Another morning at the top Radio: Rouse & Co. too busy to say no.

October 03, 1998|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF lTC

Steve Rouse has this fantasy rolling around in his head: He's hanging out at home, cooking soup. There's a movie cued up on the VCR. And when it's over, he'll go for a walk in the woods.

Nice dream. Fat chance. Rouse & Co. dominates the 25-54 age bracket for morning talk radio in Baltimore, and with Frank Ski leaving town there's no sign that'll change anytime soon. Rouse, 47, almost has more success than he can handle. Right now, he'd just like a day off.

The show and its commitments are eating up his days, stealing hours he could be spending with his daughters, Caitlin, 9, and Chelsea, 7, and his wife, Mandy, an aerobics instructor. He's worked every day since Labor Day.

"You keep thinking it's going to start waning, it's going to tail off, but it doesn't," he says of the show's remarkable 10-year run at WQSR-FM (105.7).

Tonight, Rouse & Co. celebrates its 10th anniversary with a party aboard the Bay Lady. Rouse -- with sidekicks Linda Sherman, Tom Davis, Maynard G. and Mike Thomas -- have done more than 3,200 broadcasts.

That figure alone is enough to make you tired, but then there's the off-air business. Last weekend the team made its regular Happy Hour appearance Friday night.

On Saturday, Rouse's band, Stevie and the Satellites, played two sets at the Taste of Baltimore festival, before heading to Perryville to play at a dance. The 10-piece band, which Rouse says sounds somewhere between John Mellencamp and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, plays at station functions, concerts and has recorded several albums. So far, the band has also raised $120,000 for WQSR's children's fund.

Sunday, the morning team stopped by the Baltimore Book Fair to sign copies of "Rouse & Co.: Booked!" (Woodholme House, $16.95), its just-released volume of greatest hits and flashbacks. "Booked!" is a grab-bag look at Rouse & Co. with lyrics from from parodies, Top 10 lists, a Three Stooges quiz. Nearly 2,000 copies have sold since its release last month. The success is more than Rouse could have imagined.

"I got the radio show that I always wanted," he says, relaxing after one broadcast. "I'm playing in a rock band, which is always what I wanted to do. We're selling albums and I have a book. It's like, 'Wow.' It blows me away."

He has been aiming for some version of this life ever since his childhood in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. He was a born entertainer who loved radio.

In Governeur (pronounced just like "manure," he says with just a hint of sarcasm), he pretended his bedroom was a radio studio. )) He would draw the shades, grab a stack of records and imagine the lamp bulb was his microphone.

In his little boy's mind, he was "Cousin Brucie," a favorite deejay ,, whose voice rode the radio waves from WABC-AM, a world away in New York City. He listened to Larry Lujack, Joey Reynolds, Jackson Armstrong and other deejays out of Buffalo and Chicago. He wanted to be like them. To his neighbors in the small town near the Canadian border, he was a one-man Andy Hardy movie.

"I would constantly be putting on shows in the neighborhood, and I'm sure every time I came around and knocked on the door they would think, 'Oh, no. Do we have to do this again?' " he says.

He set up the entertainments in the family garage, did impressions of Bob Newhart and Hal Holbrook, lip-synced to the Everly Brothers. Later, he and friends formed a rock-and-roll band. He was always looking for an outlet.

"I guess it wasn't just radio, but it was going to be something, singing and playing," he says.

By the late 1960s, he started hanging out at the local radio station WIGS-AM & FM, then during his senior year of high school, he went on the air, reading the news every half-hour. Soon, he was spinning platters for the 3,000-watt station. During the 1970s and early 1980s he knocked around the East Coast, getting experience on the job instead of in the classroom.

He worked a station in New York's Finger Lakes region that kicked out a paltry 500 watts during the day and an anemic 109 watts at night. There were stops in Maine, Charlottesville, Va., even a stint as a TV weatherman in New York City. TV didn't impress him.

"There's nothing left to the imagination. Radio is all imagination. You can tell a story, set a scene and people are right there with you," he says.

He came to Baltimore in 1985 for a gig at 92 Star, playing light rock and reading cards that told him what to say after each song -- no room for improvisation. He was a round peg in a square hole. It drove him nuts.

In 1988, he took over the morning slot at WQSR. Now he could stretch out, let his imagination run. He and his teammates came up with parodies of popular songs, wisecracks that were like something out of high school. "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy," goes one.

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