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From 1983 to 1989, Todd Kennedy ran Record Bar, a long-defunct music store in Melbourne Square shopping mall. And he sold newly released European import singles and records to WFIT-FM radio staff, who “bashed in and bought them all”.
Thanks to these musical connections, Kennedy – who had experience as a college radio DJ while attending Springfield College near Boston, DJing alternative and reggae shows – landed an obscure WFIT gig.
He volunteered as a graveyard shift DJ from 3am to 6am, playing “avant-garde classical music” by composers such as Philip Glass, John Cage and John Adams.
“I mean, it was weird stuff. But at 3 a.m. I was like, ‘This is going to be fine,'” Kennedy recalled with a laugh.
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Kennedy left WFIT in 1989 to open Jazz Waves, an independent music shop specializing in jazz, blues, folk and world music CDs and cassettes at La Galerie Arcade in downtown Melbourne.
But the music lover was hired by WFIT as operations manager in 1997, launching a career that spanned a quarter of a century. Kennedy has served as program director since 2004 and has hosted his signature four-hour weekday radio show, Sound Waves, since 2006.
On Friday, the 63-year-old Melbourne Beach resident is retiring after 25 years with the radio station. However, according to his letter of resignation, which he posted to Facebook on Wednesday, he will continue to host Sound Waves “for the foreseeable future pending a transition.”
“I love it. But I wanted to walk out with my head held high,” said Kennedy, who wore a gray “All Things Considered” t-shirt at the WFIT broadcast center.
“I’m still healthy. I want to travel more. And I have 10 surfboards at home that I want to ride,” Kennedy said.
“I brought WFIT to a stable place, a good place. Now it’s time to open the door and let the next generation in,” he said.
WFIT-FM 89.5 is the Florida Institute of Technology’s NPR-affiliated public radio station. Originally broadcasting from the basement of Roberts Hall — a college dorm on Country Club Drive — the station moved to its modern 5,000-square-foot headquarters in 2012.
“Considering where we’re from, it’s been a remarkable journey. I helped us grow from a tiny 10-watt station in a dark, dingy basement into a state-of-the-art broadcast center with five on-air studios and a recording studio equipped for live coverage of local and national acts,” Kennedy wrote in his retirement letter.
The debut of Sound Waves in 2006 coincided with WFIT dropping its smooth jazz daytime program in favor of AAA (Adult Album Alternative) radio.
An offshoot of album-oriented rock, AAA “trends towards the fringes of mainstream pop and rock, as well as many other music genres such as indie rock, alternative rock, jazz, electro, folk, blues, world and roots music”. WFIT website says.
“He was truly the driving force that brought AAA to WFIT. And he refined the sound and explored it and found a niche and really expanded on it and grew with it,” said Terri Wright, general manager of WFIT since 1998.
“So we’re grateful to him for the fact that we’re still here and we’re still doing well. We still have support from the community. And there are people out there who love him,” Wright said.
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With Sound Waves’ sonic diversity airing weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Kennedy said he wants to “take all the best parts of WFIT and make a format out of it.” He said anyone can stream music on Spotify or Pandora today, but he strives to add context and help listeners “connect the dots between artists.”
“I love to explore music – and the passion is to share it with people. I feel like an archaeologist digging things up: ‘Ah, this is a unique find. Hear this. That’s really interesting,'” he said.
Since announcing his retirement, Kennedy has unearthed some of his favorite live studio sessions during Sound Waves. During Friday’s show, Kennedy reprized an April 2019 session with Gainesville’s The Savants of Soul and a December 2018 session with Zeddemore, a Melbourne alternative rock band.
On Tuesday, he repeated an April 2015 studio session with Jacie and the Knick-Knacks, a Melbourne indie rock band.
Kennedy also recalled previous memorable interviews with Wyclef Jean, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, SOJA, G. Love and Beebs and Her Moneymakers.
In February, Michael W. Lowe celebrated his 50th anniversary on Central Florida radio by hosting an anniversary afternoon show on 98.5 The Beach.
Lowe began his broadcasting career at WEZY-AM (Cocoa) and went on to work for a series of 18 radio stations. He teamed with Timmy Vee in the 1990s and early 2000s and was a co-host of WA1A’s #1-rated Mike and Tim in the Morning Show.
“I understand the transition. If you’ve been there for 25 years, they love keeping you with them. And I wish him well,” Lowe said of Kennedy’s WFIT tenure.
“Unfortunately, as far as disc jockeys stay on stations lately, that doesn’t happen very often anymore,” Lowe said.
Kennedy said it was “a dream come true” to move from the Roberts Hall basement to WFIT’s broadcast center.
“I’m so lucky to be able to have a career at a radio station here for 25 years. That doesn’t happen often,” Kennedy said.
Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter for FLORIDA TODAY (click here for more of his stories.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @RickNeale1
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