Layla M. Halterman (email@example.com)
On a beautiful morning in May, I was fortunate enough to be invited to iHeart Radio, at 32 Avenues of America – an art deco building that stands tall and proud with a robust history – in the heart of lower Manhattan, to visit Jim Kerr, one of the most respected and popular radio personalities and host of his own Rock N Roll Morning Show (Q104.3).
Walking in through the prestigious revolving doors, I was simultaneously welcomed by both Harry, the pleasant doorman, and Kevin O’Leary (aka Mr. Wonderful from Shark Tank) who happened to be checking in before me. After making my way up the rickety yet charming elevator, I strolled through the doors only to find Anita, the legendary iHeartRadio receptionist who is known as “Mama” to the infamous Snoop Dog.
Kerr has a sidekick, Shelli Sonstein, but she was working remotely that day and I had the pleasure of meeting her on Zoom. In-fact, I was lucky enough to meet the entire crew, including Kerr’s boss, Eric Wellman, and executive producer, Trevor Marden. After receiving a warm welcome and tour of all the radio stations at iHeart, I sat down across from Kerr in an empty studio in front of professional microphones, which is where our interview began.
Even though his formal education ended in the tenth grade, Kerr was determined to make his own way. “When you’re young, you believe you can do anything.”
He was starstruck when in seventh grade, his teacher, Mrs. Douglas, took them on a field trip to WWJ – a radio show in Detroit, which is where Kerr originally hails from. “I thought it was the coolest place I ever saw. I saw all these people running around doing all of these interesting and exciting things. I was determined at that point to pursue a broadcasting career.”
For many years after that field trip, Kerr would pretend to play in his basement. “I built television cameras out of shoeboxes and microphones out of toilet paper rolls.”
He carried such a passion for broadcasting that his teachers recognized it. They ended up leaving the announcement duties up to him. By the time he was 14, he decided “to make [his] move.” Kerr was wise beyond his years, embodying confidence and a sprinkle of nerve. He hopped on a Greyhound bus to a radio station thirty miles away from Detroit and informed the station manager of his dream to be on the radio. The manager bargained, “Well I tell you what…for every $60 worth of advertising you sell, you can be on the air for an hour. You can keep a 15% commission.”
Kerr accepted the challenge and would hitchhike to “every dry cleaner, insurance agency, and used car dealership to meet with small business owners. As a little fourteen year old with a briefcase, I would sell them radio advertising. It was a very reasonable price, and the merchants just wanted to help a young kid out. I told them I would do the commercials, write, and interview them about their businesses so I could learn.”
After weeks passed, Kerr walked back into the radio station to the general manager and presented “about 800 bucks.” Soon after, he was hired to be on the air on Saturday afternoons. His career blew up from there, landing him features in popular publications like the Detroit News.
Fast forward to modern day, he has been on air in the morning for 48 years, making him the longest running morning show radio host in New York City. “My goal was to grow up with my audience, to create a relationship that would last throughout our lives, and that seems to have worked pretty well. It gives me a lot of joy. My show is in the biggest media market in the United States, but the way I treat my show is as if it were in the smallest town in America.”
Additionally, he expresses a deep love for music, especially for British rock bands like The Beatles. It is no secret he takes pride in his work and is committed to serving his audience, which he holds near and dear to his heart. Kerr has built a close-knit community, explaining that it has been “gratifying. I honestly believe I have a million and a half friends. We try to wake people in a good mood, try to provide information that is necessary, and [share] great music. [But] there are times when circumstances dictate that we respond to certain tragedies.”
As for advice, he advises students interested in the broadcasting industry to take risks. “It’s better to give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, then [pursue] something else. At least you won’t spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened. You have to be nimble and adaptable. Everything changes over time.”
Kerr wants his listeners to remember the friendship he extended. “I want them to remember that I was there and uplifted them, and may have helped them through the day. Also, I used [radio] to reach a lot of people, to help do good things.”
Time was running out, as Kerr had to catch an Uber back home, but he ended on this note. “I was just a [young kid] from the midwest who hoped people would like me. And strangely enough, they did and so forty eight years later, I am still here.” Not only do we like you, Jim, we love you!