July 25August 1, 1996
Pierre Robert talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of morning glory.
By a.d. amorosi
As one of local FM radio's most loved on-air people ("jock" simply doesn't apply), Pierre Robert is something of an anomaly. He does not shout. He does not pander. He will not offer up jokes about private parts, gaseous emissions or anything liquidy.
The only thing fluid about the 40-year-old Robert is his voice and demeanor a becalmed verbal river of sorts that enjoins the airwaves rather than slicing them with a knife. He does not want your money or your adulation but craves your love and support; a support that does not seem to be coming his way. It is the above-mentioned knife that acts as analogous, separating Robert from his public and his corporate bosses. As reported by Kevin L. Carter in last Tuesday's Inquirer, Robert has been offered a strange business deal for a guy who's been so devoted to employers and fans.
"I feel odd talking about all this. I don't like to have the public in on my business shit," says Robert from the office of his business rep. the mysterious Steve Mountain of Cornerstone Management. But in it we are.
"My contract was up at the end of June. They said they'd like me to stay with a one-year contract (recently upgraded to three years with no cash addition), but they needed me to take a 50 percent pay cut. All I could muster up was "Are you serious?" WMMR's comeback: ratings low, costs high. When his contract ran out on June 28, so did Robert, leaving Robert's on-air associate Earl Bailey to carry on until decisions are made."
"After a year of Steve trying to renegotiate, they came in five days before the contract was up. Steve didn't even get a chance to deal," says Robert. "The merger [between Infinity, the owner of WYSP, and Westinghouse/CBS, the owner of WMMR] I think made them cocky. If they own WYSP, who once approached me for work they figure they won the market, the ship I would jump to would be gone. There are other ships, plenty of other offers."
So Pierre Robert is pullin' a Sitting Bull with a long face until his business is settled. But how long will this go on? Will he accept, divide, realign, move airshifts?
"Right now the discussion is up in the netherworld," says Robert. "I'd like to work here. This is no way to end my adventure in this city, a city that welcomed me with open arms. If I close up shop, I'd like to do it in a kinder, gentler fashion. I think they're curious to see if people care. I don't think they took my walk-off seriously. But I'm willing to sit out the distance. I heard about one guy who sat out for three months. This is more common in sports than in radio but..."
Which brings up an interesting management point. His manager, Steve Mountain formerly the guy best known for handling the Hooters, owning the Ambler and Chestnut Cabarets and hanging with then-beardless jock Pat Croce is currently handling the business of chronologically gifted Flyers goalie Ron Hextall; tugging at manager Bobby Clarke for more than $2 million a year and a longer contract. Not too unlike Robert's situation, except for the puck.
Mountain, who is loquacious with the press concerning his sports clients, is mysteriously mum when it comes to music and radio clients. No comment. Don't bother.
It was once rumored though that perhaps when Robert renegotiated his contracts, the idealistic (hippie-ish is too unkind a word) D.J. simply never got as much money as a morning guy in a big station in a big city might normally get.
"The money I get is comparable to many people in this town high-end I guess but way less than in other similar markets," says Robert.
How way less?
"My numbers, when I first started midday, were off the scale. I was the most consistent airtime leader, the highest peak than the rest of the day. Then I was making $25,000 a year. So cheap, it's amazing; but I was young," says Robert. "Hooking up with Steve gave me a good idea of my worth. The station was making money through the roof. Advertising went from $200 a unit to $1,000. The money I get now though is much less than other morning folk. It's much less than what they paid DeBella, especially since he had such a large crew. Eight people to my three."
DeBella's a good point. It was also rumored that Robert was originally contacted by then-WMMR morning gonzogod DeBella's attorney, Alan Spielman, 10 years ago. The high-powered attorney had a higher formula of Pierre's worth a considerably larger amount that nearly frightened Robert. All conjecture, but...
"It's entirely untrue. Interesting as a rumor, but not true," says Robert. "I'm not obsessed with money or possessions. I could take a deduction. I came here with nothing. I've been working with Steve Mountain for almost 10 years. I renegotiated my contract with the new GM Chuck Fee when I was offered the morning show. I'm happy for what Steve's got for me."
While he wasn't sure if the same had been asked of fellow on-air types like Matt Chord or Elise Brown (who, though rumored for the morning job if Robert fell through, probably ain't interested in going to bed or getting up THAT early), he did seem certain of the fact that the station was on a slightly wayward course.
"The station made a lot of noise about cost-cutting over the last couple of years as well as changing their format to Triple A [adult alternative]. Prior to all that, my program was always in the top three to five on a fairly regular basis," Robert says. "I'm not blaming them, but I do think these changes had an awful lot to do with the jump in my ratings. I don' think people expected WXPNish-type music to come out of WMMR speakers. The masses tuned out."
And dropped in to the more rocking sounds of WYSP.
All this dial changing and strike posturing doesn't matter if the people listening and the people jiving ain't happy. Robert is simply looking for symbiosis, not sympathy.
"I'm open to hearing anything that's fair," says the rock jock. "The reason I made an issue is because of gross unfairness. I try to treat everybody with integrity. Most of all those who listen to me. I did not get the sense that the station was coming to the table with integrity. I couldn't stand it. I've been the good soldier, loyal year after year."
It was fifteen years ago when a young Pierre trekked across country in his VW van from San Francisco's KSAN the country's first progressive rock station to come to WMMR and work as weekend jock and record librarian.
"I love the support this community has given me. People, listeners have been so good to me. I owe people an explanation since the Inquirer piece missed the mark. Very cold. I think having read all the e-mail and letters being sent to me before all this shit went down is what led me to my decision to sit it out. I realize how important I am to people and how much I'm appreciated. I am an alternative in the best sense of the word to all the jive noise, all the blather, all the wet T-shirt contests and all the shouting."