10 Questions with ... Ralph Sutton
September 10, 2013
1) Your original background in New York City was as a promoter and club DJ. When did you begin to entertain the idea of doing a radio show?
During college, a few friends and I created a night club promotion company - and we had nights going at a few hot clubs in Manhattan. Then two of us split off and created a separate rock promotion/DJ group (Monkey Business Crew) because our true passions lied in Rock N Roll and at one point we had four nights going; Limelight, Lamour, World Stage, and another club called Christopher's.
We really had a great thing going in NYC - then as we all know - the day the rock n roll music died - 91/92 When things started changing - all the clubs started giving up on rock nights, and I certainly didn't want to go back to dance clubs. One thing led to another and I became a strip club DJ (mainly because half the strippers in NYC would come to Limelight's Rock N Roll Church on Sundays where I DJ'd and promoted, so it was a logical choice. A few years went by - and I realized everyone would go crazy when I played Guns n Roses, Van Halen, Motley Crue, because while we all grew up with it - at the time - no one was playing these songs on the radio. So that's when I started conjuring the idea of the show. It was originally called 'Modern Classics' because to me that's what they were, but The Tour Bus just sounded cooler.
2) What radio stations and personalities did you listen to when you were growing up?
For me, and probably most New Yorkers my age, it started and ended with Howard Stern. The only guy ever that had me waiting in my car for a bit to end. Love him or hate him, in his heyday there was nothing like him. Of course, for the past decade or so he's been phoning it in, but back then he was really something special.
3) Can you give us the specifics of how the The Tour Bus radio show came together?
I had NO experience in radio. One day a DJ starts working day-shift at my strip club who had a great voice but had no idea what he was doing. Turns out he was there part-time for cash and worked at a radio station. I told him - get me an audition there - and I will teach you this business. He brought the PD into the strip club a week later, and they wanted me to train with the 8p-12a guy. On my first day of training, the overnight guy doesn't show up - so the guy who just half-assed trained me for 20 minutes says - 'GOOD LUCK' and leaves me there. In the morning, when the PD saw me in the studio he says 'well I guess you got the job.' I immediately knew I wanted to do my show, but the PD said to me that he liked the idea, but I had literally worked two overnight shifts and now I am pitching my own radio show, and clearly wasn't ready. So I convinced the DJ from my strip club to do it with me and in January of 1999 the first episode of The Tour Bus was born. Interestingly, we couldn't get any big name interviews back then so I bought about 10 interview CDs of big rock bands and edited out the answers to questions. Then I would pretend I was asking the question to the band.
4) I understand the show has had several incarnations over the last 10 years. Can you give us a history of the show up to today?
We started at a small station in NJ. Within six months, we went from last place to first and quadrupled the AQH. We moved on to the biggest Rock station in NJ and within six months we did it again. We knew at that point we should syndicate. My co-host (Matt Murray) and I signed the first 10 stations, but then he left for a full-time gig at one of our NJ affiliates, WDHA. My next co-host, Stacy X made me realize the terrific balance of a man/woman dynamic. She stayed for seven years and did the single best thing in the show's history: submitted me for "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy". After that episode aired, we blew up with 20 more affiliates in two weeks! My current co-host, Melissa Krahnke (Lissa Loo as I call her), has totally revitalized the show since she came on a couple years ago. She's extremely pretty, a phenomenally talented musician (has opened for Godsmack, Cinderella, Marshall Tucker, etc), AND she's about 12 years younger. Our chemistry is unbelievable and never hurts to have a hot chick hosting events like Shiprocked and M3 Rock Festival! This year we decided to own the show and do the syndication ourselves. We have a more direct connection with affiliates this way. Maria Musaitef is our liaison with stations; we have a company selling ad space, and Melissa and I do the rest. We're rounding out 2013 with about a half dozen new stations, and a newfound vigor that has us both incredibly excited for 2014!
5) Last year you added Melissa Krahnke as a co-host. How did you meet her and what does she bring to the show?
I've known Melissa for years. I honestly think our relationship started when I hit on her on Facebook. But we realized quickly that we shared a lot of the same interests, and we would be great together in radio. A few times my last co-host couldn't make the show so I decided to have her fill in to see how she'd do and it was so spot on. It was like we had been doing the show together for 10 years out of the gate. She's really funny (not as funny as me, but still pretty funny). Plus, she actually plays an instrument! She's an ACTUAL musician.
6) For those who haven't heard The Tour Bus, give us some highlights of special features and music you feature on the show on a weekly basis?
From our former home WDHA - Terrie Carr put it best - describing us as weekend rock show with the energy of a morning show. Often bands would come in studio with the intent of staying for 10 minutes and not realize the show was over already. Unlike other shows of similar ilk, we want there to be new Classic Rock in 10-20 years, so we are always looking for new bands that keep this vibe alive. We were the first to play bands like Buckcherry, Airborne, HIM, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch and so many more -- before most other stations in the country. We also, of cours,e play all the Tour Bus classics that everyone loves like Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Motley Crue, and we aren't afraid of the hair bands or the deeper cuts. Basically I've lived my life believing there are two kinds of music, good and bad. From the years of DJing at a strip club, I could always play a new song that no one knew but if it was good the energy would stay there!
7) How is the music chosen on The Tour Bus? Do you have the final say on everything that's played?
I've always been the sole programmer. I have a very reliable instinct for what will work and what people will latch onto musically. When I was DJing strip clubs they would gross 30-35% more on nights I worked. I consistently tell bands which song I think should be their single, and even when they disagree with me, that song ends up being a hit. Plus I know rock music differently than other DJs. For instance, on Shiprocked one of the Ratt guys made the statement, 'Sure, if you want to promote a record, there are tons of shows you could go on. But if you wanna go out for a drink with the host, then you go on The Tour Bus!' That's a huge compliment. David Coverdale told me after the Download Festival that he and Joe Elliott were looking for me to hang out because they thought I'd be there. Surreal. The singers of Whitesnake and Def Leppard were looking for ME at a rock festival when I was at home in my underpants. I know the music better because I know the artists better.
8) What's your take on current Rock music? Is it as good now as it was in the 80's and '90s?
I hate to sound like an old fart, but lordy does a lot of the rock of today stink on ice. Yes, there are some amazing bands if you know where to look (Volbeat, Airborne, Five Finger Death Punch, The new Winery Dogs album is amazing and many more) plus a lot of the old school bands are putting out some fantastic music that just doesn't get the airplay that it should. But I have to agree with Alice Cooper about bands like The Lumineers and Mumford and sons aren't rock. Thank god for Shiprocked, Gigantour, M3, and all the events that do what they can to keep rock alive.
We try to do the same. I remember seeing Steel Panther in 2001 when NO ONE knew who they were on the East Coast. I was flown out to cover the Rockstar movie premiere and they played the after show. I was so floored by them that on my own dime I flew them up to the East Coast to do a mini-tour at some of our affiliates. If I believe in a band, I will help out any way I can. I am always looking for that next huge band to blow me away.
9) How does The Tour Bus use social media to interact with its listeners?
Ah yes... the interwebs. I give Melissa a lot of credit on this one. Before her, I would just throw up playlists or interview clips. But she really gets into it and puts up funny pics, shouts out listeners, organizes giveaways on the show through Facebook, plus she will put up interview clips that are sometimes us talking off air or sometimes just the full unedited interview. Melissa has built up quite a community for us. Before her, I truly thought Facebook was mainly to stalk ex-girlfriends and to try to get laid.
10) Finally ... what is the #1 reason that Rock programmers should run The Tour Bus on their station?
I always say try us for a month. You'll be amazed at the reaction. The Tour Bus listeners are die-hard fans who know their '80s rock. Not just songs, but they know the band history, who the guitarist was married to, who the drummer got lessons from, etc. We personally connect with the die-hards but we also cater to new listeners because we play a mix of new and vintage so they're continually getting the best of the genre. We do incomparable interviews, we make them laugh, we give personality where in the digital age you'll never replace somebody's iPod, but you can expose them to entertainment elements that literally are not available anywhere but on The Tour Bus. David Coverdale once told a room full of people that I was his favorite person to interview with. You gonna tell me that caliber of interview is showing up on anyone else's show? Not likely.
What are some of your other hobbies and interests outside of radio and music?
There's a world outside radio? Actually I am a HUGE foodie. I went to cooking school and ran a French restaurant for four years. I also bike a lot, travel a ton (been to about 40 countries), kickbox with a crazy krav-maga trainer, and am certainly not your typical wallflower radio guy. I got into this vocation for the love of the music more than anything else.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime will always be one of my favorite albums of all time. Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction. Stabbing Westward's 3rd album (truly under-rated band) Damien Rice's first album (oh ... Ralphy has a gentle side). Then believe it or not - probably some R&B - like old school Teddy Pendergrass - just in case I end up meeting a hot native on the island.