Pierre Robert is only four minutes late for our agreed-upon 8 p.m. interview time. Still, he apologizes. “I would’ve been two minutes earlier, but I saw a plastic bag floating across the Starbucks parking lot,” he says. “I didn’t want to get the bag, but then I said [screw] it, and I went and got the bag.”
Main Line Today readers’ perennial pick for Best Radio DJ has been weaning himself off plastic bags, bottles and anything else that might harm the planet. He’s even found a place where he can buy water in glass bottles.
Robert, 66, has always had that kind of conscience, even before he landed in Philadelphia back in 1981. Now in his fifth decade with 93.3 WMMR-FM, Robert is a fixture on the airwaves—a lovable personality who’s built a fiercely loyal audience that appreciates his passion for music, lust for life and a willingness to share so much about himself. He began his on-air career at San Francisco’s 94.9 KSAN-FM, one of the country’s first progressive rock stations. When KSAN changed to a country format in the early 1980s, Robert hung in there briefly, assuming the on-air name Will Robertson to show his consternation over the new format.
Not long after, Robert headed to Philadelphia, where he obviously found what he was looking for at WMMR. Over the years, he’s held a variety of time slots there, including mornings, overnights and middays. “Pierre Standard Time” is currently 10 a.m.–3 p.m., though his program has been known to mess with its time constraints. This past December, WMMR renamed its on-air studio after Robert in honor of his 40th anniversary at the station.
For our interview, Robert discussed his impressive career, diehard music fandom and why it’s so important to “acknowledge your age, but don’t act it.”
MLT: Did you ever think you’d spend 40 years in Philadelphia?
Pierre Robert: I had no idea. You just never know—none of us knows. When you’re a little kid, or in high school or college, you say, “I’m going to do this and this and this.” But it never works out the way you planned it. That speaks to the need for being flexible. But a lot of my rock ’n’ roll dreams came true here.
MLT: Why do you think Philadelphia has embraced you?
PR: I don’t fit the mold. The city embraces anybody that’s real. I’ve told young DJs, “You have to share yourself.” Learning to find yourself on the air takes time. How do you feel comfortable translating who you are into the microphone? My father was a lawyer who had a great vocabulary and was a great storyteller. My mom was a teacher. I learned how to tell stories from them. I had a lot of adventures and a passion for music. I don’t care if you’re passionate about knitting, talk about it.
MLT: You’ve been able to attract listeners from a lot of demographics.
PR: The thing about Philly is that it’s a small town. It’s one of the top 10 biggest cities in the U.S.—but for a big city, it’s a small town. Because of that relative smallness, it’s easier and easier to reach across barriers.
MLT: That runs counter to what you thought about Philadelphia when you got here, doesn’t it?
PR: As a California native, I was nervous about coming here. I heard the stereotypes about the East Coast: It was cold and unfriendly; everything moves too fast. I learned it wasn’t that way. I lived in the city for 15 years before moving to [the Main Line], and I felt more comfortable in the city. Our station was on Rittenhouse Square, and it’s still my favorite part of the city. I could open the window of the studio and hear the world go by.
MLT: Do you still love the music you play?
PR: I’m crazy about it. I don’t just love the old music—I love new music. I just saw [U2 lead singer] Bono’s son at the TLA with his band, Inhaler. They’re great. I love the bands that have kept it alive—mostly the Stones and the Grateful Dead. But I absolutely love the Killers, and I’m crazy for Green Day. I saw them in 1994, and I went into the mosh pit. It was glorious.
MLT: You went into the mosh pit?
PR: Yeah, I was in there—and the guy standing next to me said, “Pierre?” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “Do you want to go up?” He meant, did I want to crowd-surf? I waited and waited, and I thought about it. Finally, I said, “What the hell?” He and a friend lifted my significant carcass up and passed me along. When I reached the front, the security guys saw me and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m having fun!”
MLT: Why have you stayed at WMMR for so long?
PR: The great thing about MMR is that we play all of it. I wouldn’t be comfortable at a station that just played old music or all new stuff.
MLT: You’ve been at this for so long. Have you thought of retiring?
PR: I don’t want to stop. [Legendary Philly DJ] Jerry Blavat is one of my heroes. I was having drinks with him the other day at the Ritz-Carlton, and he’s going to be 82. He still does four or five sock hops a week. He’s ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Memories, his club in Margate. He does an oldies cruise. Jerry is nailing his life. He keeps telling me, “If you’re passionate about something, keep doing it.”
MLT: Anything else to add?
PR: I am so grateful to the readers of Main Line Today for continuing to vote for me so many years in a row. It’s so lovely. I just want to say thank you to the readers.