M.J. Kelli, who was hired as a morning disc jockey on Feb. 7, 1994, began working with Harris, his program director, because no one else was available. "We started working together in search of a person to be his sidekick on the air," Harris said.
Kelli, from Virginia Beach, Va., has been involved with radio for 17 years, since he was 16. He got his start at a little station called WCPK in Chesapeake Va., he said.
Harris has been in radio for 18 years, since the age of 21. He got his start in his hometown of Nashville at WWKX-FM 104.
Here's their take on changes in the industry over the last several years, their evolving success, Howard Stern's influence on radio formats, corporate control and the seriousness of their funny business:
TBBJ: How has morning talk show radio changed since you got into the business?
Harris: In the early days, it was more of a "zoo" type format. It was full of quick one-liners, a lot of parody songs, very quick-hitting, a lot of music. The DJ was just a voice inside this production. Today, people like real people on the radio. They like to hear what your problems are because everybody has problems. People like to hear what trials and tribulations you go through every day. That's how morning radio has changed.
TBBJ: Has your show changed over the last five years?
Kelli: No, but we've gotten better.
Harris: I think we've gotten better because of the resources. I think we've learned. M.J. does all of the show prep for the broadcast. And as you do something for so long, you only get better. It was decent when it started, but it's been perfected.
TBBJ: Did Howard Stern, or his success, affect your thinking about radio formats?
Kelli: I think Howard -- as much as Howard sometimes can be a one-trick pony with sex, sex, sex -- was one of the first to open up and make people aware of the fact that listeners want real people on the radio. And I think that was his biggest contribution over the last several years. What you hear is what he is. But he's certainly not the first one to do it.
Harris: But Howard is the person that a lot of people looked at when radio
went to this type of broadcasting. I'm not saying that Howard is the "King
of All Media." And, personally, I think he's somewhat of a one-trick pony.
At the same time, he's very popular.
TBBJ: Would you consider yourselves a mainstream version of the Howard Stern show?
Kelli: I don't consider myself anything near Howard Stern. I don't hold Howard Stern as a standard to this industry at all. I think he's sort of an outcast as far as the industry goes. I'm myself on the radio. Everyone has a different personality.
TBBJ: Who are your competitors?
Kelli: Anybody that does a morning show.
Harris: When you're running 12-54 (target age group), every radio station with a morning show is your competitor. It could be our sister station, KISS, with Mason Dixon. It could be our sister station, WXTB, with Bubba. It could be Ron Diaz over at Thunder. It could be the morning show at Star.
TBBJ: How do you feel about being part of a corporate radio empire?
Kelli: I don't feel it. As far as the fact that our company (Jacor) owns hundreds of radio stations, and we're getting ready to merge with Clear Channel, we don't perceive that. It's like when we come into the studio and do our job, we do our jobs the same way, whether we work for mom-and-pop broadcasters or not.
Harris: It doesn't matter who signs our paychecks. For me, personally, however, on a corporate level, it's a different story. There, it's a little shaky. But you can't worry about things that you can't control. This is what we can control.
Kelli: This show has very little contact with corporate. Still, this is a locally controlled operation. It's a locally controlled show. And there's nobody pulling our strings.