10 Questions with ... John DePetro
April 5, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
WHJJ/Providence 1999 to 2004; WRKO/Boston 2004 to 2006; WPRO/Providence 2007 to present; also on WMAL/Washington weekends
1. How and why did you get into broadcasting?
I wanted to be in broadcasting since I was born. When I was 9, I got a tape recorder for Christmas. I had kids on my street sit around my kitchen table and we played "talk show" with me as the host. I loved watching TV talk show like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. I interviewed Salty Brine for a school project when I was 11, and first started in radio at age 14 answering the request line at WBRU in Providence. From there I moved into college radio, where I had the chance to do everything. I always had a good sense of humor so radio seemed to come easy to me. To me, it is all about being entertaining and informative. I am not trying to change the world, just keep somebody entertained for 20 minutes while they are in the car.
2. You've been no stranger to controversy over the years; do you perceive that the industry, or the public, has become more or less tolerant of controversial or edgy political talk over the years? Has your approach changed at all over that time?
Our society thrives on controversy, so there is a public appetite for it. I think over the last 10 years, however, television and the internet have continue to "push the envelope" with content, yet radio has become more guarded. I recognize the word "controversial" has become very negative in our business, yet many topics discussed are controversial in nature. As always, the key is to find the happy medium.
3. You're a Rhode Island native; how important is that for you as a talk show host? How much of an advantage is there to being a native? Is the Providence market particularly parochial towards newcomers?
Knowing history of an area is always a plus, but I think it always begins and end with the host and the topics/content provided. Listeners prefer someone knowledgeable about their city or state, but many hosts seem to depend on it too much. A good host can always adjust depending on the area and what is in the news. Provide listeners with quality content, and they will respond. In the past 10 months, I have broken four stories that have become national stories and that is not easy in a market the size of Providence. But you have to know how to further a story and what is considered "news."
4. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the near future of the nation? Why?
I am very optimistic about our nation and how talk radio fits into it. All I care about are having elected leaders who make news, whether it is a President, governor, congressman, etc. Talk radio provides instant content and discussion, which people still cannot get anywhere else. More news means more to talk about, and more people engaged in the process are better for the format.
5. Of what are you most proud?
I am most proud that I have made a career in broadcasting. I have worked on both sides of the business and still find it challenging, rewarding, and never dull.
6. You've worked on the management side and the on-air side. Why did you decide, ultimately, to stick to the on-air work?
I always wanted to be on the radio, but like many people I could not get the type of on-air job I wanted after college. Learning the sales part of radio was very important and increased my knowledge of the business tremendously. It is true I enjoyed success on the management side of the business,(National Sales manager of WABC/WPLJ) and was offered my first GM job of (2) stations when I was 30. But my real passion was on-air so I always felt it was a matter of time before I could find the right situation to make that happen. I majored in Journalism in college so I have always been fascinated by news and current events and love to be part of covering a story.
7. Who are your mentors and inspirations in the business?
As far as mentors, I have been fortunate to have had access to many great people in our business. For inspiration, to me, the business is still about Rush and Stern. Those two are still the best, and know best how to use the medium. Rush is on another level compared to everyone else and I think his show is better now than ever. What many people don't understand is Rush could have been great at so many things, but chose talk radio. I used to listen to Howard Stern on WNBC and loved his style, humor, and comedy bits. It is a sad state of affairs Stern is not on commercial radio. The big breakout star is Glenn Beck, and he inspires me the way he understand both TV and radio. I used to listen to WBCN in Boston growing up, and that was the coolest sounding station ever. Phil Boyce, Johnny Donovan and Sean Hannity taught me a lot when I was at WABC. Bill Hess and Bud Paras put me on WHJJ and have always been very supportive. Tom Baker and Mike Elder brought me to Boston and were fantastic. I have worked for Mitch Dolan and Jimmy de Castro and they taught me a lot about the business. Barbara Haynes, Paul Giammarco and the folks at Citadel have been great and very supportive of my career.
8. What do you see yourself doing ten years from now? What's the plan?
I plan to be on air 10 years from now and beyond. I write comedy and music, I am good on TV, I write a column, I have done stand up and right now I am doing the best radio I have ever done. I am very optimistic about the future.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
...checking the Drudge Report and watching David Letterman. Matt Drudge is a genius, a force in media, and is way ahead of his time. Letterman is just the best at everything.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
Best advice I ever got was from Rush. I met with him one day (before I left New York) and he taught me "the four" most important things. I took notes and still read them from time to time.
As far as bad advice, when I was moving to New York City, a friend tried to talk me out of moving there. I was in Manhattan for 8 years and when I was leaving, a friend tried to talk me out of moving out of New York City. I believe you have to have confidence in yourself, know what you are capable of, and sometimes take a calculated risk. In radio the only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers.