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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

For Shores & Steele, every day is an election

BY RUSS LEMMON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For Gary Shores and Harvey J. Steele, there isn't much difference between hosting Toledo radio's No. 1 morning show, which they have now, and the No. 1 afternoon show, which they had a year ago.

The content is basically the same, and so is the audience. What changes is the direction that most of the cars are traveling. The shifts are called “drive time” for a reason - generally speaking, people drive to work in the morning and head home in the afternoon.

It's been almost a year since WKKO-FM (99.9) moved Shores and Steele - an afternoon team for six years - to the high-profile morning slot. They replaced Mitch and Mary Beth, who had the No. 1 morning show for nearly all of their 14 years at the Cumulus-owned country station before signing a lucrative deal with Clear Channel's WRVF-FM (101.5).

WKKO's decision to go with an untested morning team did not come without significant risks. George Francis, the Toledo market manager for Cumulus, said about half of a station's revenue is “morning-driven.” Therefore, if Shores and Steele faltered, WKKO's status as the most popular station in Toledo would have been in jeopardy.

“A full-service community radio station can't succeed if it doesn't succeed in the morning,” Francis said. “More people listen to radio in the morning, so morning radio creates talk in the office, in the warehouse, at the job site, at coffee breaks, and even at lunch. It is part of the dialogue of the community. People consider Gary and Harvey, and [sidekick] Office Boy Bob, their friends.”

The feeling is mutual. “We have the best listeners in the world,” Shores said. “We've gotten to know a lot of them. Now, they're not just listeners, they're friends.”

That philosophy is in stark contrast to the No. 2-rated morning show, Denny Schaffer's Breakfast Club on WVKS-FM (92.5). Its motto: “People are stupid.”

“We never make fun of or put down our listeners,” Steele said. “We'll make fun of ourselves, but not the listeners.”

With the top-rated morning show also comes a sense of responsibility.

“I think the real strength [of our show] is that we try to entertain and have fun without `crossing the line.'” Shores said. “We have listeners who are 5 and 85, and everyone in between. I don't think parents have to worry about their kids listening to K-100. And we hear that from lots of parents.”

Shores and Steele's ratings are even higher than those conversation-oriented Mitch and Mary Beth achieved toward the end of their K-100 reign. They credit their “more music in the morning” motto for the bump.

And their work ethic - they treat each day as an “election” - won't allow them to take success for granted.

“Someone may beat us in the ratings, but no one will outwork us,” Steele said. “We went to eight county fairs and many festivals this year - not because anyone told us to, or because we got paid for it, but because it's important to get out there and meet your listeners. It really is a seven-day-a-week job. ... We run `for election' every day - we can't sit still and wait for listeners to come and find us.”

Steele had a liver transplant in November, 1997. Today, he is able to work with no health restrictions, allowing him to be in a continuous “campaign” mode.

Shores, 49, and Steele, 44, both have been in the radio business for 30 years. Yes, Steele was 14 when he started - he read news for a college radio station in Charleston, Ill.

Both men began working for Toledo radio stations in 1981. But they weren't paired together until 1994. A year later, the Country Music Association named them Broadcast Personalities of the Year. Their infectious “Who's your Daddy?” slogan arrived a few years later.

Shores offered this comparison between their afternoon and morning styles: “We've settled down a bit. I think we were a little more `rowdy' in the afternoon. So when we first went to mornings, we may have been a little obnoxious. It only took a few days to settle in. In the afternoon, we probably sounded like a couple of guys having a beer in the garage. Now, it's more like two guys thinking about having a beer later on.”

For their boss, their ratings success is worthy of a champagne toast. Talk about your best-case scenarios. This year, K-100 is one of five nominees for the CMA's mid-market Station of the Year award.

“I'm not the least bit surprised,” Francis said. “We knew we had a natural morning team on in the afternoon, knew their chemistry and style would fit smoothly into mornings with great ease. ... I wish we'd done it sooner.”



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