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Straight From The Mouth
The Morning Mouth's May Interview with Ross & Courtney
(Reprinted by permission; Copyright © 2003 Talentmasters Inc.)

First, the Ross Brittain story:

R: I have been in it for 28 years. If we could just gloss over the first several and start with WABC from '81-83 then Z100 for ten years with a year or so for Eagle 106 in Philly then WKSS 95.7 since 95.

When did Courtney join the show?

R: Robyn King used to be my partner when I first got here. She was gone in a year and left for greener pastures. Then came Courtney.

C: I've been here for about eight years.

Who else is on the show?

R: Our newsguy, the always sarcastic Steve Coates, who also helps write guy/intern/producer. We got him from his old job, pharmacy assistant at Wal-Mart (hence the name) in a "talent search" last summer.

Have you always been CHR?

R: Yeah top 40.

One thing I hear about Ross Brittain is that you're a constant tweeker, updater of the show. True?

R: Yeah, I need to update again really soon.

C: He also needs to do something with his hair.

R: There is only so much hair that you got and then when you lose it you have to update. I may need to go to rock or even, God help us, adult contemporary.

What's the trick for a seasoned vet to stay appealing on a younger demo?

R: I think you have to look at current culture, current media and find out what everybody else is doing. I really didn't change anything at Z100 until I left and then I looked around and said jeez, Letterman is so hot now and so hip and so you change the show, you get rid of the music beds, you do more unstructured talk. All that kinda stuff that you see all around you.

C: Like a reality show.

You came into radio in an era where everyone's goal was to have the best set of pipes, to sound like a cool DJ, everybody had to have ballsy voices. Even the women on radio back in the 70's and 80's had a certain edge to what they did. Then along came the 90's and everybody tried hard to become real. Did you have a point in your career where you went through this transition?

R: No, honestly I have been doing mornings since 1974. Even back then I was hired because the Program Director didn't want to get up and turn the transmitter on.

Where was this?

R: It was in Atlanta. The PD didn't want to get up to turn the transmitter on and after three and a half months everybody at the station except for me was fired because the FCC inspector walked in and found them smoking dope with a record guy so then I became Program Director. I am not going to say who he was or any of the other people, but they made me Program Director just because I wasn't in the station at the time. It's been one of those careers where just anything happens. It was Atlanta where I met Scott Shannon. We were programmers at different stations. I had no experience programming, they just made me Program Director. Later, when I was at WABC New York and got fired, I walked across the street and said "Hey, (to Scott Shannon) why don't you hire me" and he goes "No man, you're a morning jock, I can't hire you for afternoons." So, we did a handshake deal to do mornings together. But no, I haven't changed my style.

So one of the ways to success is find a station where everyone is in

R: Seriously, that is how Courtney got her job.

Courtney, how did you get your job?

C: It was 1991 when I got my first radio job. It was WHEB in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was a Classic Rock station and I was just learning how to run a board during overnights when the jock went outside to smoke some pot and never came back. I swear, so I just turn the mic on and I got the morning gig there probably not even a year later.

Lots of dope stories here. I feel like I'm back in the '70s.

R: It's turned into crack now. It's still there just in a different form.

C: There is no smoking in studios now so they have to shoot it.

Looking back in your (Ross) 25 plus years doing morning radio, you've worked with a number of different partners. Who among them influenced you the most?

C: For goodness sake I am sitting right here!

R: I have to say Courtney right off the bat. Courtney is the best-looking partner I have ever had, too. Anyway, there was Scott Shannon. All the guys at Z100 were really talented, it was a great ensemble. I'd also have to say Larry Lujack -- I listened to him in high school in Chicago, during those great years when WLS and WCFL were CHR competitors. In fact, he was such an influence, I can remember listening to him in my car when I was in college in Atlanta, because after local sunset the station would come in clear most days.

You alluded to this earlier, but do you see yourself shifting to another format? Would you consider talk?

R: Yeah sure why not.

C: Love phones late at night.

Ross, how involved were you in Courtney's hire?

What's been your trick to getting along... for so long?

C: Ross is my best friend (wink, wink).

R: What they tell you in marriage is to never go to bed angry at each other. Unfortunately I have never been to bed with any of my partners. I actually worked with my wife one time.

How did that go?

C: He told me she wore short shorts and high heels.

R: My wife is Rossa Kay. She was a morning news anchor and News Director at Lite FM/New York for eleven or twelve years. We competed against each other. We first started WABC and I can remember one time when Howard Cosell was riding down in the elevator with both of us and he looked at her in these short shorts and high heels and goes (in dead-on Cosell voice) "So, you are dating a disc-jockey." You know, the insinuation was you are dating beneath you. He was right but I couldn't tell him that.

I think a lot of us -- early on -- had parents that questioned our career choices.

R: Courtney's dad still does and he's her agent.

C: He did that with me a couple of contracts ago.

Is your dad really your agent?

C: My dad is the best lawyer/agent in the world, yeah.

R: He's a criminal lawyer, he fits right in.

Looking back, do you have a favorite on-air memory?

R: Go ahead Courtney.

She already has one?

R: Yeah, she recently interviewed Enrique Iglesias and he touched her breast.

And...

C: No, during the interview, I asked him if he liked real or fake? He looked at me and asked "What about you?" and I said "Ross and Courtney If I were you I'd find out."

And he complied?

R: Oh yeah!

C: Ohhhhh yeah!

Actually, I'm surprised a celebrity would take that risk?

C: Don, have you seen mine? C'mon, it was fun and innocent.

R: I'll tell you what, it wasn't that innocent!

What's the real secret to a great morning show?

R: A very, very important person whose name I forget, once said to me "If you can fake sincerity, you can get places in this business." And they were absolutely right.

Can you truly fake sincerity?

R: Yeah, I've been doing it for this whole interview.

Looking back at Z100, did it ever dawn on you how much you were impacting other stations?

R: I had a guy come up to me and said "We're doing our main announcements at 7:20." And I asked why are you doing that? And he said, "Well, you're doing it at 7:20." But I said, wait, what time does the majority of your audience listen to your show, and they would "Well, we have a bunch of plants in our town and everybody is at work by 8:45." So I asked, why aren't you doing your main announcements from 8:30 to 8:45? And he said, 'cause 7:20 is when you do it!

Predict radio ten years from now.

R: I think you'll be hearing morning drive and afternoon drive live and the rest will be voicetracked except maybe at top 40 stations where you might have evenings.

C: I think it is all going to be satellite radio.

R: The technology is there now and you know this. Somebody could say "I'd like Ross and Courtney between the records and I want to hear country music and I want PBS news on the hour." Some satellite service is going to say "You choose the disc-jockey, you choose the music format, you choose the news" and it'll all come together by computer.

So I am the guy reading this interview with Ross & Courtney and damnit I want to hear some bits that I can do on the radio. Favorite things you have done on the radio?

C: We were giving away a car and we told people to come down and guess how many munchkins were in the truck of the car. We gave out coffee and donuts.

R: So these people were guessing how many munchkins were in the car so when we opened up the trunk there were three little people in trunk.

C: We had three real midgets come out of the trunk, how great is that? That was the best thing ever.

Where does one find munchkins?

C: No, I went on midgets.com and they do stuff for entertainment.

R: You'd be surprised how cheap you can get a little person to work for.

Did anyone guess three?

R: We had someone do like they do on the price is right where they will low-ball it and say like one. Nobody guessed that there were actual people in the trunk.

What is the most outrageous thing you have ever done?

R: We got suspended for having people go up and take a picture of Katherine Hepburn's ass in a hospital gown when she was here in the hospital a year ago. She donated money for a wing at Hartford Hospital and when she came in with the urinary tract infection, you'd have thought the Pope showed up; she lives in CT, too. Hospital had to hire extra security because of the bit and were pissed; they more than got their publicity out of it -- they were in newscasts all weekend. We were pretty careful, though -- we said "you don't want to scare her to death -- so don't use a flash" and put a deadline of 5 pm the same day so that in reality, it'd be hard to get the pictures unless you had a Polaroid. We didn't think anybody would do it, but we got three days of call letter mentions on the major TV stations and a two day "suspension" (paid).

C: I guess the hospital got stormed and they weren't too happy about it.

I have found this to be an interesting question, so I'll ask it again: What is your favorite way to end an interview?

R: I like the way Hendrie does it. I read that last month. Courtney has a thing where she likes to end the interview by doing the teenage, "No you hang up first" thing. You would be surprised how these people will drag on because they don't want to hang up first.

What was the defining moment in your career?

R: I can remember the party that we through for the listeners after Z100 became number one and we were number one for 74 days and I can remember standing there at this club in Manhattan looking out over the crowd thinking I really need to remember this because these are our listeners and all of a sudden we are number one because the rest of those first two years are pretty much a blur to me because we were working 12, and 13, and 14 hours. So I thought wow, number one in New York, this is what it feels like. That is honestly the moment that I remember because that's when I knew that I had made it.

Twenty, thirty, forty years from now when you are totally off the radio out whatever you are doing, how do you want to be remembered?

R: Dan Ingram once said, "Be nasty to people on the way up and they will ignore you on the way down."

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