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Recalling the days of Q Morning Zoo

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 02:54 PM

If you were living in the Tampa area in the 1980s, you may have started the day laughing at the antics on the Q Morning Zoo.

Radio personalities Scott Shannon and Cleveland Wheeler presided over a ground-breaking radio show on WRBQ (104.7) that mixed comedy, news and a cast of memorable characters.

The wildly popular irreverent program poked fun at local politicians, celebrities and newsmakers. It had just about everyone, including Tampa's movers and shakers, talking and listening.

"We always claimed that it was 'an equal opportunity offender' and there were no sacred cows," says Mason Dixon, who was program director and operations manager at Q105 during the '80s.

Dixon has been paying tribute to the glory days of the station with "throwback" segments this summer featuring comedy bits and voices from the past. "We've even brought back the Tookie Bird," says Dixon, referring to a bird call that signaled an on-air contest.

"This station has a lot of history and a lot of listeners who remember the Zoo," he says.

On Friday, Dixon's morning show on WRBQ will be crowded with nearly 30 people for a live reunion show from 6 to 10 a.m.

Among those expected are Bill Connolly, Pat Brooks, Roger P. Schulman, Ronnie "Night Train" Lane, Cat Summers, Deputy Mike, Pat George, Dick Crippen, Gayle Sierens, Arch Deal and the notorious Tunequa, star of a recurring gag "Tales of Tunequa."

Original co-host Scott Shannon had planned to be in Tampa, too, but he is involved in a promotion at his New York radio station. He will contribute by telephone, Dixon says.

Missing will be Wheeler, who now lives in Texas, and Nancy Alexander, who did traffic reports as "Nancy in the Sky."

The Zoo memories will continue all day Friday on WRBQ, culminating with a party and live broadcast of Mason's "Friday Festivities" from the Blue Martini at International Plaza.

Dixon wasn't a part of the original Zoo, but he worked closely with the crew in addition to having his own popular afternoon slot during that era.

With cutbacks in staff at all radio stations, cookie-cutter formats, consolidation of ownership and the fragmentation of the audience, many radio stations have lost creativity and local color.

Dixon says that that no radio station today could match the ratings and influence of the Q Morning Zoo. "At one point we had 85 people working on that show," he says. "That would be unheard of today. And the audience cut across all ages."

"Those were great days when we had a lot of freedom," says Connolly, who joined the Zoo as a regular after phoning in gag segments for free. "I would call up and do character voices. They liked it so much I got a job out of it," he says.

Connolly continued to do character voices and musical parodies on Dixon's morning show until he was laid off in 2008. Some of the Q Zoo segments can be found under the Throwback tab on MyQ105.com.

After 22 years, Wheeler says, "the one single thing that made it a hit was spontaneity. It was radio on the living room couch. It was Homer and 'Family Guy' in real life. It was people who lived and loved their town and connected with community."

Tune in Tonight

"Wipeout," 8 p.m., ABC

Sure, it's a stupid, mindless, slapstick kind of game show and a total waste of time, but we can't stop watching it.

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