While fans have never chanted Ron Kyle’s name at a concert or lined up outside the local record store to purchase Kyle’s latest single, millions of music listeners are familiar with his work—they just don’t realize it. Kyle’s efforts behind-the-scenes in show business have helped catapult numerous entertainers into the spotlight, earning playing time for their albums and securing major venues for their performances through his record and concert promotions.
As a young boy growing up in Chester, Pa., Kyle was fascinated by the entertainment industry, but he never could have imagined the type of career he would go on to have.
Kyle might be using a bit of hyperbole, but he’s not far off. He’s hung with the Rat Pack, rubbed elbows with Elvis, and had dinner with various members of the Beatles. His illustrious career kicked off in 1966, when his uncle first got him started in the field.
“My whole life’s been entertainment,” Kyle explained. “My mother, when she was a young girl, sang with big bands. She sang with Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman and Count Basie. My uncle Tony, my mother’s brother, he was my mentor. He had various shows in Vegas for years. When I graduated from Goldey-Beacom University, he said to me, ‘Ron, I want to keep it in the family. Why don’t you come to Vegas and I’ll show you the ropes?’”
Kyle was happy to oblige, and before he knew it, he was producing his own lounge act in Las Vegas.
“I became friends with everybody out there,” Kyle said. “I did extremely well.”
After four years, his career in Sin City was cut short when he was drafted by the Army. He headed back East, landing at Fort Dix. After he served his time in the Army, Kyle decided to bring a little bit of Vegas to the East Coast.
“I settled in Jersey and I became a licensed theatrical agent,” he said. “Coming from the showplace of the world, Las Vegas, and I say this with humbleness, but it was elementary. I started producing shows here and they went extremely well. With Vegas being the showplace of the world, what better training can you get?”
Kyle, who lived in Medford Lakes for 32 years, worked mostly with local acts in the tri-state area, but also put together a number of successful shows in Atlantic City with big-name performers such as Fats Domino, Hall & Oates, and Chuck Berry. Soon enough, his reputation started to grow, and Kyle found himself being asked to promote records.
“Back then, radio made artists,” Kyle explained. “The only way you could get exposure back then was through radio.”
One of the acts Kyle pushed in his early days as a record promoter was Village People.
“They were very unique, very different,” he said. “I saw the excitement with Village People while promoting their record. The retailers couldn’t keep the album in stock, and if the kids are gonna spend $10 on the album, they’re gonna spend $15 to see them live. It’s a no brainer. Their very first gig was right here in South Jersey, at Valentino’s in Cherry Hill. That was a major show, and I was the one who set the whole thing up. Obviously, we sold out.”
The successful show with Village People turned plenty of heads in the industry, and soon, in addition to his work with Casablanca Records, Kyle was working as a consultant for every major label.
“It just grew from there,” he said. “The record labels, everyone from Atlantic to Warner Brothers and everyone in between, I ended up becoming a consultant for them. Every major label put me on retainer, and I started promoting their records to the radio stations that I had close relationships with.”
The entertainment industry is all about who you know, and as Kyle says, you can’t just “parachute” into it. You need experience and relationships to succeed, and Kyle did his best to develop both.
“Many radio station program directors and I became very dear friends, because I would produce shows for them,” he said. “I was adding non-traditional revenue to their radio stations, so we became friends, and then the labels said, ‘Well let me put you on retainer,’ and I became a record promoter. I would bring the records to the program directors, and then they would make a decision as to what they would want to add to their station. That gave me strength. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it gave me power, because when you’re a record promoter and you get records played on the air, that’s real trust and power.”
Early in Kyle’s career, it was he who would reach out to record labels and radio stations in an attempt to start new business relationships, but as he flourished, the industry’s top guns were the ones reaching out to him.
“All of a sudden, managers were calling me, like Frank DiLeo, who managed Michael Jackson,” Kyle said.
Kyle was tabbed to promote Jackson’s “Thriller” album, and DiLeo was so impressed with his efforts that he came back to Kyle when Jackson was ready to release “Bad.”
“He said, ‘Ron, you did such a great job with ‘Thriller,’ I want you to quarterback the ‘Bad’ album.’ I took over the entire project,” Kyle said. “I hired everybody, I set up the whole marketing deal, and we went out and promoted the ‘Bad’ album for Michael. Obviously the ‘Bad’ album did extremely well, and then I went on the road with Michael. I did that with a number of acts: Paul Anka, Michael Bublé, Elton John, Van Halen, Rascal Flatts, Maroon 5, LeAnn Rimes. That’s how I got into that end of the business.”
Kyle credits his success in the industry to thinking outside of the box. He liked to put his own spin on things through unique events and promotions, like listening parties.
“I always stepped outside of the box,” Kyle said. “I created listening parties. I would bring in a new artist like Mariah Carey—nobody ever met her, nobody ever heard of her. I would bring her to a very nice place, like the Ritz Carlton, which I did in Philly, and I would invite all the radio and newspaper and TV people to this very classy room to introduce a brand new artist. We had champagne and hors d’oeuvres, everything white glove. The curtains opened up and there was a three-piece band and then Mariah Carey walked out for the very first time.”
The new artist—in this case, Carey—would then perform a number of songs from their album and personally meet with the local program directors for a quick photo op. After the event, Kyle would mail the program directors a glossy photograph of themselves with the musician, along with a copy of the new CD. It was a surefire way to get new talent noticed and played on the radio.
“It’s all about promotion and marketing,” said Kyle, who owns an agency named Hi Impact PR. “I would promote it, and then all of the sudden Mariah became Mariah. I help artists rise above the rest and become well-known. That doesn’t always happen 100 percent of the time, obviously, but they become very successful.”
Another key to Kyle’s success in the industry is his grounded personality. He said he was never star-struck by any of the musicians he worked with, despite their celebrity status. He treated them like regular people and earned their respect in return.
“I was always told you treat everybody like you want to be treated,” Kyle said. “I really think it helped me in my business because I was never in awe of anybody. I mean, anybody. To me, they were just like me.”
Kyle has worn many hats over the course of his career, from agent to manager to promoter to consultant.
“There’s really nothing in the entertainment business I haven’t done, from being an entertainer myself and producing my own shows in Vegas, to being a New Jersey licensed theatrical agent, to being a manager of acts that were very successful, to being a consultant to radio and also to produce acts,” Kyle said.
Kyle has owned and operated two radio stations through the years and also served as a senior consultant to Clear Channel Communications/iHeart Radio.
“Every radio station knew me because I have relationships, so they asked me if I would be their key man,” Kyle said. “I ended up consulting for all of the radio stations that Clear Channel owned in the Northeast, consulting their programming and their promotions, and I would produce their concerts. So when Q102 presented, let’s say Mariah Carey, I was the guy who produced the entire show. I would go in and say, ‘Listen, Mariah is available, let’s do the Q102 Jingle Ball show. I’ve got Mariah, I’ve got Beyoncé,’ and I would run down the acts I had. The program director would then co-promote it with me.”
These days, Kyle still has a lot on his plate—he’s part owner of a record label, “Tuscan Villa Entertainment,” and he mentors up-and-coming singer/songwriters—but he doesn’t do as much record promoting as he used to.
“I scaled back because I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “I scaled back because technology took over. Kids started to download and justified in their head that it was OK to get free music. Artists and labels started losing multi-millions. All of a sudden, the whole industry changed. That affected me as a record promoter. “
While his workload has diminished, Kyle is still involved in the industry and has no plans to retire.
“My friends will say, ‘Are you gonna retire?’ And I say, ‘From what?’” Kyle said with a laugh. “Our parents always said, ‘If you love what you do in life, it beats working.’ Well, it’s true. Being in the entertainment business and loving what you do, it does beat working. I didn’t work a day, and I still don’t work. What am I going to retire from? Going to the Grammys? What are you, nuts? I’ll never retire.”
Kyle is thankful for the opportunity he had in the business, for the friends he’s made, and the success he’s experienced.
“It’s all about opportunity. That’s the only thing you’re going to get in life, and you have to grab that opportunity,” Kyle said. “I’m proud of the fact that I can do what I do and I loved every minute of it. I just thank God that I was able to achieve what I achieved in a field that I absolutely fell in love with.”