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TV Beckons, but He Still Idolizes Radio

The success of 'American Idol' thrust DJ Ryan Seacrest into the national spotlight, but he won't forsake his 'first love.'

September 13, 2002|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The last three months have hardly represented a leisurely summer vacation for the omnipresent Ryan Seacrest.

Along with sidekick Lisa Foxx, Seacrest is the host of a popular weekday afternoon radio show at adult alternative rock station Star 98, (KYSR-FM, 98.7). He also works as a weekend correspondent-anchor for the celebrity-driven television news program "Extra!," is host of the game show "Ultimate Revenge" on cable's TNN and pilots his own nationally syndicated weekly radio show.

As if he wasn't already overloaded, the 27-year-old Atlanta native added another venture last June: Fox's talent show "American Idol," which quickly became television's runaway summer hit. Last week, nearly 28 million Americans watched as Seacrest announced that Kelly Clarkson had beaten Justin Guarini to walk away with a recording contract.

For the upbeat and affable Seacrest, who was co-host of "American Idol" with comedian Brian Dunkleman, the show represented a major turning point.

"I had a degree of anonymity when I was just doing the radio show and not having much television exposure," said Seacrest, who spoke by phone this week from Italy, where he was vacationing. "But 'American Idol' was sampled on such a broad scope with male, female, young and old viewers. I had an opportunity to be exposed to a lot more people across the board than I would through my radio show."

Seacrest says he's enjoyed the added public attention he's received because of "American Idol's" success. He's even been approached by American fans of the show this week while he was visiting a small, coastal Italian village.

Nevertheless, he has no desire to leave radio. He says he rejected several television offers that came his way recently and will announce in the next week or so a new "multidimensional" radio venture with Clear Channel Communications, the parent company of KYSR.

"People have asked me, 'Why do you still want to do radio if you have an opportunity to do [more] TV?' " he says. "I respond, 'Why would you ask that question?' Radio has been my first love since I was a little boy. Radio certainly laid the foundation for my comfort on television. Radio has become an extension of me. I've always wanted to do both radio and TV."

Synergy is a word that comes up often when talking with Seacrest about his various jobs. "American Idol" has become a hot topic of discussion on his Star 98 show, and he has used the program to interview some of the contestants the day after they were eliminated.

Paul O'Malley, vice president and general manager of KYSR, says it's too soon to know whether ratings for Seacrest's 3-7 p.m. weekday show have gone up this summer, but he says the station has reaped other benefits from his increased visibility. "Ryan has been a celebrity locally for some time, but it's the national advertisers like Coca-Cola that have really jumped on the bandwagon," he says. "They want to get a piece of him."

Seacrest joined KYSR in 1995, left for a job in San Francisco and then returned in 1997. He says the core audience for his show is women 25 to 34. He and Foxx talk openly about their personal lives and relationships in between songs by such artists as Coldplay, Goo Goo Dolls, Sheryl Crow and Beck.

Seacrest also hosts a weekly show featuring live, in-studio performances by musical artists and interviews with these performers. The 90-minute "Live From the Lounge With Ryan Seacrest" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on KYSR.

By age 10, Seacrest knew he wanted a career in radio or television. As a child, he would create audiotapes featuring him as a DJ counting down the hits or taking requests. At 15, he befriended Tom Sullivan, a nighttime disc jockey at Atlanta's WSTR-FM, who allowed the young radio hound to hang out at the station and learn how it operated.

One night, Sullivan fell ill and was unable to host his show.

"Tom thought the boss was out of town," Seacrest recalls. "So he said, 'You go on the air.' So I did. Then the hotline rang and it was the boss, Tony Novia. I was 15 1/2 years old and I didn't know what to say. I thought it was over for me at the station. I went into Tony's office the next day after school and he told me I wasn't bad. He committed to coaching me and, at 17, he put me on the air as a weekend disc jockey. I was very, very lucky."

As a freshman at the University of Georgia, Seacrest landed a position as host of ESPN's "Radical Outdoor Challenge," a kids' show in which athletes competed against one another for cash prizes.

A year later, in 1994, he headed to Hollywood, where his first job was as host of a kids' version of "American Gladiators." Then he hooked up with Star 98.

"It's been one heck of a story balancing all the different things I've been doing lately," he says. "But it hasn't felt like too much. Are you busy? Sure. Are you tired? Absolutely. But look at what I get to do for a living. It's been great."

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