Shmonty and Carolina converge on Tucson's morning alternative
They grew up in the Eastern Time zone, and thus understand the concept of daylight savings time, and that's about where the similarities end. Yet due to fortuitous circumstances Shmonty and Carolina are the new morning show team on alternative/new rock format KFMA 102.1 FM.
Shmonty is the self-proclaimed, self-deprecating Connecticut a-hole who broke into the business in college, got his shot at stations in the region before a study abroad opportunity allowed him to show off his talent for American dialect in front of Australian audiences—"I got asked to do accents all the time. My accents suck, but the Australians thought I was great"—before doing what lots of radio people do: follow their wives or fiancées, who have real jobs, real opportunities and real futures in their pursuit of real degrees. She studied at ASU in some post-grad discipline that includes some combination of the terms "bio, medical, neuro and engineering." So long Australia. It didn't take long before Shmonty landed a gig in the Valley.
"I got hired part time at KDKB, and things fell the right way," Shmonty said. "The old morning show left and I was their bargain basement morning show. They asked if I wanted to try it, and I've been finding my way ever since, learning what works and what doesn't."
As for what he believes works...
"It's all lighthearted tongue in cheek," Shmonty said. "I never want anyone to feel ostracized when listening to us. I always want you to feel like you're part of the joke, but at the same time I might make fun of something that's near and dear to you. But we just have fun. Current news, sports, entertainment, crazy games we can come up with, the random interview with people who are far more interesting than myself."
Unfortunately, Shmonty's timing left something to be desired. It's not everyone who can say they were the last morning show at a heritage station, which had more or less broadcast the same format for 44 years and was something of a radio institution in Phoenix and much of Arizona, before it jettisoned its long established roots to become 93.3 AltAz. For Shmonty, the change seemed good at first.
"One day they're doing a format flip," Shmonty recalled, "and I said 'Awesome, to what?' 'To alternative.' I said 'Great, done it before.' 'Uh, you're not getting this.' Well that's unfortunate, but it was one of the nicest firings I've ever had."
Coincidentally, soon thereafter, Shmonty got the call from Tucson's alternative format, and was welcomed almost immediately.
"When I got here there was no backlash," Shmonty said. "When you start at a new station you're replacing someone's favorite, or they've gone to all-music in the meantime and they like listening to nothing but music, and then you come in and you're screwing up their fun. You suck. You're the worst. I hate you. I literally got none of that down here. No one's going to hate what I do more than me, but having Carolina on board was a huge help because the listeners love her. I didn't have to prove myself because there was someone who was already in the cool club and she said the new partner is all right, and the listeners went with it."
Carolina caught the radio bug at the age of nine, worked some shifts in her home state (which isn't hard to guess, but the first part is the name of Kanye and Kim's kid) and then took a flier and sent resumes to every station in Tucson. It was almost the biggest mistake of her life.
"I worked for a couple weeks at KJLL," Carolina said, recalling her brief stint at Tucson's most dysfunctional radio outlet.
Fortunately, KFMA reached out to her shortly thereafter, and in less than four years she's moved from DJing a couple overnight shifts a week to morning show co-host.
"It's fantastic," said Carolina. "I wake up every morning and smile, and think holy crap I get to go to this job."
That's how they approach the morning show, as a couple folks who maybe can help listeners take their minds off a weekday ritual they might not enjoy quite as much.
"It's just something to distract you from going to the worst part of your day. You're the distraction," Shmonty said. "They listen to the music because they like it, and the personality adds to it. They're either going to love you or hate you, but they'll appreciate it because you're going to distract them from probably the worst part of their day. Most people don't wake up and say, 'Boy, I get to go make fart jokes and make fun of stuff and goof around with my friend.' I'm super grateful and thankful for being where we are and doing what we do. I've worked the graveyard shifts and done the flooring and roofing and golf course grass cutting. I've had weird odd jobs. I have a degree in public relations, but I didn't want to work for a living, and radio seemed the best option to do that. It took awhile, but I've made something of a career out of it, which is nice."
He's also appreciative of Tucson's reception so far, even if he's frustrated with a lot of the same issues that have long since irritated the Old Pueblo populace.
"Tucson is more laid back than Phoenix, and that's cool," said Shmonty. "The only thing I don't like is the speed limits are 35 miles an hour, and it's an obstacle course with all the potholes. When I first moved out here I didn't drive down Grant much, and now I know why. And now that I know that I don't drive down Grant much. I'm glad my car still has good handling."
And he's glad Tucson is appreciative of KFMA.
"(I've) promoted concerts before (at other stations), but you say KFMA Day and this city loses its collective mind," Shmonty said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store. It's part of Tucson. I don't think I've ever been at a station where the fans or listeners, even non-listeners, know exactly who we are because of KFMA Day."