BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #26 - Scott Shannon: The End of an Era
When Scott Shannon retired from his morning show on December 16, 2022 from WCBS FM 101.1, I had a small pit in my stomach.
In my opinion, his leaving radio is the final stake in the heart of terrestrial radio.
Over the past forty years, the creativity, passion, and drive of Scott Shannon has been second-to-none on the airwaves. He is a visionary.
Developing his skills as a performer and a program director in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, Shannon began taking the world by storm in 1981 on WRBQ-FM in Tampa, FL. Alongside Cleveland Wheeler, Shannon created the Morning Zoo format, taking elements of comedy and on-the-fly talking and mixing it with news, contests, and various bits. Making Q105 one of the most listened to stations in the country, Shannon was becoming very popular in the world of radio.
Two years later, he became the Head Zoo Keeper of New York City.
Signing a contract with WHTZ, based out of Secaucus and airing “from the top of the Empire State Building” in 1983, Shannon, alongside Ross Britain, Professor Jonathan B. Bell, Claire Stevens, and the rest of the Z Morning Zoo, developed the concept of Z100, mixing Top 40 radio with his “Morning Zoo” format. In 74 days, Shannon and his team took 100.3 FM “From Worst to First” in the Arbitron ratings, making him a national sensation overnight.
After five years, Shannon left Z100 and went to Los Angeles in 1989 to start up “Pirate Radio” for KQLZ. When the “hard rock” Top 40 format didn’t perform strongly in the ratings, Shannon found himself out and back in New York, starting MOJO Radio at 95.5 WPLJ in 1991.
Within a few months, Shannon restructured and began focusing on a Top 40 format towards the adult contemporary market at PLJ. He recruited a very young Todd Pettengill and formed The Big Show with Scott and Todd on morning drive. Being able to receive major advertising dollars while maintaining popularity within the suburbs of the Metropolitan area helped make 95.5 thrive.
For 23 years, Scott and Todd remained a staple on the station. Sadly, as Cumulus Media settled into running and owning the station, Pettengill, allegedly, maneuvered Shannon out of his show, claiming that it was time for a youth movement in the morning. Shannon, getting wind of this change, decided to abruptly leave on February 7, 2014. The station wanted to do a grand farewell for him, dedicating a “best of” week to his career, but Shannon ixnayed that completely.
Shannon, at 66 years old, went to the legendary 101.1 WCBS FM to bring The Big Show to mornings, and within the year, became #1 in New York for his time slot, alongside his former compadres at WPLJ, Patty Steele, Joe Nolan, and Brad Blanks. Unbelievable.
Also, Shannon still has a syndicated radio station called the True Oldies Channel and is the announcer of the Sean Hannity Show on AM radio.
Up until October 28, 2022, it was considered that Shannon would have the morning show at WCBS FM for as long as he wanted it. However, on that date, he announced that he would be leaving the station in December, before Christmas.
6 weeks later, at Blythedale Children’s Hospital, Shannon finished up his run during his annual Christmas show, raising money for ill children that are getting treatment. It was later found out that after over his two decades of support for the medical facility, he helped provide over $5 million.
To the end, an incredible man. With his end, it truly feels like an era sealing itself shut on not just New York radio, but FM in general.
FM terrestrial radio has been on the downswing, in my opinion, since 2004.
Once the Federal Communications Commission started cracking down on language and content after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident, the radio industry was hardest hit with “indecent” complaints.
Fines, suspensions, and firings were so fast and furious that Howard Stern, arguably the biggest star in modern radio, left terrestrial radio after his last show on December 16, 2005 and joined Sirius Satellite Radio on January 1, 2006. His leaving cost the radio industry a boatload of money. Millions upon millions of dollars have been lost, causing industry mergers and Chapter 11 bankruptcies.
FM radio, to me, has lost a sense of originality and passion. Disc jockeys have lost a semblance of freedom and personality on the airwaves. Instead of showcasing some edgy content or providing an off-the-wall persona, the jocks have become relatively neutered, becoming more scripted than ever before. Instead of recording their bits live, the radio station and engineers record the DJs bits in one fell swoop, intersplicing them between songs. That takes no longer than 45 minutes to do now.
Even more scary, in the vein of artificial intelligence, Radio GPT has started to unveil to smaller stations, offering itself up as a new way to broadcast on the air - WITHOUT DISC JOCKEYS. Artificial intelligence broadcasting live on the air, pretending to be a human? It is unbelievable how much technology has grown, while taking the starch out of the raw element of a jock on the air.
We are now entering a stage of control in radio in ways I can’t even imagine.
Scott Shannon leaving the airwaves breaks my heart. A creative visionary retiring and taking an irreplaceable element with him stinks. Lately, I’ve gotten down and forced myself to think about one thing - with Shannon gone, FM radio is on its last legs. That’s how strongly I feel.
Creatively, Shannon was one of a kind. He always had a rebellious aura around him. He wasn’t afraid to do what he wanted on air - in a PG way, of course. He also wasn’t afraid to be the butt of the joke, frequently throwing out Scott-isms (“I got a tree on my house!” and “I’m gonna see the boat movie.”) and getting reactions from not just his staff, but other shows as well. In many ways, he was a lot like David Letterman; not afraid to look stupid, but the smartest guy in the room. There was true genius in everything he did.
I’m going to leave you with this story on how solid Scott Shannon is.
A few years ago, Jon Harder wrote a blog on how he and Chris “Shady” Torres, indy wrestling referee, came up with the #SmoothTag. It became popular online to the point where WCBS FM joined in on their little thing, and Joe Causi helped make it work. (READ IT HERE: https://www.hardwayhq.com/single-post/2016/11/30/The-Tale-of-Shady-Joe-Causi-and-the-SmoothTag)
Not too long later, Scott Shannon heard and found out about it. In 2019, Shady was contacted by the station to come to the Blythedale Children’s Hospital and watch The Big Show live…WITH ROB THOMAS, the singer of “Smooth”!
During the event, Shady was able to talk to so many people involved with WCBS FM and had a fantastic time. The amazing final part - Scott organized a small video segment for social media with Shady, himself, and the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty. It was hysterical.
With Shannon preparing to retire in December 2022, Shady was able to go up to WCBS FM studios and SIT IN with Scott on his show, discussing the #SmoothTag and even getting to plug his latest wrestling event in the city. Unbelievable.
I talked to Shady not too long ago and asked him about the opportunity to be there. His response: “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
When I followed up with how it was being on the air with Scott, he responded swiftly.
“The best. The absolute best.”
Scott Shannon leaving the airwaves will leave a giant hole in New York radio and FM radio as a whole. In my opinion, it will never be filled. He was the last of a dying breed. He will never be forgotten or replaced.