Kenny Vest was born in New Orleans and grew up in Slidell. He spent much of his youth playing sports, and it was one of the most important aspects of his young life. His father was a radio personality in the Big Easy, who also worked for Mercury Records. Kenny was only six years old when his father passed away, but he has wonderful memories of listening to his dad’s voice on the radio. “It made me so proud, and I thought that it was the coolest thing ever! I knew right then and there that I wanted to be in radio someday,” he said. His world revolved around sports and listening to A.M radio stations, WTIX and WNOE. In his teens, Kenny discovered “The Rock of New Orleans” WRNO-FM, which he felt an immediate connection to and quickly became one of the station’s biggest fans. There was no question in his mind that he would somehow, someday, have a career in Broadcasting. The first step was to attend college at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
In preparation for his dream job, Kenny practiced at night to cultivate his “on air” voice and to develop his style. He recorded every word on a small tape recorder when he was a kid. In those days, a tape recorder was quite a coveted item and it was great fun to have one at your disposal. Eventually, Kenny made several tapes as he rehearsed in his room to create his DJ persona behind the microphone. “I wish I still had those tapes today…I’m sure they would be hilarious!”
At the age of 16, Kenny got a job working weekends at a little A.M. Country radio station; WSDL in Slidell. He was employed there all through High School and College. Fate stepped in, and the opportunity of a lifetime came his way just three years later. WRNO-FM, which was now one of the biggest Rock Radio stations in the entire Southeast, hired Kenny as the 7:00 P.M. to Midnight DJ. This was also the radio station that meant so much to him since he was a boy. “I couldn’t believe it! I had grown up listening to guys like Weird Wayne on this station and here I was, hosting a prime time slot and at such a young age. WRNO was 100,000 watts with a huge signal that reached from New Orleans, the Northshore, down the bayous into South Louisiana, up to Baton Rouge, and even all the way to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was such an exciting time in my life,” Kenny said.
Kenny Vest worked at his beloved WRNO for six years and was in New Orleans radio for over ten. He became the Program Director for the first Alternative radio station in the area; 106.1 The Zephyr. In 1994, Kenny came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in order to help launch 97.9-WCPR. He was part of a team, working with Scot Fox and Weird Wayne Watkins. For a time, Kenny commuted from his home in Slidell to Biloxi each day but eventually he decided to settle here. During one his many trips back and forth, to and from work, Kenny Vest could not get a tune out of his head that he had heard on a cd. It was a cd that he was given by an obscure little local band…you might be familiar with them? They go by the name of 3 Doors Down.
The night before, Kenny Vest had listened repeatedly (over twenty times) to this amazing song on the cd called “Kryptonite.” His gut instinct told him that this tune had the potential to be a tremendous radio hit, and he was very excited about it. He decided to contact the morning show on WCPR which was hosted by Kevin Cruise and Rebecca Allan. Kenny instructed them to take the song Kryptonite from the cd and play it on the air. “I wanted to see how it would come across on the radio. When they played it on 97.9, our request lines went absolutely crazy. I actually had them play it again, and we got the exact response from the listeners a second time,” Kenny said. After a meeting with Scot Fox at the office, they decided to play it one more time to see if it was a fluke and the phone lines went even more wild. There was no doubt that the response was genuine. “I had never seen a listener reaction like this on a new song from a new artist before, regardless of the band being local…this response was just too massive to attribute it to them just being from the area. I knew that we had something really special on our hands,” Kenny said.
The original version of Kryptonite was put in a heavy rotation on 97.9 and it exploded. Kenny started mailing out the 3 Doors Down Demo cd to record companies who he had relationships with. The demand for the band was intense. The response from the recording industry for 3 Doors Down was overwhelming. Recording executives from all over the world were calling Kenny Vest and flying into Biloxi in the hopes of signing them. They were the presidents of several major labels and the heads of A&R Departments, they were not the typical radio promo guys who usually came calling. Brad, Todd, Chris and Matt (3DD) had no experience in these matters and requested an unusually late night meeting with Vest. They asked him to help handle the whole process for them. “They just wanted to concentrate on playing their music. I agreed to help guide them and promised to do my utmost to help get them the best possible situation with a label that made the most sense for them. I wanted them to have a record company that had a long term vision for the band and not a one song commitment. But in the end, it had to be their decision alone,” Kenny said.
For several weeks the song dominated on 97.9-WCPR. Countless record companies called and arrived on the Coast from everywhere with record deal offers. The decision was made to make every effort to slow down the insanity and insure that 3 Doors Down was represented by the right people before they signed with anyone. They now had a solid management team and legal representation locked in, they were in good hands. They ended up signing a record deal with Universal Republic Records out of New York. Kryptonite became the # 1 song in America in multiple radio formats simultaneously. This had never been accomplished before by a debut act. Kryptonite also became a smash hit worldwide, like a bullet. “The guys certainly now know the entire music business inside out and have made some great decisions while continuing to elevate their careers. It is pretty amazing how it all started…it was so great to be a part of their story,” Vest said.
As Operations Manager for Triad Broadcasting, Kenny Vest books all of the National Acts for the Gulfport Music Festival and CPR Fest. He oversees and selects what is heard on 97.9-WCPR, 107.1 The Monkey, BOB 105.9, Sports Radio 96.7, The Champ 1490 A.M. and 1640 A.M. . His Program Directors are Wayne Watkins, Lucas, Scot Fox and Kyle Curley. “They are all excellent, I have such a great staff. They are very good at what they do,” Kenny said. The GM is Bill West, who is extremely well versed and experienced in radio. “He is willing to roll the dice and do whatever it takes to win. We continue to be the most aggressive and dominant radio cluster in this market and I am very proud of our veteran staff,” he added.
A typical day at the station is fast and busy. Kenny works very closely with the Director of Sales, Ricky Mitchell, on multiple projects all going on at the same time. Vest gets about a hundred e-mails each day, each requiring a response, and the phone never stops ringing. “The landscape of radio has changed dramatically over the past few years. As corporate radio unveils it’s new model which includes down-sizing, massive layoffs and the dismantling of local radio, this company (Mississippi Media/Triad Broadcasting) continues to grow, invest in our products and enhance the local aspect of radio here on the Coast. We have so many talented people that are a part of this company. We have a lot of fun and it is a great environment to work in,” Vest said.
For those of you who would like to have a chance to become a DJ on the radio, things are very different than they used to be. According to Vest, Corporate radio has really put an end to the dreams of a young aspiring DJ. However, he advises to put together something called an air-check. It’s a demo tape of what you would sound like if you were actually on the air. It should be 3 to 4 minutes in length. Mississippi Media/Triad Broadcasting is one of the few companies that still hires young talent, so don’t give up. He said in closing, “Send the demo to me and to as many other radio stations as possible because you never know what could happen.”
Go To Places is extremely proud to honor the accomplishments of Kenny Vest, our Mover and Shaker for the month of March.