by Michelle Salyer
Broadcasting in the shadow of Orlando, one of the country’s largest radio markets, Brevard radio stations face a unique challenge ̶ competing with those that have exponentially bigger budgets, larger staffs and a wealth of advertisers. But no matter, talent is talent, and Brevard’s got it.
Brevard DJs also bring something to the Space Coast that most markets can never replicate ̶ an uncommon brand of loyalty. Among the area’s best known on-air talent, a surprising number of those walked the halls of area high schools, know the back roads like the back of their hands and would sooner retire and clean out their garages (no kidding) than move to a “bigger and better” radio market.
This month, SpaceCoast Living celebrates some of Brevard’s best-loved radio personalities. They lift our spirits on the way to work, keep us updated on local issues, dish with us about our favorite reality TV shows, tell us the best detours when traffic comes to a halt, keep us safe in the face of hurricanes and thunderstorms, never fail to make us laugh, and often share our tears.
Whether they’re spinning Top 40 or pop tunes, talking hard news, or playing hits by the latest country crooners, Brevard DJs agree on one thing. Don’t dare call them local celebrities… As Michelle McCoy of The Hit Kicker morning show said, “I’m a normal person with a glamorous job.”
Jim Callahan & Michelle McCoy
The Callahan and Michelle Morning Show
“The Hit Kicker,”
If there’s one thing Jim Callahan and Michelle McCoy appreciate about their fans, it’s their loyalty.“Their loyalty is unbelievable,” said Michelle. “Whether it’s their loyalty to a particular country artist, their favorite radio station, their favorite truck or their favorite food, they’re very, very loyal. They don’t change, they stick with you. There’s nothing like country fans. Honestly.”
It was their listeners’ fierce devotion that brought the Callahan and Michelle show back on the air in April after it was replaced with a nationally syndicated morning show for nine months.
“Syndicated is not local. Country is all about local. So it did not work very well at all, especially when you took a friendly, heritage morning show like Callahan and Michelle off the air,” Jim explained. “We received hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of calls, letters and e-mails… That shows you the loyalty of this format. That people cared who was on the air. That’s the loyalty you get with country.”
Part of that loyalty comes from their unique relationship with their listeners.
“Once people meet us, they have a connection to us,” said Michelle. “We call them our Hit Kicker family. We know when people have babies, when their son gets deployed to Afghanistan. They call us with these things. Country music is real life. It’s real life stories that people can relate to.”
Jim affirmed, “Country music lends itself to that. It’s about the country. It’s about patriotism. It’s about family. But as Michelle said, you’ve also got to be real on the air.”
For the pair, relating to their listeners is the best part of the job. And sometimes that means showing their vulnerable side too.
“I’m known as ‘the lady who cries on the radio,’” laughed Michelle. “I do get emotional. When we do the St. Jude Radiothon, I need a box of tissues, I just cry all the time. It depends on what we talk about, but when it comes to kids and animals, or soldier stories, those are the things that really get me. I’m not afraid to show my emotions. That’s one thing that makes us real.”
Being recognized in public by listeners is sometimes another story. “People ask for my autograph and when that happens to me, I just feel weird. I’m just an average Joe, just like anybody else,” admitted Michelle. “I don’t think of myself as anybody particularly special… I don’t think of myself as a celebrity.”
Jim added, “People have us sign T-shirts, and I’m like, man, this isn’t going to come out! You’ve ruined the T-shirt!”
It’s that down-to-earth demeanor that prompted listeners to bring back the Space Coast’s only local country morning show. “We don’t have egos. We don’t care who’s funny. We don’t care who’s talking more,” said Jim. “We’re just here to have fun.”
Timmy Vee & Lisa Moldovan
The Lisa and Timmy Morning Show
WA1A, 107.1 FM
Broadcasting the WA1A morning show for the last eight years, with Lisa calling in to provide remote weather forecasts for several years before that, Timmy Vee and Lisa Moldovan have a pretty good idea of what makes their on-air relationship click. It’s that playful, sometimes brutally honest, banter that really often strikes a familiar chord with listeners.
“Every woman has a Timmy in her life,” sighed Lisa. “Whether it’s a brother or a husband…”
“I do a lot of things that a lot of men wish they could do and say,” joked Timmy. “That works, too!”
Over the years, they’ve discussed Lisa’s love life at length, and often joked about sensitive issues such as their weight. “People are so serious about it,” lamented Timmy. “You do what you can and that’s all you can do. You can only smile about it a little bit.”
Lisa agreed, “If what we do makes the average person feel better about themselves because they can joke about… dare I call them, our misfortunes, then so be it.”
This summer, Timmy celebrated 20 years at WA1A, a rarity in the radio business. “I’ve seen tons of morning show partners come and go, but I love it here,” he said. “I like getting up every morning, as early as we have to get up, having that peace and quiet… driving to the station… Just laughing and joking, propping your feet up, taking your shoes off…”
“We laugh and drink coffee, and someone pays us!” echoed Lisa.
Even after 20 years, Timmy insists that attending community events, visiting schools and businesses, and organizing an annual holiday toy drive for more than 5,000 children, is a perk, not a chore. “I like doing it. It makes me feel good,” he said. “But it’s also what radio is all about. Any station that’s a true station for a market should be out there for the community pretty much constantly. That’s how we built this radio station.”
Of all the meet-and-greets with listeners, the duo was most touched by the request of a terminally ill child who wanted to eat dinner with them before she passed away. They brought a pizza to her home and she showed them her collection of Littlest Pet Shop toys, recalled Lisa. They’ve also been known to take listeners with special needs to lunch on their birthdays.
In short, the pair insists, what you hear on air is really what you get.
“We’re more accessible than people think,” said Timmy. “We really are.”
“Everyone says, find something you love to do,” said Lisa. “Find something that lets you be who you are. That’s what this does. It lets me be the entertainer I am and Timmy is the helpful charity person he is. It’s an easy fit that way.”
WMMB, 1240 and 1350 AM
Bill Mick LIVE
Bill Mick’s goal is to get his listeners engaged in local issues and involved in their community. But the story of how he made it to the airwaves often inspires people in a different way.
“I was a cop for most of my ‘real’ life. I was a drug cop. I was out on surveillance,” said Mick. “My boss called me on the radio one day and said ‘Bill, flip the dial… I don’t know who this nut is, but he’s right.’ It was Rush Limbaugh. I got hooked. “
When he and his family moved to Melbourne from Charleston, West Va. in 1998, there was no local talk radio. Mick saw an opportunity. He met with a local station owner who carried Limbaugh’s show and was on the air with his own overnight talk show the following weekend.
Going from undercover cop to radio jock was a smoother transition than one might think. As well as instilling in him a “sick cop sense of humor,” Mick said his former career also taught him how to listen ̶ a surprisingly important skill for one who shares his political views for a living. “My law enforcement career gave me the ability to look at multiple sides of an issue and make the best decision based on the information available at the time. I try to do that on the radio every day.”
While Mick has his sights set on spreading his brand of talk radio throughout Florida, he plans to do it from right here in Brevard. “There’s a spirit in the people here, very patriotic, very community-service oriented. The volunteerism in this community is like none I’ve never seen. It’s a good bunch of people.”
The author of “The Micktionary: The Words and Ideas of Talk Radio on the Space Coast,” Mick is encouraged by the progress he’s seen on the Space Coast. “Especially over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a real up tick in activism on the part of the average citizen… We’ve got active groups of people now that are attending council meetings, attending county commission meetings, talking with their legislators on a regular basis and making a difference in what they want their community to be. I’m not making that change, I’m giving them an opportunity to talk about it, and work together to make that change.”
If listeners take anything away from his time on the air, he hopes it is this, “You have the opportunity to impact your community for the better. You can sit back and watch it go by… or you can get involved, get engaged, listen to the people who are out there trying to make a difference and contribute your efforts with theirs.”
Mike Lowe and Mindy Levy
Mike & Mindy Morning Show
WLRQ, Lite Rock, 99.3 FM
If morning show jocks have a universal pet peeve, it would most certainly be this all-too-common listener statement, “It must be so nice to only work four hours a day!”
The myth of the half-day workday is particularly untrue for Lite Rock’s Mike and Mindy. “Everything our listener is involved with, we have to be a part of,” said Mindy. “We want to make sure we give them what they’re looking for, every single morning.”
For a station that caters almost exclusively to women in their early 40s, that means divvying up a growing roster of reality shows and an exhaustive supply of pop culture news, and breaking it into quick news bites so listeners can keep up with the water cooler chat the next day. “They love the fact that we can give them the information that they need,” Mindy added. “It’s our job to make sure they’re in the know.”
When it comes to being in the know about local news, traffic and weather, listeners know they can trust two of their own. Mindy, who went straight into radio after graduating from Melbourne High, has been back on the Space Coast for 11 years.
“You can’t say we’re not locals,” she joked. “It’s just home. It really is. We know the area so well. We like it here. How could you not?”
Next February, Mike will celebrate 40 years on the radio in Brevard, a longevity that’s unheard of in the radio business. Born and raised in Merritt Island, he’s not fooled by the lure of bigger radio markets and potentially bigger paychecks. “I talk to friends in markets much larger than this, who save up for five years to bring their family here, so why would I move? Who’s the smart one?”
A shared love of the Space Coast and devotion to local charities such as the March of Dimes, American Cancer Society and others, certainly help to boost ratings and listener loyalty, but mutual respect is what has kept this pair on-air together for the last eight years.
“We react off each other,” said Mike. “It’s never been a situation when one particular person had to have the last word. And that’s one of the rarest situations I’ve had in doing a morning show.”
The absence of big city egos makes for a smoother broadcast as well. “Because we rotate who gets the last (word), the breaks are shorter, they’re more concise, we get to the point and get out,” Mike continued. “You can set your body clock to the show.”
Quick and concise news tidbits are just what listeners to “The At-Work Station” are looking for, agreed Mindy. “We work around the moms’ schedules. They can get their weather, get their traffic and get their kids to school. We know it’s nonstop for women.”
Providing that lifeline to busy parents is most definitely full-time job ̶ and then some. But it’s a responsibility that Mike and Mindy are grateful to have. “Our listeners just want to make sure when they wake up that the world is still here,” said Mindy. “If we’re still on the air, everything’s good.”
The Ray Michaels Morning Show
WSBH, “The Beach,” 98.5 FM
For a small, independent radio station and a relative newcomer to the Space Coast ̶ its first broadcast was in late 2006 ̶ 98.5 “The Beach” has gathered a large and loyal listener following. And the station’s morning show host and operations manager, Ray Michaels, is proud to be on the receiving end of what he calls a listener “love fest.”
During community appearances, Michaels is often approached by fans. “People just come from every direction, saying how much they love the music, how much they love the station…They love playing our games… they love winning our prizes. It’s just heaped upon you. It really makes you feel good to know that this is the end result of what you work at every day.”
Michaels, who has been on the air in Central Florida since the 80s and has been playing “The Greatest Hits from the 70s and 60s” on 98.5 since its inception, is quick to credit the music for creating such a strong listener base.
“People love this music. Our die-hard fans have such awesome memories of this music when they were first exposed to it growing up,” he explained. “It was a simpler time in people’s lives. Life gets a little more complicated as you get older. So what a great escape to go back to that simpler time when it was all about blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll music.”
While some DJs may not particularly care for the music they play, Michaels is one of the die-hard fans himself. “I’m passionate about this music just like our listeners are. I’ve often said that the music of the 60s and 70s is unique in that there were so many things going on in the 60s. It was a decade of change… and the throughout that decade, the music changed along with the people who were consuming it. Because of that, there was a lot of variety back then. A lot of great songwriters were working with talented musicians, producing songs that were so popular, we’re still playing them 40 or 50 years later,” reflected Michaels. “It really is timeless music.”
Being on the radio is another thing the local jock is passionate about. “It’s a wonderful way to make a living… A small living,” he joked. “I’m one of the guys that loves the finer things in life but I forfeited all that to be in radio. I’m not here for the money. I’m here to have fun, talking to people on the air and playing the music.”