by Tracy Johnson
It’s rare when a radio show becomes #1 at two stations in the same market. When a show does it six times in the same market, it’s historical. In fact, I think it’s only been done once. It’s such an accomplishment that leads to the honor of being inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
San Diego’s legendary Jeff & Jer Showgram, featuring Jeff Detrow and Jerry Cesak, with their trusted producer Tommy Sablan, were added to the Hall of Fame.
Since arriving in San Diego in 1988, the show has reached the top on Y95, B100, Q106, Star 100.7, My 94.1, KYXY. Unprecedented, and unlikely to be duplicated. Anywhere. Ever.
I could go on and on about the team’s accomplishments, from raising over $1 million in one day for San Diego fire victims to building a transitional shelter for victims of domestic abuse called Becky’s House.
They created te first Human Flag, igniting a trend that was copied by dozens of personalities and radio stations across the United States. Tommy’s Breaking and Entering Christmas became the inspiration for other shows to take care of families during the holidays.
But in the years I worked with Jeff & Jer, several things stand out that separate them from all other personalities.
The show couldn’t be more tight-knit, in good times or in bad. The studio was a happy place, a sanctuary that everyone looked forward to each day. They took care of each other, loved each other and were more committed to the success of the team than any individual accomplishments. They helped each other on and off the air.
Jeff & Jer were on the leading edge of the trend in personality radio revealed their character through telling personal stories with color. Listen to their show carefully. Most every break is all about them and their lives. But it didn’t become self-absorbed, egotistical or arrogant. They understood their audience, their market and themselves.
The show was particularly well cast. Jerry’s wife Pam was their first PD in San Diego and did an amazing job matching personalities that complemented one another with great contrast. There’s little that Jeff, Jerry, Tommy, Laura and Randy have in common. But they all share similar core values. This creates a solid team, with incredible chemistry and friction.
The show excelled at making their show memorable, and making it easy for listeners to remember and talk about them by benchmarking the show.. From their trademark “11 listeners” to “Junior High Radio” and dozens more, they followed through daily on their goal of delivering a Didja Hear moment.
This show mastered the art of telling stories with drama, building anticipation and just enough exaggeration to make it interesting. They move from hook to setup to dress up to payoff to black out naturally and seamlessly, rarely taking a detour. Want to hear a perfect example of on-air storytelling? Listen to this.
The show is genuinely funny. But more than that, they have a great sense of humor, allowing the audience to laugh along with them. And they don’t mind laughing at their own expense.
But over and above all of this, Jeff & Jer make a difference in listener’s lives. On a Sunday morning when San Diego woke up to devastating fires leaving thousands of listeners homeless, I was in the station to manage our reaction to the tragedy. About an hour later, Jeff walks in. I asked him, “What are you doing here?” He says, “San Diego needs us. This is what we do”. Jeff stayed on the air for 9 hours that day, and was back the following morning at 5am for the show. I asked Jerry about it, and he told me one of the things that has stayed with me forever. He said:
When things are really bad, we know how to be really good.
The show’s success is also because of attention to detail, and that starts with the show’s producer, “Little” Tommy Sablan.
Tommy is the first producer ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. That should change, and hopefully Tommy’s induction will blaze a trail for others to come.
He’s one of the most important elements of the show’s success.
Tommy gets his professional satisfaction from the success of the show. Many producers say that, but Tommy lives it. There’s no detail too small, no project too big for Tommy. He doesn’t understand the word “no”. To him, it means, “Not like this”, meaning he will figure out another way to get it done. And he almost always delivers.
If you consider the qualifications of a top morning show producer, Tommy ticks all the boxes. Tommy is much more than a producer. I called him the Program Director of the show. He has the rare ability to manage relationships with management and talent, and is a tremendous ambassador in the community.
And he’s proud of radio, the show, and being a producer.
Though Jer has retired, the show, which also includes long-time partners Laura Cain and Randy Hoag, continues on KYXY 96.5 in San Diego under the name Jeff and the Showgram.
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