The Pierre Robert Q&A
What you didn’t know about Philly’s consummate radio icon.
MLT: Start by telling us a secret.
PR: I used to shoplift as a child. I went to a Catholic high school that was right next to a 7-Eleven. We were little thieves, and nobody thought anything about it. Then, on the last day of eighth grade, I stole a paper and a candy bar—Kennedy had just died. The owner caught us. He never told our parents, thankfully. But he put enough fear in me to turn me around. I learned an important lesson that day, which has stuck with me: Giving is much better than stealing. It was turning point that made me view honesty in a much more serious way. I used to be a con artist. I bullsh—ed my parents all the time, and I could’ve gone down a dishonest path. But ever since then, I’ve believed in honesty in all aspects of life.
MLT: Do you know any other DJs who’ve been with a radio station [WMMR 93.3 FM] as long as you have?
PR: There’s definitely a few who’ve been in the industry for a long time, but they’re not necessarily at the same station. By today’s standards, 25 years is too long. It’s never boring though. We’re always out on the streets, and we’re not stuck playing the same old music.
MLT: What stands out as the really good stuff over the last 25 years?
PR: There are so many things—especially the moments when I know I moved someone or made a connection that wasn’t there before. I remember during the AIDS crisis, Action AIDS was on the scene at the time teaching people to be buddies to patients. I mentioned that on the air, and months later a kid came up to me and said he’d acted on being a buddy and that it had been one of the most meaningful experiences he’d had. I was proud to be part of a station that wasn’t all toilet talk, homophobic bulls—, that we could help people and lift them up, rather than lower. The first time I introduced Crosby, Stills & Nash, circa 1987, at the Mann was a real high— I used to have dreams of meeting them but never really thought that dream would happen. Then at the Live Aid concert, it did.
MLT: You were heavily involved in the local Philadelphia music scene in the ’80s and early ’90s. Have you continued to support local artists?
PR: I haven’t invested as much time as I used to. The club scene has changed; there are fewer clubs playing original music. But I carried the flag well into the ’90s, supporting locals like Robert Hazard and the Heroes, the A’s, Tommy Conwell, Bricklin, Alan Mann and, of course the Hooters and Beru Revue. The bond I have with both those bands is transcending. I’ve had some of the best times in my life with these guys, and not only do I feel a profound sense of gratitude for knowing them, I feel like our fate and growth patterns are entwined. Both bands came back from long breaks to play at the parties—and the guys from the Hooters had so much fun, they did a couple more shows. I got flowers from them last week, and the card said, “Thank you for getting us back together.” So I guess I do feel like I’ve had an impact.
MLT: If you could pick three up-and-coming bands in the area, who would they be?
PR: I’m not so good at this as I used to be, but Ike is one that comes to mind—great songwriting. Jealousy Curve, too. And Ken Kweeder—His perseverance is inspirational. He never made it huge, but he still plays out locally and he is totally willing to throw it out there. He’s an artist in the true sense.
MLT: Has the fact that stations don’t play the music been frustrating?
PR: I make left turns all the time—the “Workforce Block” is all requests. It’s definitely harder to play newer or more local stuff; our mission is a complicated one. I campaign to push music—especially new—but most people want to hear something familiar. We only get 12 songs an hour.
MLT: What are your views on the impact of Podcasting and satellite radio?
PR: Podcasting is a normal part of our routine now, and down the road we’ll add a high-def channel. Yeah, satellite radio is out there and growing, and it’s true they have less commercials and more variety. But local radio wins out because we’re here and we can talk about the community. Most satellite is not local or live—some stations don’t even have hosts. I like having a voice. Live and local are very important to me and to the station. Ultimately, a rock station should be in the city. I miss the Rittenhouse Square location and the interaction I had with other DJs and with listeners.
MLT: Did you ever think you’d have a job this cool?
PR: Not at all. I started as a music assistant at $3.50 an hour. My first paycheck was like $67.
MLT: What do you do when you’re not on the air?
PR: I love being at home, hanging out with my dog and cat. On Fridays, I go the gym, TLA Video, Yangming, and then home for date night with Lucy and Tabitha.
MLT: What is your most prized piece of vinyl?
PR: I was going to say the Clash’s Combat Rock, but on second thought, an original copy (1967) of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesty’s Request. It was a takeoff on [the Beatles’] Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The cover was this blurry plastic with blue stars and all five original Stones. My first album was the Beatles’ second. I had a crew cut at the time, and they had long hair and big elevator boots. I told my dad then that I wanted long hair.