Dick Kernen Specs Howard School of Media Arts
If knowledge is power then that would explain why Dick Kernen is, without a doubt, the most high profile member of the Specs Howard staff. As instructor, placement advisor and VP of Industry Relations, he is the man who has placed thousands of Specs Howard grads in radio and television jobs since the early 1970s. And he is a man with 50 years of experience in the business himself.
Kernen's presence is that of a giant, despite his short stature, and most students admit to being somewhat afraid of him. While he isn't prone to outlandish behavior such as throwing erasers across a room, he can reduce even the most self-assured students to a box of rocks simply by raising an eyebrow. After all, this is a man who knows what he's talking about and what he thinks matters.
While students may be apprehensive, grads gravitate toward him in droves. It's as if once they get out in the world and really live it, his words come back to them and suddenly they find a friend in all the anecdotes, wisdom and advice he provided them in school.
"Dick is a living radio legend, but more than that... He's a really cool person," says Timothy Meloche, Specs Grad and Media Consultant for Delta Communications." He leads without being demanding, criticizes without being negative and keeps his sense of humor in difficult situations. For nearly 20 years Dick has been my mentor, therapist, guru, cheerleader, surrogate parent and a good friend. If he wasn't such a nimrod..."
Nimrod comments aside, Kernen's own wry, self-deprecating sense of humor contributes to his magnetism, endearing him to grads, employers, friends and acquaintances in the industry.
His is an honest opinion, whether you want it or not. But those who listen to what he says come back to thank him for saving them the anguish of having had to learn an important lesson the hard way. Despite the tough love approach he takes with students, Kernen is potentially their biggest fan. The accomplishments grads achieve still impress the heck out of him and he's as forthcoming with his compliments as he is with anything else.
"There's nobody like him," says President & CEO of Specs Howard School, Jonathan Liebman. "I've always been in awe of how much he knows about our industry and the fact that he seems to be on a first name basis with practically everybody in the business."
Kernen's own story began in 1956 as a mail courier for WXYZ radio. In typical Kernen humor, he claims he got the job because he was 'the only one who applied for it,' adding that the call his mother put into the station's program director -- begging him to hire her wayward son -- didn't hurt either.
Having discovered the networking process quite by accident, he spent the next 15 odd years at the station, climbing the ladder and assuming the roles of various, mid-level management positions. Then in 1969, he got his big break - the equivalent of today's Internet radio hit the airwaves, and according to Kernen, ABC needed "someone dumb enough to run a station no one listened to." Again, to his amusement, he qualified.
At that time, FM radio was no man's land but over the next three years, Kernen helped put WRIF on the dial. However, the defining moment of his career arrived in the form of the now legendary Arthur Penhallow. Still occupying the same air shift he was hired for today, Penhallow was just the first of a long line of talent that Kernen has helped jumpstart their careers.
In 1972, Kernen's career took a turn and it is at Specs Howard School that he would discover his life's work. Again, he would work his way around the school, dabbling in admissions and education before finding his calling in the placement department. With contacts already in the industry, he was a natural for it.
For him, there is little separation between the public and private Dick Kernen. Like so many others in the entertainment industry, the two just sort of blend together. In his own words, Specs Howard School is as much a part of his identity as his face.
What classes do you teach?
I teach Career Perspectives which addresses entry-level jobs, career tracks and in-depth discussions of how various areas of broadcast and teleproductions operate.
What would students be surprised to know about you:
What a really nice guy I am.
What impresses you most in a student:
Passion and enthusiasm
Most common mistake on students resumes:
Discounting their previous achievements because they donât think they have anything to do with broadcast careers.
Most common mistake students make when interviewing for a job:
Not having well researched questions about the specifics of the job and the company.
Biggest employer/student horror story:
I could go on for hours, but how about the guy who showed up an hour early for his job interview and decided to wait â¦ at the local bar â¦ and smelled like a brewery when he was introduced to the employer.
Your favorite employer/student success story:
I could also go on about this for hours, but how about all the grads who now own their own businesses.
What students should NOT wear to a job interview:
A tuxedo or cocktail dress
What students should wear to a job interview:
Apart from a tux or cocktail dress, itâs hard to be over-dressed when seeking employment.
Best answer to tough interview question:
I have a tendency to be a perfectionist and have little patience for people who think âgood enoughâ is good enough.
What do all successful grads seem to have in common:
Passion, enthusiasm, maturity, and reliability.
Best web site for job leads:
Michmab, All Access, Tvjobs.com
What industry jobs are in demand?
In radio, promotion, marketing and sales; in TV, News Producers.
What do you watch when you turn on the TV?
Cop shows and the speed channel
Why do you turn on the radio?
To listen to National Public Radio and the Internet feed of KPLU in Tacoma, Washington.
What do you attribute to the longevity of your career at Specs Howard?
The fact that the school must have an outside presence, which gives us the visibility in the industries we train for, as well as two- and four-year colleges and high profile civic organizations. I love dealing with these communities, and even more so, my involvement in placement, which allows me the chance to have a positive effect on our grads and their careers.
Have you ever entertained thoughts of returning to the mad world of radio?
Other than my little Sunday talk show, not for a minute. This is much more gratifying if you're Mrs. Kernen's little boy!
Were you ever on-the-air?
Not until after I left WRIF! I have hosted The Sunday Times for 20-plus years at W4, WNIC, WYCD and again, back at WNIC (103FM, 7:30-8:30am) and Q-95 (95.5FM).
You're known as the man who brought now legendary Arthur Penhallow (of WRIF) to Detroit. What sold you on him in the first place?
He had a great voice and agreed to work for $150 a week!
Do you remember a significant moment when you realized the school would have a far-reaching effect?
When I called Joe Wade Formicola at WFDF in Flint and found he was the Program Director - at a major station in Flint - and he'd only been out of school for a year or so.
Where do you envision the school to be in another 10-20-30 years?
The place for anyone interested in careers that beat working -- radio, TV, teleproduction, advertising, post-production, etc. We look forward to more and better relationships with employers and other private and public post-secondary educational institutions.
What have you learned most from students?
Never to judge the potential of anyone until you see what they can accomplish after they graduate.
Did anyone ever make a particular impression on you?
Too many to list, however two in particular deserve mention: The late Dick Osgood - radio drama critic - who defined the words, class and gentleman and the late Saul Wineman (Paul Winter) who showed me the importance of ideas and knowledge.
What is the best advice someone ever gave to you?
'Why don't you go over and talk to Specs Howard about working for his broadcast school?'
Who would you consider a radio legend?
Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon who re-invented radio after the advent of TV. Locally, Dick Purtan and the late J.P. McCarthy.
Do you think anyone is well on his or her way to achieving that status?
Lee Abrams of XM Satellite Radio who developed the "Super Stars" format during the 70s and 80s and will hopefully -- along with his counterpart at Sirius Satellite Radio -- again re-invent radio. Locally, Jim Harper, John Mason and, of course, Drew & Mike.