Joe Blair is the weekday morning DJ on Super Hits 105.3. He was voted the best radio personality in the Courier Press Readers’ Choice Awards.
1) You’ve been on Evansville radio for as long as I can remember and you’re a “staple” around here. How did you get your start?
My best friend in high school dared me to try out for the school radio station at Jay County High School in Portland, IN. I tried out and made the staff. The first week of school in 1978 the owner of the local commercial radio station WPGW heard me doing my show and hired me to do the late afternoons in Portland. I’ve been on the air ever since.
2) Who do you look up to in radio?
When I first started in radio my hero was a guy named Larry Lujack in Chicago at WLS. I have learned the most though from guys I’ve worked with and around through the years. In Chattanooga I worked with a guy called Big Jon Anthony. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from him. He passed away in 1992. I also did a morning show in Philadelphia with a guy named Larry Coats. What a guy he was. He inherited the Huntsville Alabama Municipal Airport from his mom when she died. He quit radio to run it and a little place called NASA bought it from him for a Bizillion dollars. The experiences with guys like that are unforgettable.
3) In your time in the industry, you’ve seen lots of changes. can you tell us about some of the good changes?
Most of the good changes are technological. When I started in 1978 we played records on turntables and reel to reel tape etc. Now everything is on computer. I didn’t like that at first because I thought it took some personality out of it. Years and introspection though has shown me it is very nice to have the extra time that the computers save you to prep for what you want to do and say on the air.
4) On the same line, what about the bad changes such as automated radio stations, etc.?
Really…don’t get me started. I think the worst thing for radio in general has been deregulation by the FCC. This allowed one owner to have multiple stations in one radio market and an unlimited number around the country. This is no slight against any company I’ve worked for because any company would use the changes to its advantage. What happened with this deregulation is radio owners became radio group owners. What they did makes perfect business sense, that is why I don’t blame them. They took all the stations that they purchased in a market and stuck them in the same building. It is much cheaper to have one facility than seven or eight. Then they took a group of sales people and designated one group of eight or so to four stations and another group of eight or so for the other four stations. The general managers are over all eight stations etc. What this has done is take the pride and “team” out of radio. They try like heck for this not to happen but it just does naturally. The top station in the group is the one sales people prefer to sell and back. The general manager gives his attention to the top stations too and the budget money. He or she is also too dang busy to be accessible and approachable for communication etc. They have become less communicative with us. This hurts individual station growth. The managers simply have bigger fish to fry. The other bottom four or five radio stations get the scraps when before deregulation they had their own sales team, their own prideful staff and made more revenue. The disc jockeys in the trenches have come to call the bottom feeder radio stations in the group “step children.” It really is a good analogy I think.
5) What do you think about radio stations having syndicated celebrity DJ’s like Alice Cooper, Rick Dees or Dee Snider instead of hiring local overnight DJ’s? Do you think it hurts new DJ’s that need the experience?
These show, while some are really good, take the local nature right out of radio. It is again another way for radio owners to save money. They don’t have to pay social security tax or insurance payments for the talent etc. Again I can understand why it is done, but it has really limited the jobs in radio for local people wanting to get into the business. If you study the top radio stations in markets the size of Evansville you will find to top rated stations are still the stations that have local morning shows and follow up personalities. Many of the step children get the national shows. Those stations get enough ratings to garner national agency revenue and a little local money so they are profitable. The old saying is “a dollar saved is a full dollar in revenue,” which means there are no taxes on that dollar and no maintenance. The old days of radio stations staffed with all local personalities is long gone for sure. That is a long way of answering the question about hurting new DJs. Yes it does, if they can become radio people at all. I was very lucky to have started when I did to get established as a viable personality.
6) Besides being a radio personality, you also do television voice over work. Do people recognize your voice in public?
They do. I have been in Evansville now for 20-years and have done on camera stuff too so they recognize me or my voice. I love the people of this community. Evansville is one of the last great cities left in our nation I think. Much of that has to do with where we are. You have to go to Terre Haute and turn left or right to get here from anywhere. We are still a very local place. Brain sandwiches, local festivals, close nit neighborhoods and sections…west side, east side, north side, Newburgh. It really is wonderful and great for our children to have this big, small town thing going on.
7) Can you tell the readers some good and bad things about being in radio?
The good and bad varies from person to person. It depends on when you are on and what you are doing. I’ve done a morning show for 28 years now. That means I have to wake up really early. I wake up earlier than most because of my farmer work ethic. I get up at about 2:20am and am at the radio station between 3 and 3:30. I just want to make sure I’m really ready when I hit the air. I have worked with guys though who get to work 5 minutes before they go on or maybe 5 minutes late. Radio is also a job where you have lots to do on the weekend too. Remote broadcasts and promotions tie you up on Saturdays especially many weekends. It is tough to leave town with your family in the spring and summer months.
All in all though radio is fun. You aren’t crunching numbers at a desk usually. You get to create, do commercials, and be with the public. You get to meet a lot of people and have experiences with people you wouldn’t normally have. Those times have been a blessing.
8) Doing remote broadcasts comes with the territory. Do you have any stories about some really good remotes? How about bad ones? We know that they all aren’t a walk on the beach.
I have literally done thousands of remote broadcasts in my career. Combined I did over 500 Breakfast with Blair broadcasts alone. I have had remotes where tons of people come and some where all you hear are crickets. Once I did a remote from a vacant lot. A realty company wanted to sell vacant lots for people to build homes on. That is a narrow target. I think one person came. When you are new in the business and that happens you think it is a reflection on you. “No body came to see me!” Through the years I have a real empathy for the sponsors who are buying the shows. It has given me an entrepreneur’s heart. I focus on the message I am sending out for the business owner. They are spending their hard earned money in hopes of increasing their business. I therefore have adopted the attitude that it doesn’t matter if people come to see me, I just want to help that business succeed and sell. This is something that just came naturally with the territory for me. The one success story that I always remember is a show I did in the early 90s for the Carpet Shop in Boonville. Bob Phillips was the owner and he bought a Breakfast with Blair show. At that time all we had for breakfast was donuts and coffee. Only two people came to the breakfast, but I focused all the breaks on how great the store was and the service they provided. They really did. Bob was great and you could just tell he was genuine. I felt bad that only two people came for breakfast because I thought they had a great store with super service. Two weeks later I received a call from Bob. He was tickled. The Carpet Shop had sold wall to wall carpeting to two separate people who were building new homes. Each of the homes had carpeting in every room. They were big homes too. Both of the customers had heard about his business on my show that morning. They didn’t even know about the Carpet Shop before that. I consider that breakfast show to be one of my most successful.
9) Tell us about some of the celebrity encounters you’ve had. We know it’s one of the perks of the job but not all celebrities are perky.
I was in Country music in Philadelphia and Chattanooga. I met lots of country stars during those years. One of the most memorable encounters though was one with Johnny Cash. I have always done character voices. That was one of the reasons my best friend in high school wanted me to try out for radio. Johnny Cash is one of my best impersonations. My mom was at the show with me that night in 1987. We were backstage before the concert and had just eaten chicken with Johnny, June and his band. I got an idea and asked mom for a dollar bill. I took the dollar bill and walked up to Johnny and said (in his voice)…”Johnny, would you sign my momma’s cash?” He smiled, looked at me with a funny look and said.” Believe it or not I’ve never heard that one before!” He then said “Imitation is the best form of flattery, thank you.” Then he asked me if I wanted June to sign it. I said…sure. June did and it is at home today with me in Evansville along with a picture of Johnny, me and mom backstage. It is on our fridge. My wife Laurie is a Johnny Cash nut.
I also interviewed Tommy Chong once. My boss told me not to mention drugs at all. I opened the interview with…How are you Tommy? He said…” I’m high as hell man…how are you?” My boss was pretty mad, but what is a Hoosier to do? Ha!
10) For our last question, we let you talk about whatever suits your fancy. Go ahead Joe, LET IT BLAIR!
My passion is music for sure. I love playing the guitar. I got really serious about it a dozen or so years ago and took 12-years of lessons from Ron Pritchett in Evansville. He is the best. Those were 12-years well spent. I’m starting to be able to play a little bit now. I’ve also taken up golf. What a hoot. I’ve played a little through the years, but now have been bitten by the bug. I joined Oak Meadow and play when I can. It is kind of like guitar, an individual challenge that you can improve on with lots of practice. Both of these things are quite a lot like growing in radio. You can’t do it all at once. You have to take your time and work on it. I have a great family too. My wife Laurie is wonderful and I have three daughters, Mayme, Malia and Zoe. Mayme has given me a great grandson too, Ramsey Joe who is 2 and a half years old. The main thing I want to say in closing is I believe God is real and what the bible says is the truth. I really hope that everyone reads the Gospel and trusts what it tells you to do for eternal life. Johnny Cash would tell you the same thing. God bless you all. Joe