Straight From the Mouth
The Morning Mouth's July Interview with The Bert Show
(Reprinted by permission; Copyright © 2009 Talentmasters Inc.)
What radio path did each of you take to get here?
Bert Weiss: KCBQ/San Diego, KSON/San Diego, WRQX/Washington, DC, KHKS/Dallas, WWWQ/Atlanta.
Jeff Dauler: I started at Z89, at Syracuse University, which has produced a bunch of great radio people. I did the radio vagabond thing, working in Syracuse, Boston, Tucson, Philadelphia, and finally here.
Tracey Kinney: I was still a student at the University of Georgia when I became interested in radio and became a promotions intern for our sister station 99X. It was around the same time that Q100 was launched and The Bert Show had a limited staff. I believe I was the first official Bert Show Bert Show producer.
Melissa Carter: I began my professional career here in Atlanta with 99X in 1995, and moved over to Q100 in 2001. I had worked in radio in high school and college beforehand.
Jenn Hobby: WBTS/Atlanta 99-02, WGMG Athens 01-02, WWWQ/Atlanta 02-08.
For openers, who gets credit for naming you "The Bert Show?"
Tracey: I'm going to guess that it was Bert's idea.
Bert: My mom, I guess. That's what's on my birth certificate so I thought it would be odd to call it The Gary Show. I toyed with the idea of "Free Beer and Hot Wings" but it seemed like a ridiculous idea. I mean who the hell would call their show "Free Beer and Hot Wings," right?
Jeff: Bert. I remember being on a conference call with him and Brian Philips and Brian suggested some wacky 'morning zoo' type names and Bert was like 'Nope! That's not me!
Who gets credit for getting you to Atlanta?
Bert: Brian Phillips and Randy Lane. I attended a Randy Lane workshop in San Francisco years ago. I told him I was ready to try to hosting a show. He agreed. He passed my name on to Brian Phillips, the PD of Q100 and 99X (at the time). Brian and I met and then he took a chance with me. I had been on the support staff of other morning show's my whole career. No real hosting experience. Brian and Susquehanna hired me on gut alone. It's sort of unheard of now. Even after my hire they gave me complete control to chose my staff and never pressured me to sound perfect. They had the confidence to allow me to follow my vision and made themselves available when I came to them. They gave me time to develop my skills in a major market. It was a tremendous risk, but a risk I wish radio companies would still make if they find a host they believe in.
Jeff: Brian Philips, who I met when he was putting WOLF together in Dallas. He brought Mojo and me in from Tucson to talk about doing country mornings there in the late 90's. We didn't take that gig, but Brian and I stayed in touch, and when Q100 really started to happen in late-2000, he reached out again. And then in January 2001, I got three phone within about 90 minutes one day. The first was from Randy Lane, who said 'Don't tell anyone, but I think there might be an opportunity for you in Atlanta with Bert.' The second was from Brian, who said 'This is top secret, but I think we have Bert coming in to do mornings, would you work with him?' And the last call was from Bert, 'You can't tell anyone, but I might be going to Atlanta. Are you interested?' To this day, I'm not sure anyone is supposed to know if I am involved in Q100.
Jenn: I moved to Atlanta immediately after graduation at FSU to find a life in radio. I credit my first boss, Renata Circeo at Lakewood Amphitheater, for introducing me to every radio person she knew in Atlanta through her connections in the concert business. I credit my shot on The Bert Show to a per chance meeting with Bert at a bar called Cosmopolitan in midtown. We had a great talk that apparently he remembered about a year later! I would also be remiss if I did not credit Leslie Fram and Mark Renier for throwing my name in the hat for a couple positions at Q100. Leslie and Mark continue to be incredible mentors to me.
Who does what?
Bert: Jeff is the executive producer of the show. His role has evolved to where, essentially, he oversees major projects. While Tracey Kinney is listed as the Assistant Producer she really does run the day to day Bert Show operations. She's the small detail producer but also has great ideas and vision. Melissa is our News Director and pseudo web master. Jenn Hobby is our entertainment director. All contribute on air and all contribute material to the show. The whole show truly is a team effort.
Jeff: Off-air, Bert makes the call on material and brings 60% of it to the table. Tracey is the real star of our show, and keeps everything organized and on track. Melissa manages our web content. Jenn coordinates our crew of interns. We also have a stunt girl and phone screener and and engineer, but all of those positions are in transition right now. I will handle larger projects and work more long-term.
Melissa: I'm responsible for making sure things get posted to the Bert Show's web page.
Jenn: Entertainment Buzz 3 X per show, random hallmark moments of tears, feminine perspective and lots of laughter.
Tracey: We all collectively come up ideas. We are all responsible for coming to our weekly show planning meetings with ideas and topics. I keep track of all the material that is brought in to the meeting and that we brainstorm on. I manage all of the show's schedule including our long term planning calendar, our weekly calendar where I schedule all of the material that we brainstorm and our daily show calendar. Each day, I give Bert a very detailed schedule of the next day's show including all our scheduled bits, promotional plugs, teases, contests, etc. I book all the guests for each show and coordinate any involvement from listeners on our show. I My job is also to make sure that every thing for the next day's show is taken care of and ready for air. I coordinate promotions and giveaways with our promotions and sales department.
You just moved from 100.5 to 99.7 on the dial, but you still refer to your calls as Q100. When you were about to make the switch, were you more scared or excited? has grown from 3000 watts to 100,000 watts has, professionally, been the most satisfying "project" of my career. I'm really proud of all the time and effort it's taken so many people to make that happen. Keeping the Q100 handle at 99.7 was a marketing decision made way above my level. Jeff and I really felt that from a marketing standpoint we should change the station to something like Q99.7. We were so adamant about it that I called John Dickey and asked for a meeting. I think the cool thing is that the owner of Cumulus, his right hand man, Jan Jeffries, and our OM, Rob RoBerts were all willing to meet with Jeff and I and hear us out. We debated together for over an hour. John felt like the Q100 brand was too valuable to abandon. And inevitably, the station stayed Q100. But I really respect the fact that John sat down with us and took our debate seriously. As an employee that's really all you can ask for.
Jeff: Excited. But the reality is that when we were a 3000 or 13,000 watt signal, and were consistently top 3, everyone was thrilled. But now with 100K, we are expected to do that well Š if not better. That's not really scary, but does make it more 'work' and less 'fun,' if that makes any sense.
Jenn: We were all excited and nervous at the same time. Now we're not the underdogs anymore... that's a lot to live up to each day. But we were ready.
What is do you think is the difference between a "Great" show and a "Good" show?
Bert: Genuine chemistry. You can't fake liking the people you work with over a long period of time. If you genuinely understand, respect and like each other you can over come and embrace your differences. Therefore making a great product.
Jeff: ADD. Authenticity. Drama. We get tired of the stuff we do faster than the average listener, so the show is constantly evolving. We intentionally bridge our storylines over several days, creating drama. And we are 100% authentic in our opinions and views. If one of us makes a bad joke, nobody else laughs. If somebody chokes in a celebrity interview or gives a bad answer in this interview, we will all call them out.
Jenn: Chemistry. We all genuinely love one another (through good and bad times) and we love making one another laugh. The best part of my day comes when I can make the three of them burst out laughing. I secretly high five myself inside when that happens!
Melissa: Connection with listeners. I think we as a show rarely follow some "formula," and instead are willing to share our lives on air. That allows our listeners to see us as friends rather than dj's.
Tracey: While much planning and thought goes in to each and every show, when the mics turn on it seems very organic and conversational. Much of our show content comes from our listeners who are willing to air their dirty laundry on the air. We create mini soap operas out of our listeners' drama and give the rest of the audience reason to come back. I thing our show also gets bored before the audience has a chance to. So we change topics or retire content before the audience gets sick of hearing it.
I've heard you do some of the most extraordinary celebrity interviews I've ever heard. It's like they want to pull off their star masks with you. How did you manage this?
Bert: I work very hard at building an atmosphere that they feel is safe. And it is. But it's authentic. I have never shied away from asking tough question but it's all in the wording. You can ask a celebrity ANY question. But the timing has to be right and you have to arrange the words carefully. If you put a celebrity on the defense initially you'll never get them back. Also, we won't take an interview with PR restrictions.
Jeff: I credit Bert with that. He is an incredibly talented interviewer and creates a comfortable environment where the guest simply feels like we are old friends just hanging out. He understands the pressure the stars must feel answering any personal question, and lessens that pressure, oftentimes by acknowledging it head on. It's really quite incredible.
Jenn:I think the laid back format of our show sets celebs at ease immediately. We bring them into the fold and get them to laugh with us. We talk about whatever comes up, not necessarily getting to each prepared question on our list. Personally, I am very rarely star struck. Celebrities are just people with cool jobs. So are we, so we just take it down to that level and try to relate.
Who would you rank your best and worst interviews ever? What happened?
Bert: Best interview was probably Nick Lachey. We got him at a time where he wasn't supposed to talk about his divorce with Jessica Simpson. But we were very careful about how we worded questions and he completely gave us an authentic interview. Gwyenth Paltrow was an open book. We just finished a Who Do You Know contest and some of the best interviews we did came out of those even though we had zero time to prepare. Chris Rock sucked. The dude so didn't want to do the interview and pretty much told us that he turns on "funny" when he has to, "like for Oprah." The implication was that a morning radio interview was not important enough to make an effort for. Jessica Alba bored me. I think my forehead actually hit the mic when I dozed off.
Jeff: The 30 seconds with Muhammad Ali moved me to tears. All of our 'Who Do You Know' roster was great: Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Garner, Gwenyth Paltrow, President Jimmy Carter. No agenda, just chatting. Will Farrell and Kelly Clarkson were both fun guests. Tracey's in-person with all 5 New Kids was amazing radio.
Jenn: My favorite in-person interviews were with Will Farrell. He is a on the planet. I also adore Adam Levine from Maroon 5. There's too many good ones to pick just one!!
Melissa: I'm too intimidated. I never speak during celebrity interviews.
Tracey: Our Tom Cruise interview was really cool. Jeff got Tom to act out the scene from "A Few Good Men" with Jeff playing Jack Nicholson's role.
What's been the most shocking response to a question you've ever gotten from a celebrity? Something that made everyone in the studio's mouth drop?
Bert: Chili from TLC told us that Usher screwed around on her and that's what ended their relationship. Gweneth Paltrow told us she hates Los Angeles. Adam Levine told us he's tried all drugs and pretty much hates them all. Amy Winehouse brought in five pounds of weed and gave us all a pound to take home in a separate gift bags! OK. The Amy Winehouse story is totally made up.
Jenn: Hands down - Usher. He and Bert got into it over something his ex, Chili, had said on the air to us. Usher tried to point the finger at Bert and they had a real, intense argument live on the air. I will never forget that moment. I thought, "I am so proud to be on this show."
You've gotten lots of national TV exposure. Do you find them, or do they find you?
Bert: Jeff and Tracey have worked on making connections with major tabloids. When we have something tabloid-worthy they send it in.
Jeff: I have a few contacts that I send stuff out to. I have learned that it's all luck-of-the-draw. If you are talking to a celeb that is big for them, anything remotely exciting will get you coverage. If you are talking to a nobody who admits to a killing spree while they were in high school, it is unlikely that any tabloid will care.
What was the coolest national exposure you ever got?
Bert: Politely hanging up on Mariah Carey when she was 60 minutes late for an interview, Usher and I getting in a verbal argument in the studio over the comments that Chili from TLC made about him. Nick Lachey commenting on his recent divorce from Jessica Simpson. There have been some that backfired to. I actually went on Fox News and defended Ms. Cleo the day before she was exposed as a fraud.
Jenn: Jeff is the best with the gossip rag connections... he may never share his secrets! My favorite exposure was the two page spread in US Weekly that was all about Nick Lachey. He said in our interview that he would "always love Jessica" and it made the cover.
Your show's also known for it's humanitarian works: "Bert's Big Adventure," etc. Is there one you did that had a particularly emotional effect on you? One that's still hard to shake?
Bert: We've been doing the trip to Disney long enough now that some of our past BBA kids have passed away. Going to their funerals hits hard 'cause I have two kids. Living life without my kids is a thought so painful that I try to avoid the thought. Attending those funerals makes me have to address it.
Jeff: Our first big 'public service' type project was a graduation ceremony for a girl in a wheelchair who was not allowed to participate in her school's graduation ceremony. That was back in '01, when we were just getting started, and the community totally rallied to make that happen for her. That still gets to me. Currently, we participate in a breast cancer fundraiser that Tracey spearheads each year. This one is cool because of the personal connections: Tracey has too much breast cancer in her family and has had a scare herself.
Melissa: Being an out lesbian, I work with local gay teen organizations in town. The most emotional moments are when teens will e-mail me to reach out but ask me not to respond for fear someone will find out. I am the only one they feel they can talk to.
Jenn: Bert's Big Adventure is an amazing trip that affects me differently each year. We get very connected to our families very quickly. There are no words to describe the look on a child's face when they see Cinderella's castle for the first time or meet their favorite character in person or ride into the stars on Space Mountain.
Tracey: "The Bert Show's Big Thank You" is another that I'm really proud of. We could have asked our listeners to write thank you 5000 cards for the troops. But instead we asked for 400,000. It was enough for every soldier stationed overseas to receive a letter at Thanksgiving. The fact that we pulled that off is something that I'll always be proud of. But for me, I'm most closely connected with our involvement in The Atlanta 2 Day Walk for Breast Cancer. My mother and step mother are both breast cancer survivors. So the fact that The Bert Show has been vital in raising over 3 million dollars for the Atlanta Breast Cancer community is huge!
Now you've also had some events that kept you on a tight rope. Like the one at Six Flags. Isn't that where you kissed the 80 year old? She gave tongue, too, right? Tell us what happened.
Bert: We got together with Six Flags and allowed everybody that showed up between 5:30 and 10am free admission. Holy shit! The offer spread virally and by the time the damn park opened at 5:30 there were twenty-mile back-ups around the city. No lie. The traffic in Atlanta is so bad that when one road gets that backed up it has serious consequences to most of the traffic grid. We expected 10,000 people to arrive between 5:30 and 10. The park was filled by 6am. The "incident"consumed the front page of our major newspaper and headlined every major newscast in Atlanta. I was spit on at public events and my home was burned to the ground. Ok, the last line is complete bullshit. But we did get thousands of hate emails including one from a listener that missed her dialysis appointment and one that lost a major account because he was a no show for the meeting.
The real tragedy was the 70-year-old kissing bit within the Six Flags event. I lost a bet and had to kiss Freda for sixty seconds. She took it way seriously and (no lie), tongued me for thirty of the sixty seconds. Her tongue was like sand paper. It was like tonguing a cat! She must have lost her saliva glands around age 65. But I didn't want to offend her so I went the entire minute. I begged my wife not to watch the video. To this day she has no idea what the whole damn thing looks like. Much like a battle-tested soldier, I still have posttraumatic stress disorder from that morning.
Who else has had to kiss whom?
Bert: A few years ago we did a weekly bet in which the two members of the show that picked the least amount of football games correctly from that weekend had to kiss each other on Monday morning. We've all pretty much lip locked at one point or another. Just for the record, Jeff's goatee is less coarse than you'd think it is and really quite welcoming.
Jeff: Now how is this relevant to Morning Radio?
Jenn: I lost a football bet one season and so did Bert. I think we had to kiss for 10 seconds. It felt like forever!! I wonder how Angelina felt when she kissed her brother? Kinda like that, maybe?
Melissa: I got to kiss Pink, after asking her to re-create a moment she had at a spin-the-bottle party with Christina Aguilera.
In Jockline we recently had a story on Don Geronimo, who recently retired and moved to the beach, but couldn't resist being on the radio again. So he took a job at a small station where he's doing a two-hour show called "Rockin' Soul." Just some funky format he always wanted to do. Do any of you have some fantasy format that you'd like to do when you reach that point?
Bert: A format of nothing but radio consultants. The jocks, the music, the imaging. All done by consultants. That I'd love to hear.
Melissa: Some talk show like The View for radio If a jock that's just starting out in radio came up to you and asked you for the top 3 ways to make a show sound better, what would you tell them?
Jenn: I would love to do a 2 hour show with Melissa covering women's issues. I can visualize us talking about big issues like child trafficking and women's pay inequity. But we would also cover the smaller stuff like what to do when you find yourself stuck without a tampon!
This interview will be featured in the Morning Show Boot Camp XX edition. When thinking about people on the air, who could you spend hours talking with and never get bored?
Bert: Jeff Elliott (of Jeff & Jer'). He's the perfect blend of humility, genius, humor, introspection and authenticity. And an extraordinary storyteller. I've learned a lot being in the same room with him year after year at conventions.
Jeff: Yikes, I don't know. Radio people frighten me, to be honest.
If a jock that's just starting out in radio came up to you at Boot Camp and asked you for the top 3 ways to make a show sound better, what would you tell them?
Bert: 1) Be more authentic and you'll be amazed how easy you're listeners will connect with you.2) Flow WITH your show don't try to control it. 3) Be open to suggestions but always follow your intuition.
Jeff: Be very aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and hire accordingly. Lose the ego, don't hesitate to let everyone else be the star. And learn the business and adapt, don't resist. If you are working for a publicly traded company, then management goals aren't necessarily high ratings. Knowing that allows you to work within those parameters and life becomes a lot easier.
Jenn: 1. Get real and just talk to each other about your personal junk. We've all got it. 2. The more uncomfortable you feel about revealing something about yourself, the better radio it is. Go there. 3. Don't book stupid interviews to fill time. If you wouldn't want to hear about it, neither do your listeners.
Melissa: Be authentic, stay connected to what's going on in your town, make any reporting conversational
Who do you think is the most underated morning host/show in radio?
Bert: Kevin Rolston's show, WLDI/West Palm Beach.
Jeff: I've become big fans of Hawk & Tom, out of Greenville.
Jenn: Laura from Jeff & Jerr's show is so wide open. I admire her tremendously.
I'd be remiss in not asking Jenn and Melissa about some very personal situations that became part of the show. Has there ever been anything you shared with your audience that in hindsight, you wished you hadn't? What was the toughest thing you ever revealed?
Melissa: I came in studio right after an all-night fight with my girlfriend years ago that had ended in our breaking up. I wish I hadn't been so emotional about it on-air since people will bring it up in front of my current girlfriend.
Jenn: Early on when I first joined the show, I spoke openly about one of my friends who was battling an eating disorder. I was so upset and didn't know what to do to help her. I said too much and even though I never revealed her name, it split up our friendship forever. I learned a big lesson that day... my life is ok to share, but be careful with sharing intimate details of the lives of those dear to you. More recently, I have opened up as much as possible about going through a divorce. It felt incredibly raw to talk about it. There is so much you just cannot share.
Jeff, you've become quite the entrepreneur. You're now part owner in a chain of restaurants called the "Flying Biscuit." I spent two months dieting and I killed it in one visit. The food is awesome. Question:do you do radio trade? 2) do your partners eat free there?
Jeff: Thanks, Don. Just like my radio show, I have a great team helping me with the restaurants. Of course we do radio trade, and everyone in my building takes advantage of the delicious and fresh-made catering The Flying Biscuit offers.
Any plans to ever syndicate?
Bert: Not sure. I'm really tore-up about it. I think you have to ask yourself if you're syndicating for the right reasons. Bragging rights or ego isn't the right reason. While I confess I have an ego I'm way more motivated by money. I've done some research and there are very few shows in my format that are making a ton of money syndicating. It's a lot of work. I don't mind doing the work if it's profitable.
Ideally I'd actually like to use it to make the local, Atlanta show better. Can I hire more quality staff to improve the show? Can I improve the web site? Can I put extra money into the pockets of my existing staff?
Also, I'm not sure if I'm at my best with the time constraints that are associated with syndication. One of the show's strengths is we're able to flow with a topic as I see fit. If it's rolling I can continue on. If it's flat I can bail. Can I be disciplined enough to hit time marks or will the time constraints stress me out and make a less quality show?
Jeff: I am not a fan of syndication.
Jenn: Ask Bert - I'm in!
Any thoughts for first time Boot Camp attendees?
Jeff: Network with the guys whose success you would someday like to have for yourself. Then follow-up with them after Boot Camp and share (don't just take) ideas and thoughts.
Bert: I have a few. Start making morning radio alliances. The most important friendships I have in radio came from morning show conventions; Ace and TJ, Dwyer and Michaels, Johnjay and Rich, Kevin Rolston, Mojo, JB and Sandy. We all bonded through intoxication, public vomiting and strip clubs. We've remained connected ever since.Cozy up to the veteran morning shows that you admire. Outside of Ace and TJ, they are very approachable. Pick their brains. Years ago these now "veteran" morning shows were thirsty for knowledge. The "Jeff and Jer's" and the "Kidd Kraddicks" embraced the responsibility to pass forward anything they could. Now those newly veteran shows are eager to leave a legacy and pass what they can on to you (provided you don't end up using that knowledge against them in their own market). Take advantage of them.