Go ahead and try. You’re not going to come up with a one-liner about his name that Alan Cox hasn’t already heard. When the new guy took over for Maxwell in December of 2009, callers felt compelled to tell him how much they “hated the show” which has become a rallying cry for loyal listeners. Airing daily from 3-7 p.m. on Cleveland’s 100.7 WMMS, The Alan Cox Show has charted in several key demographics. Articulate, thoughtful, and witty, Alan hosts a morning radio show in Detroit in addition to the afternoon one in Cleveland with Billy Squire (no, not “The Stroke” Billy Squire) and Erika Lauren. Alan has been a DJ for a long time and has come to know radio well, broadcasting in his hometown of Chicago as well as Pittsburgh before coming to Cleveland.
You never know what you might get when tuning into The Alan Cox show. Topics can jump from gun control to penis pimples in a matter of seconds because Cox is that versatile. He does not believe that shock radio has to be dumbed down and is sometimes criticized for his vocabulary (huh?). Alan controls the switchboard, often allowing callers to make their point or hang themselves by it.
While Bill is a somewhat new addition to the show, it is clear that Alan and Erika have developed a sibling-type relationship and even though many of Alan’s pop-culture references go over her head (Erika is in her 20s and her year of birth is not her fault) he doesn’t dwell on the inescapable reality that she is half his age. A fan of heavy metal despite a Catholic mother that had him in church almost daily, Cox is also a disciple of George Carlin, drawing inspiration from Carlin’s mastery of language and razor wit.
The show started The Black List which is neither offensive nor controversial; it’s a simple idea born of the misconception that only white guys into Led Zeppelin listen to WMMS. Cox has a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude about his show that undoubtedly turns some listeners away but garners many more. On any given day, I find myself squirming (“Sperm News”) or nodding my head in agreement (“Why Florida Sucks”) and I respect that level of integrity in a show that doesn’t pander or talk down to the listener.
I felt privileged to be able to have a conversation with Cox who was kind enough to spend time talking about Rush fans, tombs made out of feces, and boobs.
How did you get your first break in radio and how do you think the industry has changed since then?
I tell people that I fell ass-backwards into radio because I did. I was doing stand-up comedy in college and needed an internship. My girlfriend at the time, her sister was leaving the biggest morning show in Chicago. The DJ was a guy who in the late 80s early 90s was just crushing. She said, “Well, they need an intern. Do you want me to put in a good word for you?” I said yeah but I hadn’t really thought about radio. I was already performing and I thought, “Why not?” I got the internship and ended up getting hired after that to produce the show. Once I left that show and saw how a program of that magnitude was put together, I kind of caught the bug and so I spent the next couple of years doing stand-up and radio at the same time until I figured I needed to do one properly instead of doing both of them half-assed. So that was my first break and then I started sending tapes out. The industry has changed a lot. When they deregulated radio in ‘96 everybody started buying up stations. So it’s changed because of that and the rise of the Internet. The pendulum has kind of swung back the other way now where radio stations that survived did so because they hyper-served their local community rather than trying to cast such a broad net. I think the stations that survived and the personalities that survived did so because the figured out what got them to the dance in the first place, which is hyper-serving local listeners.
How is your morning gig in Detroit different than your afternoon one in Cleveland?
The Detroit morning show doesn’t necessarily need a full show in the morning. It’s still a lot of music, probably about nine songs an hour, and they kind of let me do what I want in between. I have about six breaks an hour. Its six to ten in the morning and it’s just me. Up until I returned to Chicago in ‘06 to do a morning show there, I had always done a solo show. So this show (afternoons on 100.7 WMMS) and the one I did in Chicago are the first two ensemble shows that I had done. The Detroit morning show is me going back to doing a solo show but it’s not as much heavy lifting because it’s pretty short breaks a few times an hour, in between songs. The plan is to grow it outward. For now it’s a new station, they’ve only been on for about a year, and I’m their first morning guy. The initial hurdle is just getting people used to hearing somebody in the morning when they didn’t before. They don’t require as much in the way of a full show, whereas here I have four hours of blank canvas I have to fill. The bulk of my day is spent preparing for the talk show here. The show in Detroit, because I’m familiar with that area, is a lot easier to do because I can make it sound as local as I need to make it sound, but content-wise, there isn’t as much preparation for me to do.
What about Pittsburgh would surprise Clevelanders?
People in Cleveland hate Pittsburgh because I think it’s primarily a sports rivalry, but I think Cleveland could learn a lot from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is another Rust Belt city that found a way to get over its hump. Pittsburgh got over the hump that Cleveland hasn’t gotten over yet. Pittsburgh reinvented itself as a tech hub and as a medical hub. I know that Cleveland exists as a medical hub too, but Pittsburgh’s also got a real thriving art scene. I think Cleveland has a lot of those things already but they just haven’t grown to the point where nationally and internationally they’re seen as a city to contend with whereas Pittsburgh ends up making a lot of lists for livability, and for sustainability, and for innovation, businesses moving in, and so on. I know there’s a rivalry between the two cities and having lived in both that is my assessment of it. There’s a lot of great stuff in Cleveland. Cleveland still seems to be burdened by low self-esteem that I think Pittsburgh divested itself of a long time ago.
How are you preparing yourself for the upcoming Tomb of Feces world tour?
Rush: Finally due or overrated?
I approach most bands on the strength of their drummer. I’m a drummer and so obviously Rush is one of those bands that when you start playing drums all you’re doing is listening to Rush albums all day long because you think you’re going from point A to point Z, or point YYZ, as the case may be. I like Rush a lot. I think they’re a fantastic band. I’m glad they’re getting into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame just to shut Rush fans up. Rush fans have been like the Boston Red Sox fans of rock and roll for so long. They’re overdue and they’re more than deserving. It makes the fans happy and it’s clearly a band that should have gotten in a long time ago. I’m glad to see them go in and I just wish it were here this year.
What is your technique or approach to the interview?
I’m always trying to make them better. Over the years, I’ve learned what I think does work and what doesn’t work. I have to be genuinely interested in the guest. There’s a lot of guests that I get pitched that I turn down because I’m not really interested in what they do. It’s hard for me to manufacture enthusiasm. There have been a few guests that I’ve had on that I’m a fan of but they were just awful on the radio or they were having a bad day or whatever. I hear a lot of people interviewing where it doesn’t sound like they are listening. I think if you want a good interview it has to genuinely be a dialogue. It can’t be just asking a question and then waiting for the next time for you to ask your next question when they’re done talking. The best interviews that I think that I’ve gotten are ones where we organically talked. Obviously they are on because they are promoting something but I don’t want to do a five or a ten minute commercial on what they have coming up. I’ve had people on before where clearly they don’t want to talk they just want to pitch their project, and that’s fine, that’s what they do press for, but that doesn’t really interest me. I’m not really sure that there’s one way to go about doing it. I think that my style has developed to where if I like what somebody does, I talk to them and we have a conversation. I prepare for it. I do have specific things I want to ask. I think it’s a matter of liking what they do and kind of having a regular conversation with them. There have been a few times that I’ve had somebody on where I was really geeked out; I was a real fanboy, but I try to keep that to a minimum.
What is the current vibe between the Alan Cox Show and Rover’s Morning Glory?
When I first got here that dynamic had existed for so long that I think they felt like they had to keep it going, or that the audience expected it. For maybe the first year or so, they would make fun of me and mock me for my vocabulary or something. I always thought that was a weird thing to pick on somebody for. It’s not really my style and I found it very, very strange. I had never been in a situation where two shows on the same station were ripping on each other. I never met Maxwell so I have no personal beef with him. I have my own thing to do. I’ve always done my own thing. I’ve been on the Rover show a couple of times talking about different things. I understood that it was a lot of theater and I don’t take things personally. I’d see people in the hall and I’d be like, “Hey, what’s up?” I think once they got the vibe that I wasn’t somebody that was going to continue whatever that was, that kind of WWE thing, things settled down. It’s just not my style and I don’t take that stuff personally. I get along with everybody over there. I don’t really run into Rover too much, mostly the supporting cast, but I’ll see him in the hallways and we say hello. We’ve hung out a couple of times at station events. Again, I wasn’t privy to what the prior situation was between those two shows. I only heard about it second hand, but like I said, I’m too busy doing my own thing. I don’t have time for anything like that.
Which promotion has a better shot at creating world peace; Drunk West Sixth Girls or the CLEavage Gallery?
There’s shades of difference between the two. [laughing] I think the Drunk West Six Girls spot is a lot of fun because you’re certainly not reinventing the wheel; that format’s been done forever. It’s fun to write the questions, to be out, and ask girls questions you’ve written and to hear their answers. The CLEavage Gallery was just a matter of getting online activity. That’s as much a part of radio now as the actual over-the-air signal. People like boobs. It’s silly and it’s low brow, but if you say, “Hey were putting a gallery together, send your pictures,” girls will do it. It gives people something to look at. With all of the other humorous content out there, sometimes you just want boobs. [laughing]
I grew up in Chicago and I started there and I went back to do my own show for a few years before I came to Cleveland. There are a lot of people there who just don’t care about radio. It’s not their thing anymore. There are so many distractions and people are immersed in other things. Cleveland is still one of those cities that you have a lot of personalities here who’ve been here a long time. I am flattered and pleased at how quickly people accepted me. I don’t have anything to attribute that to other than the fact I’m still a Midwest guy so I think by extension maybe there’s that Midwest vibe that people get, that sensibility or whatever. People here want to be entertained. People have that sense of pride about being from Cleveland, even though to a lot of other places around the country Cleveland is a punch line. People wear that as a badge of honor. I admire people who thrive under that kind of adversity. I like it here a lot. The audience has been great. It’s a city with some teeth. People in L.A. or whatever might make fun of Cleveland but I wouldn’t mess with anybody from here. It’s got such a good vibe to it and the people know where the bullshit is and if you suspend that then they’ll come along for the ride.