(Jon Quick for Radio Ink) In a newly released memoir, Permanently Suspended: The Rise and Fall… and Rise Again of Radio’s Most Notorious Shock Jock, Anthony Cumia tells all about his storied and tumultuous radio career. One of the most infamous shock radio legends of all time, best known for the Opie and Anthony Show, there is nothing off limits in this book.
Cumia openly discusses the facts leading up to many of the outrageous pranks that made the show famous, but incidents that also got him fired. More than once. He recalls his early life growing up in New York with an insanely funny but dangerously alcoholic father, a move to California, and a return to New York for good.
The book chronicles the Opie and Anthony Show from 1995 to 2014, starting out at WAAF, Boston. After being fired due an April Fools’ prank where they announced the Mayor of Boston had died, they moved to WNEW and national syndication. After another firing as a result of a stunt featuring a couple having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the duo was kept from working for two years by Infinity. They returned to the air on XM Satellite Radio in 2004. Two years later, the second half of the O&A Show also aired on radio stations owned by CBS. In 2014, the show ended forever after SiriusXM fired Anthony for a series of tweets the company claimed were “racially charged.” Opie and Anthony then embarked on separate careers. Today, Cumia hosts his own show on his own network.
Cumia discusses his first break, his own addictions, a love-hate relationship with Stern, marriage, a Letterman appearance, his fear of Mel, and why he’d hire Anthony Weiner to do radio.
The book further tells how Howard Stern was both an early influence and later a constant force to be reckoned with, his disdain for certain GMs and PDs, and why Cumia says his former friend and partner Opie is no longer a significant part of his life.
This book is a fun read for anyone interested in a real behind-the-scenes look at one of the most infamous shock jocks of all time, including loads of sex, women, crazy insane stunts, bad management, and how terrestrial radio today is mostly devoid of real entertainment and creativity.
We caught up with Cumia in his New York home, which also doubles as the studio for his current video show The Anthony Cumia Show with Dave Landau. He candidly answers our questions about many of the revealing stories in his book.
Quick: Let’s get right at it. Opie. What really caused your split?
Cumia: We basically just grew apart. A lot like a divorce. When I was married, Opie and his girlfriend would hang together with my wife and me all the time. When I split from my wife, the chemistry changed. There was tension. Opie seemed to get more controlling and there was a sense of resentment and maybe jealousy.
Quick: So, no chance of a reunion?
Cumia: Haven’t’ been in the same room together since I got fired from Sirius, though he has called into my current show. I really don’t see it.
Quick: But you do thank him in the book.
Cumia: Yeah. Truth is, early on, Opie saw my talent and got me into radio which forever changed my life, in the best way possible. A helluva jump from my previous job, driving in from Long Island in my beat up company van going out to fix air conditioners.
Quick: Besides Opie, who were some of your other influences?
Cumia: Gotta say Stern, of course. I used to listen to him all the time while I was driving that truck. We later became arch enemies and fierce competitors. I ‘d also have to say early Imus back in the 70s on WNBC. Also, loved all those “boss jocks. Ron Lundy. Dan Ingram. Gerry Martire at WBAB and great bits like “Gerry’s Gin Joint.” They’d create a powerful picture in your mind through the use of sound. You just don’t hear that kind of creativity anymore.
Quick: You grew up in New York with a crazy family life and an alcoholic father. You say he “worked hard at not working.” Did that contribute in any way to the entertainer you are today?
Cumia: There was always turmoil in my life growing up. Dad drank a lot. A lot. He would not only drink and drive. He drank while he drove. It caused me extreme anxiety which carried over to later in my life. Yet, dad was a funny man, despite the fact you’d never call him “Father of the Year.” Certainly, the whole situation was an influence on my desire to make people laugh.
Quick: Jim Norton – third voice and comedian on the O&A Show – calls you a brother and loves you dearly, but says in the preface of your book, “Hilarious jokes and thick skin aside, Anthony is a flawed human being with the impulse control of a 12-year old … despite his brilliance, he still resorts to calling people “d*&^%$s” and f*&^%$s.” Fair?
Cumia: Not only fair. But perfect.
Quick: You tell about getting the shit beat out of you by Boomer (Esiason, mornings on WFAN, New York) when you were in high school.
Cumia: Yea, I never had a chance against him. He was the big guy who liked to throw his weight around. Did a charity event with him one time a few years back and we were able to laugh about it.
Quick: You have a disdain for certain management people, most notably the PD you renamed Dave “Dickless.” Have you ever had a good one?
Cumia: Ron Valeri at WAAF was a great PD, although he left shortly after we arrived. He was replaced with a “Dickless” guy who just never got what we do and tried to interfere. So, we started doing the opposite of what he told us.
Quick: Sex certainly was an essential ingredient in your programs. You made it big in Maxim and Penthouse.
Cumia: Stunts with women and sex were a big part of it, on and off the air. But the FCC and management kept interfering. We thought there would be more freedom on satellite radio. But that only lasted awhile until management there lost their spine and got nervous. Which is why I love what I do now on my own network. Nobody is there telling me how to do what I do.
Quick: There were some pranks that got you fired. The death of the Mayor of Boston on April Fools’ Day; sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, among others. Any regrets?
Cumia: So much time has passed, but really no regrets. It was part of what we did. Management liked us when the ratings went up and tried to look the other way. Underneath they are so fearful of getting fired themselves that they stifle creativity and are afraid to take risks. Sad, especially today.
Quick: After you got fired in Boston, you ended up in New York at WNEW. First, you had to get the blessing of Mel (Karmazin). What was that like?
Cumia: Mel was a monster, I was truly afraid of him. He gave us a job but never wanted us to f*** with his morning show. That was Howard, of course. They made millions together.
Quick: You were incredibly nervous about your appearance with Opie on Letterman.
Cumia: I was, because this is about as big as it gets. You don’t want to screw that up.
Quick: Once you got on the couch next to Dave, you were hilarious. You carried the show.
Cumia: Yeah, it was good. Dave especially liked my impersonation of Howard. I think Opie might have been a bit jealous. Right after the show a bunch of us went out and partied. It was a good night.
Quick: Talk a little more about XM/Sirius Days. K-Rock and satellite radio at the same time.
Cumia: For a while we’d finish our show at K-Rock, then walk down the street to do satellite radio. On the way we’d interview street people. Fans would come out. There were people holding up signs.
Quick: That was a really creative element on the show, but it was also great grassroots marketing.
Cumia: PDs nowadays complain that they don’t get marketing money. There is no marketing money today. The good ones know the art of creating events, street talk, interacting with audience to make them love you even more.
Quick: You talk in the book about having a stent put in at 42 years old and there is a chapter on going through rehab. How are you feeling now at 57?
Cumia: Health is good. I don’t think I ever had a problem with alcohol. I went into rehab in Florida because they told me to. A beautiful peaceful place, honestly, but no booze. I finished my month and went right out and had a beer.
Quick: Any advice to young broadcasters today?
Cumia: Work hard, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. Develop your comedy and find a place to do it. It’s harder and harder to find a radio station today where they let you do your thing. Mainly because of all the corporate people who insist on doing everything the same.
Today’s radio environment is insane. Then there’s the FCC. No telling what will upset the FCC and screw you for life. But I guess radio will always be around. The great companies will integrate all of the newer platforms for delivery, such as Web streaming and podcasts where there truly is freedom.
Quick: Talk about your current venture, Compound Media.
Cumia: I own the company so we can do anything we want. It’s all subscription-based and pure entertainment, plus hot topics, some of our all-time favorite guests. The Anthony Cumia Show with Dave Landau is the flagship program, Monday to Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern. We’re also able to showcase some fabulous new talent with eight other shows available. It’s about the most fun I’ve had and we’re always looking for new people and ideas.
Cumia: A mere $8.99 a month. Sign up at CompoundMedia.com.
Quick: Finally, you really would give (former New York Representative) Anthony Weiner a job?
Cumia: Absolutely. Sure. Weiner’s getting out of prison next May; early because of “good behavior.” Not sure I want to know what that really means. He did an absurdly insane thing and is certainly a twisted sort of personality. There is an audience for it. The door is open.
Permanently Suspended: The Rise and Fall… and Rise Again of Radio’s Most Notorious Shock Jock, written by Anthony Cumia with Johnny Russo and Brad Trackman, is now on sale, published by Post Hill Press and distributed by Simon & Schuster.
Jon Quick has programmed great radio stations for CBS and Emmis, among others. Today he consults many radio brands and owns a public relations and advertising agency. Jon can be reached at 317-432-0309 or [email protected]