Straight From The Mouth
The Morning Mouth's May Interview with Jeff & Jer
(Reprinted by permission; Copyright © 2009 Talentmasters Inc.)
Quick background check?
Jerry: We met and starting doing "Cesak & Elliott" in Detroit in 1982.
Went to Chicago in 1985. Came to San Diego in 1988.
Jeff: I started working on the radio on my 14th birthday. It's the only
job I've ever had, other than mowing lawns. It wasn't because it was my
childhood dream. It was because it was my brother's childhood dream. My
brother Jon was one of those few people who knew what he wanted to do from
the time he was a little boy. My parents tell us he made Tinkertoy
microphones when he was three. So, Jon started working at our local radio
station WWST in Wooster, Ohio. In the summer of 1969, I was mowing lawns, and
was pretty sure that wasn't going to be my life's calling. I had worked for
part time work. Well, I knew it paid more, my Chuck Taylors wouldn't turn
green, and I wouldn't get stung by yellow jackets, so I left landscaping for
showbiz. My brother Jon, who uses the professional name Jon Belmont, no
longer uses tinkertoy mics. He anchors the morning news on Associated Press
Radio from Washington D.C. I graduated high school on June 3rd, 1973. The
next morning at 6:00 I started my first morning show, on WRFD in Columbus,
Ohio. From there, I did a year or so at the station I grew up listening to.
WHLO Akron. "Don't say Hello, say Hello HLO, and win!" I wanted to transfer
colleges from Ohio State to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, so that I could
do some bible study, so I started calling DJs in Tulsa asking them where they
would work if they could work anywhere in the market. I always found that
other radio people were willing to mentor me, or help out, even if I called
them during their shows. They all said "FM 96." I sent a tape there and they
hired me for mornings. After college it was back to Ohio to another station I
admired as a kid, WWWE in Cleveland. It was cool to be heard in 38 state and
half of Canada. One morning I got a call from a guy who was listening in
Australia. After four years in Cleveland I did four months in Phoenix before
Chicago and then the last 20 years in San Diego.
One of my goals in this interview is to uncover things about each of
you that's never been revealed. So let's start with you sharing a story about
each other that you've never told until this moment.
Jeff: Are you kidding? I have told every story. Four hours of talk a day
is a lot to fill. But here's my favorite radio story about Jerry. He was in
High School and won a contest on WEAM in Washington DC. (Didn't a lot of us
start out as contest pigs?) He told the best Chinese joke and won Chinese
Dinner for six! So for a day Jerry was the stud of Bladensburg High. "Who
gets to go out for Chinese dinner with The Man? I'll let you know." So, Mr.
Big invited two guys and they all took dates. This was a big night out, so
the guys wore suits and the girls dressed just short of prom. They got to the
radio station and Jerry announced cockily, "Hello, I'm Jerry Cesak and I'm
here for my prize!" The receptionist returned Š with six cans of Chung King
Chow Mein, and six cans of Noodles. Chinese dinner for six with Mr. Big!
Jerry: In 1987, we were out of work. RKO had sold their Chicago station
and didn't want us. So Jeff and I would sit in the living room of his rented
house in Cary, Illinois and go through the SRDS (which was the encyclopedia
of radio back then). We'd take turns cold-calling stations asking for work.
After a couple months, we thought we'd have to split up. Jeff was going to
work for a soft music station in Chicago and I was going back to Detroit to
sell real estate. (A crafty career move, I think you'll agree.)
20 years. That's a long time. What's been the secret weapon?
Chemistry? Content? Consistency? Cash?
There are several reasons:
1) We truly do love each other.
have never care which of us gets the laugh.
3) If I'm not funny for 6
months (which happens about twice a year) it doesn't matter as long as Jeff
4) We have no egos with each other. None.
5) On May 3,
1982, our first day on the air, we decided we'd never have a laugh at a
6) The show is bigger than each of us. It always
Jeff: The secret is chemistry. We knew the minute we met that if we had
been college roommates, we would have been friends for life. We're very, very
we were raised that makes us inseparably compatible. That said, I think the
secret to the longevity of all of us as a team is a complete lack of ego on
everyone's part. And one more thing Š we never settled. We "cast" the show
carefully. We never ignored red flags and hired someone. In fact that goes
all the way back to when we teamed up. Jerry didn't settle. He flew all
around the country looking for a partnerŠflying from city to city, listening
to morning shows, and meeting potential partners, until he found someone with
whom he had natural, not forced, chemistry. It's just like when you don't
ignore red flags just to take a job, which is a lesson most of us have
learned the hard way.
Best and worst moment ever on the air?
Jerry: Worst: It was so awful I don't remember much of it. We had a guy on
the crank-calling his mom about running over their dog. (See #3 above). God
it was so dreadful, I might puke right now.
Best? I can think of 3: May 2, 1992 was Johnny Carson's last Tonight Show.
Tommy called his home. I remember Tommy saying in my headphones. "Thanks Mr.
Carson. Hang on a second". I almost wet myself. Then Tommy goes on the air
and says, "I asked Johnny Carson if we could talk to him and he said, 'That
sounds like fun, fellas. Let's do it." At that point I did wet myself. We did
ten minutes with him.
Second: Tommy called Charles Schultz's home and spoke to his wife, saying
we wanted to say hi and cheer him up. She put him on the phone. It was a
singularly remarkable interview. Ten days later he died.
Third: Tommy got Jack Nicholson's home number. We figured he'd hang up on
us, but could not resist a sexy woman. So Laura called. He was terrific!
Loved the scam! Did fifteen minutes with us. As you can tell, I am easily
Jeff: Best moment? I can't peg it to a particular show or bit, but it's
been the shows where things were happening live or unplanned in rapid
succession. Where we had to think the fastest and people are running up and
down the halls getting stuff while Tommy checked on 17 lines at once. The
adrenalin of those showsŠ.that's my favorite moment. It's not that often, but
after one of those shows I don't feel like we "did" a show, but that we
"rode" a show. We have to be taking chances and not just doing safe,
comfortable radio to make those moments happen.
Your show has always been known for its incredible promotions,
fundraisers, etc. Is there one that turned out bigger than your wildest
dreams? How about behind the scenes station ga ga?
Jeff: The one that sticks in my mind is the first listener party we had in
San Diego.We had only been on for five or six months and we had a Halloween
party in a hotel ballroom. Well, we didn't know if we even had any listeners
yet, and so many people came that the hotel brought in police and police dogs
to get control of the overflow. I remember thinking, "Oh, maybe this is
Jerry: Sorry to be boring, but the stations we've worked for have all been
very supportive. I suppose the "bigger than our wildest" would have to be the
"human flag" in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium after 9/11. We were
hoping for 30,000 people. 110,000 showed up before they closed the gates. It
Speaking of youth, did you always plan to get into radio? What do
you suppose you'd be doing today had it not been for radio?
Jeff: Even though I started in radio when I was 14, I never thought it
would be my career. I had always planned on being a school teacher or
administrator because I love kids so much. Then, when I was 17, I got my
first morning show, and was hooked. I now see it was God's hand on my life
steering me into what is my calling. I've spoken at a lot of schools, and the
kids just eat me alive. I have no control over them and there is no doubt
that my calling was not teaching! I remember the day that I felt the first
connection in my soul from doing morning radio. I was in High School and
filled in doing the morning show. I'd made a comment about one of the local
TV anchor's new glasses, and when I signed into school late, the secretary
told me how much that made her laugh. I sure recall thinking, "Wow, I can
make a difference in other people's lives with this." I think that feeling
has been my driving force for the 39 years I've done this.
Jerry: I was planning on writing movies. Still am. If radio hadn't
clicked, I'd undoubtedly be working full time for PETA.
Who gets props for putting you together as a team?
Jerry: Kip Guth, the program director at WMJC in Detroit. I'd been part of
"St. James & Harper" for a few years, and Greater Media wanted to hire us.
But Jim Harper wanted to stay with Nationwide and become their national PD.
So, in another crafty career move, I went to WMJC myself. They told me they'd
"find me a partner". Which is like saying "We'll find you a wife" in 90 days.
They flew me all over America meeting people. I found no one I really liked.
Not even close. About 3 months into this misery, Kip said, "I remember this
guy I worked with in Tulsa. I think he's in Phoenix now. You want me to call
him?" A week later Jeff came to Detroit. I went to his hotel, called his
room, then waited for him at the elevators. His first words to me were "So,
the topic today is morning shows, right?" We fell in love instantly. And I am
Jeff: Kip is the kindest man I've ever worked for. He bought his own
station in Boise, mainly because he wanted to create the kind of work
environment he thought radio people deserved.
Did the show click from the get-go?
When we started in Detroit we were "St. James & Elliott." Today, we often
say we only have 11 listeners. Back then, sadly, it was true. We were doing
what Jeff calls a "suitcase show." It could work (supposedly) in any market.
I did characters, we had goofy sound effects, and it wasn't even close to
real. Then, somehow, we got hired in Chicago. Holy balls, what an education.
Johnny Brandmeier was doing radio like no one we'd ever heard before.
Astounding talent. We were in awe. Steve and Gary were doing afternoons. Jeff
listened to them. He'd tell me about how incredible they were: "They just
talk about their lives" Steve puts his wife on all the time". I was so
jealous of all these madly talented people. One day we just quit, literally,
doing our suitcase show and started from zero - feeling our way around,
taking live calls, talking about life and trying to find "us". It was
terrifying. We felt like Verne Troyer standing next to Ruben Studdard. We got
a hell of an education those three years.
Jeff: Yes. We grew and learned over the years, but it worked from the
start. They put us into a studio to practice working together, and after
about 15 minutes, we stopped that and ordered pizza.
There's an old story floating in Detroit about your letter to the
staff explaining why you were leaving. Rumor has it, you blamed someone in
the building. Was that true, or just an urban legend?
Jerry: That was a joke. We wrote a good-bye note that we could no longer
work with some dweeb on the sales staff, so we're leaving. But it was a joke.
A joke, dammit. At that point we probably should have realized we had a
slight humor-related problem.
As you look back over the past 20 years, who's opinion always
mattered most to you? When things got weird, who would you call?
Jeff: I think for business questions we've used Don Anthony, Herb McCord
and our three time GM, Bob Bollinger as sounding boards or mentors. For
another ear on the show as far as content or direction Š we have trusted our
former program director Tracy Johnson and also George Johns. Some of our best
advice and direction has come at Bootcamp from others who do what we do.
Sometimes another morning host will say something like, "Well, why don't you
just do it this way?" And it will hit us over the head in the biggest "No,
duh" moment! And in the end we have trusted ourselves. I have learned so much
from Jerry, and we have had to learn together to trust ourselves. At times
that we haven't done that it has cost us in setbacks. It's an interesting
crusty's who say, "No punk 25-year-old PD is going to tell me how to run my
Jerry: George Johns. He invented this kind of radio. He has the smartest
and wisest entertainment mind in the world. He's simply brilliant. He's been
our mentor for 20 years and still coaches us today. I also call Tommy if I'm
really up or down about something. And my wife Pam, who hired us in San Diego
and has a terrific sense of how and why radio works.
Are you still winning the same way now as you did 20 years ago? In other
words, are the basic components of your show still the same?
Jerry: The methodology changes with time, but the core values of the show
are the same: fun, kindness, gratitude and a sense of family on the air.
Laura has been with us for 16 years. She's vastly talented and adds
incalculably to the show. Randy has been with us for 15 years and he's a huge
part of our success. We all love each other, and people know that. However,
our show wouldn't be a tenth of what it is without Tommy Sablan. When we came
to SD, we needed a producer. Tommy was a little production rat at the
station. He was born in SD, we figured he could teach us about the town, and
we liked him. He quickly became the best producer in American radio. I could
write pages about him. He never accepts "no." He can get into and inside
anywhere and anything. He works 19 hours a day. He has his hand on every
single aspect of the show from where we get breakfast to web design. He's the
reason we created "Becky's House" (homes for abused women and kids), one of
the biggest things ever in San Diego radio. We are still astounded on a daily
basis by Tommy. In 20 years, I've never heard him say "I can't do that." For
a million reasons, I respect Tommy more than almost anyone I've ever known.
Professionally and personally, I'd be lost without him.
Jeff: Yes, the basics, who we are and what we stand for, remain the same
at the core of the show. Beyond that, everything has changed. I think we run
on about a 2-year cycle where a lot of the approach and content changes. What
was funny 20 years ago isn't today. What motivates, reaches, entertains
people changes frequently.
When you're both old and gray, sitting in your underwear and reading
AARP Monthly, which radio memory from your formative days will always make
you put the apple sauce down, lean back and put a smile on your face?
Jeff: Well, what you describe in this question pretty much describes my
life from 10:30 am to bedtime every day, so it's going to be easy to relate.
I have no doubt that when I'm 90, I won't remember ratings, or money, or
major events. My snapshots will be entirely made up of special moments.
Things like laughs when things went wrong, or Jerry and me humming the
Mission Impossible theme while running down 23 flights of stairs in the
Prudential Tower in Chicago so that we wouldn't have to meet with our PD
after the show. It always gets me that people in radio always say, "Man, my
first job was my best. We had so much fun and didn't get all uptight over
ratings and all the business stuff." Jerry and I have tried to make all of
our jobs like that. We love it when things go wrong. When it seems small time
again. We have probably 50 credos that guide what we do and why, and one of
the biggest is "Care enough, but not too much." Or, as Scott Shannon puts it,
"The secret to success in radio is, if you're in a small market, act like a
big market and if you're in a big market, act like a small market." I have
worked with Jerry for 26 years, and I look forward to seeing him every,
every, every day. He, like I, appreciates the fun of each day Š making each
other laugh, breaking each other up, doing non-professional stuff off mike to
entertain the cast in the studio, turning on the mic during bad spots and
coughing during the pauses Š we do all the unprofessional stuff you did on
your first job and we love being on the radio. We absolutely love it.
Jerry: Maybe the day Jeff thought the delay was on and said, "I'll tell
you how scary it is: it'll make you shit!" He was horrified when a saleswoman
meekly opened the studio door and said, "Did you know we heard that?" No
kidding, I couldn't stop laughing for maybe 3 days. I was almost physically
sick. Or maybe the time Randy was introducing a segment. I'd put something in
the copy that I knew he wouldn't read. And yet: "ŠI'm your announcer Randy
Hoag. Blow me!" I swear I had to check into a hospital from laughing.
Let me turn you into talent coaches for a moment. You get a call
from a young jock in Toledo who's gotten his first break to do a morning
show. Problem is, his boss tells him he doesn't have time to gamble, so he's
got 6 months to make it work. He ask you both for 5 or 6 things that will
help him hit the ground running and engage his audience from the get-go. What
would you tell him?
Jerry: Before you go on the radio, spend two full weeks getting to know
Toledo better than anyone who's ever lived there. Talk to natives in stores
and restaurants. Tell them you're new in town and get them to tell you
everything. Ask them to lunch. Buy them drinks. Drive everywhere. Study maps.
Learn every street. Watch every minute of local TV you can. Visit every local
hot spot. Go to factories. Look inside big buildings. Hang out where people
eat lunch. Ride the bus. Take 20 cab rides and talk to the drivers. When Jeff
and I went on the air in SD, we sounded like our families had been here since
the invention of rocks. Nothing beats being local. Absolutely nothing. Tip
#2: Hire Tommy.
You're not only stars in San Diego, but you're immensely admired in
the morning radio community as well. Just for fun, I sought questions and
comments from some of your biggest radio fans. Here's an example from another
in the 20+ in the same market club, Brother Wease He wrote: "Ask those 2
fucks how it feels to win the lottery? Morning radio for big bucks in of all
places the city EVERYONE wants to live in? That's winning BIG. For 20 years
no less. Congrats fellas!
Here are few questions from J&J's radio friends: (questions are in bold
Are you happy? Will you guys adopt me? Steve Harmon - Salt Lake
Jerry: We are very happy. Adopting you would put an immediate end to that.
Two questions: Ron and I have been on the air together going on 19
years. How come the two of you are so much wealthier and more beloved than
us, and how much work does Little Tommy actually do? Congratulations, you're
two of a kind. Paul Castronovo - Paul and Young Ron Show/Miami
Jerry: Honestly, I think the biggest difference is that Jeff and I are
both strikingly handsome. You look like the guys who answer the meat buzzer
Jeff: I'll never forget the first time a station brought us in to
negotiate and Jerry's first comment was "OK, let's start by doubling the
base." He said that without flinching. God is my agent, but Jerry is my rep.
I owe him so much, for so many reasons.
How much does Tommy do? As a percentage of the workload, I'd put it at
100%! We would screwed without him, his work ethic, his caring and guidance.
He not only works each day to make the show happen, about midway through our
years together he started guiding the show and really becoming the PD of the
1) For shows that have been on the air in their markets for a long
time (15+ years)... What kinds of things can they do to keep things fresh?
Dave Sposito - Spokane
Jeff: The best way I can suggest to keep it fresh is to always seek to be
mentored, your entire career. Ask everybody at every convention to talk about
what's working and why. To me, that's the best part of Bootcamp. Not the
bits, but the big picture. Also, we continue to change what we do, and how we
do it to keep it entertaining to US in the studio. If we're not having fun,
they're not having fun.
2) (From Dave Sposito) So many of us (especially those of us that have
been in the same market for a long time) end up giving out A LOT of info and
it can really compromise your personal life. Can you tell us about some
situation(s) where you gave up too much personal information on the air.
Where do you draw the line on the personal stuff?
Jerry: Folks, I've known Dave Sposito for fifteen years. Here we have a
perfect example of how he's the grabbiest son of a bitch I've ever met. Two
questions? For free? I swear, the balls on this guy.
Jeff: Too much personal information? Never personally, but I have been
very careful about what I gave up about my wife, or especially my kids once
they became sensitive teen agers. I will even call them off the air and ask
if it's ok to tell something. There is no success worth a personal cost to
them. We are transparent on the air, but when in doubt, throw it out.
Biggest fight you ever had? Who had the best mullet on the show back
in the late 80's? Have you ever seen each other naked? If so, who's bigger?
Kevin Rolston - Wild 95.5 / West Palm
Jerry: This is one of our most-asked questions, and the honest answer is -
in 25 years together, we have never had a fight. Not one. To us, nothing has
been worth fighting about. The show and the 2 of us are what's important.
Anything else? Toss a coin, Mr. Badim. I think I had the best mullet. Also
had a ponytail for a while. We've seen each other naked a million times. Jeff
is - how do I put this? Enormous.
Jeff: None. Never. We are very, very different people, but we don't let
the differences be abrasive. We instead celebrate those differences and are
thankful for what they bring to the show. If your partner says, does, feels
differently than you do Š ask yourself, would you rather be right, or rich?
Plus, Jerry truly makes me laugh, every day, and I find him to be the most
interesting person. I could drive with him in a small car from San Diego to
Portland, Maine and never run out of things to talk about.
"20 years is a long time to stay fresh and connected to your
audience so who were the shows/people that you have networked with or
borrowed from throughout your career that have really helped you grow as a
show/radio person" Justice - Executive Producer Chio In the
Jerry: We met Kidd Kraddick in 1989. He taught us so much about being real
and connecting with listeners. He taught us how to make them cry. Dwyer and
Michaels have been an inspiration since forever. Great friendship and mutual
love that spills out of the radio. Ace and TJ were little snot-nosed brats
when they asked us to breakfast at a Boot Camp years ago. It's been exciting
to watch them grow into big snot-nosed brats. We learn from them all the
time. Dave Sposito and Ken. Very grounded, confident and frankly, loveable.
Brother Wease taught us that it's OK to have balls on the air. If you have a
big heart, people will allow you almost anything. Wease's heart is bigger
than Dallas. We're big fans of Mark and Mercedes. We can do an entire show
just reading their Bitboard report. They are constantly new. Bert Weiss is a
craftsman at making anything sound natural and significant. It's an education
listening to him weave that show. Being yourself is the single-hardest thing
to do in radio. No one does it better than John Jay and Rich. They are
totally themselves and they are your best friends. Which is quite the art.
There are many others, but I think that should get me massive free booze at
Boot Camp this year.
Who inspires you? What about radio connects to you still? Rich Berra
Johnjay & Rich Show / Clear Channel Tucson-Phoenix
Jeff: I have many shows I admire, steal off of, and love, but I have to go
back to the guy who started Bitboard and who I think created a lot of the
feeling and philosophy behind how all of us do this, Dave "Kidd" Kraddick. He
has always gotten how to do this in a Yoda way. I am truly humbled by that. I
am also inspired and challenged by Howard Stern. I learn so much about how to
do this every minute I listen to him. I find it fascinating how he relates to
his callers and coworkers with warmth while still keeping it real and honest
without fail. He can find the moment of drama in the smallest things. I know
he says he was "Born interesting." But, I hear him grow every year he does
this. I agree with him that he's the best who's ever done this.
Jerry: I already answered the 1st question. The answer to the 2nd? Money.
I just love it.
You obviously share a lot of interest and have a great friendship,
but there have to be differences. How are you most different? And what do you
have most in common? What's the one bit you still can't believe didn't work?
--Ace & TJ/Charlotte NC
Jerry: We're different in many ways. I'm a Buddhist vegetarian. Jeff is a
Christian carnivore. I don't have kids. Jeff has about thirty. I have great
love and respect for Don Anthony.
What didn't work? I was sitting in on some lame-ass morning show
down south. Charlotte, I think it was. I did some jokes about smoking. Nobody
got it. Jeeze, what a bunch of snuggle-toothed mouth-breathers. And one final
question from me: People most familiar with your show have always said they
could listen to you forever. Let's turn this around: Name someone you never
get tired of hearing?
Jerry: Jeff. No question. He is the most interesting person in my life.
Which is one of the reasons we've been together forever. We've often said
that we could drive a long-haul truck together for a living and never run out
of stuff to talk about. He is also the single funniest person I've ever
known. 25 years later, no one makes me laugh more or harder than him. He is
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