For most of the past two decades, Randy Cook and Spiff Carner have been yukking it up on Atlanta radio. Their formula is simple: light patter and general goofiness with a parody song thrown in for good measure.
Their heyday was in the 1990s with Fox 97.1 (”Good Times and Great Oldies!”) when ratings and revenues were skyhigh and they’d sell 40,000-plus seats at the Georgia Dome for the Ultimate Oldies concert.
The pair are now at their fifth home, True Oldies 106.7, which is surprisingly thriving. I visited the team last week to see how things are going now that they’ve reunited after a two-year forced separation.
“We’re still breathing!” Randy said.
I caught them working one topic that morning: Spiff’s daughter works for a publicity firm that oversaw a big Knoxville, Tenn. opening of “New Moon.” The question posed to listeners: have you ever stalked a celebrity?
They got stories about “Twilight,” Davy Jones, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field going back to the “Smokey & the Bandit” days, a movie theater worker who didn’t recognize James Brown and a cab driver who had no clue who Sugar Ray, the band, was (he was thinking Sugar Ray Leonard.)
Despite a relatively modest marketing campaign, True Oldies the past two years has become a solid top 10 radio station. By playing a wide variety of music, culled mostly from the 1960s and 1970s (with a few ’50s and ’80s cuts thrown in), True Oldies brings in a wide expanse of 35 to 64 year olds.
But under the new people meter measurements (which tracks actual listening as opposed to after-the-fact recall), the station is drawing more younger listeners than expected.
“A lot of younger people wouldn’t admit to listening to us,” Randy said. He notes that the station is often a third or fourth station for someone who regularly tunes into B98.5 or Star 94 and when listeners used to write out diaries, they’d forget about the oldies station.
That morning, they got some folks who were clearly Baby Boomers but at least two were in their 20s. Fans will often note how old they were when they first started listening to Randy & Spiff. Take Mandy from Lithonia, who is now in her late 20s.
Spiff tried to guess how old she was when she first tuned into Fox 97.1. “So you were 12 years old?” he asked.
Mandy paused, then cracked, “If that makes you happy.” (She was more like eight.)
“You’re killing me!” Spiff exclaimed. “Thanks for making me feel so young!” (Spiff is 58; Randy is 49.)
The station, programmed by legend Scott Shannon, runs a far greater variety of music than Fox 97 in its later days or Cool 105.7, the Clear Channel oldies station that was around from 2003 to 2005.
Randy was thrilled, for instance, to hear a Guess Who song “Star Baby.” “Over 20 years, I’ve never played that song,” he said.
Spiff, who always wears a cap, is more recognized on the street than Randy, who thinks he resembles a nondescript “insurance man.” He has also been told he resembles Rick Moranis, the actor from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!” He rolled his eyes at that one.
Spiff joined True Oldies several months before Randy, who had been doing mornings at news/talk WGST-AM until October. In fact, the pair tried to do a morning news program on WGST early 2007 but after a few months, it was clear this didn’t work. Management dumped Spiff later that year, leaving Randy to fend for himself. Ratings were not good.
But Randy learned a lot about news and how to interview folks while at GST. It was rigorous work, he noted. “I’m happy to be here now,” Randy said. “They wanted more opinion. That’s not me. I did develop a lot of skills I didn’t know I had.”
“The bathrooms over there were very clean,” Spiff joked.
Randy & Spiff through the years in Atlanta
1989-2003: Fox 97.1 (oldies)
2003-2005: Cool 105.7 (oldies)
2005-2006: Lite 94.9 (soft rock)
2007: 640/WGST-AM (news/talk)
2009: True Oldies 106.7 (oldies)