by Tracy Johnson
Most radio shows have a goal to someday reach the top in their market. To be #1. To WKRZ/Scranton-Wilkes-Barre morning host Jumpin Jeff Walker, it’s what he’s come to expect from himself. Jeff just celebrated his 40th anniversary on 985 KRZ.
Think about that. 40 years. His debut was October 23, 1980. Jimmy Carter was the President. MTV didn’t exist yet. Neither did Compact Discs. Disco was fading, but still influencing music tastes in America. And nobody had heard of Madonna, Duran Duran, and Guns & Roses.
Being in one place for four years is somewhat rare in the radio business. But 40? Jeff’s story is not just about longevity. It’s about commitment, innovation, and an endless passion to evolve. His is a classic example of marrying the market and causing the audience to fall in love with him.
Here’s how he did it.
Scranton-Wilkes-Barre may be best known as the regional office of Dunder-Mifflin. But Jeff Walker is close behind. He’s one of the most well-known celebrities in the market.
When Walker started his morning show in 1980, he had no intention of celebrating an anniversary in 2020. He’s from New England and took on the challenge of helping launch a new radio station in Northeast Pennsylvania. Walker says:
My goal was simply to get experience. In the beginning, I ignored job offers because I thought I was in love! Ha. Well that wore off and she married someone else. But I began to appreciate the sense of community here. As the money got bigger and the feeling of having “a home” grew, I decided to build a life right here. It’s conveniently within driving distance to the Boston area where I also have a home, so it’s easy to still enjoy time with my family.
Jumpin Jeff Walker started as a typical screaming night jock. His style has evolved, but two things remain consistent through the years: His name and creative spirit.
I learned to write and produce comedy skits, spoof commercials and song parodies,which became my specialty. My band (The Wackjobs) have sold thousands and thousands of CDs for charity. I love writing and producing funny songs even though I know it’s not really in vogue these days.
Jeff’s right that not many shows produce parody songs and spoof commercials today, but that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. Look at SNL, as strong as ever. The key is if those produced segments are good. His are. Here’s one he wrote, produced, and performed with the band to celebrate 40 years on WKRZ:
By the way, this song contains a hint of why Jeff has remained on top for so long. He shines attention on the audience, the station, and his market. The hook gives me chills:
We simply want to thank you.
It’s because of your kindness and staning behind us.
Obviously, the show has continued to evolve. His cohost Amanda joined 13 years ago.
Walker talks about the show and the station, again showing his humility:
I have an amazing co-host named Amanda who can articulate things so well with our female audience. She is smart and sweet. I am the proverbial bull in a china shop. It makes for great radio. From day one we had incredible chemistry. We are always trying to dream up new features to reflect today’s world, though we do have a couple of bits that are just too popular to drop. We have been #1 in EVERY daypart for the last 13 years so I guess our instincts have been pretty good so far.
Amanda is a strong cohost. Listen to how it sounded when Amanda surprised Jeff on the day of the 40th Anniversary.
Many readers will be impressed, but think this story has no relevance in today’s radio environment. Sure, a lot has changed in the radio business. But a lot was changing in the 80s, 90s, and 00s, too. From the day it was invented, radio audiences have been pulled in many directions.
Your story on the Personality Success Path will likely be different than Jeff’s. But the keys to success really haven’t changed that much. I asked Walker what he would tell someone that dreams of a legendary career like his:
More than anything, do your best NOT to sound like everyone else on the radio. There is nothing more valuable than being unique. Then you are not an interchangeable part. It’s also necessary to get out and live life and take in as many experiences as possible. Show prep isn’t just reading a bunch of sheets of info before a show (though I do that too). The more life you live, the more stories you can tell. Be informed, adventurous, and unique.
That advice has no expiration date. Listeners are drawn to highly engaging personalities with stories to tell. And the reward?
The best thing about being Jumpin Jeff Walker is truly the way I am treated by the public. Even though the show is edgy at times, its main goal is to simply make people laugh, think and feel. I know we are hitting the mark when people are genuinely excited when they meet you in person. Excuse the outdated analogy, but I feel like Norm from Cheers because everybody knows my name. And that is such an awesome feeling.
Best of all, Jeff remains as excited about radio today as ever. He puts in hours in preparation and performance. Nobody stays on top for 40 years by mailing it in.
Congratulations on a rare achievement, Jeff.
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