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FAMILY | RADIO

A Veteran of the Airwaves--at Age 13

What's up with Evan Roberts? Just about everything for your average eighth-grader with his own national weekly broadcast.

August 18, 1996|Lynne Heffley | Lynne Heffley is a Times staff writer

What's up, halloo, how do ya do, this is Evan Roberts and welcome to What's Up, with me, Evan Roberts, here on Radio AAHS. . . . This show, "What's Up? With Evan Roberts," is a little different than most of the shows you hear on Radio AAHS. This is talk, whatever you want to talk about just call up and talk to me. . . . It's a free phone call, what a deal. . . .

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If it wasn't for the fact that broadcaster Evan Roberts' voice hasn't yet dipped into the lower registers, you'd swear that the unhesitating verbal flow, emphatic cadences and glibly rolled syllables belonged to some 30-year-old veteran of the airwaves.

A 13-year-old national talk-show host, Evan Roberts has only been on the air since May (he was 12 then), but this freckle-faced, red-headed baby broadcaster is astonishingly comfortable behind the microphone. The eighth-grader is heard weekly, live from his Long Island bedroom studio, over the Children's Broadcasting Corp.'s 24-hour kids' radio network, Radio AAHS, reaching audiences in 27 states, from Anchorage to Orange to Orlando.

During his hourlong show, Roberts takes calls from listeners his own age, give or take a few years, does feature bits, funny news, sports reports and ad-libs up a storm, while taking cues from his producer back in Minneapolis, the network's headquarters.

Sure, there are occasional grammatical slips and pronunciation glitches, but nothing throws this radio pro, whose on-air career began when he delivered a New York Mets play-by-play to a local radio station at age 9.

"Really, I just try to have my own style," Roberts said, after naming NBC's Bob Costas and Mets announcer Gary Cohen as tops on his most-admired list. "I try to make the kids comfortable when they call up. When other people do talk shows they don't even want kids calling up."

It's something he knows firsthand, having been hung up on in the past.

For Roberts, a good talk-show host "should always know his stuff, never be at a loss [for] words, and whenever a kid calls up, be ready for what they ask about."

The Mets are hot, folks, they are bidding for the wild card, they're playing the Expos today, I am pumped up about the Mets, and of course we'll get into that a little bit later on in sports. . . .

It was Roberts' own enterprising nature and cyberspace acumen that brought him to the attention of Radio AAHS execs--and enabled him to start a college fund.

"I was on America Online, and I looked up different people's profiles and I found Gary Landis [Radio AAHS executive vice president of programming]. I sent him a tape, and before I knew it, he flew in from New York to meet me. He liked me and I had a show."

That's pretty much the way it happened, according to Landis.

Christopher Dahl, president of Children's Broadcasting Corp., "had been wanting to do a show hosted by a kid almost from the day I got here in 1992," Landis said. "I bought the concept, but my line was that we will do the show when we find the kid. . . . And here I am, looking for that kid for nearly four years, and he found us."

The day he received Roberts' e-mail, Landis e-mailed a response, then talked to Roberts' parents. "The next day, Evan had his media kit on my desk, complete with video."

Without even looking at the video, however, Landis had a "gut feeling" he'd found his host, just from looking at a photo of the "impish and precocious"-looking boy. "It was consistent with the vision I had had all along."

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Pretty, blond Barbara . . . has a bizarre boast: She's the world's only airhead, literally. If you blow gently into the Topeka, Kan., girl's right ear, the blast of air will pass through her head and exit from her left ear. . . . I like it.

*

Besides "Wacky News," Roberts has regular segments on sports, "Sing for Stuff" and "Guess What I'm Eating" bits.

That's not all: "We have 'Surf's Up,' where I go on America Online, the World Wide Web, Prodigy and tell listeners about it," Roberts said, plus a "Question of the Night" "on all sorts of topics": "All righty then, best present, worst present, what do you want to talk about? "

Although he has a script--Roberts does his share of writing, too--"most of the time I'm ad-libbing," he said. "I never know what's going to happen--it just comes out of my mouth."

"He's the kind who can look at a piece of paper, get the essences and go on his own," Landis noted. "The script is merely there as something to lend support, because all the while he's talking--and this is another indication that this is a brilliant young man--he's wearing a set of headphones and the producer, P. J. Gudmundson, back in Minneapolis, is throwing cues to him in his headphones."

Roberts, whose parents and 16-year-old sister are his biggest boosters, became a broadcasting fan at an early age, according to his mother, when dad Joel would "announce" nighttime sports events the next morning for his son, who was too young at the time to stay up for them.

At about age 6, "Evan began calling his dad at the office and announcing sports events," said Janice Roberts, a children's songwriter. "He would announce from the time he got up till he went to sleep. I'd listen to his raspy voice in the bathroom in the morning. I couldn't believe it."

It was Mom who, after her music was used on the Mets' local kids' radio sports show, got Evan a tryout play-by-play gig in the Mets booth during spring training. "He blew them away," she said.

Perhaps, then, Roberts' plan for the future isn't so surprising.

"I want to keep on doing this show as long as I can," he said, "but when I grow older, when I'm 30 or 35, my goal is to become the radio broadcaster of the New York Mets." Watch out, Gary Cohen.

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