Maryville church shooting, I came across a sad news item. Longtime St. Louis disc jockey Mark Klose was among several employees laid off last week by Emmis Broadcasting, a media conglomerate that owns four radio stations in the St. Louis market. (Fellow St. Louis radio veteran Randy Raley noted the layoffs earlier this week.)

The article reported that Klose had been on the air in St. Louis for 29 years, but I could swear he'd been around longer than that. Also, in a small way, Mark Klose is responsible for me being where I am today, instead of perhaps being on the radio somewhere or other.

After graduating from college with my degree in Radio-TV-Film, I went about the ritual of sending out tapes to a number of rock stations scattered through the Midwest, as well as checking on a few of the local stations. I had learned two things rather quickly: if I intended to have a radio career, I had just wasted five years of my life in college, and that whatever attributes there are that set a successful radio beginner apart from the crowd, I didn't have them.

I had pretty much given up on radio and was working for $3.75 an hour in a Seven-Eleven when my brother and I met Klose making a promo appearance at an audio/electronics show at the old St. Louis Arena (or maybe they were calling it the Checkerdome then - at any rate, it's long gone.) No one was around Klose's booth, so we decided to go over there for a few minutes for the heck of it, mostly to see what he was giving away. Mark introduced himself, and found out I had a broadcasting degree and was looking for a job in radio - actually, I'm pretty sure my little brother told him, since I had quit bringing it up at that point. He asked where I had gone to school, then he talked to me for a good half-hour on why I should look for something else to do for a living.

When Klose started out at KSHE, that station had retained enough of its old progressive rock tradition that the DJ's still had some say in what they played on their shifts. Klose's autonomy eroded little by little as the years passed, and disappeared altogether once Emmis bought the station, about a year before we met at the audio show. Mark told us how much fun he had in the early days, but that the corporate bosses were destroying any opportunity that a DJ might have to be creative. "Now they just want me to spin records and read off the cards", he lamented. "If I was starting out today, I wouldn't go into radio. I'd sell insurance or something." The whole time, Klose seemed to be depressed about the career he had chosen. As my brother and I got ready to leave, Mark started looking through the promo discs - "I can't believe the crap they send me out here with anymore". He eventually found Motley Crue's "Too Young To Fall In Love" and a cover of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" by HSAS, a band featuring Sammy Hagar and Journey's Neal Schon that was together maybe five minutes. "I'm sorry, guys", Klose said, shaking his head, "but that's the best I can do."

Perhaps Mark was having a bad day, or maybe he found a way to make peace with the corporate demons, for he would go on to work another 25 years in radio after that. A couple of years after that day at the audio show, he was working at WMRY, a small station owned by the Catholic Church. The Catholics had no idea what to do with WMRY, so somehow Klose made connections there and for about three years had a morning show where he got to play anything he wanted. He took no salary from the station, and supported himself and the show with advertising he sold himself. (There's even an old article on the web from those days with several quotes from Klose.) He was successful enough that WMRY went to a free-form rock format for a couple of years, perhaps one of the last of its kind in the country. The experience seemed to rejuvenate Klose, for after the Catholics sold WMRY, he went on to work a number of years at KSD, in an environment about as corporate as they come.

Mark Klose could probably retire now if he wanted to, and I'm sure he'd find his services in demand if he chose to continue working. He's a rarity in that not many radio professionals who stay around as long as he has spend their entire careers in their hometown. I wish Mark Klose the best in whatever he does from this point.