With more than three decades of experience, WMMR's Pierre Robert is one of Philly rock radio's elder statesmen. But you won't find him dwelling on the past.
Robert, 61, says he is happy "living in the now" — something he's been doing at WMMR-FM (93.3) since 1981. So far, it's paid off, but it didn't always seem it would.
The California native arrived in Philly 35 years ago with little more than "Minerva," his 1972 Volkswagen Microbus, and a $500 loan from his father, having wrapped a run at San Francisco's KSAN-FM. Ever the optimist, Robert hoped to get right into radio when he arrived here with a friend who was relocating to Philadelphia.
Instead, he ended up working at health-food store Essene, off South Street, for several months, wondering whether the move east was the wisest choice. But within a year, Joe Bonnadonna, WMMR station manager at the time, hired him for the overnight shift. Within weeks, he moved to middays.
Since then, he's grown into a local rock-radio fixture who's been part of virtually every major popular music happening in Philadelphia, from Live Aid in 1985 to Live 8 in 2005 and beyond. He celebrated 35 years with WMMR late last month, complete with a cake version of the Microbus that brought him here.
You've probably heard him between tracks, addressing the "good citizens" of Philadelphia or giving updates on our "boys in blue" from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. He has a heavy influence over his set lists, which often include anything from Green Day to Led Zeppelin. It's an unusually present, melting-pot style of rock radio that's been giving Philadelphians of all stripes something to listen to for a generation.
Robert recently spoke with us about his 35th anniversary, what made him stick around so long, and whether there is any end in sight.
So, Pierre, 35 years at a single station. Are you tired yet?
I'm actually having more fun than ever. I don't feel old and I don't feel tired. I know people a quarter of my age that can't keep up with me. I'm in the mosh pit at Green Day [concerts]. I like mosh pits in general. It's a very tribal kind of thing.
That doesn't seem like a very safe place for a longtime Philly radio icon.
It's funny because people say — they started saying this about 15 years ago — "You're an icon." Come on, please. A plumber is an icon if they've been plumbing for 15 years at Joe's Plumbing Supply or whatever. But I'm completely honored that people like me enough here that I've been allowed to stay. It's a tough town. If they don't like you, they let you know.
How has Philly changed since you arrived?
It's all good news in that department, but it's certainly not perfect. I wish I could take a giant spray bottle of self-esteem and fly, like a wizard, over the city, spraying so the self-esteem droplets would drop all over the city and it would stand up to gather its full potential. I want it to rise higher. I want it to climb the mountain.
Do you ever miss the good old days of radio?
I really like living in the now. The thing about radio is that it's very present time. You might have a great show, but it's gone. You might have a terrible show, but it's gone. I equate it to standing on the side of a fast-moving river after a rainstorm. The flotsam and jetsam, it's all flowing down, and you get ready for it, and it hits you, and it keeps going on. It's nice to acknowledge markers, but you don't want to live in that marker — you want to keep going in present time.
What about WMMR has made you stick around?
The longer I stayed here at this station, the more I realized how special it was. It's almost like its own life force. Not to sound too cosmic, but there's an energy here that makes it an amazing train to be on. Now, as the train has stopped at different stations, some have gotten off, but many have gotten on — of all different age groups. Here we are, and I've got everyone from 16- to 86-year-olds listening. It's a pretty amazing spread of audience.
WMMR celebrated 48 years running this year. What do you think is the source of the station's staying power?
I think it's always reflected what's going on. There's almost nothing like 'MMR left in the country. We're not like a classic-rock station — we play new stuff. It's that reflection of music, old and fresh, that has kept the station together. Like the Rolling Stones, the station is better than it's ever been.
What current band best represents that "old and fresh" attitude?
It's embodied the best in the Foo Fighters. You go to see them, and here's the drummer from Nirvana who formed his own band, and the songs are incredible. They'll break into Queen songs and Tom Petty songs. Dave Grohl has played with Paul McCartney. They get the interconnected nature of music. It's all related — one thing flows into another.
How have you approached your hosting duties?
In England, DJs are called presenters. I like that, because you're sort of like a waiter at a restaurant who goes to a table and says, "Here's the dish that the chef has been cooking for years" — your Rolling Stones, your Led Zeppelin — "but we have a new dish the chef just pulled out, just try it — you'll like it." I don't hit every base, newer or older, but I do the best I can at sampling dishes from all over. All of our DJs in some form or another have done that.
After 35 years, why is music still important to you? What keeps you in love with it?
Music, with the possible exception of love, is the most powerful and positive force on this earth. I'm still moved by that. Sometimes I go, "I don't know if I want to go to a show; I could stay home and watch TV." I'll get in and see the band come on, and I go, "Of course — this is why I came here. I love this. This is my life force." I just stood up out of my chair as I said that.
When it comes to your days on WMMR, is there any end in sight?
Like Sid Mark likes to say at the end of his Sinatra show, "God willing and all things being equal, I'll see you back here next week." I like that phrase, so God willing and all things being equal, 'MMR will hit our 50th anniversary in a year and a half, and I might make it to 40, maybe. I don't consider my journey anywhere near done.