A not so minor footnote to WMMR Philadelphia celebrating 50 years rocking the City of Brotherly Love is the fact that its morning anchor, “The Preston & Steve Show,” is celebrating 20 years in the market. The majority of the duo’s tenure in the city has been on the 93.3 signal, joining the station shortly after Bill Weston was named PD. Their arrival coincided with a resurgence of the legendary rocker with the daypart consistently posting double digit numbers in the target men 25-54 demo, helping the station maintain its prominence in the market.
Inside Radio spoke with Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison about the early days of the show, when Philly finally felt like home and learned about the other members of the powerhouse morning show. An edited transcript follows.
Tell us about the formation of the Preston & Steve Show 20 years ago in Philadelphia.
PE: I moved to Philadelphia from St. Louis in 1996 and worked at WDRE, an alt rock station that was in Long Island and simulcast in Philadelphia. They eventually broke up the simulcast and we went local in Philadelphia. When I got there, Steve was a part-time employee in Long Island and he did commercial production and some of the clients were in Philadelphia. One client in particular thought that his commercials were so awesomely comedic that they wanted Steve to do live appearances, even though Steve was not technically an on-air host. For the first month or so, Steve and I had a relationship that was exclusively on the radio. He would be there on Fridays, I’d check in a couple times an hour. That began our relationship.
About a year later the station was sold, and the format changed. I went to “Y-100” WPLY [Philadelphia] and worked there for about a year doing afternoons and they wanted new blood in the morning. Initially it was me and the MD, Marilyn Russell, who was also a part time air talent, so it originally was “Preston & Marilyn.” We did it for a month and realized it wasn’t really clicking. About that time, Steve had been in New York at Q104 [WAXQ] and was looking for work. Our program director said, “Hey, I got this morning show, you want to come down and give it a shot?” We did it on an interim basis for a little while and Steve eventually became a full-time employee. After a couple of years, Marilyn wanted to spend more time with her son, so she left. It was amicable, we had a going away party and everything. At that point it became “The Preston and Steve Show.”
When did you realize that you “had something?”
PE: We worked on it for a while. Initially when we began, our breaks were shorter and then over time we began to hone our skills and figure out a rhythm… Although, I think there was rhythm there from the beginning, Steve, don’t you?
SM: Yeah, there was a rhythm from the beginning. The truth of the matter is that we had some good guidance, but ultimately, I think it comes down to when Jim McGuinn, who was the PD at Y-100, said to us, “You guys took off when I stopped telling you what to do.” That’s when we kind of had developed an instinct of who we were on the show. At that point it occurred to us, from now on we are going to trust our instincts.
PE: We knew that we were entertaining each other pretty well, we just didn’t know if we were entertaining anybody else. I remember the first time they had done a focus study and Jim coming back and saying, “Well, it seems that the suggestion is that we should be focusing all our marketing around you guys.” We were working so hard at it and the buzz coming from the phones and the street was strong. That was a defining moment. It was even before numbers came back. It was a focus group and it showed that we were doing the right thing for our audience. That was one of those moments that stands out that showed us we were heading in the right direction.
What are the advantages of being on the air in the same market for two decades?
PE: There are people who were teenagers back when we started who now have kids and they’re growing up listening to us. Philadelphia is a very traditional town where there is a lot of hand me down, there is a lot of “my parents did it that way, so I’m going to do it that way.” That is an advantage; I think there is a familiarity that is pretty easy to hang onto with our show.
SM: I think ultimately, especially in this town, there is a high degree of loyalty. The people are phenomenally loving and loyal. I do think that, at the core, what we talk about would translate to any radio audience around the country, but we are thrilled to be here in Philadelphia. There is a wonderful, symbiotic relationship and the level of support is amazing.
You are both transplants to Philadelphia, who are now fully entrenched in the market. Do you remember the point when you realized this was home?
SM: My wife and I had been living apart. She was working in New York, so I would go back on Friday afternoons and come back down on Sunday evenings. When she moved down, and we started to go out... I just loved Philadelphia. The vibe of it. Regardless of having a level of notoriety on the radio side, I am a big fan of the people and the usability of the city. When my wife moved down, that’s when it felt like this is home.
PE: It was slow transition for me. One of the milestones for me was when we got here to MMR. We had spent a lot of time in the trenches, slugging it out, creating an audience. And then all of a sudden, we land at this legendary powerhouse. I felt more solidified once we came into this studio and we were embraced by the MMR audience as well as the audience that came over from Y-100 when that station went under. For me personally, that’s when it became my home.
Tell us about the members of The Preston and Steve Show, what their role is and what each individually brings to the studio.
PE: Casey Foster is our executive producer and has been with the show since Day One. Technically he was there before Steve. He was an intern when Marilyn and I started together. He is a gigantic part of our success. Steve and I may have our name on the marquee, but Casey is right up there with us as well. Over the years we have seen him go from intern, not knowing anything, to learning right along with us the whole way.
SM: He is the best producer in the business because he is not only a producer, he is a big part of the show. He also helps facilitate what I do. We do stuff in concert with each other. If I start riffing on something… we will guide each other.
PE: Then you have Kathy Romano. She is technically in charge of news and traffic and is our female perspective, because she is in the studio with us all the time. She is wonderfully awesome in that she only really speaks up when it is something she really feels the need to talk about. That was one of the things I was most impressed with her from the beginning. We auditioned a lot of people. Each time we had people in to audition they would speak just to get their position in and to show what they could do on the air. Kathy just kind of did bare bones until one day we touched on a subject that all of a sudden spoke to her and I saw her go into a whole other gear.
Then we have Nick McIlwain. Nick came on initially when we started to get more active in our internet presence. This was pre-social media. We realized there was going to be another piece of the puzzle, we had a website and Nick would run that. He also gives us another perspective to have in the studio as well.
And last, but not least, is Marissa Magnatta. She’s an associate producer and she is the glue of the show. She is the behind the scenes person but does have a mic at her work station and we do pop her on daily, but she is not as vocal as the rest of us on the program. She runs our internship program and anything during the show as far as gathering guests and making sure they are where they need to be. She is constantly sending us audio clips that we need as the show is going on. She does an overwhelming majority of our social media work and she is fan-freakin-tastic at it. She makes sure all the podcasting information is where it needs to be and is up in a timely manner. She is the hardest working person I think I have ever met in this business.