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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Elvis Duran, DJ

“I would go door to door some days, giving out little ads that I copied off my mom’s Xerox machine at work.”

I caught my closet on fire. When I was a kid, about 9 or 10, when I was supposed to be asleep, I would turn on the radio, and I loved how the DJs would talk about the songs and the artists. I thought of the DJ as my friend. So I went to Radio Shack and I bought this kit where you could build your own AM broadcast transmitter. And I broadcast from my closet. You could hear the show around my house. And then one day I was thinking, even though it’s supposed to be battery-operated, if I didn’t use a battery, but if I plugged it into the wall, I bet I could broadcast throughout the entire city! So I rigged it to plug it into the wall, and it caught on fire, and it caught my closet on fire! I mean, it was a little fire, but I took a blanket and put it over the fire, put it out.

But I got right back on the horse and rode again. I got another kit for like $12 at Radio Shack, and I figured out a way to jack the power up, so I could broadcast to my whole block. Every day after school, I would do a radio show, and I played the Top 40 music of the day, what was popular back in the mid-to-late ’70s. I would go to Johnny’s Music Store, and I would buy the new singles of the day and bring them home and play them on my show. Growing up in Dallas, there was a big morning-show guy named Ron Chapman, and I used to listen to him every day. And I wrote him a letter once, saying, “Hey, I want to get into radio,” and he said, “Well, learn all you can about words and painting pictures with words.” I thought that was fascinating. I tried to do that. I did start to emulate or think about what the DJs were doing. I would listen to their styles, their energy levels. I would notice their format, like making sure you give the time at the beginning of every break, and the weather. I figured out, “Well, I guess people don’t listen for four hours straight. They have to listen for 20 minutes on their drive to work, so they need to get as much information in that 20 minutes as possible.”

I would go door to door some days, giving out little ads that I copied off my mom’s Xerox machine at work, and that’s how people around the block started listening. I had like three listeners. They would call the house to win prizes during the show because I’d give away stuff. My mother, one time, she baked a cake or two, and she let me give it away on the show. I think one time I gave away my mowing someone’s yard, someone like three doors down. Sometimes I’d do a show, and no one would be listening, I’m sure. I would call them, and go, “Hey! You got to turn your radio on! I’m doing my show!” I forced people to listen. So the old lady down the street would listen, for example, and she would tell her son to listen, and he would listen on his drive up the street to work, and it would fade out half a block away. But no one ever said, “Oh my God, kid, you’re going to be a superstar!” That’s why we gave away the free cake. It was a way to lure them in, for sure. My friends would never listen. They were out playing football, while I was the loner in the closet playing a Helen Reddy song. I’d ask them to come on my show, and they’d like, “No, I don’t think so.”