Margo Knesz, a pioneering female executive in the radio promotion business who served as general manager at Atlantic imprint Atco Records for most of the 1980s, died May 30 at age 84.
In an era when women executives in the music industry were a rarity, Knesz steadily worked her way up the ladder to become a respected, high-level figure in radio promo, working on campaigns for superstar artists including Stevie Nicks, Pete Townshend, ABBA, Jefferson Starship and Hall & Oates at labels including Atlantic/Atco, Epic and RCA.
Knesz’s unique stature as a woman in the industry was noted in the pages of Billboard in August 1970. In an ad announcing the launch of the now-defunct label GRT Records in the U.S., where Knesz was hired as coordinator of national sales and promotion, the copy stated, “One of the few women executives in the record industry, Margo Knesz knows the music business and the people in it.”
In December 1970, Knesz’s elevation to national promotion director at GRT was also heralded in Billboard’s Executive Turntable column. In an accompanying quote, GRT’s director of marketing Fred Love claimed that with her ascension, “Margo becomes the first female national promotion manager for a major record company.”
Early in her career Knesz had stints at Stereo Dimension Records (as assistant to the director of national promotion) and Epic Records, where she served as manager of promotion services. She subsequently joined Atlantic/Atco in Nov. 1969, where she was put “in charge of distributor promo relations,” according to a notice in Billboard. At Atlantic, Knesz shared an office with her boss, future label president Jerry Greenberg, who began noticing that his own way of doing business was rubbing off on her.
“I would use the f-word a lot to DJs and program directors. ‘You gotta play that f—in’ record, yada yada.’ And all of a sudden, I started hearing Margo use that word,” says Greenberg, who is putting the finishing touches on a book about Atlantic during the 1970s. “She would blast these DJs and really, she was a fireball, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was a great, great promotion person.” To reward her efforts, Greenberg promoted Knesz to assistant national pop promotion director specializing in secondary markets in 1974.
Marc Nathan, who headed up national singles promotion at Atco in the mid-to-late ’80s when Knesz served as general manager at the label, remembers how she “chainsmoked incessantly, and ate ‘individual tuna’ on white almost daily.” He added, “I called her the ‘tiny terror’ but she was someone you loved going to war with. We worked a bunch of records together” – including several hits by Nicks, as well as releases from INXS, Townshend and Robin Gibb, he says – “and I have many fond memories.”
In addition to her aforementioned roles, Knesz worked briefly at Evolution Records as national promotion director in the early 1970s and as national singles promotion director at RCA later that decade. She moved to MCA as director of national pop promotion after that, before returning to Atlantic in 1982 as Atco GM, a role she held for roughly the next decade.
-Additional reporting by Melinda Newman