News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 14, 2014

Signing off

Hall of Fame radio host wrapping up 45 years on the air

TERRE HAUTE — Wednesday will mark the last day the voice of longtime radio personality Barry Kent will be heard on WTHI-FM/Hi-99.

The 62-year-old West Terre Haute native is retiring, ending a 45-year career, one that includes being inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in Nashville in 2011.

“Things were changing a little bit around here, and they offered me an early-retirement package, so that is the end result,” Barry said. “I don’t know what I’ll do next, it may not be radio. I don’t know. I just want to thank the listeners who have invited me into their homes and cars and lives all these years,” he said.

Kendall Myers, chief engineer at Hi-99, said he met Kent in 1986. “We were both ham radio operators, so we had a common tie there,” Myers said.

“We’re old school,” Myers said. “I came into this business the same way he did. We both worked overnight, baby-sitting radio stations. And there is a lot to be said about that. Back then some station managers would take chances on kids getting into the business, take them under their wing, and Barry was one of those,” Myers said.

“He has been a great guy to work with. He knows Terre Haute. He was born and raised here, has a lot of ties, and I think that is what made Hi-99 what it is,” Myers said.

It was in high school that he first heard Kent on the radio, Myers said, listening while Kent was on WBOW-AM. Kent would also do dances at school. “He was like a god, a radio god back then in the late 1970s,” Myers said. “It was cool to see the DJ in person. You got to put a face with the voice, and that could have been what made me want to get into broadcasting.”

Myers had some advice for Kent — “Don’t sit down. Stay busy.”

Kent’s interest in radio was at first technical, as he liked to assemble and fix radios and pursue his hobby as a ham radio operator. He went to work in radio right out of high school in 1969.

He first worked for WWVR, which had a gospel music format. He ran controls, airing syndicated programs and commercials.

 “At WWVR I was under the tutelage of Dick Lee (real name Richard Boyll). Dick had worked at WBOW, WTHI and WAAC and had a great radio voice and delivery. Dick showed me the ropes, and when Howard Huey, the WWVR manager, allowed me to do the daily 5 p.m. country gospel DJ show, Dick’s input was invaluable,” Kent said in an Internet blog he wrote about his retiring.

“Once I was allowed to DJ, I was hooked,” he said.

Kent later became an on-air personality, music director and then program director at WBOW. In 1983, he became program director at WTHI-FM/Hi-99.

While Kent moved up through the radio industry through experience, he said today’s communication employees need to attend college and have some prior training.

“Today, the business is so sophisticated, I think you have got to have some prior training. I know when I started, we just kept hanging around the radio station until somebody gave us a job. You can’t do that so much any more. You do have the schooling and the prior training,” Kent said.

“The problem with today’s radio is everything is so automated there is no … ‘farm club’ anymore. There is no place that you can go in the middle of the night or weekends and be bad until you learn the business,” Kent said.

Not having a “farm club” has hurt radio somewhat, Kent said, “because we don’t have as many people wanting to get into the business as we used to have, but I can see good and bad sides to the whole thing,” he said.

Technology, Kent said, has also helped the radio industry.

“It is also good, because you have your power personalities on weekends and off-prime hours plus when it comes time for a holiday, everyone can record their shift into a computer and take the day off,” Kent said.

“I think local radio will always be around. Local radio, we are here, we are immediate. If there is a thunderstorm coming, people turn on the radio and want to hear what the weather is going to be, or if traffic is tied up, they turn on the radio to find out why, or if there are school closings, they turn on the radio. That is something you will not get from a satellite [radio] disc jockey,” Kent said.

“At the station, we always strive to be part of the community,” something that led Hi-99 in 2010 to have the highest market share of any country station in the nation, boasting a 21.5 share of listeners 12 and older.

James Conner, Emmis Communications vice president/Terre Haute general manager, said Hi-99 is still working to hire Kent’s replacement.

“It is very hard to replace someone who is a legend. He is not only a legend here, he is a legend in the industry,” Conner said.

“In the broadcast industry, it is almost unheard of to work 45 years,” with 32 years at Hi-99, Conner said.

“Barry had ample opportunity to leave Terre Haute, but he made this his home, which says a lot about his commitment and where he grew up,” Conner said.

“I have worked with him for 18 years, and I can’t think of a more dedicated and professional guy. Anyone who can get up at 3 o’clock every morning and has done it for so many years, that is incredible,” Conner said. “Barry was very, very reliable. ‘Reliable’ describes Barry Kent.”

Conner said Kent also “embraced the change that the industry had gone through, from playing LPs, to playing CDs, then the mini disc and now everything is digital on computers. He has been through all of it, and he has done it seamlessly, which is another thing that you admire so much about him.”

On Thursday, Eric Michaels, Hi-99’s program director, will fill in on Kent’s morning show slot.

Michaels said Kent about 21⁄2 years ago wanted to “slow down a bit and just do the morning show,” Michaels said. In 2012, Michaels assumed Kent’s position of program director, a position Kent held for more than 30 years.

“Barry was the guy who was responsible for bringing me in and leading me up to the position I have now. He really taught me, essentially, everything I know now,” Michaels said.

In the early part of 2005, Kent gave Michaels a shot “doing the night show, from 7 p.m. to midnight. He basically put me there to learn my chops and learn what to do. I did that for about two years and moved up to the afternoon show in November 2007 and have been in Afternoon Drive ever since,” Michaels said.

“All through that time, Barry was the one constant. He would sit me down, and if I went off the straight and narrow, he would knock me back to that path I should be on. The guy is a country music radio hall of famer, so when he says you need to do it this way, you tend to listen,” Michaels said.

“We have been announcing that he is leaving for a few weeks, but now it is really here. It will be a different feeling here on Thursday” without Kent at the station, Michaels said. “His shoes will be very difficult to fill.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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