Much like the way it’s said some people look like their pets or their cars, there is a resemblance between morning radio personalities and the people willing to gather at an office park before sunrise to hang out with them.
As Jerry said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” If that’s over your head, you may need a quick course on the highs and lows WMMS has faced during its 40 years on the dial.
August 1968: 100.7 WMMS is born, playing an underground progressive and contemporary-rock format
April 1974: Artist David Helton’s Buzzard mascot is unveiled in a weekly newspaper.
August 1978: Bruce Springsteen plays a free 10th anniversary concert at the Agora. It is broadcast live on WMMS.
August 1986: Program director John Gorman, the man who built WMMS into a powerhouse, resigns after 13 years.
June 1994: A WMMS engineer interupts shock-jock Howard Stern’s broadcast from the Flats by cutting his wires.
September 2001: WMMS becomes the flagship home of the Cleveland Browns.
September 2007: WMMS announces it is “de-emphasizing” its iconic Buzzard.
Sources: “Radio Daze: Stories from the front in Cleveland’s FM radio wars”; “The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History”; The Plain Dealer
This would be more evident if other morning shows could convince 100 listeners to show up at 6:30 a.m. to eat fast food and wait in an auditorium for an hour just to watch two characters from their favorite show take part in a tongue-in-cheek, “Eight Mile”-style rap battle.
The first fans — two of more than 1,000 listeners who sent an e-mail hoping to win tickets to this morning’s event at Clear Channel’s Independence headquarters — show up around 6 a.m. The guys are nearly apologetic, explaining that they had an hour drive and wanted to be sure they got here on time.
Their early arrival is an example of the kind of loyalty “Rover’s Morning Glory” has instilled in its listeners since arriving here in 2003 (even a brief and ill-fated move to Chicago didn’t shake the faithful).
Maybe one of the reasons the show has become such a hit among the coveted youth audience here is because its on-air personalities are archetypes of the testosterone-fueled landscape of the young American male.
There is Duji (the woman who can hang with the guys no matter how crass things get), Charlie (the new guy at school hoping to fit in), Dumb (the fat kid who gets ragged on constantly), Dieter (the jock you want with you in a fight) and Rover (the smart-mouthed guy who hangs out with him). Everyone who will gather here for Dumb and Charlie’s rap battle, in their own way, is one of the above five personalities.
Today’s event comes less than two weeks after Rover’s move from CBS Radio’s 92.3 K-Rock to Clear Channel’s 100.7 WMMS — a high-profile deal that coincides with the iconic radio station’s 40th anniversary.
It came just in time, too. Despite WMMS’s legendary role in helping break classic rock ’n’ roll acts such as David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, the station had been recently mired in a midlife crisis. In September the Buzzard icon that had been WMMS’s primary marketing image since 1974 got the ax. The decision left the station with no recognizable marketing identity. Instead, it pushed its ambiguous 100.7 frequency in its branding efforts.
But the late-March announcement that “Rover’s Morning Glory” was moving to WMMS April 1 rang like a shot of redemption. Clear Channel posted billboards featuring Rover that spoofed Nike’s huge LeBron banner near The Q. A new station logo also appeared — a road sign emblazoned with 100.7 WMMS that sports wispy orange wings.
“Clear Channel was very excited about it because they’ve been getting their asses handed to them in mornings for the past 10 years or something,” says Rover, known in his daily life as Shane French. Like many of his listeners, he nearly always sports a goatee and a baseball cap, though the “C” on his hat is for “Cubs,” not “Cleveland.” “They were very hungry for it. ... They really want to do big things for the show.”
Not surprisingly, Bo Matthews, WMMS program director, says “Rover’s Morning Glory,” which was given a four-year contract, is the cornerstone of the station’s new identity; one that will lean on personalities (including former morning man Maxwell, who now handles the drive home) over music as its competitive edge.
“To have Rover — the dominant young talk voice in Cleveland — and to have both he and [Maxwell] on the same frequency bookending rock music their listeners enjoy, poises us to be the biggest rock station on the planet,” Matthews says. “Rock ’n’ roll is a lot different than it was in the heritage Buzzard days. We have to do what we can to garner the same kind of excitement, and we’re doing it with talented individuals.”
Here’s what that looks like: One of the show’s most popular segments, “Dare Dieter,” saw Rover’s sidekick lick a bug zapper and sit on a bucket of fireworks. The risky bits have been shelved, but the show is still one part spectacle, two parts hanging out with your friends.
On the morning of the rap battle, Rover discusses reports that the popular rapper Akon lied about his prison record, interviews comedian Jeffrey Ross and invites Dumb and Charlie into the studio to down shots of Jägermeister.
Downstairs, fans pack the auditorium. Though one might expect a rowdy crew, they wait patiently. Soon, Rover and Dieter make their entrance. The show is back live and the crowd gets what it’s been waiting to see.
It’s all over-the-top pomp: Dumb strides out wearing an eye patch, black knit cap and tight white undershirt. Charlie follows in a windbreaker, bent sunglasses and a chintzy silver skull medallion with plastic red eyes.
Rover and Dieter sit at a nearby table, offering running commentary through round after round of verbal sparring that somehow mentions Hungry, Hungry Hippos, Oompa Loompas and “To Catch a Predator” along the way. It’s the timeless battle: the fat kid versus the skinny kid, the classic schoolyard match up.
The audience stands and cheers. A few people even shout advice to the stage. Charlie’s rushed-but-witty style gives him the edge, and by the time he hurls a wrapped cheeseburger at Dumb to make a point, it’s over. The place erupts.
And just like it was back in grade school, it’s not really either of the fighters who wins. It’s the one who orchestrated the whole confrontation in the first place; the one who is usually right there in front watching the action, smiling through the whole thing.
Today, that guy just happens to be wearing a Chicago Cubs hat.