Leave daily doses of president-bashing and liberal lamentations to those other radio shows. Morning callers to Q106 (KKLQ 106.5 FM and 600 AM) are concocting new ice cream flavors like Guacamole Hurl and Toe Jam Mocha. And they're swapping stories with Jeff & Jer about how their ears pop when driving down Highway 163 into Mission Valley. But just because listeners are giddy while "in the air" with Jeff Elliott and Jerry St. James, that doesn't mean serious issues aren't tackled.
Listeners discuss current events such as the return of 2-and-a half-year-old Jessica DeBoer to her biological parents. When the majority of callers blasted the court ruling that took the toddler from her adoptive parents, Jeff & Jer called a time-out. The morning team asked for calls from the viewpoint of biological parents who surrender their children. The request came after Elliott described the turmoil associated with the breakup of his marriage. Elliott told listeners that he wanted his two children closer to him, but realized it was best that they live with his ex-wife in Ohio.
The duo premiered in Detroit 11 years ago. They worked in Chicago for several years before coming to San Diego in 1988. The team started here at Y-95 (now KBest 94.9 FM), went to B100 (KFMB 100.7 FM) in 1990 and moved to Q106 at the end of April. "We started out with six listeners when we came to Y-95," Elliott said.
St. James immediately added his two cents. "Within a year, we almost doubled that to 11," he joked. The radio team spent part of a "bodacious Tuesday" morning reflecting on their relationship with San Diego listeners. The interview in the KKLQ studio near Montgomery Field seemed like a continuation of the "Jeff & Jer Showgram." The "J-sters" built quips on each other's comments and laughed boisterously at each other's jokes. The result was a mixture of the serious and silly. While Elliott gave a rundown of his education, he pretended to pour diet Coke on his guest's tape recorder.
He and St. James often refer to a caller as "one of our 11 listeners." The latest Arbitron ratings tell a different story: Jeff & Jer drew the highest audience share of any weekday morning-drive program between 6 a.m. and according to copyrighted data from the Arbitron Co.
Since they arrived at Q106, the station's ratings have skyrocketed. KSON, a country music station simulcast on1240 AM and 97.3 FM, deals the stiffest competition for the J-sters. Another hot contender in the ratings race is news/talk KSDO 1130 AM, but right now, the J-team is No. 1. Meanwhile, the numbers at B100 - Jeff and Jer's previous station- have dropped. The duo offered several theories about their popularity with San Diego audiences.
"When we go on the radio, we're just the same as we are in person," St. James said. "I think that anyone listening to us thinks they can do what we do, which happens to be true." His teammate gave his take on their success. "Me," Elliot said. "I think he's lucky. I've been pulling him along so long."Elliot turned serious. "Our show is not a talk show like [Roger Hedgecock] or [Stacy Taylor], but you can get in it [the show]," he said. "If you've ever got something to say, you just call in and you're on. Hopefully, we talk about things that relate to your real life."
Real-life topics include news items. After the arrest of alleged Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, the duo invited Rolodex madam Karen Wilkening on their show. A magazine survey on whether women fake orgasms inspired local debate. Elliott said his wife, Nina, admitted that she had pretended; St. James' wife, Pam, announced on air that she was not a faker. Elliott and St. James concurred that their on-air banter reflects their relationship as best friends. According to Elliott, they've never fought during their 12 years together. St. James said they share the same work ethic, which includes an on-air playfulness that leads the pair to label their jobs as "high school with pay."
The team changed the assessment to "junior-high radio" when they proposed new flavors for the "Fantasy Flavor Search" sponsored by Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream. The team's recommendations included Ocean Perch Swirl, Roast Beef Brickle, Chocolate Chip Jerky and Blow Chunks 'N Blueberry.
Radio San Diego Magazine asked each jokester to create a flavor for his sidekick. Elliott came up with "Nutty Vegetarian" for St. James, who considered "Chunky Pistachio" and "Goofy Grape" before settling on "Pralines and Fun" for his partner. Jeff & Jer's conversation and chuckles has been a winning flavor for the show. The morning time slot garnered a 9 rating from April through June - up from "They exceeded our expectations," said Bob Bolinger, KKLQ general manager. "They're a real pleasure to work with. At the end of their first week, they wrote personal thank-you notes to each of the staff. One of their strengths is their genuine concern for the listeners."
That concern is mutual, and it was evident when Elliott bungee-jumped in August. Listeners knew that he hoped to lose 20 pounds before his 20-year high school reunion in August. He used fear of heights as an appetite suppressant, pledging to bungee-jump if he didn't reach his goal. Elliott, lighter by 17 1/2 pounds, turned the jump at the Viejas Casino into a fund-raiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Callers bid to determine the words Elliott would shout as he jumped from the 210-foot tower. He yelled "Mr. Furniture," a salute to the high bid of $3,000.
Hundreds of people turned out to watch the The majority, such as Marianne Schackel of Santee, listened expectantly to the radio. "I talked to more people who were crying; it was very emotional," said Schackel, who works in the San Diego Unified School District business services department. "Jeff would come in and tell about the problems of being on a diet. Obviously, anyone who has a weight problem can identify with that." Schackel is a longtime listener. She discovered the J-men on Y-95 and followed the pair up the radio dial. She and her husband, Tom, tune in for the laughter. She also has participated in the pair's community service projects, such as the "human flag." In January 1991, 30,000 people thronged to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium to form a flag during Operation Desert Storm.
The human flag concept came to Elliott and St. James while they worked at B100. While with KFMB, the team "did breakfast" with listeners who provided the meal. Schackel was among those honorees: One morning she brought quiche and dined with her "friends." "I remember that day," Elliott said. "We were starving." Listeners talk about the two as if they were describing their friends. Listeners say Jeff is the one from Alpine; Jerry is the sophisticated one who will savor a $20 bottle of wine in his Point Loma home. "They're just themselves, friendly, likable and down-to-earth," said Tracy Johnson, KKLQ programming director. "A lot of people feel like they're part of their family."
Derrick and Laura Martin of Poway are big fans. The husband, a contractor, said he was "bored to death" by morning shows until he discovered Jeff & Jer.
"Finally, there was something that meshed with my humor," he said. "I think the secret of their success is they're still fairly normal. On talk shows, they're either conservative or extremely liberal. Jeff and Jer are middle-of-the-road. Jeff is a born-again Christian, and Jerry is into animal rights; but they don't try to push their beliefs. They're very good-natured."
Another addict, Laura Martin, shed light on their appeal. "The show gets you up and gets you going in the morning," she said. "Once they talked about the variations of what people call sex, like the Posturepedic polka. They're a little bit on the edge, but I don't feel like I have to turn them off because there are kids in the car." Others appreciate their sensitivity. The morning team's fascination for relationships touched Marianne Schackel.
"They helped a teen-age boy get a date; and once they talked a man into taking his wife on a date" she said. "It was refreshing to hear men talk about things like that." Devotees of Jeff and Jer would say that the secret of their success is that nice guys finish first. Their colleagues in the radio industry gave varying evaluations.
"Jeff & Jer Suck" is the battle cry of the 91X morning team - Mike Berger, Jeff Prescott and Russ T. Nailz. The words appeared on T-shirts and mugs, and the slogan was updated to an anniversary challenge of "Jeff & Jer Still Suck." Russ T. Nailz said he doesn't tune in to the duo.
"If I wasn't working, I wouldn't listen," he said. Elliott and St. James deftly commented on their "X-rating." "On the days they talked about it, we did suck," Elliott said. St. James elaborated. "A lot of people thought it was a put-on, but they were just telling the truth," he said. "That was more like an advertisement." Elliott added one more point. "They could have said Jeff & Jer suck, but people still listen," he said. "In the [disc jockey] sense of things, we do suck; we're just butting around."
"Warm and fuzzy radio" was how KGB program director Clark Ryan characterized the J-boys. "They tend to be more female-friendly," he said. "Our show [the Dawn Patrol with Dave Rickards and Shelly Dunn] is straight attitude."
Elliott and St. James describe themselves as "regular people." Rene Sandoval, a Jammin' Z90 morning guy and a stand-up comedian, echoed the duo's summation. "They're nice guys; they know how to work together," Sandoval said. "People do things differently. They're witty and entertaining. My training and craft is from a comedian's standpoint."
Sandoval and his radio partner, Cha Cha, comprise Z90's "Morning Posse." The pair has been on the air since Memorial Day. Sandoval said he does not see himself in competition with Elliott and St. James, although both stations target similar audiences with Top-40 formats. Z90 program director Steve Wall issued a challenge. "They're one of the best; that's for now," Wall said. "It sounds like they're having fun. It's their art and craft. They'll only do well until someone comes in and creatively beats them. We're looking to kick their butts." B100 officials did not return calls on the subject of Jeff & Jer. The duo left KFMB when their contract expired last spring. The team declined comment on the amount of their current four-year contract with KKLQ. However, insiders say they each make close to a half-million per year.
What's ahead for Jeff & Jer? "Answer some mail, take a nap," was St. James' first answer. He agreed with Elliott that the team plans to stay in San Diego. Elliott expanded on his partner's response. "People are so accepting and willing to have fun and look at life in a different way," he said. "I think people are kind of like us here, and we were very lucky to end up in this city."
"In a city full of goof-offs,"St. James said.
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