November 20, 2009
World Of 98 Rock’s Josh Spiegel
He’s 98 Rock’s news maven.Phil Jacobs
So it’s not exactly the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, but 98 Rock newsman extraordinaire Josh Spiegel aka Spiegel! let it be known to on-air personalities Mickey, Amelia and to the hundreds of thousands who were listening that he wanted to be on the cover of the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES.
We received e-mails and phone calls from listeners asking, “Why not Spiegel?”
We called Spiegel.
And here we are.
Spiegel is on the cover of the JEWISH TIMES.
As Dr. Hook continued, “Wanna see my picture on the cover. Wanna buy five copies for my mother.”
Spiegel, 34, came to 98 Rock as the morning news guy in 2005. He was there after the passing of one of Baltimore radio’s rock legends, Bob Lopez of the Kirk, Mark and Lopez show. When Kirk McEwen and Mark Ondayko left for WHFS, Spiegel was teamed up with Mickey Cucchiella, Amelia Ryerse and executive producer Scott Reardon.
The team has become the morning wake-up and drive-time radio family for demographics that go from teen to boomer.
Spiegel always seems to find the quirky news item that no one has ever heard of before. Or better yet, he takes a different approach to major news stories. He works with and in between the commentary of Mickey and Amelia. The three are like scales on a page of music, different tunes, tones, volumes and nuances, all producing almost a sound to the back and forth commentary.
The thing about Spiegel is that even with some of the more difficult news pieces, he gives a feeling as if there’s a perspective of humor that will make us all land on our feet. Even if we’re not interested in a particular news event, Spiegel gets us interested with quirky instead of coaxing or faux concern.
Last week, while the news media were hounding Mayor Dixon over her alleged gift card misuse, Spiegel played “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from “Annie.”
Also, when the Republicans won the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, Spiegel played “Dancing in the Streets.”
He comes across the air as socially awkward. But it’s smart socially awkward.
Spiegel delivers the news and weather between 6 and 10 a.m. His day at the studio begins as early as 4 a.m. checking into news stories and audio he can use with them. On a day in late September there’s a shutdown of the Harbor Tunnel to report and yet some more news on the late pop star Michael Jackson.
Spiegel is like an alarm clock you wait to go off without knowing what time it is pre-set for. He is funny, but his face comes across as if he doesn’t know how funny he really is. He calls himself a radio personality, not a news person.
“I’m a radio personality who loves news and reporting on variations of the news,” he said during an interview at the 98 Rock studios.
It didn’t, he said, all start out this way with Kirk and Mark or for that matter Mickey and Amelia. He would become more involved in the shows by bantering with its hosts, and that he said is sometimes more enjoyable than just straight reporting.
“I learned the timing of the co-hosts,” he said. “You also have to take risks. It’s important to be different.”
“Spiegel is a very unique individual,” said Reardon. “He’s creative like an artist. He can be very shy, but when he’s behind the mike, then the real Josh comes out. That’s where he is truly at home.”
Spiegel grew up in Silver Spring in what he described as a modern Orthodox family. He attended the Hebrew Academy in Montgomery County and middle school here at the Talmudical Academy.
“There was a lot of joking around in the family,” he said. “It was nice, it was relaxed.”
He is one of three children, with a sister living in New York with her husband and seven children, and a sister in Toronto. Spiegel says with a concerned look that he tells his sisters not to listen to him on the radio.
Jewishly, he said that he “does the best I can. The Jewish community has been nice. I get invitations from strangers for Rosh Hashanah dinner.”
He is an Owings Mills resident, and he said that when he’s been to a shul, and he named Beth Tfiloh, that he’s really never been approached about his radio career or what he said on a particular day on the air.
On the show, his Jewish identity he said “comes up in a joking way. But I don’t want it to define my character, but it is an important part of that character. I try not to be a poster boy of Judaism. I rarely do a story on Israel, but I’m very positive about Israel,” a country he has visited.
On this day in the studio, there were comments about Spiegel and Judaism and Spiegel’s wish to be on the cover of the JEWISH TIMES. Like he does with most of the on-air situations, he went with the flow. And it became even funnier.
“I’m somewhat in conflict when people say stuff,” he said. “And I share stuff with the audience that I don’t even share with my own family.”
He loves being on the radio, and he said he sometimes he feels more comfortable on the air than anywhere else.
Spiegel comes across as kind-hearted loner. He admitted that he can be very comfortable by himself. He likes being at home and watching TV. He’s into “Family Guy,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
He’s seriously not into sports, and that in itself is funny. His station, 98 Rock, broadcasts Ravens games live. Many times the conversation in the studio is focused on the game with Mickey and Amelia knowledgeable football fans.
On his Web site, Joshspiegel.com , he commented on Ravens player Lardarius Webb:
“It’s so exciting. It’s so amazing to watch Lardarius Webb. I don’t know much about football, but I could hear myself saying run Lardarius run and you’ll make it. I couldn’t understand why the Broncos players were so horrible that they couldn’t jump like two feet and tackle Lardarius. He wasn’t that far away. I think besides the cheering crowd it helps that Lardarius has long hair that sticks out of his helmet. It beats against his back so it’s like his hair is patting him on the back encouraging him as he runs. One other thing I wanted to say about the Broncos is the player who threw a kiss at the crowd who scored a touchdown for the Broncos has a special place in the underworld. That was arrogant and obnoxious and I’m not going to stand for it.”
On his Web site, Spiegel lists among the causes he supports, the ASPCA (“I’m crazy about my dog Pumpernickle), Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (“After a loved one died of ovarian cancer, I realized this disease is under-reported. I had never heard about it until it personally touched me”) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (“It’s important to never forget what happened”).
One of his studio partners Mickey says that Spiegel is insecure and self-deprecating yet one of the funniest people he’s ever met.
“I don’t think he knows sometimes how funny he is,” said Mickey.
Mickey is a longtime radio personality, a successful stand-up comic and 100 percent Baltimore. Reading an audience is important, he said. In-studio over the years, he, Amelia and Spiegel have learned to read off of each other.
“I think there was in like any relationship, some getting to know one another. I was used to talking to Amelia only, and then incorporating the third voice, and such a strange one at that.”
Mickey said that Spiegel can “click” into a serious news story when appropriate, and it reminds him that Spiegel was a news guy first before he became a personality. He said that Spiegel takes on the news with such interest that he would watch it 24 hours a day if he could.
“He does an amazing job,” said Mickey. “He has the ability to say the sad things without sounding like he is taking a side in a story but there is emotion still involved. Also, sports means nothing to him. I almost envy that.”
Mickey added that he does notice how Spiegel pays enough attention to sports, especially the Orioles and Ravens, now to contribute if and when the teams should play a part in a news broadcast.
What is there about Spiegel his listeners might not know?
Mickey said, “He is really caring about our personal lives. If something is wrong with one of us, or a family member, he’s usually the first one to ask us how everything is going or what can he do to help? He’s a good Jewish boy at heart.”
Mickey, who was raised a Catholic, said that Spiegel’s self-deprecation rings familiar. He said that in both Catholic and Jewish families, modesty is important.
“He and I go through the same thing. We have to show humility while what we do takes a lot of ego and arrogance and is narcissistic.”
Program director Dave Hill brought Spiegel over to 98 Rock from WHFS following the death of Lopez, who was an icon of news reporting in a rock format.
“When Josh took the job here, there were people who said to him you have pretty big shoes to fill,” he said. “Josh said, ‘That’s OK, I brought my own shoes.’ He was the only person who could have pulled that off, and I’m glad to say that it worked out.”
Hill said that with strong personalities in Mickey and Amelia and a strong producer in Reordan, the blend seemed to make everyone better and stronger, including Spiegel.
“He’s a lunatic with a microphone,” Hill jokingly said of Spiegel. “I think he’s one of the most creative people I’ve met in my life. I can always remember this: when he first came here, I put him on the air for two hours, and he was doing his Josh Spiegel shtick. So we had a meeting, and I told him he had to tone back on the weirdness bit. He gave me this look. A year and a half later, I realized it wasn’t a bit. And I don’t want him to change in any way. Let’s just say he’s a little bit awkward. He’s not trying to be weird on purpose. He’s just that way.
“When we lost Lopez, for me there were a lot of sleepless nights, and then I heard Josh on WHFS,” continued Hill. “I think I knew from the beginning there was something different about him. He was very awkward, but genuine. I thought his delivery would work. Finding someone as unique as Josh, I’m glad to say it did work out. His instincts are sharper than most. I go with his editorial judgment. My dad was an executive for the Coca-Cola Co., and he once said to me, you hire the best people for the job and let them do it. Josh is a remarkable newsman.”
Spiegel is single, and that sometimes is the topic of conversation on the station.
Indeed, Dave Hill said, “I can’t part the seas, nor can I get Spiegel married.”
Nobody can figure why not, though there was hope that this very article could attract a nice Jewish woman.
For those interested, his favorite movies are “Spiderman 2” and “As Good As It Gets.”
He really loves his dog, a Lab retriever hound.
Why wouldn’t anyone be attracted to a man who is part of one of Baltimore radio’s consistently high-rated shows? In 2007 the City Paper named Spiegel Best Radio Personality in Baltimore. The show also has been honored by its peers in the broadcasting industry. In 2007 and 2008, Radio & Records magazine nominated “Mickey, Amelia and Spiegel” as Best Personality/Show Of The Year at its industry achievement awards. Josh received the same honor in 2006 while a member of the “Kirk, Mark and Spiegel” morning show.
Thing about it is, Josh is open on the air about his social awkwardness and doesn’t seem to mind when Mickey, Amelia or anyone else for that matter takes a jab at him. That could be what he’s there for. Even Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld before he sang in the studio said, “I sound like Spiegel.”
“You have to cater to everyone’s nuances,” said Reardon. “Everybody brings something different to the table, but we bring it all together and we make it work. Josh brings something very interesting to the table.”
Spiegel has been in radio since age 12. He would become a radio intern at WPGC, a news reporter, news anchor and now a personality. He’s worked on morning shows in Washington, D.C., New York, Dallas and Denver. He’s also been part of formats other than rock such as country and FM talk.
He’s even written news for television stations WJZ in Baltimore and WJLA in D.C.
But even with all of that, he says he’s still a recluse.
“I’m a pretty shy guy,” he said.
As far as being a “Jewish” radio personality, Spiegel would say in his typical way, “I hate labels. I’m just trying to be a good person. I’m socially awkward, and it’s not an act. You have to be really who you are when you are on the air. I’m insecure, but I know I’m good at my job.”
At 98 Rock, Spiegel said he is living his dream, doing everything he always wanted to do.
“I enjoy being a co-host,” he said. “I find stories we can talk about. People come to us to be entertained.”