"My original career was radio," said Bill Keane, but then, "I was being called in another direction."
That other direction was the ministry, and he soon became the Rev. Bill Keane. But that doesn’t mean the skills from his first career go to waste.
Keane, the senior minister for the First Baptist Church of Branford, has a following based on his recorded rap music spots promoting a Christian focus for Christmas, which are broadcast on radio station KISS 95.7 FM. (The spots will run through Friday, Dec. 23, he said.)
"It’s fun," he said. "It definitely puts Christ first in the Christmas season, but it does something new, not like the 19th Century."
Keane was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and grew up in New Jersey. In the 1970s, he was on the radio as an announcer doing public service messages and voiceovers for commercials on LOVE/94-FM, a major market station in Miami, Florida. But then he heard his calling and got a Masters of Divinity degree from Drew University.
He was recruited by a church in Australia in 1983, where he stayed for five years. When he returned to the United States, he joined the First Baptist Church of Mansfield in Storrs, CT, about a mile from the University of Connecticut, where he stayed for nine years. In 1997 he took the senior minister position at First Baptist of Branford.
"I had never really left the media thing," he said. While in Storrs, he also did voiceovers for radio commercials for a local station as a sideline. And around Christmas and Easter he recorded a series of 30-second, nondenominational religious messages.
"It was really just to present a message that there’s more to the Gospel than the stereotype," he said. In 1992 he tried a rap, and it seemed to work. "I was absolutely convinced this was something I wanted to do."
The first station saw the rap as irreverent. He said the station management said they would run it if he took out the references to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. So he brought it to WTIC-FM in Hartford, where it was accepted as-is.
Keane said radio taught him how to condense a message into a few, well-chosen lines, something that has been useful for him in the ministry.
"Ronald Reagan said that you’re always better off saying things simply," he said.
But Keane said even Reagan, known as The Great Communicator, can’t hold a candle to Jesus. "Jesus was a genius at sound bites," he said.
He noted that from its beginning, Christianity has tried to reach people with a simple message they can understand. So there was a "theological underpinning" to his choice to record a Christmas rap.