“I got drunk with Jim Root from Slipknot in the kitchen of a 70’s and 80’s dance club in Iowa.” – Ryan Castle
By Carl C. Sundberg
When Ryan Castle first heard “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses on 99.9 KISW, the Rock of Seattle, he knew what he wanted to do.
He was 10.
But as a kid growing up in Everett, WA, just north of Seattle, it seemed an improbable reality that one day, many jobs and many years later, Ryan Castle would be the Assistant Program Director/Music Director and host of his own Midday show, on that very same station, playing rock n’ roll for a whole new generation of headbangers. No, he was just another kid with a radio. A listener. Like many of us at that age, he would call in to the top 40 station in Seattle, KPLZ, during their “Smash or Trash” feature at night with “Mark in the Dark”. Regular kid stuff.
It wasn’t until his freshman year, when Castle’s family moved to eastern Washington, that his true calling would begin to come to fruition. He hated it at the time, but later admits it was the best thing that happened to him. It was the beginning of his destiny. “I met my future wife there and got into the radio program at YVCC,” recalls Castle. “To say I was a terrible student would be an understatement. I think I got one semester of credit after a year and a half in the program. Somehow I turned that brilliant track record into a pat time job in Yakima, working for N/T KIT, Rock KATS and Country KXXS. I would board op Mariners, Sonics – RIP – and Seahawks games and do weekend/fill in work on the country and rock stations.’
‘It’s also where Troy Hanson and I met in 1996. Troy spent about one summer in the Palm Springs of Washington before he went off to program Saga’s brand new Active Rock station KAZR/Des Moines. Troy brought me on to do overnights there in the fall ’96. Wow, that was nearly 20 years ago. I spent two and a half years in Des Moines, eventually becoming the PM Drive Guy and Creative Director. In 1999, two days after my 21st birthday I started working at KXXR in Minneapolis as Wade Linder’s APD/Production Director. In 2001 I decided I wanted to be a Program Director and took a gig at a small Cox Active Rock station in Birmingham, AL. That lasted 3 months. After that I spent a year working with Keith Hastings in Milwaukee as Saga’s Active Rock Imaging Specialist and doing afternoons on WLZR. In 2002 Troy and I got the band back together in Miami at WZTA for a year.”
And that’s when Castle got the chance to come home, to the station that first sparked his desire to work in radio in the first place. “Dave Richards [VP of Programming at KISW] and I had met a few times over the years,” Castle says. “Not that he remembers. We spoke briefly about a production job at Q101 when I was still in Des Moines and in 2002 when he first got to KISW. Third time’s the charm I guess. Seattle is my home. KISW is my hometown radio station. When I started here in October of 2003 I hoped my days as a radio nomad were done. So far so good.”
Indeed. Ryan Castle has a pretty good life these days. Well except maybe his alarm clock. He wakes up at 6:30 every morning to the sound of one of his bulldogs licking itself. “It’s as repulsive sounding as you’d think it might be,” admits Castle. Then he heads to the office – 99.9 KISW – around 8-8:30. Being the responsible environmentally friendly Pacific Northwesterners that he and his wife are, they carpool downtown.
As Music Director, Castle’s goal in the morning is to get the following day’s music done before he goes on the air. He will do the last segment with the morning show, BJ & Migs at about 9:45. He goes on the air with his show until 2. And we’re not talking some rush job voice track shift. Ryan Castle is live. Start to finish.
After his show, Castle’s afternoons vary from day to day, as any Assistant Program Director will tell you. “There are always meetings,” he explains. “Production, sales, programming staff, music, label folks. There are features I do on the afternoon show on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. On really busy days I’ll go from 10a-4 or 5pm without seeing my desk. It’s different every day. Keeps things interesting.”
Interesting is an understatement. KISW’s 40 plus year legacy in Seattle, one of the most rock n’ roll cities in America, is epic and glorious. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, The Melvins and Queensryche all call this city home. And they have all made various appearances on KISW over the years. KISW was around when Seattle was the centerpiece and hotbed of an entire generation and genre of rock music.
These days, KISW are in beast-mode. A full live air-staff, with some of the most creative minds in the radio industry, top to bottom, every shift, down to the weekends. From the morning show, “BJ & Migs” to the brilliantly named afternoon gang, “Mens Room”, from Ryan Castle on Middays to Taryn Daly on Nights and Matt Koch holding down the Overnights, 99.9 KISW, The Rock of Seattle is thunderous. It’s truly one of those radio stations that other radio station look at in awe. KISW is doing it right.
The key to the station’s success is simple, says Castle. “It’s the people. Our foundation is rock music. Our roots are rock. It’s in our DNA, but KISW is much more than a rock station. KISW is a lifestyle/entertainment station for men. It’s the brilliant, passionate, funny and dedicated group of entertainers on and off the air that show up to work here every day that keep people in Seattle coming back to KISW.”
One thing that keeps people in Seattle coming back to the station are the KISW Rock Girls. Most stations have a generic, auto-generated “bikini feed” somewhere on their website, but KISW has the real thing. “The Rock Girls program has taken many forms since its inception in the 90’s,” explains Castle. “Currently we do a 6-8 week campaign in first quarter each year that includes a search and recruitment element, a “vote” which drives literally millions of page views on www.KISW.com, then the big reveal and party. We go from hundreds of hopefuls, to 40 finalists and finally 16 Rock Girls. Throughout the year there are different photo galleries on the website, they do retail and sales events, work concerts, charity events etc. They’re our cheerleaders. Part of the KISW family.”
Another thing that KISW has is their annual “Pain in the Grass” Festival. This year boasts an impressive lineup of Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Alter Bridge, Anthrax and more. The festival started as a free concert in Seattle on Fridays featuring local musicians, but at some point in the late 90s it had run it’s course. In 2007, Dave Richards and Ryan Castle decided to get into the summer festival business and resurrect the name. “Seattle Center really didn’t have the real-estate to host a show of this size, at least not at the time so now Pain in the Grass lives at the White River Amphitheater in Auburn Washington,” says Castle. “While we still have local talent on the bill each year, it’s more of a traditional radio festival now. We can only sell so many tickets. Last year it sold out. We’ve added VIP packages, backstage BBQ’s and experiences with artists and our air-staff over the years. We’re always looking for new and creative ways to engage the audience and create client opportunities.”
No matter what opportunities come next for Ryan Castle and KISW, no doubt they will be impressive.
What are your three most Rock & Roll moments?
I got drunk with Jim Root from Slipknot in the kitchen of a 70’s and 80’s dance club in Iowa.
Had dinner with David Coverdale at a Buca di Peppo.
Had soda and sandwiches with Nickelback in this nice family’s home on Vancouver Island. They asked us to take off our shoes before we came in. Very Rock and Roll.
Now that we know some of your most rockin’ moments, how about the 3 worst? Who were the artists and why?
I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus. There have been a few. After 20 years doing this I would say that the overwhelming majority of artists have been a pleasure to work with.
If you could have a shot of whiskey with any person, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Hunter S. Thompson. He’s my spirit animal. We’d have more than one, I assure you.
What are you listening to right now?
Just got the first 2 Metallica re-masters today. Sounds a lot like my miss-spent youth in here…
What are you some projects you are currently up to?
We launched Pain in the Grass a few weeks ago. I’m thrilled with the show we were able to put together with our partners this year.
We’re very excited about our new partnership with Uli’s World Famous Sausage. Now you can get “Mens Room Original Sausage” at retail locations around the Puget Sound (and soon at https://ulisfamoussausage.com) The sausage is made with Mens Room Original Red, our afternoon show’s massively successful beer brand from Elysian Brewing Company. The beer by the way isn’t only available in over 2000 locations around the Northwest. No, now you can get it in several states around the country and at a few international locations. Maybe you can find some near you? Try the beer finder here: http://www.elysianbrewing.com/beer-locator/