longtime radio personality-turned Rochesterfest executive director
Rochester Magazine: In honor of Prince, tell me your Purple Rain story.
Brent Ackerman: This was in the mid 80s when VCRs were a new concept. The first thing I bought out of college was a VCR. I had to decide between a VCR and a Betamax. … I went with the $1,200 Montgomery Ward VCR. I paid on it forever. It was almost as much as my car. I loved the movie Purple Rain. When it came out on VHS I bought it for $39. My friends and I would go out, and I used it as a pickup line. I would say, “Hey do you want to go to my house and watch Purple Rain?” Their first response was “You have a VCR?”
RM: Tell me about your kids.
BA: My oldest, Andy is a teacher at Gibbs. Daughter Kelsey is 24 and is a para at Gibbs. My son Logan is a sixth grader at Willow Creek this year. Last year I was able to tell people “I have three kids in elementary school.”
RM: What does you wife, Laurie, do?
BA: For many years she did KROC Music on Wheels. That’s how we met. A couple of years ago she wanted to try something else. Now she helps people with disabilities find jobs at Opportunity Services. She loves it. When she made that transition, I thought maybe I can do that, too.
RM: You had a long run in radio. Miss it?
BA: I miss the people. I did as much as I could, 32 years in radio. There was nothing more for me to do. Call it a midlife crisis. But I was ready to challenge myself with something new.
RM: Worst on-air moment?
BA: One time I did a remote at Face the Music. White Lion was doing a promotional thing there. This was an era when a lot of bands had the name “white” in them. [When I introduced them on air] my brain just froze. I forgot the band I was interviewing. I went on air and said, “We’re hear with Great White Lion Snake.” I spent the next two hours apologizing profusely.
RM: Any others?
BA: Oh, many more. I took a couple of winners backstage at the Def Leppard concert in La Crosse. As we were driving over in the limo, I was telling them that when you meet celebrities you have to be calm. Follow my lead. I’d done my research on Def Leppard. I knew a couple of the guys really liked golf. To break the ice, I turned to one of them and said, “I understand you like to golf.” He said “No, mate, I only have one arm.” It was the drummer, who had lost his arm. I must have turned 50 shades of red. And here are these winners thinking “We’re supposed to follow your lead?”
RM: Whenever I was in the KROC offices you’d be doing everything.
BA: When you are the operations manager you oversee everything, including areas you know nothing about but have to make decisions on. The biggest thing I don’t miss is being on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year …running up to make sure the stations are on the air. Being on call is something I don’t miss.
RM: In June you’ll be on call 24 hours a day.
BA: Yes. I’m the new executive director of Rochesterfest. That one week especially I’ll be on call. Leading up to it, I jump in and get my work done and leave it behind when I go home. But at the end of the day, no one will call me at 4 a.m. and say “Rochesterfest is off the air.”
RM: What are you realizing about the job?
BA: As far as the job itself, I’m very comfortable with the marketing, because I’ve been a volunteer with Rochesterfest for years. What I’m learning is that I don’t know what I don’t know. I know nothing about porta potties, how to set up plumbing, how to set up permits from the city. It’s a lot more involved than I imagined. Luckily we have great volunteers showing me the way. Carole Brown was a saint to be in that position as long as she did.
RM: It’s a paid job, though, right? For the city?
BA: I am not employed by the city. We’re a 501C3. We are self funded. We operate with our own budget. Yes. It’s considered a year-round, .75 job.
RM: Can you take out the gaps in the parade?
BA: The number one thing we hear is: Can you make the parade shorter? The number two thing we hear is: Can I be in the parade? Everyone wants to be in it. Unfortunately, we have to turn a few people away. That’s what I’m doing this week—telling people they can’t be in the parade. We’re full.
RM: You once did your morning radio traffic report from your backyard?
BA: For my first job on the radio, I was hired to do traffic reports in Rochester. I was 18 years old, just starting college. There wasn’t a ton of traffic. I’d drive up and down Broadway and report, “Traffic is getting a little heavy.” One day I woke up really late and wasn’t able to get downtown very fast. This was back in the day of corded phones. We had a really long cord. I took it outside, in my JM neighborhood, to get the traffic noises and did a fake report from there.
RM: Did you get busted?
BA: They didn’t know about it until now. I’m not proud of it. Now they’d probably fire me. Oh wait, I don’t work there anymore.
RM: Are you competitive?
BA: To a degree.
RM: Are you a nightmare to play board games with?
BA: No. It depends. I don’t think so. I’m not such a bad loser, but I’m a really bad winner. I’m not above throwing on “We Are The Champions.”
RM: What poster was on your wall at 15?
BA: I had a few, but the one that sticks out was a poster of all of the presidents.
RM: I’m tying your math question in to your love of presidents. Take the number of people who have been president and multiply that by the number of planets.
BA: OK. There have been 44 presidents, but Grover Cleveland served twice. So that’s 43 people. Times 8 is … 344.
RM: Good. Nice job with the Grover Cleveland thing.
RM: As, you know I have a number of demands when I’m on Tracy McCray’s show on KROC-AM. Powdered donuts with the powder removed and put “on the side.” No one’s allowed to look at me. Bottled water. Since you’ve left, the water in the cooler is always empty. Always.
BA: It was one of my little jobs that I think people never realized I did. I’ve always told them, call anytime you have questions. At the beginning they did. Not so much anymore. They must be getting along fine.
RM: Well, apparently not.