NEW JERSEY’S TOP RADIO MORNING SHOW HOST BUILDS ON A WIDE-RANGING AND ECLECTIC CAREER
BY ERIK SCHONING • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
When Bill Spadea answers the phone, the host of the NJ 101.5 Morning Show is in the thick of what might seem to anyone else an abnormally busy day. After his usual 6 a.m. show and a lunch meeting with an advertiser, Spadea is en route to a fundraiser for a state senatorial candidate, followed by a speech at a chamber of commerce event at a salon training academy. The day’s schedule will take him across three counties, but for Spadea, it’s just another day at the office. Spadea is the first to admit he never foresaw himself hosting New Jersey’s top morning show.
A Garden State native, Spadea graduated from Boston University in 1991 and promptly enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving in the reserves until his honorable discharge in 1999. After a stint in politics, he got into the real estate business, working for the Weichert family of companies for 13 years as a vice president and broker. One day, Spadea was called to do an interview on the pilot episode of a show on FOX. He met producer Jerry Burke, with whom he launched Chasing News, which ran for seven years. “A few months into Chasing News launching – it was still called Chasing New Jersey then – I got a call from a friend saying, ‘Hey, do you know Dennis and Judi [hosts on NJ 101.5) are making fun of you on the air right now?”’ Spadea said. “So my producer and I called Dennis and Judi and said, ‘Hey, before you guys make fun of us, why don’t you come to the studio? Judi and I hit it off and became fast friends, and a couple of weeks later, she said, ‘Dennis is taking a day off, why don’t you fill in for him?’”
In 2015, Spadea took the 101.5 Morning Show reins from retiring longtime host Jim Gearhart. Spadea knew he had big shoes to fill: Gearhart had built the show from the ground up, and Spadea had to win over both the audience and the advertisers. He was determined to create a new brand that still paid tribute to Gearhart’s legacy. Spadea became known as an outside-of-the-box host in a radio landscape dominated by big personalities: he brought bands into the studio, relied on his experience in business, politics, military, and stand-up comedy, and over time his show’s ratings and market share picked up. Spadea credits his success on air with radio’s intimacy.
He is always looking for common ground, settling on relatable issues. (For about a third of his show, Spadea talks about food.) As he put it, people may disagree on eight out of ten issues, but he’ll find the two they do agree on. This formula allows him to develop relationships with his listeners. “In radio, I’m sitting in the passenger seat while you’re driving to work, angry about the traffic,” Spadea said. “And I envision myself talking to one person. That’s why it works, because it’s very personal for me. We’re friends and we’re both driving to work together. There’s nothing else like it. That’s why terrestrial radio isn’t going anywhere.” But radio is only one component of Spadea’s work these days. Despite his daily 3:30 a.m. alarm (Spadea is on the air at 6:08 a.m. every weekday), he makes time for meetings with clients and advertisers after his four-hour show wraps.
Three days a week, he and his wife Jodi do hot yoga at a local studio before Spadea launches into the political portion of his day. Spadea is the founder of Common Sense Club, a conservative organization focused on New Jersey politics. The last chunk of his day is spent running a production company that he launched with his friend, comedian Jay Black. Their most recent film, Her Fiance’s Double Life, launched recently on Lifetime. Spadea’s work days typically end at 10 p.m., and as he quipped, 3:30 a.m. comes at the same time every morning. A simple routine this is not. And in addition to his myriad business ventures, there is always time for his family life. Spadea and his wife have been married for 28 years. His daughter, Elizabeth, works as a brand manager in London and his son, Michael, is a rising junior at San Diego State. His two kids live eight time zones apart.
One of the hallmarks of Spadea’s morning show is Small Business Mondays, a 101.5 institution. Supporting local businesses is an important part of his political agenda, and Spadea invites owners to call in and plug their business. The studio is often flooded with calls, a testament to the relation-ships Spadea has built with listeners. “We’ll go through a couple dozen small businesses on the show,” he said. “Then I put my money where my mouth is and I do free appearances at these businesses. Sometimes we’ll get 75 or 100 people who show up at a local diner. It’s great for their business. They’re selling more omelets, and I get to meet people one-on-one. Another important and long-lasting segment is Blue Friday, where we honor local law enforcement officers every week. It’s now in its 8th year.” Spadea is essentially working multiple careers at once, though he’s committed to maintaining balance. Wherever his professional life takes him next, he’s certain his work will, in some form, involve connecting with the people of New Jersey. For somebody who’s done a little bit of everything, anything is on the table.