Philly Radio Host Preston Elliot Recounts His Unexpected Path to Popularity

WMMR+Host+Preston+Elliot+hops+on+the+mic+at+6+a.m.+every+weekday+morning+to+make+Philly+laugh+and+feel+a+sense+of+community.+

Brian Miller at Chorus Photography

WMMR Host Preston Elliot hops on the mic at 6 a.m. every weekday morning to make Philly laugh and feel a sense of community.

Hope Rose Mauch, Editor-in-Chief

Growing up in Norristown, I was surrounded by many different types of media. When my mom started driving me to high school, she would turn on WMMR since it was early in the morning and the Preston & Steve show was still on. I instantly fell in love with this show. I was recently introduced to Preston Elliot, the show’s host, and got the chance to interview him about his life and all of his accomplishments.

 

Hope Mauch: How are you this morning?

Preston Eliot: I’m good, not happy that my weekend is coming to a close but other than that I’m doing alright, thank you.

HM: Same here. I’m just going to get right into it.

PE: Perfect!

HM: What is your job title? I looked it up and different websites said different things.

PE: Ah ok, so I guess you know when I’m filling out information in the doctor’s office and they ask my occupation I’ll say “radio host” but my title I guess, is host of the “Preston & Steve Show” on WMMR I think that’s probably best.

HM: How did you become the host of the “Preston & Steve Show”?

PE: Before I was the host of the Preston & Steve show, I did a solo radio show, and I was what you would call a DJ. Mainly music-focused radio shows and in my career I worked all over the clock, I did overnights, afternoons, midday, evenings, late nights, all that stuff. Eventually was asked if I was interested in doing morning radio, and this would have been in 1998, I think. And it wasn’t cause I hate the idea of getting up early in the morning. I had no interest at all. And the company kind of pursued me a little bit further and a couple of months later nudged me into doing it, and so I said “alright, I’ll give it a shot” and started hosting the show with a different cohost, a woman named Marilyn Russell. Steve eventually came onto the program and it was Preston, Marilyn, & Steve and a couple of years later, Marilyn left. She wanted to do other things and spend time with her son. So then it became the Preston & Steve show. So I was sort of thrown into it and offered the position to host a morning show and since I was already hosting my own show, it made sense for me to be lead on the mic as far as driving the show and where it goes. That’s how I got into the show.

HM: Now, as you are well into your career, do you prefer working in the mornings, or would you rather go back to when you used to work at night?

PE: That’s a good question because there is more freedom in morning radio, at least where I am working now, as far as our ability to be creative and have a good time. And that’s a lot of fun. I mean, I have fun at work. It’s hard work, we prep and do a lot of things and spend a lot of time getting ready for our show, but it is fun. The only reason I would want to work another shift is simply because of getting up early in the morning. I mean I wake up at 3:50 am. I know, I hate it. You never get used to it. I don’t anyway. You know, given the opportunity probably not. I really enjoy what I do now, but I would love to wake up at a normal hour, it would be the best!

HM: If you wake up that early, what time do you go to bed?

PE: I head up to bed between like 8:15 and 8:30 and I try to be asleep by 9. You know, early but not stupid early. I know some people who work in morning news and then go to bed at like 7 or something ridiculous. No, thank you.

HM: Before you became the host of the show, or when you were in college, what was your original career choice? Did you always want to do what you do now?

PE: This is pretty much what I wanted to do. I mean, before pursuing radio, I took a run at being a musician and I played in a rock band and thought maybe I could make a career out of that but it is really, really, really difficult to make a career out of that. There are different ways to be a musician. You can become a teacher and things like that and still play. No, it was pretty much radio and if that wasn’t going to work out I really didn’t have much of a fallback plan. So I really set my sights on this as a career.

HM: It’s good that it worked out for you then.

PE: Yeah, I mean I have been very fortunate in my career to have met the people that I have and have the direction that I have gone in. It’s been successful and fulfilling.

HM: Since you do meet a lot of people in your job, who was your favorite guest or your most memorable guest?

PE: Wow, okay there have been a lot of great guests and for different reasons. For celebrity status as far as excitement in that regard goes, John Travolta was just so cool. He’s a big star, but he’s just the nicest guy. We were really enamored with him. It was a great interview, and I think that is one of the top ones because it was just so much fun. He was the nicest guy. But you know what, some memorable interviews aren’t necessarily the ones that are with people who are these colossal famous individuals. Some of them are famous but on another level. One of my all-time favorite guests was a guy named Darryl McDaniels. Ever heard of RUN DMC? So, he is DMC. RUN DMC is a great band and I love their music. Just the positive message this guy was spreading. Just his positivity was amazing, living the best life that you can and I got so much from him. So, he had a great interview. Then you have people like Dolly Parton, who is a blast! She is funny, talented, entertaining, philanthropic, and just a sweetheart. There are so many guests that we have had it’s really hard to narrow down because once I start to head down that path I’ll say “oh this and that.” It’s just great to meet with people and when they connect, it’s excellent. It’s just what you want for a radio show.

It’s an exercise in futility if you try to please everyone.”

— Preston Elliot

HM: Since you do work in the media, you have a media presence. What are some positive and negative effects of working in the media for you?

PE: Working in the media for me?

HM: Yes!

PE: Positive and negative. Well, since we are an entertainment show, the positives–the absolute positive–is the feedback from listeners who, for one reason or another, find our show helps them out. I love, love, love getting that feedback! In a variety of ways or in a variety of scenarios. So, I’ll get emails from people who are going through cancer treatment and they are on their way to a chemotherapy session and they will listen to us to kind of lighten up and get in the proper mindset. I’ll get emails from parents who don’t communicate very well with their kids and on their way to school they will listen to our show together, they’ll have some common ground and they will laugh and they will enjoy that. I’ll hear about people who have lost a job and they are going through a tough time, people who have lost loved ones, and the show sort of comforts them in a way. That is the strongest positive I get from my job, outside of being a provider for my family and things like that. But as far as doing the job, a great positive is the feedback that we get from listeners who get something out of our show that helps them. I am very humbled by that. And I’m like “wow, okay I didn’t know we did that, but it’s awesome and I appreciate it.”

Some of the negatives, that’s a good question. I don’t have a lot of negatives. We are fortunate that we haven’t had a whole lot of negative experiences in our business. There can be, now I haven’t had an experience like that but you can get a stalker or something like that if you’re an entertainer and that has certainly happened before. It happens on both radio and television and I would imagine online entertainers as well. I haven’t had any experience with that, which is great. I guess another negative might be that, depending on what you do, you have to kind of live the job. So, your life has to kind of be an open book. If you’re doing a morning radio show, you have to be willing to share things about your life and of course, I don’t share everything, but I share a lot about my personal life, and sometimes that can come back to haunt you a little bit. I might say something about someone who is in my life personally and didn’t realize that I crossed a line or I revealed too much and that can damage your relationships. That has happened a couple of times I was like “Wow! I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to talk about that,” and I guess I did and now that person isn’t my friend anymore.

HM: So, your job does definitely affect your personal life because you’re very open with who you are when you are on the radio. So, relationship-wise, with your family how does your job affect your family?

PE: It can. It hasn’t that much. My family is pretty cool. Me involving them in conversations, if it is going to be on the sensitive side, I’ll ask them first, and say “hey look, I was talking about this and I’ve known you had experience with it. Is it okay that I mention you?” Most of the time I hear “yeah sure, it’s no big deal,” so I try not to cross that line with my family, but I do involve them in the conversations. I guess it can be a little bit weird sometimes for my kids. People come up to them and say things about something they might have heard about them on my radio show and it might be a bit uncomfortable. There have been a couple of times where people have approached them. My son Carter, who is in college right now, a guy recognized him as being my son. I don’t know how the hell that happened. Maybe he follows me on social media and he sees pictures of him or something like that. But it wasn’t intrusive or anything, it was just a little funny. So, it can affect them but not as much as you would think. I learned a long time ago about opening up in my personal life and it took my wife a while to understand this too that the majority of people that hear the things that I might say that are embarrassing about myself or maybe my family. The minority of people who hear that and form an opinion I’m probably not going to be affected by them in my daily life, I’m not going to be regularly interacting with them. So what, someone finds out something weird about me, oh well. I’m weird, so whatever it is, it’s nothing embarrassing. But it took a while to learn how to be okay with that. I used to be really sensitive about what people might think about me. It’s like anything else, the more you age and the more you experience something, the easier it is to cope with, so it doesn’t really bother me that much anymore. There can be effects, but after you do it for a while it doesn’t, in my experience, it doesn’t seem to bother us anymore.

HM: That’s good. You grew to realize you don’t have to please everyone.

PE: It’s an exercise in futility if you try to please everyone, it’s not going to happen

HM: It is also a lot of energy to try and please everyone, I have learned that too.

PE: Totally, that’s it, you summed it up right there.

HM: I do know that you did not grow up in the Philly area, how did you come to live in Philly? What made you move here?

PE: Okay so, I spent most of my life living in St. Louis, Missouri, and was working in radio there. I was doing Top 40 radio or contemporary hits radio, as it is known as well. At that time it was around 1996, alternative rock had become a radio format, and I really liked the music that was being played there. So, I wanted to get out of playing Top 40 music and get into the rock side of things and there was a competing radio station in St. Louis, and it was called The Point, and the program director there was a guy who I had encountered from time to time because I was also in music programming. I was the music director of our radio station. I would run into him at concerts and things like that. We kind of formed a relationship and he got a job offer to run an alternative radio station in Philadelphia and so he was leaving and he got in touch with me and he said “Hey I’m going to be looking to hire some people. Are you interested in the job?” and I said, “Absolutely!” He ended up liking what I had to offer and hired me to move to Philadelphia to work for a station called “WDRE.” It’s not here anymore, but it was a great radio station and I had a lot of fun. I had always wanted to advance in my career and in market size so St. Louis is kind of a medium-large market. Philadelphia is a large market. It’s one of the big ones, it’s in the top 5, top 6 in the country. And so that appealed to me strongly. I wanted to get a bigger audience. I wanted to be in rock radio and this was my opportunity. I didn’t know much about Philadelphia when moving here other than maybe some things I had seen in movies or sporting events. That was pretty much it. So, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was pleasantly surprised about what a great place it is and I have loved living here ever since.

HM: When you first moved here was there any time of culture shock for you or was it “this is different but I’m used to it?”

PE: Yeah, there was a little bit of culture shock. I mean the attitude of the east coast is a little bit different than what I was used to, and it wasn’t like a big slap in the face or anything like that like “wow we’re not in Kansas anymore!” We’re not in Missouri anymore, which is kind of close to Kansas. So there were some things that I needed to figure out, but it wasn’t overwhelming, it was a fairly easy transition. So, a little bit but not much.

HM: I also know that you recently got accepted into the Radio Hall of Fame, how was that experience as a whole?

PE: Bizarre, in a good way, it was. We had been nominated a couple of years ago, I think as well and I was like “wow okay, that’s weird.” It’s strange to me because I wasn’t aware of how known we were in our industry. I mean, I don’t pay too much attention to what’s going on in our industry nationally. I used to, early on in my career. I would read all the trade publications and know who was working where and what they were doing, what morning shows were having success, and stuff like that. Along the way, I spent a little too much time focusing on that and once I had started doing morning radio, I decided to kind of pull back from that and not focus on that and mainly focus on my job as opposed to what was going on outside of my job in our industry. I had no idea that we had a spotlight on us in the industry, so I didn’t think we would get into the National Radio Hall of Fame. I mean, you’re talking about the biggest of the bigs that are hanging on the walls. When we found out that we were going to be inducted I was like “this doesn’t seem real, it doesn’t seem real at all.” It was overwhelming and cool and unexpected and surreal I think was the big word because when we were at the ceremony doing our acceptance speeches I still felt like I didn’t belong there, my speech sucks, these people are all professionals. I was nervous, to be honest, I was very nervous. It’s a really cool accolade to have. I’m very very proud of it. I still can’t believe it. It’s something I never anticipated in my career, ever. I thought there was no way.

HM: If you could go back in time to your younger self when you were aspiring. How do you think your past self would react to hearing all of your accomplishments?

PE: I would have said you’re full of [expletive deleted]. You probably can’t use that because of high school. Sorry about that. I would have said “you’re on drugs,” how about that?  But, there was no way. It seemed so big and so far away as far as people, I consider to be famous in our industry and that were famous in our industry. I would have said “No way! You’re out of your mind! Absolutely not!” I’ve never really felt that confident in my abilities as a broadcaster. I feel confident when I’m on the microphone, when I’m doing my job. But, I’ve never really felt that body of work had been all that crazy special. We have a good time, we turn on the mics and talk, we try to make sure the audience enjoys what we’re enjoying, and that’s it. I would have not believed me, if I would have told myself that I was going to be in the Radio Hall of Fame or anything I have accomplished.

HM: That’s all I have for you, thank you so much for talking with me. Is there anything else you would like to add?

PE: Of course, thank you. I can’t think of anything else to add. I’m glad I could help with your article. I’m sure it will be great!

HM: Thank you again, have a good day.

PE: Later, Hope.