Popular radio show host still has it

Brad Shepard makes a point during a broadcast last week. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Brad Shepard is a man who can change gears quickly.

But the format of his highly popular morning show on WHYN AM requires it.

In one show last week, Shepard interviewed the attorneys representing the stepfather of Haleigh Poutre in one segment, while in another he discussed unusual news stories with his producer Bo Sullivan, reporter Denise Vozella and news director John Baibak. He can alternate between being a talk show host dealing with issues to being a no-holds-barred entertainer willing to tell jokes, speak in accents and sing.

In the changing landscape of radio, where national programs have replaced local programming, the morning host has survived.

"For whatever reason the morning drive [time period] has remained a haven for a local person," Shepard told Reminder Publications last week. That person he said is the one that connects the station to the communities and people it serves.

Shepard is no stranger to the rigors of the morning drive slot. In Springfield, he was a highly rated morning drive host at WMAS-FM from 1993 to 2000.

Shepard was a veteran broadcaster, though, before ever coming to Springfield. A graduate of Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, Shepard started his career before he graduated and has been on the air for 27 years. He has had stints in major markets, such as Boston, before coming to Springfield.

Unlike others in radio whose careers have brought them across the country, Shepard said he has been "very lucky" because almost all of his moves have been regional instead of national and that his stints at stations can be measured in years, not months.

Radio is a mercurial industry in which changes can come without warning for on-air talent. A change in management or format can end a position, Shepard explained.

As a broadcaster he casts a critical eye on the trend of replacing local talent with nationally syndicated shows, but as a realist, he knows that broadcast executives looks for more economic ways to run stations. The once coveted time slot of the afternoon commute is filled at many stations today by syndicated programming rather than a local one.

Yet, he emphasized. there are no "hard and fast rules" concerning the trend and he thought that the right local host could compete with a national show.

His love for radio was an outgrowth of his interest in performing and musical theatre. Shepard is a talented singer who has appeared in many local productions including roles in 1776, Oklahoma and Chicago.

Shepard has also been one of the Three Baritones, a local group of singers who have performed in a variety of venues in the Valley.

His quick wit and love of being on stage has also led him to stints performing stand-up comedy and opening for comedians such as Jackie "the Joke Man" Martling, Rich Hall and the legendary Steve Allen.

The WHYN show is a departure for the kind of programs Shepard has hosted in the past. Until he came to the station, he hosted music shows. He enjoys this format more because doing a music-based show there were topics "you can't go near."

Although initially concerned with the tightly formatted program, he believes the pace challenges him and Sullivan to keep the topics and discussions lively. Guest segments are about seven minutes in length and are punctuated with regularly scheduled news, weather, sports and traffic reports.

"There's nothing we can't touch," he said. "It's more rewarding, more gratifying."

It is also much more work than a music show. Shepard is on air from 5 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. After the show, he records commercials and does other production work as well as help book guests for subsequent shows. He doesn't leave the station until noon and then he will put in another two hours at home searching the Internet for interesting stories and ideas.

Shepard and Sullivan have to think on their feet despite their planning. Sometimes a guest doesn't call in or turn up and the team must be prepared to fill the time.

The result is a program that Shepard describes as "a hybrid of preparation and serendipity."

Sullivan is "an absolute partner" in the show, Shepard said. He praised Sullivan for his expertise in local government as well as his extensive sports knowledge. And he clearly enjoys the spontaneous repartee between him, Sullivan, Vozella and Baibak.

Shepard noted that, earlier in his career, morning shows would begin at 6 a.m. and the earlier starting time reflects a change in American society. People are getting up earlier to prepare for work or go to the gym and the first hour of the show attracts many listeners.

As for Shepard, as a long-time morning radio host, he seems reconciled to early hours. He gets up at 3:30 a.m. in order to be at the station at 4:30 a.m. Considering his popularity, he won't be getting to sleep in for a number of years to come.

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