20 Years of Hectic Days

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Considering its prominent place in our daily lives, it’s remarkable that so many people know so little about FM radio.

It’s a constant companion — at home, work and in the car, as the stations are quick to point out — and their morning shows hold a place alongside that first cup of coffee as workday staples.  Yet it is still the 1970s-era sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati that passes as inside information for many of its most loyal listeners.

Truth be told, many in radio do nomadically move from market to market in search of bigger and better situations.  Meanwhile, station executives have notoriously quick trigger fingers, always in search of talent that will produce higher ratings and the advertising dollars that come with them.  Which makes the story of Paul Castronovo and “Young” Ron Brewer even more remarkable.  Twenty years after its debut on the gone-but-not-forgotten WSHE, the “Paul & Young Ron Show” is more popular than ever.  Heard weekday mornings on BIG 105.9 FM (Miami/Fort Lauderdale), The Gater 98.7 FM (Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast), Sun 103.1 (Key Largo)and 99.5 FM (Key West), the “morning show for all of South Florida” is a consistent ratings leader that has not only survived but remained relevant to a new generation of listeners.

IN THE BEGINNING

The year was 1989 and morning radio in South Florida was going through a transition period.  Neil Rogers had left Zeta-4 (WZTA-FM) for the AM dial, Howard Stern had not yet arrived, and the market had no morning radio stars.  Paul Castronovo, an out-of-work former South Florida DJ trying to escape Birmingham, Alabama, wanted to come home.

“I desperately wanted to do mornings on ‘SHE,’ so I pestered the program director incessantly,” says Castronovo.  “When he finally met with me, he decided that if his midday guy and I clicked, there could be an interesting morning show in the making.”

The “midday guy” was Parkland resident “Young” Ron Brewer, a fellow DJ who had also done news and sports in stops prior to South Florida.

“So, a group of us ended up going out for dinner and drinks,” Castronovo continues, leading the conversation much as he does on-air, “and it wasn’t long before Ron and I had the whole room cracking up.”

What served as a de-facto audition resulted in the two becoming a morning team.  Castronovo, the DJ, would play records, Brewer would be the newsman, and the music would remain the focus.  Even the station’s tagline, “she’s only rock & roll,” reinforced the pecking order.

“Paul and I would play a few songs, crack on each other a bit, do an occasional interview and then quickly get back into the music,” says Brewer of those days in the early ‘90s.  “The owner of the radio station had a rule: if we talked for more than a minute, we were in trouble.”

“I can’t tell you how many times we were called into the executive offices because we ‘ran at the mouth’,” adds Castronovo.

ZETA DAYS

Five years into their run at WSHE the duo had had enough of the restrictions placed on them.  With an expiring contract, a following in the market, and leverage for the first time in either of their careers, the “Paul and Young Ron Show” headed down the dial to a new home at 94.9 Zeta.  “It was the best move we could have made,” says Brewer.  “We were the anchor program at an alternative rock station at a time that was the industry’s hottest format.  The station was successful, our morning antics were popular with listeners, and management promoted the hell out of us at major concerts and events.  We had ‘made it’ in the market we most wanted to work in.”

WARDROBE MALFUNCTION

A funny thing happened on the way to Paul and Ron’s happily ever after – America saw Janet Jackson’s nipple at halftime of the Super Bowl and the resulting public outcry made radio station programmers more conservative.

The duo had been competing head-to-head with syndicated shock jock Howard Stern for the hearts and wallets of South Florida morning radio listeners, with Paul and Young Ron at Zeta and Stern on what was then called BIG 106.  Following Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction and the resulting protests of indecency on the airwaves, Stern’s show, with its daily guest list of porn stars and the foul-mouthed “Wack Pack,” became exhibit “A” for all that was wrong with the broadcast media.  Clear Channel, the media conglomerate that owned BIG 106 and 94.9 Zeta, took a stand, removing Stern from all its stations nationwide.

“The Stern firing left a huge gap on BIG, which played classic rock, and still does,” Castronovo said.  “Both Ron and I grew up listening to that format, and the alternative rock scene was drying up, so we jumped at the chance to move.”

Within weeks, station research showed that 70% of the Zeta audience had moved up the dial with Paul and Young Ron.  Many of the former Stern loyalists apparently liked what they heard as well, since today the show is the top-rated in its targeted demographic, English-speaking men 18 and older.  It is among the top-rated programs for all persons 25-54, in both the Miami/Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach markets.

“To come into a situation where many other syndicated morning shows have failed and accomplish what they have is amazing,” said Dave Denver, operations director for Clear Channel Palm Beach and The Gater 98.7.  “They’ve brought a younger, broader audience to the station, men and women, and we’re proud to have them.”

BROAD APPEAL

The show (www.paulandyoungron.com) is known for A-list celebrity guests — Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Kevin James, Jeff Garlin, and Dwyane Wade (pictured, right), to name just a few — plus ridiculous stories from the sometimes hard to believe lives of Castronovo, Brewer, producer “Toast,” and stunt guy OMG Mike.  It is consistently fresh and original, without resorting to Stern’s shock or the all-too cliché “morning zoo” format.  They are South Florida originals, discussing what locals talk about and involving their audience every step of the way.

While the laughs come easily each day, the show does have a serious side, and it is on display each holiday season when Paul & Young Ron stage a series of fundraisers to feed the hungry.  In 2009, their 15th annual food drive generated nearly 1.5 million pounds of food for Feeding South Florida (formerly the Daily Bread Food Bank).

”We’re happy to do it, and thankful to have a real impact for people in this community,” Castronovo explains.  “After all, this is home.”

It’s a home that has been good to Paul and Young Ron, on-air and off, since they began traveling up and down the dial twenty years ago without ever leaving South Florida.

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(This article, by Stu Opperman, was originally a cover story for Lifestyle Magazines).

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