Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1:                        Taking a Walk.

Karson:                             We work really hard at what we talk about on our show to get people to pay attention, to want to participate. And I think, especially today, we’ve all learned, in a TikTok world, if you can’t catch their attention right up front, then you’re not going to catch anybody’s attention.

Speaker 1:                        Welcome to the Taking a Walk podcast with your host, Buzz Knight, where he talks with musicians, industry insiders, and radio personalities about their love of music. On this episode, join Buzz as he ventures into Charlestown, Mass to walk with Karson Tager, the co-host of the wildly successful Karson and Kennedy Show from Mix 104.1 in Boston. Here’s Buzz Knight and Karson.

Buzz Knight:                     Karson with a K, an actual Taking a Walk in person welcome.

Karson:                             Thank you. Do you not take them in person as much now or are you just getting back to it after the pandemic?

Buzz Knight:                     It’s just difficult. I seize every opportunity I can to do it, but so many of them come up as virtual opportunities. We seize those moments as well, but to do it with you and to do it in Charlestown is wonderful. So, welcome.

Karson:                             Yeah, I think Charlestown is a really interesting neighborhood. As I just showed you moments ago, we have the Bunker Hill Monument 200 and what, 50 years ago, the birth of a nation was fought right here in this neighborhood, and we’ve come to know and love this neighborhood. I was on the city council here, the neighborhood council, excuse me. My son has only ever lived in this neighborhood, and it’s a great place to raise a family. Right behind us is the Mystic River, you’ll see. On the other side of this huge pile of salt, the Tobin Bridge. And then we’re walking now and we’re going to head towards what’s called the Navy Yard, which is where the Boston Harbor is. We’re actually surrounded in Charlestown, three bodies of water and then a highway on the other side. So even though we’re Boston, we’re kind of this little island over here almost. And then of course, what I’m sure they fought for during the war here at the Battle of Bunker Hill is the beautiful casino that’s right over there behind the power plant.

Buzz Knight:                     You painted a marvelous picture.

Karson:                             Thank you. Thank you.

Buzz Knight:                     And this is our second returning trip to Charlestown because we had the great General Jack Hammond from the Home Base organization where we took a walk in Charlestown.

Karson:                             Yeah, great organization. I’ve actually done some work with them. I’m a veteran and I ran that run to home base. And I got to tell you, if you’re in the Boston area and you get a chance to do that, running across home plate at Fenway Park, that’s something I’ll never forget.

Buzz Knight:                     So you’ve been in Boston for 14 years, is that right?

Karson:                             Got to be careful not to fall. Has anybody fallen during an interview?

Buzz Knight:                     No.

Karson:                             We might have to hold each other. We are going across a big sheet of ice right now, and I don’t know where you are in the world, but we’re doing the Penguin Walk.

Buzz Knight:                     Well, you know what, we’ve nicknamed the show now called Taking a Saunter.

Karson:                             Taking a Saunter, yeah. We actually just celebrated our 15th year. We moved here at the end of 2008. So yeah, this is now our 16th year on Mix. I think, and I’m not 100% sure, I believe we are now the longest tenured show on a station. There have been a few other personalities and shows that have been in the market longer, but things change. They move to different stations, they get new hosts, but with our show, the two of us being together this long is kind of an anomaly in Boston, I guess now.

Buzz Knight:                     How did you meet Kennedy?

Karson:                             So Kennedy and I met outside of radio. I was just starting a radio in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I had just gotten out of the army. We were both just recently divorced. Her ex-husband was in, my ex-wife was in, and I was working in radio, but I knew I wanted to kind of expand and do a little bit more in the entertainment and music world. And so I went down to the local community theater and I met with the director and I said, “I have an interest in musical theater.” And she’s like, “Oh great, so can you sing?” And I was like, “No, not really.” She’s like, “Okay, well did you take dance growing up or anything like that?” I was like, “No, I didn’t do that either. She’s like, “Oh, so you were an actor? You were in drama.” I was like, “Actually, no, I haven’t done any of those things.”

                                           And she said, “Huh, how are you with technical stuff?” And I said, “I was a club DJ for years. I’m really good with the technical stuff.” And she said, “Done.” So they brought me on as a volunteer to run sound for the show, and Kennedy was one of the principal performers in the show. And it was like a summer show we did down on the Cape Fear River. It was called Polyester, it was all this great 70s music. And so we became very good friends. She used to babysit my daughters because my afternoon show wouldn’t end until 19:00 and daycare would close at 18:00 and sometimes she’d pick them up for me if I needed. By the way, I picked the most treacherous route ever, haven’t I? This is all ice. I wish I could explain to you what’s happening with us right now. This was such a bad idea.

Buzz Knight:                     No, it’s perfect. I went on a more treacherous walk-

Karson:                             You did? Okay.

Buzz Knight:                     … With an episode I did with my dogs, actually.

Karson:                             Okay.

Buzz Knight:                     So we went to the Elliot Reserve in Carlisle near where I live, and I almost killed myself. So no, this is the second level of that.

Karson:                             Okay, all right. Well, thank you. I’m going to-

Buzz Knight:                     I’m not worried. I should have brought my yaks though.

Karson:                             Yeah, I’m wearing sneakers. We’re prepared for it.

Buzz Knight:                     We’re good.

Karson:                             But anyway, so we just became dear friends and I said to her, I was like, “Geez, you’ve got such a great voice and just funny and smart. Would you think about taking a job, even if it’s part-time at the radio station?” And she’s kind of flippant about the whole thing. She didn’t care about radio. She’s like, “I have a job.” She was working in corporate America and eventually, I convinced her to come to work at the radio station and she flourished immediately. I mean, they put her on the air and she ended up doing middays at the station. I left because I wanted to do a morning show, but we stayed friends for all those years and after two previous hosts that I worked with just kind of fizzled out, I realized pretty quickly that if you’re going to sit in a studio every morning and do a morning show that it better be with somebody that you like a lot and that you care about and that cares about you and that you can laugh with and laugh at.

                                           And so, when I got the opportunity to do a show down in Florida in Tallahassee, I called Kennedy and I just said, “Hey, there’s a station. The pay is awful, the facilities are awful, but they’re going to hire us.” She’s like, “Wow, you really know how to sell a job.” So we took the job in Tallahassee and we were down there about 18 months, went pretty well there, and we got a call to take a job in Memphis and we were there for about five years. Again, a lot of fun and the station did really well. And once we were successful there, that’s kind of where people started to show a little bit of interest in the show to come to Boston.

Buzz Knight:                     So who hired you at Mix? Who was in charge then?

Karson:                             So JayBeau Jones was the program director at the time, and I remember, this is an awful story that I probably shouldn’t tell, but JayBeau called, and it was very early in the morning, I was still in the bed. I was off that day for whatever, and he’s like, “Hey.” For people that don’t know JayBeau Jones… Let’s go up this way and we’ll cut through it. He’s a wildly popular radio personality. You can hear him on SiriusXM. He’s filled in for Rick Dees on the Weekly Top 40, with these big wonderful pipes. And he’s, “Hey Karson, it’s JayBeau Jones.” It’s just like this big voice, big personality. And he’s like, “We have this job in Boston and we’ve heard a lot of good things about you and we want to bring you guys in for an interview.” And I was like, “Man, I love Kiss 108. I’ve heard a lot about that station.”

                                           And he says, “I don’t work for Kiss 108, I work for Mix 98.5.” And I was like, “Okay, that’s probably not the best way to start a job interview,” that I didn’t know the station he worked for. Thankfully, he was pretty lighthearted about the whole situation. So he was the first one, him and Steve Reynolds, who is a radio consultant who worked with a lot of wonderful talent. He was actually the one that threw our name into the hat because we were interviewing for a job in Atlanta and they decided to hire a different show instead of us. But I kept in contact with him and when the opening came about in Boston, he had mentioned to JayBeau that, “Hey, there’s this show that I think you guys might like.”

Buzz Knight:                     I love that. Well, congratulations on your success. Now, you just painted the whole picture really well visually, where we’ve been walking, but you also, thank you, illuminated everybody about JayBeau Jones because we’ve got not only a Boston audience here, but we’ve got a national audience, actually, a global audience. So thank you.

Karson:                             Right. If you listen to SiriusXM, you can hear Jaybeau Jones. I believe he’s on the seventies channel.

Buzz Knight:                     Right. So well done.

Karson:                             Thank you.

Buzz Knight:                     So for all the listeners outside of Boston who may not know what makes the Karson and Kennedy show tick, what makes it tick?

Karson:                             I think a lot of it is just sharing our personal lives. That’s what will separate any content you’re creating from anybody else. It’s easy for any show to go on the air and talk about the latest gossip, but nobody can talk about the fact that Kennedy was recently diagnosed with ADHD and we had a lengthy discussion about that on the show this morning. It’s the first time she’s revealed it on the air. And so when we reveal those details of our personal lives, it really cuts through. So all of the content that we do, we kind of run through that lens. Is this personal? Is this something that’s important to us? Is it something that we’re curious about? Is it fun? Can we have fun with it? I mean, we want to laugh at the end of the day and have a good time.

                                           And so, it’s all about our real lives, whether it’s me and a divorce and getting remarried and having a child. And my mother-in-law now lives in this neighborhood, she lives right around the corner. Or Kennedy and being single and the trials and tribulations that she goes through with her mental health. That’s kind of the show in a nutshell, is our personal lives. And then, our listeners kind of sharing their similar shared experiences with those things.

Buzz Knight:                     The show also has, besides the authenticity that you just described, it also has an amazing heart and an amazing connection with the heart that it has for the Boston community. Talk about some of the special stories that you’ve run into and the show has run into, that illustrate the great heart aspect of the community and how you guys shine a light on it.

Karson:                             I also want to note, not only did I take you for a treacherous walk through ice, I didn’t think about the audio part of this. I’m now walking you under the Tobin Bridge in Boston, which is a very large metal structure, which will probably screw up our audio.

Buzz Knight:                     Yeah, let’s go back this way.

Karson:                             Let’s go back.

Buzz Knight:                     I think though, we just went far enough.

Karson:                             Okay, good.

Buzz Knight:                     Everybody has to hear the Tobin Bridge.

Karson:                             Oh my gosh. Yeah. So I think one of the best things that has come out of our show through our audience, there’s two things. One of them is our toy drive every year. We’ve been doing this for many, many years and there was a marine up on the north shore of Boston who was collecting toys for their Toys for Tots program. He had a shed in his front yard, somebody broke into it, stole 250, 300 toys. And we saw it in the news and we decided to get involved and we asked our listeners to help out. We ended up picking up 750 toys. We said, “You know what? Maybe this should be an annual event.” And so we just wrapped up our 11th year and in that time, our listeners have donated over a million dollars worth of toys. So we get about 10,000 toys every year, now that’s kind of the name. 10,000 Toys for Girls and Boys. So we love that.

                                           And then the other thing is something we call Cool Kids and Cool Kids is just an opportunity for us to recognize young people in their communities who are doing something special or they’ve overcome adversity, they fought an illness and haven’t given up or shown a special light that a lot of people wouldn’t show in situations like that. So the Cool Kids, what we do is, we take kids out and we help them experience things maybe they’ve never experienced in their life. Going to a sporting event like a Boston Celtics basketball game and being acknowledged before the game starts and bringing them out on the court where they get a standing ovation from 20,000 screaming fans. Or we take them to a theme park for the day, them and their entire extended family, and we pay for everything. We do all these sorts of things for these kids just to let them know that we see them, we acknowledge them, and we think what they’re doing is pretty cool.

Buzz Knight:                     That’s awesome.

Speaker 1:                        We’ll be right back with more of the Taking a Walk podcast.

                                           Welcome back to the Taking a Walk podcast.

Buzz Knight:                     In a world where there are a lot of bad vibes out there, you guys love celebrating good vibes, really. Is that fair to say?

Karson:                             Yeah. We actually have a feature on our show, I’m sure you know that. It’s called The Good Vibe Tribe that we started, we actually started that only about a year ago. That’s a newer feature for us. And we used to just talk about good news stories of the day, and it was something that was very early in the show and just allowed us, as we’re waking up, like, oh, this would be a great story to talk about on the air. But Steve Reynolds, who works with us on our show, he said, “Instead of just reading stories from other places, wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow tap into stories like that here in our area?” And we’re like, “Man, well how do we do that?” “Well, we just go on the air and ask.”

                                           And that’s what we did. We went on the air and we asked people to start sharing their stories. And what happened was just unbelievable because when one person hears the story, then they are motivated to either maybe go out and do something about it, get involved, donate time, donate money, or just call in to say, “Hey, that was awesome. Guess what we’re doing?” Or, “Guess what my son is doing?” And it’s really taken on a life of its own. And it could be anything. It could be something sports related, it could be something fundraising. This morning we had a woman on the show bragging about her husband who’s going to do a nearly 200 mile bike ride to raise money. And it’s like you said, it’s kind of created this community of good vibes. It’s been a lot of fun to hear the stories.

Buzz Knight:                     But was there a point early on in the show, at least in Boston, that getting that engagement with the audience was a little more difficult?

Karson:                             I think it’s always a struggle. We have a lot of talented people in this market, especially this being, for people that don’t know about Boston, we are into our sports in this town. You have four professional sports franchises with storied careers and championships. We have multiple sports stations. At one point, a couple of years ago, there was I think three pretty active sports stations. Now there are two, but they are both very successful. And so we compete with that and how are we going to engage our audience versus another Tom Brady story or the Celtics and whatever they have going on. So we work really hard at what we talk about on our show to get people to pay attention, to want to participate. And I think, especially today, we’ve all learned in a TikTok world, if you can’t catch their attention right up front, then you’re not going to catch anybody’s attention. So we’ve adapted a little bit in the way we present our content, but again, if it’s sticky, it’s sticky. It just works.

Buzz Knight:                     It’s consistency, it’s-

Karson:                             Listen, the best ability is availability. We’ve kind of learned that now going into our 16th year. The show over the past year, has really blossomed. Our ratings are, I mean, we have 20 shares in some of our demos, it’s unbelievable. And there were days where I thought we were about to get fired and it was really bad.

Buzz Knight:                     Is that the neurotic air talent speaking up here? Come on, get fired? Get out of here.

Karson:                             Our boss, Steve Salhany, I don’t know if you know Sal or not.

Buzz Knight:                     Yes, I do.

Karson:                             Sal came in one day, said, “We want to take you guys out to lunch.” And it was me and Kennedy and Sal and our boss, Mark Hannon, and we call it now, the famous pizza lunch. And he took us to a little pizzeria down the street from the radio station, and he made it very clear. He’s like, “I don’t know what’s going on in the studio, but I know what’s coming out of the speakers isn’t fun. And I’m not going to tell you how to make it fun, but you have a very small window to figure it out.” And so, Kennedy and I went out to lunch another day, after the pizza lunch, and had a long heart-to-heart about what we wanted, what we thought the show would be, and we just said, “You know what? We’re going to throw caution to the wind and we’re going to go back to doing what we always wanted to do when we came here.”

                                           Because when you come to a big city like Boston, everybody has an opinion of how you should do what you do. And we get that, and these are very smart people, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones doing the shows every day. And so if we don’t believe in the content, then the listeners aren’t going to be engaged in believing it either. So we just went back to having fun. And when we went back to having fun, we got signed a new contract. So no, that’s not the neurotic DJ in me. That was the pizza lunch.

Buzz Knight:                     Yeah. Well, I respect that and I respect both sides of that, for sure.

Karson:                             Absolutely. For him to give us that opportunity. Listen, it’s easy for a boss to just cut you, let you go, which, in our business, is just kind of the normal thing to do. But we’ve had such a wonderful support from this team from the beginning with Greg Strassell, who was our boss back then, to Mark Hannon and the whole team now. Having great bosses, it’s paramount, I think. And no matter what you’re doing, because I want to win and I want to win for the people around me.

Buzz Knight:                     Good people. So that leads into, who are the mentors through your career that have shaped you that you want to acknowledge?Could be radio related or outside of that.

Karson:                             I think I’d be crazy if I didn’t say, my mom and dad, first and foremost, for their work ethic. My mother was married and divorced five times by the time I was 18 years old. So there was a lot of men in and out of my life, and she was pretty much a single mom raising me and my brother. And she busted her ass to be successful. We moved a lot, I went to 13 different schools in 12 years from first to 12th grade. And she was doing that because she was trying to help us get a better life, to make a little bit more money, to have a few nicer things, a little bit better school. And she did that in a time in the real estate industry in the 80s where women were not allowed to do that. And she broke through a lot of glass ceilings in her field when she did.

                                           And then my dad was an entrepreneur. He still is to this day. He’s still out there working just as hard today as he did when he was my age and younger. And so they definitely both taught me the work ethic part of it, outside of radio. And I would have to say, Steve Reynolds has really just been wonderful for us. I don’t think I really understood who I was as a man before I met Steve Reynolds. And part of that comes from getting older and being married and having kids, but also, just really talking to me, especially when I’d have the mistakes. Those were the ones where I did something on the air that was just so off base, but I didn’t see it at the time. I thought it was just funny and what I wanted to be on the air. And Steve was saying, “But that’s not who you are as a person. That’s just what you want people to think you are on the air.” And he really helped me understand that. And when I kind of understood those things, I think that was a big help to the show.

Buzz Knight:                     So the Station has a rich music history really, in the marketplace. On a previous episode, I think you might’ve heard it, Steven Page, formerly of Bare Naked Ladies, I mean, he talks about the incredible relationship that the band had in Boston, specifically also with Mix, and that continues. I’m sure you get exposed to some pretty cool events, whether they be the Beach House or wherever. Talk about some of your favorites.

Karson:                             Well, I can tell you, today I was listening to the brand new Justin Timberlake song before it’s released later this week. So that was kind of a cool moment. But the live music of it all is incredible. The way the artists and the record labels care for this radio station because of our bosses and the relationship that they have. Kennedy and I have sat down now twice with Bono and The Edge to do extended interviews. One time we sat down with Bono & the Edge and it was at the beach house. So we give away a house every year in a vacation area here outside of Massachusetts called Cape Cod, and the winner gets to stay in the house for the week. But then we bring in an artist who performs on the back deck of this beach house.

                                           And we’ve had Chris Martin from Cold Play and Kelly Clarkson and Ed Sheeran has done it a couple of times. But when you get Bono & The Edge, that’s a whole other level. And sure enough, they come in, they sit down, we’re in this little sunroom of the beach house and am I allowed to swear on your podcast?

Buzz Knight:                     Of course.

Karson:                             Okay. So Bono comes in, he says hello to me and Kennedy and Edge, and we all hug and we sit down and Bono turns and looks at me and says, “For sake, where’s my rosé?” And out of nowhere, a servant, somebody, comes out with a bottle of rose and four glasses.

Buzz Knight:                     When you’re Bono, that person is always nearby.

Karson:                             We’ll go this way. And so, sure enough, me and Kennedy and Bono and the Edge sat there for about 45 minutes drinking rosé and listening to his stories about faith and music and touring and everything that they do. And my first concert I ever went to in 1987, was U2 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. So it was a special moment for me. I know our listeners love this band, and so to get the access to the artists like the radio station does with those tent pole events like that, it’s super cool. I remember Ed Sheeran coming through the building. It was probably 2013, nobody had heard of him. He’d had one kind of hit in England, but nobody in the United States had heard of Ed Sheeran. And so, they got on the speakerphone at the radio station and they said, “Hey, we had this guy, Ed’s going to play some music in the conference room.”

                                           And so I went in to see because it was close to my office and there was nobody in there. So I said, hello. So they got back on the thing to tell people and they said, “Oh, there’s free pizza.” Well, that brought down about 10 people. And so, Ed Sheeran sat there on a bar stool playing a couple of his hits. And again, just such a cool moment to get to hear that music. And it’s all because of the history of that radio station. I mean, the radio station’s been there, we’ve been there 16, so it’s probably been there 30 years now, along those lines. And the fact that the artists do that for us and for the people that listen to the station.

Buzz Knight:                     It speaks to the leadership, like you said as well, and the respect that the industry certainly gives them and the radio station. Who, that you haven’t seen at the beach house, would you like, if you could just snap your fingers?

Karson:                             Yeah, Taylor Swift. That’s it. She’s one of the few that… We’ve been doing this now for a minute so, you name it, we’ve pretty much interviewed them. From Rihanna to Aerosmith, all of the people that I just grew up listening to, we’ve interviewed them all. But Taylor Swift, just because of the schedule and everything like that, we haven’t had an interview with her yet.

Buzz Knight:                     Yet.

Karson:                             Yet, yes. I absolutely say yet, ’cause I feel like it will happen. Now, she might be 70 and I might be 95.

Buzz Knight:                     Come on now. So in closing, in a period in your career where you’ve found this great success with the consistency and the great work and just the commitment to it all and commitment to the community, what are you still learning and what do you still want to accomplish?

Karson:                             Well, I heard something the other day and I had never heard this, and I’m sure everybody’s heard it, but you’re either winning or you’re learning. And right now, we’re winning, which is awesome, but we are still learning. I think that’s why the show continues to succeed, is to be creative for the content. We’re not just going to sit and do the exact same thing all the time. We’re always going to try new things, and sometimes they fail miserably. The other day, we did a stupid bit. We sent our producer out dressed as the devil with a box of donuts and tried to get people that were walking out of the gym to eat a donut. And I know it’s stupid and it’s goofy, but you know what? We just thought it would be fun and funny and it ended up being very fun and very funny.

                                           So we’re always just trying to do something new. That content creation is what it’s all about for us. That’s the artistry, I guess, of it. And then, pushing ourselves. Kennedy and I now have a band. I learned to play guitar, I started about five years ago and we played for the Jelly Roll Concert in front of 7,000 people just a few months ago. And we had only been playing together for three months. She’s a great singer, I’m playing guitar. So doing things like that, kind of always challenging ourselves, hopefully, will keep us engaged.

Buzz Knight:                     Well, you guys sounded great at that show and-

Karson:                             It was crazy.

Buzz Knight:                     … You sound great every morning. Thanks for taking a walk here in Charlestown. We’re going to say it was a nice 74 degrees spring day, but we’d be lying.

Karson:                             Maybe through the magic of editing, you could take out the snow and all the terrible noise. I don’t know why I thought it would be a nice quiet stroll.

Buzz Knight:                     I think it was marvelous, and I appreciate you being on Taking a Walk, Karson.

Karson:                             Thank you, Buzz. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1:                        Thanks for listening to this episode of the Taking a Walk podcast. Share this and other episodes with your friends and follow us so you never miss an episode. Taking a Walk is available on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

 

About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.