Sunday, February 03, 2008
Chicago Radio Spotlight: DreX
Drex is the host of the morning show at Kiss-FM 103.5.
Started at Q106(WQXA) York/Lancaster/Harrisburg. Then off to San Antonio to new rocker KXZL...which debuted and beat Heritage rocker KISS in one book! Really. Then to KSJO...Then back to SA to do nights at KTFM, then to KISS in Dallas, then back to SA to be PD/Aft drive, then help Elvis launch Q102 in Philly...then Power 96 (WHYT/Detroit mornings)...then back to KTFM, to drop the music and begin all-talk...then to KISS/Chicago!
Note: This interview was conducted live via video on the Internet—something DreX is calling "DreX-Vizzzion." This is a slightly edited version of our DreX-Vizzzion interview. (For those of you spelling it at home, that's spelled with three z's.)
Rick: So is the deflowering of a new concept?
DreX: It's the soft deflowering. It's still in beta form right now.
Rick: How do you plan on using it?
DreX: I'm just going to turn the camera on in my apartment when big news hits, and let it fly from my living room. It's gonna be totally live, totally voyeuristic, and hopefully, totally addicting.
Rick: Just whenever? How will people know to tune in?
DreX: We'll either let them know with an e-mail or if it's a big story I might call in to the radio station to let people know, but hopefully people will catch on and check it out on their own.
Rick: The website says 1 p.m, Monday through Thursday, but I take it you'll be doing it at other times too (this interview was conducted around 11:15 a.m).
DreX: Whenever I feel like it. I read all this stuff about radio people worrying that other technology will take over radio—but I say you gotta totally embrace the new technology. I embrace it. I love being innovative and changing and I'm all about the pop culture. It can take you to another level if you do it right. This will either be great or the end of my career. (laughs)
Rick: So, can I ask you a question I've wanted to ask since you arrived in town?
Rick: What is the origin of the name DreX?
DreX: Ah, that's an evolutionary process over time. I grew up in Pennsylvania (York-Lancaster), and from the time I was 14 or 15 I knew what I wanted to do. I would listen to Chicago radio through the crackling static, guys like John Records Landecker on WLS, and I always wanted to be in Chicago doing radio. I would do anything to get into a radio station—my first job was emptying trash cans, and once I got my foot in the door I worked my way up. By the time I was a senior in high school I was on the air, using my real name (Kevin).
When I was 19 I got hired by Dave Conway, who was a legendary PD, and I drove three days to accept the new gig. When I got there he told me: "You've got two choices. You'll either be known as 'Toasted Tyrone' or 'Mandrex the Magician.' I didn't want to be either, but I talked to my dad and he said, "You have to give a chance. You drove all the way out there." So, I chose Mandrex the Magician. I worked in San Francisco, and Dallas, and San Antonio, and along the way I dropped "the Magician," and then it was eventually shortened to Drex.
Rick: And the capitalization of the "X"?
DreX: That started in San Antonio.
Rick: So how did you arrive in Chicago?
DreX: That's a long story. When I became program director in Texas, I knew I had to get out of there. I hated Texas because of the heat. And I hated being a program director…it's just not my thang. I went to Philly to do nights, which was great because I was finally close to home. But even though things were going great in terms of ratings and everything, one day there was a big falling out, and everyone was fired. That's when it dawned on me that maybe I should think about saving my money.
I did mornings in Detroit for awhile, and I didn't want to go back to Texas, but they offered me the chance to come back to San Antonio for the same money I was making in Detroit—-plus this time I wouldn't have to play any music. That was an offer I couldn't pass up. By 2000, we were hitting #1 in every demo, and we were doing a morning talk show.
Along the way I befriended John Gehron, and he was negotiating with Eddie & Jobo (photo), trying to get them to move to mornings at Kiss-FM. Gehron told me that if those guys decided not to take it, the job was mine. They didn't, and the rest is history. Looking back, I'm so happy CBS decided to pay them so much money. This situation fits me so much better.
Rick: You've been in Chicago now for a few years (since January 2003) and have built up a loyal following…
DreX: I feel very blessed to have it happen here because so many shows come and go. I must admit, I really didn't know that this would be such a tough nut to crack. Very few non-locals make it in Chicago.
Rick: How would you describe your show to those who haven't heard it before?
DreX: I've heard so many definitions of the show, but I guess you'd call it contemporary talk or progressive talk. It's basically talk radio that's specifically targeted to women.
Rick: But when I listen to your show, I hear a lot of guys.
DreX: That's a talk radio phenomenon. The longer you stay on, the more you get other listeners, and if you don't have music to scare people away, you can attract all different ages and genders.
Rick: But when you choose your topics, you're thinking of a predominantly female audience.
DreX: Yes, but I have so many topics in a show it almost doesn't matter. I change my topics every segment unless it's a huge story. You've got to have the intuition to know when something is working…and when it's not working. It really takes a lot of work and homework to come up with that many topics, and we're on now every morning live until 10:30, so we need even that much more. But that's what makes it fun. I have ADD and so does my audience.
I come in with a huge folder of stuff, it's what I do all day long. I go on the Internet, cruising the web, watching The View, all the mags, all the papers, you name it.
Rick: Do you ever wish you still had songs to play just to get a breather?
DreX: No. To get anyone to hold on the phone during a song is impossible. When I did play music, the music just got in the way. About a month before Christmas our studio computers locked up and froze and we were off the air. We were just sitting there listening to the music, and boy does it remind you how long the show is when that's all you have.
Rick: I asked a friend of mine, who is a loyal listener of your show, to describe you. This is what he said: "He's a fan of the most random things: Notre Dame football, American Idol, The Cubs, stinky cheese, pork chops, and he was once kicked in the head by a pet horse! Oh, and he believes in ghosts." Care to comment on any of those observations?
DreX: (laughs) Yeah, it's not easy to describe me. I have not had one successful relationship in my life, and it kills me when people try to pigeonhole me. Is he gay or is he whatever? As far as my personal life there really isn't any—I'm married to my job. The key to this is really, I'm blessed that I have passion. I have a lot of respect for these guys like John Landecker and Steve Dahl (photo), who have stuck it out for so long, and who always found a way to tap into their passion.
Rick: Doing a personality morning show is a 24-hour-a-day job. There's really never a time when you're not thinking about show topics, bits or guests. Take me through your typical work day, in terms of how you do your show prep, who else is involved in the process, and when you know what you'll be doing.
DreX: There are times when the alarm goes off at 4:00 and I think: "you've gotta be kidding me." But these days we're able to get into the studio earlier, and my producer Smash is there at 4:00, and all of the cuts are downloaded and ready to go by the time I get in there, which gives me plenty of time to grid the show myself. (Photo: DreX being botoxed on the air)
Rick: You do it right before the show?
DreX: No. I've got half of it ready to go before I get there. Like right now (it's 11:30 am), I've got half of tomorrow's show planned out. I work on it all day. I sit here and write, write, write…
Rick: Your show has recently undergone some changes. I know it was hit by the Clear Channel budget cuts (Pete), plus another member of your show (Radio Boy) was arrested. How have those two things affected your show?
DreX: Well, Radio Boy wasn't really part of the show. He was a part-time employee who ran the board for me on occasion when Pete wasn't here. But, Pete, that was a tough one. He had been with me for a long time, and although he had come and gone before, he had become the perfect third wheel—plus he was helping me write the show. But his position was eliminated, and there really isn't anything I can do about that. What it has done is it has changed the dynamic of the show from more of an ensemble to a two-person show. On the other hand, it has proven that Mel & I can do the show on our own, and Mel (photo) has really stepped up. You don't have a choice. You can't go and brood about it—especially on the air. That's not really an option. My producer Smash has also brought in an element of organization. And that has really helped too.
Rick: After all these years in radio you've encountered hundreds of celebrities. Are there any that really stand out in your mind, positively or negatively?
DreX: To be honest, I tend to push a lot of music celebrities away, especially the b-list celebrities. I much prefer involving the listeners, and when we really get a topic going, there's nothing better than when I can step back and let the listeners go at each other. When that happens, I say "Thank you God, This is great." The show is really more about doing that than having celebrities. It took people awhile to get used to doing it this way, but now they know to go for it…and I love that. It gives a whole different texture to the show.
As far as worst celebrity encounters, about two years ago on September 11, I was doing a tribute show for the people that lost their lives. I had somebody on the air who was telling this heartbreaking story about losing a family member. Ludacris (photo) had been offered to me that morning and I had said no—because I had this tribute show planned. But he was trying to sell his new CD, and wanted to be on the air, so he showed up anyway.
Basically live on the air, in walks Ludacris, and I said dude, listen I can't do this today. I asked him if he was willing to talk about September 11th? And he said no, so I basically had to kick him out.
Rick: Where do you see yourself going from here? Is Chicago your final destination?
DreX: I'd love to stay here and make the show bigger, and maybe have the company syndicate the show to other markets, but I love Chicago. This is the greatest city, and I love my job. Being at Kiss feels right to me. I'm so happy it worked out the way it did with Eddie & JoBo. Can you imagine me over there or them over here? I'm just excited about the future, and as long as I keep doing things like DreXVizzzion, I hope to stay on the cutting edge.
VIDEO DREX: Nude Hippo interview with DreX