“Whatever Happens, Happens” on the KYIS Morning Show
It may have taken him more than 20 years to get to this point, but Edmond resident Jack Elliott said he is finally earning a living doing what he does best: running his mouth. As half of the “Jack and Ron” morning show on 98.9 KYIS (or KISS) radio, his voice is heard by thousands of listeners across the Oklahoma City area each weekday morning.
Jack said the success of the program comes from having a knack for knowing what people want to hear. But to him, success is measured by more than ratings. For a man whose end product is his voice over the airwaves, Jack said he measures his success by the effect it has on his listeners.
“I like the idea that people are acknowledging me for what I do, because they like what I do and because it offers them some kind of escape from their routine every morning,” he said. “And that’s what I like to hear — that I made a difference in somebody’s day — that it’s not all in vain.”
Jack is married and has a daughter on the OU Tennis team. He comments on his age only by saying that fellow announcer Ron Williams is his elder.
“One of my earliest childhood memories is my mother holding me up in diapers to the old console radio so I could hear Ron Williams on the radio,” Jack said with a laugh.
But radio is the reward of a life’s ambition for Jack. He said he remembers when his dad, a police officer, auditioned for traffic spots on WGN in Chicago and won, thus offering his son his first introduction to the world of radio. And though it claimed his dad’s life two and half years later in a helicopter crash, Jack reflects on it with mixed emotions. Had it not been for that short introduction to the broadcast media, an event that planted seeds in the dreams of a young boy, he might have grown up in a different occupation.
Graduating from Columbia College in Chicago with an associate degree in journalism and a bachelor’s in radio and television communications, Jack went on to work at radio stations in Chicago and Phoenix before coming to Oklahoma City, where WKY and KOQL (KOOL 102) predated his KYIS affiliation. He said that although his career path sometimes seemed to wind backward, its high point is his current morning show.
“I like the way the show has evolved over the years,” he said. “What we’re doing now is pretty much the way I’ve always envisioned it. We used to have a director over at KOOL 102 who said, ‘Keep the music going. You’ll never be any bigger than the Beatles,’ and I used to ask him, ‘Why? Two of them are dead and I don’t see any of the others coming in to read the weather.’”
And, Jack said, the listeners tune in to hear him and Ron more than they do the music. Though the morning show is punctuated with news, traffic, weather, syndicated comedians and other segments, Jack said the bulk of the show is dedicated to whatever he and Ron decide to talk about. And that could be “anything and everything.”
“Whatever happens happens. One day we might talk about Jell-O shots and the next we might talk about the lottery or sports,” he said. “And that’s part of the appeal is that it’s not just a political talk show or based on any one topic. It’s pretty much anything goes.”
But it hasn’t always been that way, Jack said. The current format, which is loose to allow ample time for musings, is something that has taken 20 years to manifest, he said. Attributing the possibility for change to an open-minded management staff, Jack said what they do now is what he’s wanted to do since before his employment at KYIS.
“We might only play one song in an hour. We used to try and get three in but that rarely happens anymore,” he said.
Ratings, which relay listener preferences, appear to agree. According to the numbers, listeners want more Jack and Ron rather than more song and dance. Such success, Jack said, comes from being attuned to what listeners want to hear and talk about. At first, program directors would warn him to keep it low-key and avoid locker-room talk because of the large female demographic. But Jack jokes that the program directors who were recommending such action were male and couldn’t have known what women want to hear. They certainly didn’t know his audience as well as he did, Jack said.
The listener is the king, Jack said, and his goal is to provide them with the entertainment they expect. Expressing an unfavorable (well, downright disgusted) opinion of the FCC, Jack said there shouldn’t be any agency governing what can or can’t be said or done on radio.
“People don’t always want to hear about blue sky, buttermilk and a dog’s wagging tail. Radio has to program to the public and the public should dictate what they listen to, not the FCC,” he said. “I mean, it’s not like I want to drop an F-bomb or anything, but if I want to say something, I should be able to say it and you should be able to hear it. If you don’t like it, turn the channel. That’ll shut us up.”
Listeners seek out what they want to hear, Jack said. And with FCC restrictions on commercial radio, his fear is that they may turn to some other media, such as subscription radio, to appease their ears. That would be tragic not only to him, Jack said, but to commercial radio in general.
Until that time, however, Jack said he intends to stand like a knight for the public ear, churning out serious conversation and comedy blended into a flavor designed to make the morning a little easier to digest. Occasionally, someone will recognize him from an advertisement and pull him aside to thank him. And when that happens, Jack said, it is like the sum of his childhood dreams coming true.