Elvis Duran attributes his success to his creative license, dedicated team, and strong focus: “I don’t think that I want any outside influence, as far as radio goes.”
The last time he produced a demo and typed a resume was in 1989, when he came to The Big Apple. Elvis Duran achieved a lot since starting as a board-op for a local radio station during the Dallas Cowboys football games, when he was still a kid. All of this without any career planning. “I never had any dreams of moving to New York”.
The early Z100 days
After his personality radio masterclass at the eve of the Radio Festival, Elvis was kind enough to devote 20 minutes of his time to a radio enthusiast from Holland! We talked about his career, and about the state and future of radio. But first I took him back in time, to the early 90s, when the ‘Incredible Edible’ Elvis Duran was doing afternoon drive at WHTZ. Have you seen the famous video airchecks by Art Vuolo? They’ve found their way to the Internet over the years. Great stuff.
Radio was very alive in those days. Do you miss that sometimes?
“I don’t miss that at all. The energy was great, and it’s an important part of me and my make up. But I would never wanna’ do it again. We’ve had to move on. I don’t think that type of radio is relevant anymore.” (I see that, but I still love to hear it. Always a nice bit was the Five O’Clock Whistle, to kick off the weekend. Party on the radio! For a portion of Z100 NYC, two decades ago, click below. And turn it up loud :-)).
Some people say that radio in the US is now all researched, flat, and risk free.
“A lot of it is. And I think that could be one reason why our show does well. The shows across the street are so researched and flat, like you say. And maybe some people want to turn on their radio and listen to nothing but music; that’s okay. We’re offering an alternative. Thoughtful conversation with a bit of music.”
“I listen to the voices around me,
not just to the voices in my head”
You once said in an interview about your first morning show years at Z100, that getting a license to be creative from the station management is very rare in radio.
“We explained them it was important and finally they listened to us, and they learned themselves that it works. You should trust yourself to hire the talent, and then you should trust the talent to do the job. It’s not that easy, I know. We’ve worked hard. There were painful years when they did not let us do what we wanted to do, and the ratings suffered because of it. When they allowed us to be ourselves, that’s when we started to become successful.”
Z100 re-invented CHR in the 1980s and is one of the most copied radio stations in the world. How did you get there? Has it always been your dream to work at Z100?
“You know what? I was at a station in Philadelphia, Q102 – where we are now on doing mornings, ironically. They fired me, because I was not getting along with management. I never had any dreams of moving to New York and I never was a huge fan of Z100. It was just a job that was available, so I took it. I’ve never been a real radio geek – I just went to wherever the job was. I would last about a year at a station and then move to another one; I did that for many, many years. At Z100, I just stuck. I’ve been there now for almost 22 years.”
How is the radio culture in New York? Do you talk to colleagues like Scott Shannon and Howard Stern? (must-have movie)
“We know each other, but we’re not friends. I mean… I don’t really network with radio people. To come to a Radio Festival like this is very unusual for me. I’m just into my own thing. But I have to be honest; I just had such a great time here so far. Learning from other people’s experiences is something I need to get back to.”
Who were the role models that influenced your career? Who inspired you when you were a kid?
“I was growing up, listening to the radio. I was sort of a loner kid; didn’t had a lot of friends. I just loved to emerce into that ‘larger than life’ radio station, KVIL (now 103.7 Lite FM) in Dallas. The morning show host, Ron Chapman, painted pictures in words. He took you places in your mind. I decided that’s what I wanted to do. Other than that, there’s really no-one else; he’s the one who got me into radio. Dallas didn’t have a CHR at that time, so KVIL sort of was our Top 40 station. Not a very forward-thinking market.” (Below is a bit of Ron Chapman in one of my favorite JAM videos – they made some amazing jingles in those days.)
How do you develop yourself, to evolve as a person on the air?
“I listen to the voices around me. Not just to the voices in my head, that we all have, hahaha. But also to the people around me. We’re spending a lot of money on them, haha. I trust them and because of that, I listen to what they have to say. I’m a fan of them; of what they do. Being able to listen and take opinions from others is so important. You have to turn your ego off every once in a while and listen to others.”
“I can’t be afraid of what people think of me”
Do you listen to radio in other places? For example, do you get some vibes from Australia or the UK?
“I used to, but not anymore. I’ve decided just to do our show, live my life, and have fun. I don’t think I want any outside influence, as far as radio goes. I think it’s just being in the moment; being in with the people that I work with and love every day. I think that’s enough. I listen to a lot of music, but not on the radio.”
What do you do outside of radio; in between your morning show and going to bed for the next one?
“There’s a lot of management and other things we do behind the scenes. The company I formed, the Elvis Duran Group, goes beyond syndicating our show. We put together a team of people for TV shows, and to do other radio projects and digital projects – through Clear Channel and beyond.”
Radio has gone social and visual. It also means that a 24-year old girl can now see that her favorite radio host could be her dad! What does it do, to the magic of radio?
“When the Internet came into play and people actually got to see how we look like, I ha-ted it! But then I realized: there’s nothing I can do to stop it, other than coloring my hair, haha. I am who I am, and I can’t be afraid of what people think of me. The magic of the theatre of mind has always been fantastic, but we have to use digital now. We actually have videos that go alongside our shows every day. But you know what? It’s working out for the best. I love it now; I’ve embraced it. On for the future! I think it’s all cool.”
What do you think will be next step in the evolution of radio?
“I think multiple channels for personalities. Why can’t our show be on several channels, using different tactics? You could have us talk about relationships on one channel; about music on one channel… It’s still us – we’re actually competing against each other at the same time – but that’s where it’s going. There will be so many platforms to reach listeners. Rather than just one transmitter, we’ve got multiple channels; we can be on all of them! What do you think of that?”
Elvis Duran (artist name of Barry Cope?) is based at Z100 and syndicated in over 40 radio markets in the US. He was hired in 1989 for the drive time show, until Tom Poleman put him and Elliot Segal (now at DC101) in the morning in ’96. Before moving to New York, he was DJ and PD in Philadelphia, Austin, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. In 2007, he founded the Elvis Duran Group entertainment company with talent agent David Katz.
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