CBS Radio Pittsburgh is a powerhouse of four diverse stations, bringing us the news, songs, and DJs we love every day
by Rachel Jones | Photographs by Cayla Zahoran | Art direction by Jason Solak
They keep us informed about politics. They keep us in touch with Nashville. They let us discuss our Buccos. They give us the dirty on celebrities. And as different as NewsRadio 1020 KDKA, Y108, The Fan, and Star Pittsburgh are, all four stations are housed in the iconic CBS Radio Pittsburgh. With each station’s morning show bringing something different to the breakfast table, there’s something for every Pittsburgh listener.
KDKA is the first U.S. radio station, founded in 1920, and on the momentous occasion, Pittsburgh became synonymous with innovation over the airwaves. In fact, that reputation is the reason Michael “Spacc” Spacciapolli chose CBS Radio Pittsburgh when he moved to the city five years ago. “When you mention to someone that you work at KDKA, you get such a different reaction than anywhere else,” says Spacciapolli, the director of sales at CBS Radio Pittsburgh. “The history is so special, and those call letters mean so much to the city.”
Two years ago, the four sibling stations united at the CBS Radio Pittsburgh office, making the broadcast unit one big happy radio family. Spacciapolli says having so many diverse people in one location makes CBS Radio Pittsburgh an idea incubator. “We’re very fortunate to have so many people with great, fresh ideas working toward a common goal,” he explains. “Having these different formats, events, and websites allows us reach everyone from school age to retirement age.” The versatility in the stations mirrors the versatility of the employees and their ability to keep up with the company’s high energy levels. Michael Young, senior vice president and Pittsburgh market manager at CBS Radio Pittsburgh, says he has to be able to switch hats pretty quickly to keep up with the stations. “Today, the governor [Tom Corbett] was here. Tomorrow, it could be a country singer,” Young explains. “Having that diversity just makes for a lot of excitement.”
That vibe is obvious as soon as we enter the glass doors, on our way to spend the day with these diverse DJs. All four booths are in line like confessionals at the Holy Church of Radio. When the lights start to glow, so do the personalities behind the mics. We can hear Jimmy Roach announce the pre-sale of Toby Keith tickets. We can hear Melanie Taylor improve her record on Star’s Showbiz Smackdown. And from every studio, we hear lots of laughter.
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John Shumway is quoting Dr. Suess’ book, “Yertle the Turtle.” His co-anchor, Larry Richert, raises an eyebrow. “You know it all?” he asks.
“Hey,” John says. “When you read it that many times to your kids, yeah.”
When their laughter fades, Larry smoothly gets the show back to talking about the upcoming snow storm. He does so while standing behind his desk, speaking down into a KDKA microphone hanging from a black arm. John stands, too, but away from the desks, tilting his head up to speak. He looks more like a recording artist than a radio host. After a few pushes and slides on a control board, the gentlemen are off the air but continuing their teasing conversations about everything from vanity plates to Larry’s height.
After working on-air together for close to nine years, John and Larry have developed a comfortable flow in their discussions, on and off the air. Without skipping a beat, Larry goes from making a jab at John’s monochromatic wardrobe to announcing, “KDKA News time is 8:51 a.m. John Shumway has your top stories.” Then, the hosts continue to transition from weather forecasts to political forecasts, then from off-air banter to on-air sports.
“We’re all friends, so doing the show is like sitting around the breakfast table in the morning,” John says. “We’re just shooting the breeze about what’s going on, so we hope people starting the day with us are learning something.” Building on its pioneer reputation, Young says KDKA serves as a complete source of news for the city. “It really is the fabric of the community,” he adds. “It has its pulse on everything that’s happening in Pittsburgh.”
Larry says the best part about working for that type of radio station is covering a variety of current events. “Every day is different, and to me, that’s the attraction,” he says, adjusting his black headphones. “Excuse me, I have to sell floor mats for Easter.”
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“Don’t I look like I’m directing planes on an aircraft carrier?” says Jimmy Roach as he slides his large, tan headphones down around his neck. “Most people these days do the ear buds, but I like it sealed. Nothing gets through these babies. They’re atomic.”
“They look like coconuts,” chimes Brian “Monty” Montgomery.
“But holding them up gives you a really strong neck!” Jimmy insists.
Monty shakes his head and takes a sip from a black coffee mug. I’m sorry, water mug. “Here’s a behind-the-scenes secret,” he whispers. “We’re probably the only caffeine-free morning show in the country.” Just hearing their schedule of 5:15-10 a.m. makes me yawn, but the decaffeinated country boys still bring a tremendous energy to the show.
“In my opinion, they epitomize everything a good country station should be,” Young says. “Our on-air people are very in touch with the people in Nashville, so that puts our listeners in touch with them, too.” Every morning, Jimmy and Monty place a call to CMT’s Samantha Stevens for the latest scoop in the mecca of country music. They’re also the first to announce and give away tickets for upcoming shows — which has taken up most of their air time recently, due to the packed concert schedule this summer.
Jimmy and Monty have been working with country music since about the time Jimmy’s headphones were a top-of-the-line accessory. And, based on the amount of signatures on the Y108 banner on the back wall, they’ve made a lot of friends along the way. But their most important friendship is with each other.
After Jimmy took some time away from the show, the duo recently reunited and picked up exactly where they left off. “I came back, and Monty was still here,” Jimmy says.
“I was like that dog you see in the movie where the owner dies, and the dog just stays in memoriam,” Monty explains, triggering one of Jimmy’s loud, trademark laughs. “That was me.”
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It’s dark in The Fan’s studio. Probably because the freshly tanned Gregg Giannotti and Paul Alexander are still adjusting from their trip down to Florida for the Pirates’ Spring Training. The trip also (sort of) celebrated the belated three-year anniversary of the station’s inception.
While it’s hard to believe that a city with so many passionate sports fans didn’t have an all-sports station until 2010, The Fan has definitely made up for lost time. “From the first day, it’s been a home run — pardon the pun,” Spacciapolli says. “Sports are such a big part of the way of life in Pittsburgh, and this station just fits in perfectly with the fabric of the city.”
If something happens in sports — from Pitt to Pens and everything in between — the phones will be blowing up with fans ready to discuss. “Even when I’m out, people will come up to me and want to talk sports,” Paul says. “They make you think of things you hadn’t thought of before.”
While scrolling through two Twitter feeds and browsing other sites, Gregg and Paul both laugh when I ask how much time they spend on prep work for the show. “It’s probably a good 25 minutes a day that I’m not thinking about the show,” Gregg says. “You could probably say that’s unhealthy, but with this job, you have to pay attention to everything.”
They’re also trying to keep up with the fans. “They’re so informed,” Paul says. “They have access to everything we do, except the players and coaches themselves.” Obviously, the main premise behind The Fan is to involve the fans in Pittsburgh, and Gregg says it’s an honor to be able to open those lines of communication across the city. “Some people don’t like callers because they can be irrational or over the top, but that’s what it’s about!” he says. “Everyone has those moments where they’re yelling and screaming and not making sense. Anytime we can capture that on the show, that’s great.”
[toggle title=”Star Pittsburgh — 100.7 FM” state=”closed”]
“…Showbiz Smackdown is all new Wednesday morning. Bubba Show!” Bubba yells into his microphone. After a push of a button, he is off the air and Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” replaces him. Bubba plays back the promo he just recorded. Melanie Taylor scans the show’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Shelley Duffy checks what fans are texting them. The bustling, organized chaos has been going on since 5 a.m.
“We get here around 4 or 5, but Melanie doesn’t wake up ‘til 9:30,” Shelley explains.
“Trouble! Trouble! Trouble!” Melanie sings, holding her magenta headphones against her ears. “See?” Shelley says, letting her eyes do the talking. “For people who really hate each other, it’s amazing how much fun we have,” Bubba adds.
When asked about the beauties and Bubba on Star’s morning show, Spacciapolli just laughs. “Those guys have such high energy,” he explains. “It really mirrors the culture in the entire building. They’re always coming up with new and fun ideas.” We can feel the energy just sitting in the booth with the buzzing DJs. While Bubba checks the schedule for tomorrow’s show, Melanie brags to us about Shelley’s perfectly coiffed hair. “I can never just get up and go,” Shelley explains. “I have to style my hair every morning.”
“Is that why you wear earbuds? So you don’t mess up your hair?” Melanie asks. “No, that’s not true,” Bubba says, squashing the discussion. “Wait, is it?” he asks seconds later. The answer is no, so the conversation about their hair styles moves on to Britney Spears’ new dye job. “Whoever put me with two women,” Bubba says with a sigh, “Horrific.”
The perfectly balanced trio has been cracking us — and each other — up on Star Pittsburgh for about a year, bringing a peppy kick to contemporary music radio. “Really, our show is one big dysfunctional family,” Bubba says. “We give our listeners the opportunity to talk about whatever they want. Our whole thing is that we’re an open book.”
The philosophy at CBS Radio Pittsburgh is to join local broadcasters who serve the community. Whether that’s through information, entertainment, or public services, Young says they work with the best people to be able to switch gears and make it happen. “The best part about having all four stations in a row is everyone gets along,” Monty concludes. “And, if we turn things down, we can hear Bubba yelling.”
This article is featured in the April 2013 issue of WHIRL Magazine.
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