Kids finally have their own radio station TUNES for TOTS

January 17, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Kenny Curtis swivels away from the microphone and asks the kids from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School for song requests.

"Pearl Jam? Pearl Jam makes kids go, like, aaaagh!" the deejay replies to the chorus of suggestions, contorting his face in mock horror. "It makes little kids climb the walls."

Then he explains to his sixth-grade visitors that the music he plays every morning must be suitable for listeners from roughly 3 years old up to adulthood.

Thus Pearl Jam, a hot "grunge" rock band, is not likely to be heard on Baltimore's first radio station just for kids.

But pop artists from Michael Jackson to Cheech Marin do get mixed in with such children-oriented performers as Cookie Monster, Gary Rosen, Bill Shontz and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the twins from the TV series "Full House."

Heard on WKDB-AM (1570), the format playing what Mr. Curtis calls "righteous tuneage for tots" went on ttTC

the air in late November. Broadcasting 24 hours a day, it is part of Radio Zone: The Kids' Stations, a three-station operation that covers Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia.

Mr. Curtis, 25, who is also host of the "Fox 45 Clubhouse" children's program on WBFF-TV, Channel 45, does a daily live radio show. It airs from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, originating from the Towson studios of WKDB or the Silver Spring studios of WKDL-AM (1050).

After Mr. Curtis' "All American Alarm Clock" show, and through the weekend, The Kids' Stations carry programs of the nationally syndicated Radio Aahs children's network, including songs, story hours and other features.

With a high-energy, chatty style, Mr. Curtis plays songs, reads weather reports, cues commercials and often repeats "the longest radio identification in the business," citing the call letters and frequencies of all three stations.

"Lyrically, it's our job to make sure that everything is what we call parent-friendly, not kid-friendly, to make sure that parents feel comfortable with what their kids are hearing in terms of contemporary hits," he explains.

"He's the human Barney," says Lawrence Kessner, Mr. Curtis' boss.

President of Bethesda-based Capital Kids Radio, Mr. Kessner and partner Virginia Carson hired the lanky former acting student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County early last year, when WKDV-AM (1460) went on the air in Northern Virginia.

"He really is one of those people who's just a natural with kids," said Mr. Kessner, a former lawyer and reporter for The Evening Sun.

Mr. Curtis thinks his genuine native accent helped.

"I'm from Arbewtus, down behint the bowlin' alley, hon," he spouts in perfect Bawl'merese. "When I was in school, I used to pump gas in Rodgers Forge. Used to fill up Sally Thorner's car," he adds, mentioning the WJZ-TV anchorwoman.

Mr. Curtis is married, and he and wife, Kim -- they met in acting classes at UMBC -- have a girl and a boy, Jillian, 3, and Morgan, 2. They live near UMBC, handy to Mr. Curtis' commute to either Silver Spring or Towson.

The announcer, who leaves his radio job to spend afternoons taping "Fox 45 Clubhouse" at Channel 45 studios in Baltimore, makes numerous personal appearances for both The Radio Zone and Channel 45.

"I love being live," he says of the radio show. "What's hard to do is the walking and chewing gum aspects -- you know, learning how to work the [control] board and time the cues. What we're doing is actually more technically advanced than a lot of stations."

When he's in the Towson studios, located in a rancher-style building on Hart Road, engineering control remains in Silver Spring.

Several days a week, the deejay hosts school groups visiting the Towson or Silver Spring studios. (Call 339-5252 for information on arranging a visit.)

"Getting the opportunity to go to places like this is a learning experience equally important as sitting in class. Some kids may even find career choices," said Fred Dierken, vice principal of the Mount Carmel school in Middle River. He chaperoned a dozen students on a visit to the station earlier this month.

During the visit, the students heard their voices turned into "The Chipmunks" on a speeded-up tape and submitted to on-the-air interviews.

"We're finding out who our introverts and extroverts are," noted Mr. Dierken, as student Sean Karwacki adopted a mock-adult basso voice for his turn at the mike.

"You sound, uh, a little old for your age," quipped Mr. Curtis, and young Sean's giggle gave him away.

Mr. Curtis considers himself lucky to be working as an actor at two jobs and says he does not necessarily aspire to performing for all adult audiences.

"The only thing I don't like is there is a stigma attached to kids' stuff that implies that if you're doing it for kids, you can't cut it for grown-ups," he says.

"I don't think of what I do as just for kids. I think of it especially as being for families. The parents are enjoying the song as much as the kids."

He does not think of himself as a teacher, either.

"I would hate to be that legitimate, you know what I'm saying? What we're doing is very educational, but it's also fun, more than anything else," he says.

Launched in 1992 at flagship station WWTC-AM (1280) in Minneapolis, Radio Aahs can now be heard in about a dozen radio markets, including Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Denver.

Capital Kids Radio originally announced in December 1992 that it was purchasing WITH-AM (1230) and would begin airing children's programming in Baltimore last spring.

That purchase agreement ended up mired in court, however, and Capital Kids moved to purchase WFEL-AM (1570), a 5,000-watt Towson station that was then broadcasting Christian country music, from owner Guardian Communications. FCC approval is pending, and WKDB went on the air under a lease agreement with Guardian.

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