Straight From the Mouth

The Morning Mouth's October Interview with AJ's Playhouse
(Reprinted by permission; Copyright © 2009 Talentmasters Inc.)

Quick background check?

AJ: I started out as a stand-up comedian. Some comedy clubs would book me on local morning shows to promote the club and radio caught my interest. After interning at KLCQ Santa Rosa I got my first morning gig at KHBG Healdsburg, a station that was built into a converted two bedroom house! One bedroom was the on-air studio, one was production, the receptionist was in the living room and our 4 sales people were in the kitchen. After getting some experience there I was somehow able to convince Mark Adams to hire me to produce "Fernando in the Morning" on KZQZ San Francisco. Mark is a radio genius and after a few months of learning from him I was itching to get back to hosting my own show and applying what I had learned. That opportunity came from Dan Watson at KDON Monterey. I hosted "AJ's Playhouse" along with first taste of success. After about a year on KDON, our consultant snatched me up to take over mornings at her station KHTS San Diego and I've been here ever since.

Who else does the show with you? There was a recent change, correct?

My right hand woman on the show is Geena "The Latina" who came to us from KIIS FM LA about two years ago. Geena has a rare combination of great instincts and an insane work ethic. On top of that she really lives the lifestyle of our demoŠif it's cool and it's anywhere near San Diego, Geena is there. She is also our show-business reporter, a job that she takes very seriously. Geena doesn't just roll in at 5:50 and grab a few stories from prep services, she digs for her own stories and works hard to make her hourly reports something very special. Our producer Hula started out as an intern for our original "stunt guy." When the stunt guy left Hula begged for a shot at the job. I knew he was a nice guy, but he was a bit shy and I doubted he would be outrageous enough to create a buzz for our show. Boy was I wrong! Hula spent several years jumping out of planes naked, setting himself on fire and giving himself tattoos before he graduated to the role of producer. His

Our newest member of the show is Sonic. He interned on "AJ's Playhouse" more than three years ago and has hustled and worked hard for his big break ever since. He's already shining as he grows into the gig. I also consider our PD Jimmy Steele a member of the team since his guidance and belief in our show is a huge part of its success. Our support staff includes Tonya the phone screener, our "Man on the Street" Mitch and a host of hard working interns.

Since arriving in SD, has it always been AJ's Playhouse?

When Diana Laird hired me she asked me to come up with a morning show name that recognized me as the show's anchor but implied that there were other people on the show. I submitted a list of 30 names and Diana picked "AJ's Playhouse." I was kind of hoping for "AJ and the Get Fresh Crew" or "AJ and the Funky Bunch."

There are some pretty amazing shows under the same roof there with you. Just so our readers know, who else shares the crib?

It's insane. The first studio I pass when I walk in the door is the legendary "Jeff and Jer Showgram." Next I pass "The Mikey Show" one of the best morning shows in the country. On the other side of our studio you'll find "Dave, Shelly and Chainsaw," another iconic show with 18 years in the market. And until recently I was across the hall from "Tony and Kris." I've been here for 8 years and I can honestly say that working in this building is still intimidating.

Let's go back to the beginning. Who was there before you and what have you managed since then?

I followed a show called "Nastyman and Company." It took "AJ's Playhouse" a while to build an audience in such a competitive market, but we got there and we are now consistently #1 women 18-34 and #1 or #2 18-34 people. We have also been creeping into the top 5 in people 25-54.

Let's talk about the show: who puts together what?

I get on my computer at home at around 2:30 every afternoon and start prepping for the following day. At 4:30 everyone on the show, from Geena to the interns, e-mails me 3 bits/ideas/stories/or observations from their day,

2 support members and 3 interns, that's 27 ideas! So by the time I eat dinner every night I have a decent grasp on the next day's content. In the morning I go through my prep services, check a few sites to make sure nothing major happened overnight and get caught up on what happened on any TV shows that I may have missed. Hula puts together the day's production elements and prints up background info on any guests we have. Geena prepares her hourly "Big Scoop" and writes her Blog, which she shares on air each morning. Sonic plays on MySpace. After the show we cut teasers about the next day's show, decide what will run in the next day's "best of" hour that before 6am and get out of the building.

Best thing you've done on the air since you've been in SD?

I'm most proud of the formation of "AJ's Kids" which supplies toys and other non-essential items at our Children's Hospital. It actually started out as a year-round toy drive but we have expanded beyond that and rebuilt some playgrounds and redecorated some playrooms. We are currently working to build a miniature radio station that will broadcast just throughout the hospital and allow the kids to be the DJ's! The kids from the hospital have become a huge part of my life.

I have attended their birthday parties, visited their scout troops, coached a baseball team and had several of them at my wedding. One little guy, Arturo became my unofficial "little brother" and we've spent Saturdays together for about 5 years.

You hung Sonic upside down recently. You tried for 60 hours. How did that turn out?

Not well. Sonic was only able to last about 10 minutes. He says it was one of the most painful thing he's ever done and Sonic is actually a pretty tough guy. So David Blaine actually did do something pretty impressive by hanging for 60 hours, unfortunately for him it didn't sound impressive. All that suffering just to end up a punch line on the late night shows!

Outside of your show, who's brain do you pick most often for an idea? ideas from the people in my real life. I've got some very funny friends and a brilliant wife who don't get enough recognition for their contributions to the show!

Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet? What sites do you visit daily?

I use Google Notebook to prepare each day's prep, then export it to Google Docs for final editing and sharing. Geena has the celeb stuff handled so I don't spent much time on TMZ or Perez. One great prep site is popurls.com. A good place to get lifestyle ideas is answerology.com and a great place for pop culture stuff is usatoday.com/popcandy.

Any benchmarks?

We've been doing a new running bit: Monday Morning Food Confessions. People call in and come clean about the ridiculous crap they ate over the weekend, then we "sentence them" to eat a salad or walk around the block. We've talked to a woman who ate a half a birthday cake because she was nervous about a date, a man whose wife baked brownies for his office and he ate them all, etc.

Wednesday's we do 'The Song Parody Battle." Two members of the show write and produce a song parody, we play them both and the winner returns the next week. That one's gone on for years and the feedback, response and research are all consistently great. "Kid Smarts" is a Friday bit where Tonya the phone screener hits the streets and asks two little kids some general knowledge questions.

Then two listeners are each paired up with a kid and they have to predict whether or not they will know the answers to each question.

This probably sounds a little "Moms In Minivans" for a CHR show but the kids are always insane and it's a laugh out loud bit. Another thing we've done is build a cast of regular contributors to the show.

We have a psychic, a relationship counselor, a dream analyst and a dating coach that join us once per month.

I asked this question last month and had great feedback, so i'll ask it again: name someone in radio whose phone call you'd leap over desks not to miss?

My friend and former PD Mark Adams. Not because he's got a great radio mind, but because he's one of the few guys I know who's as big a geek as me and he's probably calling to discuss the Blu-Ray release of Iron Man, the latest developments on Battlestar Galactica, or the rumors of a Voltron movie.

I hear you have a new pup. What kind and what's the name?

He's a cocker spaniel/poodle mix named Buster. I wanted to hold out for a manlier breed but Buster's personality won me over and he is the smartest most well-behaved dog I've ever had. I know that Buster isn't the most original name, but in my defense, he is named after Buster Bluth from the brilliant show "Arrested Development."

Match a dog breed to each member of the show (and why)?

I asked my listeners to help me out with this and they said: Sonic would be an out of control Chihuahua because he is a ball of fire, Hula would be a pug because he's a little guy with a big personality, Geena would be a poodle because she's a class act and she's always re-inventing her look.

Which animal would your listeners say you most remind them of?

I was hoping they'd say "a majestic sliverback gorilla" but they were pretty sold on the whole "Jack Russell Terrier" thing.

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