to sum up nearly 25 years worth of radio into a single paragraph is
no easy task, especially when accounting for the specific show we're
going to discuss today. Which honestly, at times requires a
bibliography just to keep it all straight. So here goes...
From being a Top 40 morning duo out of Weber County to the overwhelming juggernaut show it has become, Radio From Hell has played a part in inciting, influencing, insulting, inspiring, inflicting, invigorating and informing nearly everyone local their tower can reach and beyond online. And with a three year extension in their contracts due to kick in tomorrow, they look to continue those efforts while becoming one of the longest running morning shows in the state. And to mark the occasion, we're doing about as in-depth of an interview as you'll ever get without a cavity search. Chatting with all three members and their producer about their careers in radio, the formation of the show and changes throughout the years, all the way to their current position on the air and thoughts on local broadcasting in general. Along with tons of photos from awkward positions as I sat in for the full four hours last Thursday, which include shots of Bill in recovery from his epic heroic battle with cancer. Clearly, cancer lost.
Radio From Hell (Bill Allred, Kerry Jackson, Richard T. Stedman & Gina Barberi)
Gavin: Hey guys! First off, for those who may not know, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Bill: Born and raised in Ogden. Studied theater with an acting emphasis at Weber State University. Graduate work at Penn State.
Kerry: Everything you need to know about me, and some things you DON’T, are all revealed on RFH and Geek Show. I have been described as the Tony Stark of the show.
Gina: I'm an average woman, yep I said it. I'm married to a way above average man, "Dr. Joe Jones" and have three spectacular kids, Festus 12, Jonesie 4, and Mohamed 2.
Richie: Born and raised in Salt Lake City. I went to Hillcrest High School and graduated as the Senior Class President in 1998. Went to Southern Utah University and studied theatre and radio, where I created the “Morning Brew” morning show. I went on a “religiously affiliated vacation” to Cleveland, Ohio. Started working for X96 as an intern Christmas of 2003. Then again in 2004. Then upon graduation in May of '05, interned until I was hired on July 5th of 2005 to be the Fresh Faced Mormon Phone Greeter. Then was made Producer, then Executive Producer…
Gavin: How did each of you first take an interest in radio?
Bill: I've always loved radio as a listener but never thought of it as a career until I accidentally got a radio job in 1980. "Hey, I can do this," I thought. I stuck with it and here I am.
Kerry: I used to listen to it when I was a kid. I grew up on a farm in Utah County and it was like messages from the “real world”. I also thought it would be a great way to meet loose women.
Richie: I had never thought of making radio a career until one of my companions on my “vacation” had mentioned he was going to go into radio. He and I got along pretty well together, so I figured it would fit me too. It did.
Gavin: Prior to formally getting into broadcasting, what were all of you doing with careers and school?
Kerry: I got into radio right after High School so the only other paying jobs Ive had were paperboy and bottle washer at a dairy. Unpaid, the family farm work.
Bill: I was trying to be an actor, but I wasn't having much fun doing that. I loved acting, but the auditioning and inevitable rejection is brutal. Plus, radio was a small, but steady, paycheck.
Richie: I had thought about going into business or communications of some sort... Theatre if I thought I could live off of it.
Gavin: Bill and Kerry, when did both of you join up with KJQ, and how were your early experiences working there?
Bill: Kerry and I were put together on a morning radio show by a man named Tom Greenleigh who owned and programmed the old KJQ. He was a crazy genius who taught me a lot of important broadcast lessons.
Kerry: I don’t recall the date, but we were forced together. Bless Tom Greenleigh, when I told him I didn’t like Bill he told me to get over it. I learned more about radio at KJQ than anywhere else. Most importantly I learned how NOT to do it.
Gavin: The initial start to the show was with "The Fun Pigs" in 1986. Where did the title come from and what was the format of the show during those early years?
Kerry: I don’t remember where the name came from. The philosophy was people would remember THAT rather than our names. That way they would write the name of the show in the ratings diary and not have to remember how to spell “Kerry”. Same with RFH, the name is what you remember. We played Top 40 and had to get ten songs an hour in, so there wasn’t much “show”.
Bill: The show was given the name "Fun Pigs" by a guy named John Peterson. John was a sports broadcaster and advertising guy who worked with Mike Scott (Casey Scott's dad). I think both Mike and John came up with Fun Pigs. "Fun Pigs never say no."
Gavin: What was your reaction to the success of the show and the audience you had built during that time?
Bill: The audience was small, but very loyal. KJQ had a limited signal. We really didn't reach into Salt Lake so it was really Weber, Box Elder and Davis Counties. Plus, we were playing the same crappy Mariah Carey music that everyone else was playing. I thought we were doing a good show, but not many people heard it. We did a lot of sketches..."The Young & The Useless" and "Russ de la Rocca; Worm Trainer of the Americas" are two that I recall now.
Kerry: The Top 40 days were mildly successful… for what it was. We did get mentioned in Esquire Magazine's “Awful Things” awards…I don’t recall what it was called. They took us to task for a “what would you do for Bon Jovi tickets” stunt where a listener rolled in an inflatable kiddie pool full of cow shit. Yeah... mom was proud.
Gavin: What led to you wanting to change the name to Radio From Hell. And looking back on it, did you think that one change would end up being as significant as it turned out to be?
Kerry: When we changed format to Alternative, Bill and I realized we had to do a totally different approach. The listeners of that type of music would not embrace a wacky “morning show". At that time Richard Lewis was using “...from hell” in his comedy routines to describe something awful. So, there ya go. I didn’t think it would become what it was/is, but I knew it was my first real chance to be successful at this thing I loved.
Bill: I didn't think much about the name change at all. Kerry, I think, suggested "Radio From Hell" based on the routine of comedian Richard Lewis, who was very popular at the time. In his routine, everything was "from hell" as in the job from hell, the girlfriend from hell, the (insert noun here) from hell. It's a pretty good name to this day but the weird thing is, we're stuck with it. We couldn't change it now if we wanted to because we're so branded by it.
Gavin: How were things for you during the KJQ purchase and the fallout that came from the changes happening all around?
Bill: Things were scary for a while, but also it was an exciting time. Every bit of my life was in turmoil, as was Kerry's, and the KJQ stuff was just one more thing. It was pretty clear to all of us that the people taking over KJQ, the Texas mob, were morons who would lead us straight to oblivion. We were oh, so right.
Kerry: The disintegration of KJQ was my rock bottom. I was just divorced. Lived in a trailer park, sleeping on the floor. Discovered I had testicular cancer. My first true love left me. And then everyone at the station quit. I had to stay or lose my insurance. All in like a year this went down.
Gavin: What led to the end of the first run, and what was it like for both of you then being on two separate stations?
Kerry: I stayed at what was called the Corporate KJQ. Had too! Cancer! Insurance! The man called The Asshole From El Paso came in and decided he was going to show these kids how real radio worked. Hired a bunch of corporate radio drones and "Top 40’d" this thing. Everything opposite…like a Bizzaro version. You could just see the life gushing out of this once great station.
Bill: Kerry stayed with the old KJQ because he couldn't afford to give up his health insurance; he was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. I was given the option of either signing a contract with the new KJQ owners or being fired. I chose fired. I wasn't too worried because I knew that plans were afoot to start X96 and I trusted the people who were behind that to do it right.
Gavin: What was this period like for both of you? Like working with different co-hosts, and in Kerry's case switching stations a couple times.
Bill: I was just concerned about doing a good show with my new partner, Dom Casual, on X96. We called the show "Project X" and we worked our asses off on it. I saw Kerry occasionally. We did the Smith & Edwards radio commercials together still. I guess it wasn't any stranger than anyone switching jobs. You leave old office friends behind and make new ones.
Kerry: Like I said it was my rock bottom. I went through three different partners in the morning. I was so angry, at everyone. The people I was working with and the ones who had walked out. The KJQ people never forgave me for staying. So when X96 signed on, not only was I not called to join them, I was the enemy. It was real ugly. KJQ eventually died and I was unemployed. Applied to every radio station in town. Problem was, when RFH was going… we made fun of every radio station in town. I was not met with open arms, as you can imagine. I was still hurting from the breakup with my girlfriend so I spent most of my time in the fetal position on my kitchen floor. No joke. That’s when my ObiWan, Leigh George Kade came along, dragged me out of my apartment, got me in the gym and cleaned up my head. Helped my get rid of my anger and helped me find my inner "dude". I was at the end of my unemployment checks and was told I would get no more unless I attended a class on "how to apply for a job" at the unemployment office. It was degrading. I was sitting in the class when Sue Kelly poked her head in the class and pulled me out to offer me the job doing mornings at 94.9. It was hip hop/dance club music, but the audience welcomed me. I did the show by myself. Wrote sketches and did all the voices. I really helped me stretch my talents farther than I would have. I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t riding any coat tails. And I brought the ratings up. I’m proud of what I did there.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about for you to reunite and go back to doing the show?
Kerry: I heard a rumor that Bill's partner Dom was leaving. I called Jim Facer and said it just made sense to "put the band back together." He said it was a good idea on paper but "everyone here hates you, Kerry. You’re an asshole." He was right. During the KJQ days I was an asshole. But, after hitting rock bottom, I convinced him I had changed. He said he’d float the idea around and here we are.
Bill: Dom Casual and I had been doing the show on X96 for about two years I think when Dom got an offer to be a program director for a group of stations in Atlanta as I recall. When Dom said he was going to leave it seemed to me that if Kerry wanted to come back to do Radio From Hell, he would be the obvious choice to be my partner again. Kerry was doing just fine hosting his own show at ZHT, so I wasn't sure if he wanted to do it. But, fortunately, he agreed that he was, in fact, the obvious choice.
Gavin: Going to Gina for a bit, how did you officially break into radio and what was your time like before making it to Q99?
Gina: I started out at KUTE at the U as just a hobby. My friend Kristen and I had a show called "The Feuding Wenches" and when we weren't doing our own show, we were big fans of Kerry and Bill on KJQ. One morning they were having a contest to win the band Faith No More to come play a private party at your house. We didn't win the contest, but Kerry and Bill invited me to sit in on their show one morning. I loved it so much I started hanging around in all of my free time and was finally given an overnight shift. After the KJQ blowup, I bounced around from KBER to doing sports talk (don't laugh) on 106.5 The Score! I was approached to do middays at Q99 during this time and accepted. Only three months into this shift, Q99 fired Cano and McCormick and put me with Scott Woodmanse in the morning.
Gavin: How was your experience going from a regular DJ to morning personality over there, and what did you think of your time being a part of the “Woody & Barberi” show?
Gina: I found that I loved doing mornings! I didn't mind getting up early and I loved the freedom you have on a morning show. We weren't together very long, can't comment much more on that.
Gavin: What led to you leaving Q99, and looking back on it what's your take on that station and the time you spent there?
Gina: Let's just say it was a bad situation at Q99. Kerry and Bill had approached me about joining them, but I was stuck in a contract. God Bless X96 owner at the time, Jim Facer. He made a couple of strongly worded phone calls and I was released from my contract. I'll never know what he said, but I owe him big time.
Gavin: How did Gina originally come up in conversation to be a producer for the show?
Bill: Gina had worked at X96 before, but I don't remember how or why we thought of asking her to be the producer.
Kerry: Bill and I always liked her a lot, and we thought it would help us keep thing fresh by adding a woman. It was a boys club for so long, so it was perfect.
Gavin: Before she officially became a part of the show, what were the early months like working together?
Kerry: She was the worst producer ever. We also found that we were involving her in the show more than any other participants.
Bill: Before Gina joined the show, things were going well, as I recall. Getting back together with Kerry was a natural fit and we did well right from the beginning.
Gavin: When did the decision come to include Gina as a full cast member, and how was it with all of you essentially working as a duo now working as a trio?
Bill: Gina became a full cast member because she was such a horrible producer.
Kerry: It was obvious after about three months of her being “producer” what had to happen. It just gelled. She really is the best, and smarter than you all think.
Gavin: During this period, a lot of the longtime listeners would say you all really hit your stride. Boner Of The Day became more prominent, segments like Space Elders and Utahnics took off, you covered more politics than you used to. Was that pre-planned by all of you to push the show further or was it a more natural evolution?
Kerry: We always wanted to take the show to the direction that it is today. We fought a lot of management types to move it forward. We knew it would take time to get it where we wanted it.
Bill: I think a lot of it was just our understanding that if you don't grow, you die. The show needed to find new avenues to explore, new ways to entertain, and so that's how those things came about. We still do the same thing. We're always looking for new ways to keep the show fresh and vital. That really is the trick, isn't it... staying relevant?
Gavin: What's your reaction to having listeners ask you to bring those old segments back when, as far as I understand it, you can't?
Bill: I understand that you remember those old bits fondly and that's where they should remain... in your memory. If you listened to them today, you'd find that most of them aren't as funny as you remember. Those bits were a tremendous amount of work and our ratings are better now than back when we did those sketches, so what would you do?
Kerry: Oh, we could bring 90% of that old stuff back if we wanted (that 10%, no, legal reasons). We don’t want to do sketches anymore. Our ratings went up when we dropped that stuff. It was a lot of work for little payoff in the ratings.
Gavin: Given the prior history with KJQ, what was your take on Acme selling the station to Simmons back in 1998, and the thoughts you were having at the time about the show and its future?
Gina: Jim Facer made us feel comfortable about it. We knew he wouldn't let X96 go to just any company.
Kerry: I was sad that Jim was forced to sell to Acme because I always knew he had my back. Simmons had a very corporate reputation. We thought they would ruin it for sure and were very cautious dealing with Simmons.
Gavin: At the time, how did it feel going from the old Arrow Press Square building to the South Temple offices and doing the show in this new environment with different management?
Gina: South Temple was weird. We had a view of the Temple out the front door. I'm sure Kerry and Bill thought of this one positively because we had an office, but I thought the whole vibe was wrong.
Bill: As far as the content of the show goes, Simmons Media has been very supportive in that they trust our judgment most of the time and they try to keep their hands off of how we run the show.
Kerry: It was weird and a little scary. All those ties made me nervous.
Gavin: Eventually you made your way to Trolley Corners in the current setup you have now. After all the uncertainty and moving over the years, does this one finally feel like a home to the show?
Kerry: I guess so. I’m not married to the place, I’d rather have a studio that I design and not have to share.
Bill: You always want better equipment, no matter what you have.
Gina: Yes, a dirty home that needs a cleaning service.
***What's this? It just cuts off here? So much interview, not enough space. Click here for Part 2!