PHILADELPHIA TRANSPLANTS Preston & Steve knew when they began their morning radio show they couldn't just act like they belonged here. "People will call bulls--- on you," said Preston Elliot, a St. Louis native. "You've got to pay your dues and we respected that," said Steve Morrison, a native New Yorker. Now, nine years after Preston & Steve debuted on WMMR, the two radio jocks and their morning crew not only belong in this city - they're a part of its daily routine.
Preston said he knew the moment the show had started to make an impact was when a pretty redheaded Eagles cheerleader told him she was a fan. "I was like, 'Really, you listen to us?' "
The guys will be seeing red again soon when they hold their annual "I Bleed for Preston & Steve" Blood Drive at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks on June 21, just one of the many charitable events the show hosts each year.
They spoke with Stephanie Farr in their office at WMMR, where Steve sat in front of his prized collection of superhero action figures and Preston played air drums with real sticks.
Q What's the most visceral experience you remember having as a radio listener?
Steve: Things like when John Lennon was shot and killed ...
Preston: Exactly what I was going to say!
Steve: That was a moment where I stayed on, almost around to the next morning, I stayed on the radio listening to WNEW in New York.
That exposure, that intimacy that you felt with on-air jocks late at night. To me, radio works the best when you know somewhere there's somebody in a studio alive and talking and thinking and he's or she's your buddy. It's a voice out there for you.
Q Is it weird being on the other side, then, when people come up to you now and feel like they have a connection?
Preston: I tell people it reminds me things are going well because when they stop doing that, that's when you need to be worried. That's a reassurance that you're making a connection and, in some instances, making a difference to people. That's one of the most satisfying bits of feedback you can get, for sure.
Q Everyone has bad days. On those days where you don't want to talk to another person, let alone the entire city, how do you fake it?
Preston: To be honest, when the mics are on, we're just kind of a gang of buddies hanging out. We even distract ourselves from sh---y days. I believe that happens.
If you've got something going on in your personal life for that 20-minute segment or whatever, you can just kind of set it aside and get lost in something else. And it's kind of nice.
Steve: It's an agreement I think we have with our listeners, that we are concerned about your day being better and you've come to us for that so we're goddamn well going to try to make it better and dumber and keep the momentum going.
My cat died one morning. I'm a huge animal guy. But, I'm sorry, I've got to go in because that very same morning somebody's mother died and it's all relative.
Q In a week you can go from interviewing Jane Goodall to interviewing a stripper and a flying squirrel, and you can go from talking about the outer limits of space to talking about farts. I feel like you're channeling Monty Python in a way that you're this mix of high brow and low brow humor.
Preston: I think most people are stimulated intellectually and stimulated on a perverse level as well. There's no reason why your show has to be pigeonholed into one of those categories.
Steve: You know what's funny is, we had [documentary filmmaker] Ken Burns. He always talks about the time he came in and we had these strippers on the hottie cam. He loved it. He thought it was hilarious. He goes, "Where are my girls?" And it's freaking Ken Burns!
Q What's the most moving thing a listener has ever told you?
Preston: When somebody's child dies, you can't think of anything more horrible than that. People have their parents pass, but that's different. And it's happened several times, when you get feedback that "Hey, I haven't smiled in weeks-slash-months, and today I actually laughed. Thank you for that." You want to cry. It doesn't get more touching than that.
Q Favorite movie about radio?
Preson and Steve, in unison: "Private Parts."
Steve: Howard Stern. His legend is well-deserved, and his take and his story is so true to people in the industry. It is the "Citizen Kane" of radio.
Q You enter one of your "Philly's Hottest" contests. What's the category?
Steve: Philly's hottest multiple skin conditions.
Preston: That's both of us. I have psoriasis.
Steve: I have vitiligo. And I'm just all cut up from cats.
Q If he were alive today, what would Marconi think of your show?
Preston: "I made a mistake."
Steve: He'd say: "This is exactly what I was thinking!"
Preston: I love it.