The 2 Guys Named Chris Show, of Rock 92 (WKRR-FM), Greensboro, NC was awarded the 2014 Personality Team of the Year, large market category at The North Carolina Association of Broadcasters.
Chris Kelly and Chris Demm lead the show and are joined by Josh Ellinger and David Aiken. The 2 Guys Named Chris Show began creating “must listen” radio 15 years ago and has dominated the market ever since, earning #1 ratings in Men 25-54 and top 3 in Persons 25-54 every book for the past 10 years. When asked for his thoughts, an astonished Chris Kelly mumbled that he thought they might need to re-count the votes.
WKRR-FM is owned by Dick Broadcasting. The entire team of The 2 Guys Named Chris Show accepted the award. Pictured here: NCAB incoming President Gary McNair, WECT TV, Dave Aiken (2GNC), Chris Kelly (2GNC), Chris Demm (2GNC), Josh “Biggie” Ellinger (2GNC), Current NCAB President Steve Hammel, WRAL TV.
Chris Demm’s voice is familiar to many in the community as one of the drivetime cut-ups known as “2 Guys Named Chris.” Broadcast weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. on WKRR (92.3 FM, aka “Rock 92”), the raucous repartee between Chris Demm and Chris Kelly is as much a part of many Triad residents’ morning routines as toast and coffee.
On any given day, the two Chrises and their equally irreverent associates — Dave Aiken and Biggie — skewer everything, including political scandals, celebrity misbehavior and bone-headed things that ordinary, average people have said or done. They also poke fun at themselves and each other.
The results, while often edgy, are not gratuitously offensive or cruel in the style of Howard Stern or the syndicated big-city shock jocks. Their collective banter, conditioned by and adapted to the local market, has exhibited staying power.
“Whatever chemistry is, we have it,” says Demm over a mug of beer at Natty Greene’s. The show’s been on the air for so long, it’s just ingrained in a lot of people’s DNA.” Indeed. “2 Guys Named Chris” reached its 15-year milestone in January. Even more impressive, Demm himself hit the quarter-century mark at WKRR in April. In radio, where tenures are often brief and careers marked by quixotic moves from market to market, that kind of staying power is rare. “It wasn’t my plan,” Demm says, laughing. “I was young, in my 20s, when I started here in 1989. I assumed I’d be here two or three years and then ping-pong across the country: Miami, Denver, New York. That was the career path I had in my head.
“But working for a small, locally owned company has made it easier to stay. The people I work with have been great. I’ve been able to do what I love to do — telling jokes and making goofy voices on the radio — and get paid for it. And lately, it’s allowed this other side of me, the side that’s always been a music geek, to play some of the music that I like and have collected.”
As if co-hosting a talk show five days a week weren’t enough, Demm has launched a labor-oflove music show on weekends. “That Demm Music Show” runs from 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday and is replayed at 9 p.m. Sunday. The show, which debuted in November, not only gives Demm’s inner music geek a chance to shine, but also freshens up Rock 92’s musical programming. Classic-rock stations are known for their tight, frozen-in-time playlists. Demm’s show is a refreshing change-of-pace that reflects his extensive musical knowledge.
Demm is, after all, the expert who stumps almost everyone — present company included — with musical trivia on “2 Guys Named Chris.” (He tripped me up on the air with a question about which member of KISS formerly drove a cab.) On one recent installment of “That Demm Music Show,” devoted to duos and duets, he played songs by acts as diverse as the Black Keys, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and — most unlikely of all — Bing Crosby and Louis Jordan. “Boy, that’s a dramatic chord,” he remarks off-mike as a Roy Orbison-K.D. Lang duet closes. “Wow.” At such times you can see the undiminished enthusiasm of a music-loving kid who grew up with his transistor radio hung from the bedpost, blaring Top 40 nuggets during AM radio’s golden age.
Demm constructs the show around playlists of songs with a common theme. They have included subjects such as names, numbers, colors and food. There have been shows devoted to instrumentals. Blues meets rock. Rock meets reggae. Quick-witted and articulate, Demm comes armed with history and anecdotes. “That Demm Music Show” is educational without being didactic. “There’s not a lot of music I don’t like,” Demm says. “My boundaries are pretty wide. And people have been like, ‘It’s nice to hear some real variety.’ I think even if listeners aren’t digging an individual song, they like the idea of a show like that. Just the fact that radio can be eclectic.” “I’ve really enjoyed it. Honestly, it’s reinvigorated my passion for music because I get to listen to songs I haven’t heard in a while and remember the reason I bought it or where I was when I first heard it. If you’re into music, you never forget that feeling.”
Chris Demm broke into radio in 1980 while a freshman at the College at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He started reading news at WCWM, the campus station. After one shift during a Thanksgiving break, the general manager turned to him and said, “You’re a damn good reader,” which gave Demm the first inkling of his career path. He completed his education at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, studying broadcasting and interning at different stations. He read news and played big-band music on an AM station in Petersburg, Va. He played country music on its FM counterpart. He spun pop music by the likes of Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie for an easy-listening FM station in Richmond. After graduating, Demm couldn’t find paying radio work in Richmond, so he took a job with a station in Jacksonville. There he spent “two long years” spinning hard rock and heavy metal for an audience of Marines at Camp Lejeune. “We played Iron Maiden at 8 in the morning,” he says, laughing. “We played Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne. We just pounded hard-core rock for 18- to 22-year-old males in the military, and they loved it.”
Demm moved to Greensboro and started at WKRR in 1989, working nights for a few years until an opening came up on the morning show. Demm worked alongside Brad Krantz for five years. Meanwhile, Chris Kelly was undergoing his own lengthy apprenticeship with Jack Murphy (of “Murphy in the Morning” fame), another local radio legend. In 1999, the two Chrises convinced the management at WKRR to give them a shot at choosing a morning show. “They gave us the keys to the station, and we’ve been there 15 years,” Demm says. “Which still blows my mind.” Kelly and Demm initially bonded around a shared love of basketball, movies and comedians — especially Jerry Seinfeld, who Demm calls “our cultural hero.” In terms of differences, “the best description is that on the show I’m a smartass, and he’s a dumbass,” Demm says, laughing.
The two meet at 4 a.m. every weekday at WKRR’s downtown studio to map out the show. By then, each has consulted a multitude of favorite websites and TV shows, compiling notes on the latest round of human punch lines, crackpot behavior and wacky happenings they can riff about on the air. Their listeners pitch in, as well.
“The people who call give us consistently entertaining stuff every day,” Demm says. “The stories they tell about having sex in rock stars’ beds or still having bullets in them from hunting accidents or the bizarre ways they were able to skip school never fail to impress us. We’ve heard from consultants across the country that our callers are like no others.” Their working relationship is itself a long-running study in uniqueness. Even after 15 years of working side by side and living in each other’s heads, the two Chrises still find themselves fraternizing outside of work on occasion. “We have a lot of the same friends, and our wives are friends, so sometimes we’ll go out socially,” Demm says. “And when we see each other it’s like, ‘We’ve said everything we need to say or possibly can say to each other.’ It’s a pretty intense partnership.” Moreover, it’s a partnership that has kept people tuned in to WKRR for 15 years. Demm thinks he knows why: “People want a humorous take on whatever’s happening in the world, even if it’s a serious topic, because we’re not that serious. We’re not going to debate health care. We’re going to talk about a goofy visit to the doctor.”
Contact Parke Puterbaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org
The spotlights swivel on Elm Street, cutting serpentine swaths into the nighttime sky and splashing onto the building facades.
Even though the party doesn’t start until 8 p.m., the queue started forming around 6 o’clock outside the Empire Room, and now, with about 15 minutes to go, the line wraps around the corner and extends down February One Place.
They’re all out: folks from their twenties to their sixties, and they’re shivering from the evening chill, yes, but also they shake because this event, this party, has been 10 years in the making. And they’re here not only to celebrate, but also to pay tribute to the two guys, both named Chris, that have helped them usher in the mornings since their unlikely debut in 1999 on Rock 92. “We were piping in John Boy and Billy,” program director Doug McKnight explains. “They were phenomenally successful.” But “The John Boy and Billy Show” is owned by Clear Channel, and Rock 92 is a Dick Broadcasting station.
Clear Channel wanted to keep its programming in-house, and pulled the show so it could air on one of their local stations.
“It was just business,” McKnight says. But it left a gaping hole in the morning drive-time slot, radio’s prime time. And the two guys named Chris had their eyes on the job. At the time, Chris Kelly was working as Jack Murphy’s sideman on WKZL’s “Murphy in the Morning.” But it was the culmination of years in the business. Kelly started when he was 16 at WKXR, a country station in his native Asheboro.
“It’s still there,” Kelly says, “but I don’t think a 16-year-old kid could walk in and get a job so easily.” From there he moved to Raleigh’s G105, WDGC to work the weekend shift. He was 17. “I had to beg my parents to let me drive out there every weekend,” he says. Then, while in college, he worked WASU, the college radio station at Appalachian State University doing a show called “Chris and Jeff, the Breakfast Flakes.” After he graduated in 1993, he went right to Dick Broadcasting as a part-timer, producing the “Murphy in the Morning” show. He’s been in North Carolina his whole radio career, which any radio professional will tell you is absolutely ridiculous.
“When I started in this business,” he says, “the advice I got from people was, ‘Be ready to move.’ Everybody told me, ‘You’re going to get fired.’ I never had to.” Upstairs in the Empire Room, the crowd has filled the place to capacity. There are some media luminaries here, to be sure: There’s Cindy Farmer yukking it up by the stage with her Fox 8 “Morning Show” partner, Brad Jones.
“He’s my TV husband,” Farmer says. And there’s Fox 8 meteorologist Emily Byrd, Rhino Times county reporter Scott Yost, a crew from WFMY and YES! Weekly columnist Mark Burger, who has been a regular on “Two Guys Named Chris” for nearly as long as the show itself, talking movies every Friday morning. It’s one of his favorite gigs. “They really have an uncanny ability to draw you in,” Burger says. “They make you want to listen. It’s not flashy, but there’s something absorbing about it.”
But most of the people here are fans of the show — rabid fans, apparently, because the bulk of tickets to this event were handed out, two at a time, to listeners at various spots throughout the Triad.
Pretty much everyone here got tickets by listening to the show. And one of the tickets is worth $10,000, to be given away right here at 10 p.m. For the 10 th anniversary, you see.
Two days earlier, Chris Demm drove out to Winston- Salem after the show ended at 11 a.m. It was at the Honda dealership, and by the time Demm got there 30 or 40 listeners milled around the ATVs and motorcycles, eating from a table of chicken wings and waiting on the action. There crowd was composed mostly of guys (Chris and Chris own the male demographic, garnering first place in the market among males 25-54 for the fall 2008 quarter) but a number of women hang on the fringes. Connie Wagner and Suzi Brown, for example, came in from Gold Hill to try for a pair of tickets to the party. Brown tried the day before, as well. “We’ve been doing these stops at least once a day since last Thursday,” promotions director Heather Chapin said. Demm stood by the promo table, shaking hands and giving the listeners a little face time. At the appointed hour, 12 noon, he took the mic. By now there were at least a hundred people in the bike shop. “Thank you all for coming out to Winston-Salem Honda today,” he said. Demm never forgets to namecheck a sponsor. He’s a pro. “I’m kind of the cynical older guy,” Demm says. He is the older one — at 47 he’s 10 years Kelly’s senior — but he admittedly came late to the game. Demm majored in broadcast journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Just so I could play with the radio controls and TV cameras,” he says. “I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I wanted to be in advertising.
“But,” he continues, “I was not prepared for the responsibility of being a college student at 18.” He got a part-time job off the air at WPVA, an AM station out of Petersburg, Va., a big-band operation specializing in Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller.
“I did the news one day when the guy was out,” he says. His performance got him a job offer from the FM station run out of the same building, WKAK. That was 1984. “I think I remember playing Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ about a thousand times on July Fourth, watching the fireworks over Petersburg,” he says. From there he went to WEZS in Richmond, Va., then WXQR in Jacksonville, NC. “The rock and roll animal,” he remembers. “We rocked the Marine Corps. We rocked their faces off.” The move to Greensboro came when he answered a want ad for a part-time job. “I interviewed at the Rhino [club] and had lunch at Southern Lights,” he says. “I fell in love with Greensboro, and left a full-time job for a part-time one.” In 1991 he caught the attention of North Carolina radio veteran Brad Krantz and became his on-air sidekick when Krantz ruled the Rock 92 morning drive slot. “He had a lot of real-world experience,” Demm says. “I learned a lot about radio from Brad: what stories are good, how to connect with listeners, the nuts and bolts of talk radio.”
In 1996 Krantz’s show was pulled for John Boy and Billy — again, just business — and Demm stayed at WKRR to work the soundboards for this show and do the news spots in between segments.
“He was pushing buttons and he was really stagnating,” McKinght, the program director, remembers. “It was a blow to the ego,” Demm says, “but I kept my job. I was able to continue driving a decent car, live in a decent place….”
But when John Boy and Billy pulled out, Demm and Kelly made their move. They worked in the same building and had been palling around for years, drinking beers and watching sports.
“We were single, lonely, socially inept,” Demm says. “We always joked that it would be great to have a show together.” They pitched to station manager Bruce Wheeler, who greenlighted the show, but it was initially met with a lukewarm response.
“They said, ‘These two guys have never been in this role before,’” Demm remembers. “And they were right. Our success or failure rate was about 50 or 60.” “They said it was like having two Ed McMahons,” McKnight says. “Two sidekicks. To be honest, the first couple months were kind of rocky. But who’s laughing now?”
On Thursday morning, two days before the big party, Demm and Kelly do their thing on the airwaves.
There’s a bit about Al Gore, accompanied by a half-hearted impression, some discussion of ACC basketball, a piece about a roadkill possum that’s by the entrance to the parking lot, and, of course, there are lots and lots of calls.
The studio is roomy, by radio standards, with a signed Aerosmith poster on the wall, a framed front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commemorating the Rams’ Super Bowl win after the 1999 season and a huge blowup of an article that appeared in a 2002 issue of Stuff magazine about an incident at Wake Forest University where a fraternity was accused of inebriating a pig. “We were all over that one.” Demm says. “We announced we’d adopted a pig and we were gonna cook it in the parking lot.” Much of it is pretty standard morning-radio stuff: promotions, stunts, wacky takes on the news. Right now they’re giving a pair of tickets away to the listener who can predict how long it will take Biggie — that’s John Ellinger, the show’s producer — to push his truck 10 feet in the parking lot. Ten feet because, you know, it’s the 10 th anniversary.
Biggie’s been doing this all week as well. “On Tuesday they had me eat ten deviled eggs,” he says. “On Wednesday I had to make ten dollars on the street.”
Now he’s out here in the freezing, predawn parking lot; he’s got his truck in neutral; and he’s fixing to push it across two parking spaces. Weather Dave Aiken calls in the play-by-play from his cell phone.
“Okay, Biggie’s pulling up his pants,” he’s saying. “I can’t feel my arms,” Biggie says. He moves the truck in less than 10 seconds, another lucky winner gets a pair of tickets. Biggie takes the phone. “Okay,” he says. “You want me to go over to it?” He approaches the dead possum by the gate with trepidation.
“Ugh,” he says. “It’s bleeding from the mouth…. Ewww… I’m gonna kick it.” He does and then, inexplicably, runs away. For a big guy, he can move pretty good. In the studio the guys are cracking up. Then it’s on to a bit about Diane Sawyer, who was apparently drunk on the air the morning after president Obama’s inauguration. It’s right there on Kelly’s loose script, which is clipped to a board right by his mic, right after “Does my dick get smaller as I age” and “Rats as a punishment for not losing weight.”
But the Sawyer bit — a loop of her referring to “teeny, tiny citizens” in a ginsoaked slur — gains traction, and soon they’re talking about hot grandmothers and they’re taking calls.
Helen Mirren. Tina Turner. Bo Derek — is she over 60? Lynda Carter. “Finally, someone I can get behind,” Demm says. It’s a perfect radio bit, entwining sex, pop culture, the Oedipus Complex and a great excuse to reference Bea Arthur over and over again. More importantly: everyone can play. There have been some bits that haven’t quite worked over the years, notably MILF contest. Then there was the Steve Canyon character.
“I thought it would be hilarious if we invented a character, ‘Steve Canyon: A Cop with Tourette’s Syndrome,’” Demm says. “It just didn’t go anywhere,” Kelly says.
But the hot grandma bit is gold, and calls on the subject come in until the show closes at 11 a.m. “When we first came on we thought we could do some crazy bits and funny voices and that would be enough,” Demm says. “But I think now it’s a pretty smart show. I mean, some guys do current events well, some guys do a more entertainmentoriented show. The goal, I think, is above all be funny.”
Up in the Empire Room most of the crowd has cashed in their two free-drink tickets and the lines at the bars have slimmed down appreciably. Everybody’s sticking around, though, and it’s not just for the dulcet tones of the Walrus, who is on stage serenading the throng. Most of them are still here because they haven’t given away the 10 grand yet. They bunch before the stage and the number is drawn to much fanfare and pomp: 1142. Tammy Sanders of High Point screams from the back of the room and makes her frenzied way to the stage, where a check the size of a refrigerator door is waiting for her. Ten grand, as advertised.
Show’s over, more or less. But there’s one more matter of business to attend to. “Let’s get Kelly and Demm up here,” Walrus says. “We are gonna have a cowbell contest right here.” They’re all up there… D and Biggie and Aiken and all the rest. And the two guys named Chros don’t disappoint.
Walrus and Evan Olson tear into “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and the two guys named Chris start whacking the crap out of their cowbells until Olson calls the contest.
“Kelly,” he says, “how can you be a DJ at a classic rock station and have absolutely no rhythm?” Kelly, undeterred, jukes and jives in a sweaty white-boy shuffle, enticing the crowd to greater and greater heights of volume. The balloons have dropped, and people are batting them around the room, up on the stage, over by the soundboard.
Demm is still on the stage, but he’s standing still and feeling the beat, working his cowbell in perfect time.