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Essential Ukrainian for the English Speaking Traveler!

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Ken Laymance-DJ Kenny Mac
On the Sofa with Heavy Metal DJ... ...Kenny Mac

By Chris Simon, WHAT'S ON Staff Writer
February 2003
 

    He's Loud, He's Dynamic, He's American and "On the Air" in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson! He's Kenny Mac, whose English Hour radio program is growing in popularity while at the same time introducing Ukrainians to more and more heavy metal from around the world.

    Among the number of expats who found their way to the Ukrainian capital by themselves and not upon the order of some multi-national or government mission, Kenny Mac arrived in the summer of 1996 out of shear curiosity. He had always been fascinated with the Soviet Union, and upon it's disintegration in 1991 his interest was peaked. He felt especially drawn to Kyiv, since he says, it was known as the "mother" of Russian cities. "I thought this world be the time for a fresh start! I came to Kyiv because something about it drew me here. Once here, as I stood on a city square and I thought "how cool, I love it".
    Kenny Mac whose real name is Kenneth Laymance, decided that this was the place for him! "The people took a great interest in me as an American and they were hungry for information, and to talk with me, they soaked it in like a sponge. Simultaneously to this, what struck me was that I could see the potential here". For the next few years Kenny Mac kicked around awhile making an adequate living as a consultant and by assisting fellow expats in their business ventures.
    He didn't know it at the time but a trip home to Los Angeles in 2001 would change his life and alter the radio listening habits of thousands of young people in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine.
    "I met with a good friend who's part of a rock band called 'United State', and I told him that there were tens of thousands of rock fans here. The country has a weak supply of quality rock'n'roll and now is the time to get your feet wet," he says.
    So armed with his buddy's CD he began to visit many of the radio stations in Kyiv upon his return. "One small station here started to play it, other stations said they'd play it if we paid them. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea to put together our own show," he said.
    One of the stations he pitched his idea to was Power FM. "The manager was a real 'rock fan' and just about commanded us not to do anything with anyone else while he put the program details together. We started broadcasting two 1-hour shows, on Wednesday and Saturday. The popularity grew and now we are also in Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson, with plans to put a network together with stations adding Donetsk, Kharkiv and Simferopol.
    "We are finalizing arrangements with nationwide sponsors, and when that is complete then we will begin our pitch to other stations in other cities," says Kenny Mac
    Kenny Mac, who's been working with lovely side-kick Olena, says he has been shocked at the reception. but he took an informal poll of young people in the city and found more people knew about his show, than those who didn't.
    "When we first started I wondered how we would be received, since we had some pretty heavy music and I was the first American DJ on the air in the former Soviet Union," he said. The show is prerecorded, which allows Kenny Mac and Company to roam the city while his show is on the air and gauge reaction to it!
    "There's this gastronome in center with Power FM on the speakers, we watched people and during the bridge, while I was bantering in English, we saw their heads huddled around the speakers straining to hear the English," he says.
    Amidst the variety of heavy metal from around the world, Kenny Mac and Company sprinkles the show with tiny tidbits of info and featurettes. One of those mini-features is called "English you'll never learn in school". Actually it's a quick lesson in English slang. Recently he spotlighted the English slang word, 'Dork', with Olena explaining in Ukrainian language how a dork means fool, cretan, or idiot. The quick lesson is accompanied by a humorous song further expounding on the uses of the colorful word, 'dork'
    "It is a lot of fun, but no easy task," says Kenny Mac, "it takes us about three days to put together a 1 hour show," the result appears to please our audience, and it is a quality show," he says.
    Audience appeal and quality are two aspects driving Kenny Mac's English Hour towards national syndication, a first for an English music radio program in the former Soviet Union. "We are looking for a nationwide sponsors ala Kasey Kasem, and we got some high interest from some very big companies, but they wanted us to come back after the first of the year when budgets are renewed," he says, "so this first quarter will really be key".
    How popular is the show? "we introduced an email address, and we got many thanks for 'bringing life to Kyiv radio'. Others say stuff like, 'me and all my friends listen to the 'English hour' and our mouths just drop open since the music mix is so fresh and enjoyable,'" he says. In Kherson, where the show covers the entire oblast on "Avto Radio 105.6 FM", the station manager took things further and opened up two phone lines, one to call if you like the program and another to call if you don't. During the first hour broadcast, she registered 84 calls, 70 for the show, and 14 against it.
    "We started the show with one simple promise, to bring our audience fresh new heavy metal that they have never heard before, and people appreciate the fact that we are keeping our promise," says Kenny Mac.

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