THE MOUTH, APRIL 17TH, 2018 — WCBS-FM's Scott Shannon tells AdAge's Judann Pollack, "When I came to New York in…
Radio and Scott Shannon belong together like peanut butter and jelly. As a personality, programmer and broadcasting innovator, his credentials are quite simply the stuff of legend. From manning the mic in Mobile, AL, Tampa, Nashville, Atlanta and his longtime base in New York City, the National Radio Hall of Famer’s legacy includes creating the “Morning Zoo” concept as well as L.A. station Pirate Radio. Heard in New York almost uninterrupted since the early 80s, Shannon has anchored mornings at Entercom classic hits WCBS-FM since March 2014, entertaining many of the same listeners who became dedicated fans when he was on “Z100” WHTZ.
When and how did you get the “radio bug”?
When I was a kid riding in the back seat of the car with my dad, we would always listen to the radio. I would hear shows like “The Breakfast Club” with Don McNeill. I thought to myself, “How cool is that? He’s playing songs and interviewing guests and people all over the country can hear it.” Then in my early teenage years, I discovered my local top 40 station WIFE in Indianapolis and that got me interested in top 40 radio. They had a window on the world where you could watch the DJs work. I had my mom drop me off in front of the station while she was shopping in the city. I would stand there and watch the DJs work. They must have thought, “Who is that dipstick standing out there!”
What stations and personalities influenced you in the early days?
I have had a dozen or more DJs that I learned from and grew up listening to. I was fascinated by a screaming nighttime jock Big Jack Armstrong. He was the fastest talking human I had ever heard. I loved to listen to Jay Reynolds on WIFE in Indy; he was happy and smooth as silk. Then there was Dick Summer out of Boston who did a night time radio show. He made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He was a different type of radio communicator but unique just the same.
But the two guys that I admired and learned the most from were both on KHJ in Los Angeles, Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele. They each had a different style but both were very adept at painting word pictures in a very short period of time. Listening to them, I learned the value of what I like to call “suppress dynamics.” Both sounded completely involved in what they were doing, they were exciting, entertaining, passionate about the station, the music and most importantly, they specialized in brevity. I still listen to recordings of their shows and they sound as fresh now as they did back in the 60s.
What/where was your first radio job and how much were you making?
My first full-time radio job was working for an amazing owner named Bernie Dittman at WABB-AM in Mobile, AL. I called myself “Super Shan.” I was on from 7pm to midnight but I came in everyday at noon to do my show prep and anything else Bernie needed me to do, like driving the station van around town. I made $118 a week and I was thrilled to do it. When I left Mobile, I had a 72 share in the ratings and Bernie had the 12+ numbers framed on his wall behind his desk, right up until he passed away a few years ago.
What lessons from your “worst to first” ratings conquest at New York’s “Z100” WHTZ in the 80s can today’s programmers learn from?
Number 1: Surround yourself with passionate, talented people who are younger than yourself. Listen to almost everything they have to say. You never know when a good idea is going to pop up. Number 2: Keep it fresh. Many stations these days sound like they are on automatic pilot. We had something new going on almost everyday of the week. We freshened the jingles, the sweepers, the liners and all other production elements on a regular basis. We would not allow our listeners to get bored. Our listeners never knew what was going to hit them next. It was high energy, frenetic, stunt-filled radio that just kept coming at you!
What’s show prep for you?
My life. I’m one of the most curious people you’ll ever meet. I read consistently and take notes all day. I never don’t do show prep. Show prep is second nature to me. I do it when I’m on vacation, I’m incapable of not doing it.
You continue to rank near the top of the New York ratings . How do you stay at the top of your game?
Preparation, concentration, moderation. Not to mention complete dedication to being the very best that I can be. I never stop learning.
You’ve mentored a lot of people over the years. Who are some you’re most proud of?
Even though I worked as a program director for close to 40 years, I never really felt that was my calling. I only did it so I wouldn’t have to work for someone I didn’t respect or someone who didn’t know what the hell they were doing. What I enjoyed the most was being on the air. So wherever I went, I would look for a young, ambitious, energetic person and train them as an assistant program director or operations manager. I’d be the architect, he or she would be the builder. It worked out very well for many very talented people. When it comes to programming, I’ve always considered myself more of a teacher than a boss. The people who graduated from my little school know who they are and there were some great ones.
You have worked in top 40, hot AC, oldies and classic hits. What format do you feel most at home with?
Radio is radio. I’m comfortable with anything that goes on the air. Radio is all about content and entertainment. Format makes no difference to me.
Do you have advice for up and coming talent?
Always get a good a night’s sleep. It is more important than you think it is.