The veteran WBAB/102.3 FM morning team Roger and JP — Roger Luce and John "JP" Parise — mark their 20th anniversary together on Saturday, capping an improbable run that started with a new century. Both native Long Islanders, Luce, 56, had been a veteran radio host by then and public-address announcer for the Islanders and the Mets, while Parise, 47, was a van driver for the station.
So yes, improbable. Also successful.
Both were on vacation this week, but took some time out to reflect on these past 20 years, with Parise chatting by phone and Luce responding via email.
Any on-air plans to celebrate the 20th?
LUCE: They'll unfold during this 20th year — all listener-related because without them, there is no Roger and JP show. Of course we’ll talk about it when we get back from vacation Monday.
Twenty years on the air in radio is a century in any other business. How did you survive?
JP: Long Island is different. Other markets are so transient that [station management in those cities] doesn't care who hosts. But Long Islanders want that attitude [and] it's also where I'm from. I grew up in Deer Park and Roger was born in Bethpage. We were also lucky. Cox Media Group [the Atlanta-based media conglomerate that owns WBAB] has done right by us.
LUCE: We are real people, not goofy radio DJs We’ve personally bonded with our listeners by talking about our lives [and] I'll always feel that bond with each and every one of these thousands of Long Islanders.
There were two big controversies back in the early-to-mid-aughts — the stunt where you told listeners Santa doesn't exist, and the commercial satire called "Wetback Steakhouse" deemed racist and quickly pulled, with apologies. Can you talk about those?
JP: It was right before Thanksgiving [in 2003] and I had gone to the mall and it was all Christmas Christmas Christmas, and I got back to the show and said, what would happen if I said [on the air] there's no Santa. Roger said nooooo way, but the program director at the time said, 'you need to make an announcement' to get gets kids to tune in. … Afterwards we got death threats from all over the world.
With ['Wetback'] we had taken the pulse of our audience at that time which was very very angry at what was going on with illegal immigration. A former production guy who no longer works for us had the idea and we played it. We got zero complaints until [Newsday] picked up on it. ... There are a lot of things we did back then that we wouldn't do now.
LUCE: We aired that commercial and regretted that it was hurtful to some. Our nature is not to hurt people, but to entertain.
What are you most proud of?
LUCE: We’ve all bonded about the fun(?) of raising our kids, concerts, all the issues of marriage, just to name a few. And of course, we share a special bond built during tragic times like 9-11 and Superstorm Sandy.
JP: 9/11 cemented our relationship with our audience. A year and a half in, we were playing a dozen songs in a row to — and I hate this phrase — becoming a safe space for our audience. We had, for example, listeners who were from law enforcement who said 'we need knee pads and need 'em at Ground Zero …' We'd have lines on Sunrise [Highway, where the studio is based in West Babylon] all the way up to 231. I don't know if we'd survive some of the other stuff without having created what we created with our audience through Sept. 11.
How are you the same, different?
JP: Roger is way more optimistic and if it wasn't for Roger, I don't know if there'd be a 20th. He's got the patience of a saint, and I'm crazy. He knows when to calm me down and when he needs to fight the battle with me. [Also] we never try to be friends. We don't hang out together.
How much longer?
LUCE: It’s very rare in radio to get to speak to one audience for this long. If we get the chance to entertain the BAB audience for another 10 years, I probably wouldn’t press our luck after that. Lol. I would consider us both to be very lucky and fortunate if we were on BAB until 2030.