Morning radio host Rover will make his debut on WMMS 6 a.m. Tuesday, April 1. After four years at 92.3 FM and a short stint in Chicago, he hopes the “Rover’s Morning Glory” show will help the storied station return to its former, well, glory. Check out the “Around Hear” column in this week’s Scene to learn more about his return to Cleveland airwaves. And read on for a full interview with the morning radio host, wherein Shane “Rover” French talks about his switch from KROCK to ‘MMS, the circumstances behind his departure, his brief time in Chicago, and more. – D.X. FerrisC-Notes: ‘MMS, huh?
Yes. It’s my new home. The contract with CBS was up on March 16, and for probably the last two or three months of the contract, we were exploring both options. It was finalized to go with Clear Channel just before going off the air with CBS on February 15.
Why ‘MMS over CBS?
There’s a few reasons. A, they have a better signal that reaches further. I live out in Avon, and during the summer, I can barely get the signal. They really have a lot of resources available at Clear Channel, a lot of billboards, they have ties with a concert promoting division, a lot of resources that help the show. And I think CBS has had us for five years, and once you’ve been some place for a while, they become a little complacent. They take for granted the ratings the show has brought them. So you have a company with ‘MMS that hasn’t had a good morning show for God knows how long. They realized it was a missing piece of their puzzle, and they’re thrilled to have us. And the last prong is: I was able to secure more money for everyone on the show, the behind-the-scenes people and everybody.
As a casual listener, I get the idea that CBS radio isn’t easy or fun to work for. Is that an accurate impression?
I don’t think it’s worse than any other company. I certainly had battles with them, but overall, I think they would go to bat for me as often as they could. But these radio stations are owned by these behemoth corporations that don’t care about creativity and barely care about ratings. It all is based on the share price. So you’re kind of a cog in the wheel. I wouldn’t say they were un-fun to work for; often time, the way I would have done things was certainly at odds with the way the big wigs at CBS would do?
Was there a single point where you decided you couldn’t work with CBS any more?
I can’t wait until April 1, because I have a lot of great stories, and I can go into detail. It wasn’t like they pissed us off or anything. It was the way they decided to negotiate our deal: They came to me with a dollar figure to keep the show. And the following day, they said, “Oh, we made a mistake. They figure we gave you, that was inaccurate. The real number was about 15 percent less.” And things went rapidly downhill from there. I think the local management, and for all the grief we gave them, they were prepared to do anything to keep us, and they certainly wanted to keep us. And I doubt they would admit this, but I think they were very frustrated that corporate management took that tack to get the deal done.
Did you have a growing list of things you couldn’t do?
No. There may be some – we had stopped doing the Dare Deiter bit, because we had almost killed the guy a couple times, and because CBS got so nervous toward the end that they forced us to stop doing it.
Is it coming back?
We’re contemplating that. But I wouldn’t expect…. When someone tunes in on April 1, I wouldn’t expect it to sound very different than when we went off the air February 15.
You’ve been in Cleveland a while. Does it mean anything extra to be part of WMMS?
I’ve been in town five years now. And I really have only heard stories about what a great station it was, because since I’ve been here, they certainly haven’t been the force that they used to be. But throughout the industry, everyone has heard about its heritage over the past 30 years, so there is something exciting about being part of a hopeful return to glory.
In a way, this is your fourth go-round with Cleveland. What do you think has made Cleveland so receptive to what you do?
One of the things that people find interesting is that people started out with us, and it was a very small show. And the show grew, and the audience grew along with it, and the audience became a part of it. And it grew into syndication, which is unheard of, to happen that quckly. And I think that’s a source of pride, in that they were part of the success. And I think the show is extremely down-to-earth. I think everyone is very grateful for the support and appreciation. Everyone on the show is so normal and regular, and I think the audience can smell phonies; we’re not pretentious, by any means.
Will you syndicate?
There certainly has been talk of adding stations to the roster in the near future.
What didn’t happen in Chicago?
Boy, do you have all night? It wasn’t a bad fit with the city, I don’t think. The station was probably a terrible fit for us. It was a talk station that had a much, much older audience, 40 and up. And the show caters primarily to a 30-year-old audience who are at a different place in their lives. I remember looking at the ratings for 18-to-34 year-olds, our primary market, and the ratings had a 0.8 for the entire station. And it was probably even a poorer fit with the guy who ran the station, who came from an A.M. news background, and just didn’t get us or the show. I think there were mistakes made on my part and CBS’s part, as evidenced by almost all the stations that they had on the so-called Free FM format; all the stations with that format, for the most part, are gone now.
Anything else different?
We have some technology initiatives we’re going to be rolling out in the near future. Some more interactivity with the show, some web initiatives. We’re looking at adding some video feeds and podcasts, which CBS never allowed us to do. On-air, it will be 95% of what people have come to know, but we’ll be able to enhance the product in a lot of ways
You grew up in Vegas, which is quite a contrast to Cleveland. A lot of people who move to the city run away as fast as they can. How have you taken to the city? Is it just that there’s work here?
I’ve lived all over the country – in radio, you have to work your way up. The first job I took was in Knoxville, Tennessee; now, you want to talk about culture shock… I’ve also lived in L.A. for a while too, and there’s a certain appeal to Cleveland. Obviously, the weather is not as good, but the people are real. In L.A. and Vegas, there’s a certain phony-ness to people there, and if you can’t do something for them, they don’t like you. The appeal of Cleveland is that it’s a very interesting cross-section of America. We’ll have a lot of interesting stories come April first about everything that’s happened over the last couple months, and I’m looking forward to sharing it.