It’s about 10 a.m. on a Monday, and Carla Marie and Anthony have just finished their four-hour morning show on Seattle FM station, POWER 93.3. But the day’s work isn’t over yet. Their producer, Hoody, has a caller on the line for the duo’s regular signature segment, “Dirty Little Secret.” The call patched into the studio is from a truck driver from Washington who has six girlfriends in six different cities around the country on his route. The titillating details might make your average person’s jaw drop, but your average person isn’t tasked with being quick-witted and chatty on a daily basis.
Peppering the man with questions (his voice will be changed after recording), the two hosts discover that his wife knows about his side women, that the two have agreed to be polyamorous, and that they even share a seventh woman as a mutual girlfriend in-state. This is one of about 300 “Dirty Little Secrets” Carla Marie and Anthony (who prefer to withhold their last names) have fielded since launching their morning show in January of 2016.
The two, who met and hit it off as friends and co-hosts working iHeartRadio’s New York-New Jersey market, moved to Seattle last year to launch their own show. Since its inception, the duo’s listenership has increased dramatically. The secret? Audience engagement. “We try to make everyone feel like they’re part of the show,” says Anthony. “When we started, we took a look at the radio landscape here and realized there just aren’t a ton of morning shows putting real listeners on the air.”
With the rise of digital media and on-demand content, terrestrial radio ratings are declining. But morning drive-time radio shows, in many ways, have remained unaffected—some even thriving despite the decline. “There are lots of different ways people approach it,” says Gregr, the longtime morning show host and biggest on-air personality at 107.7 The End. “There’s a morning show down the hall from us that has eight people on it that plays, like, three songs an hour. But we play a lot of music. That gives me a chance to deliver content a minute or two at a time that’s quick, concise, and has a purpose.”
Gregr—who bills himself as a “nerdy” host and focuses on subject matter like gadgets, Star Wars news, and other entertaining geek-out territory—says he tries to connect his audience with what’s going on in the world via short bursts of information. “Basically, my job comes down to this: How do I take my love of strange and nerdy things, and use that as a filter for all the news coming out in the world? Using the cliché nerd thing, but not making it cliché?”
But it’s not always so easy. Gregr, who built a career in radio after a teacher hooked him up with an internship in high school, says he’s worked all types of jobs in the industry—from metal rock shows to fill-in spots. And while he understands the need for entertainment and engagement on the radio—especially early in the morning as commuters try to stay awake on their way to work—it’s a fine line when it comes to the delivery. “No one goes to a comedy club at 7 in the morning,” he says. “And I’m no comedian, but you do have to be able to have fun with your audience while not being obnoxious.”
Someone who is most assuredly not obnoxious is longtime Seattle hiphop star Anthony Ray (aka Sir Mix-A-Lot). Mix, who hosts Hot 103.7 FM’s morning show, says he’s successful on the program for two simple but important reasons: He’s authentic and he’s Seattle, through-and-through. “I’ve been here my whole life,” says Mix, who’s worked at the station since June. “I’m one with the city.”
For many, there’s the constant attempt to be smooth or traditional on-air, Mix says. But he wants no part of any of that. His audience, he says, wants to hear his voice and his original thoughts. “I just want to be a normal dude on the radio,” he says, adding that he has no qualms talking about politics or any other subject on-air. “I don’t want to sound glossy and professional. The best thing they can do, if they want me to talk about politics, is say, ‘Talk about Trump, you’ve got 30 seconds.’ I’m never going to read copy verbatim.”
Mix says he feels a freedom on-air to be himself. “If I were to get fired tomorrow, so what?” he says with a laugh. “So, my audience knows that when I’m saying something, it’s not any company line. And god bless [103.7 Program Director] Eric Powers for giving me that freedom.” As a result of that ample freedom, Mix says his listeners are afforded a more expansive sense of who he is as a person. “Some people think Sir Mix-A-Lot is just the butt guy,” he explains. “People were surprised I had a take on things—but now they expect it.”
They expect it because they feel a connection to Mix, just as Gregr’s audience is drawn to his geekery, and POWER’s audience keeps tuning in to hear the charming banter and wild secrets from Carla Marie and Anthony’s morning show. Chemistry, between hosts, and between them and their listeners, is paramount. It’s the enduring glue that binds listener and host.
But in today’s changing radio market, this energetic interaction doesn’t always take place through the radio waves. Sometimes, it can also involve exhausting social media engagement—or even filming a skydiving excursion and putting it on YouTube for your fans. “We want people to be a part of the whole conversation,” underscores Carla Marie. “We’re a very hands-on show—and as ridiculous as it sounds, that’s a huge part of radio now.”