By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Friday, August 5, 2016
Shannon Burke, a burly presence with tattoos and a bushy gray beard, look intimidating on the surface.
But the new NewsRadio 106.7 mid-morning host, 51, has mellowed on the inside. (You can hear him from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays.)
During his heyday in talk radio in the 2000s in Florida, he said he became "the biggest a-hole in Orlando. I was making stupid money. I had a garage full of Harleys and hot rods. My ego got the best of me. I really thought I was better than everybody else." He said he was drinking heavily, which exacerbated matters.
After an alcohol-fueled arrest in 2009 for assault that led to four months in jail, he said he turned a new leaf. "That was a very humbling experience," he said. "It changed who I am as a person. I took responsibility for what I did. There was no intent to harm anyone."
The animal cruelty charge stung especially hard. "The dog was hurt but it was an accident," he said. "Look at my history. I'm a huge animal lover. I'm an animal rights activist. That was the horrible irony of the whole thing."
Burke, a Texas native, started in radio relatively late in life.
For 15 years, he was in the nightlife business in Dallas and Austin, where he owned a popular bar and grill and later, a jazz club.
In the mid-1990s, he was spending tens of thousands of dollars in radio advertising at an Austin radio station. At the time, he said he was "infatuated with radio." A local radio station felt so indebted to him, they flew him to New York for the Howard Stern "Private Parts' movie premiere and got a tour of Stern's studio. A radio station executive one time asked him what else he'd like from them. He semi-jokingly said, "How about a radio show?"
Soon after, the program director actually offered him a Saturday night shift. "I sucked," he said. "I didn't know what I was doing." But soon, they gave him mid-days and he did well. "It wasn't political at all," he said. "Completely lifestyle. I was riding motorcycles, smoking cigars."
When the station changed format and he lost his job, he found a new one in 2000 in Orlando on a talk station WTKS-FM. That's when he became more political, skewing conservative. He became hugely successful.
Even after he got out of prison, he was able to get back in radio on an AM station in Orlando. "I left my ego in a 6 by 9 cell," he said. He then got a call from Bubba the Love Sponge's syndicated show in Tampa. He worked there for two years, commuting from Orlando.
But he never quite got into Bubba's schtick, citing the time Bubba placed an intern in a fire suit and set off fireworks around him. "He is old-school morning radio," Burke said. "It wasn't my kind of radio."
So he left and did a show at another station for a year. In 2014, he lost that gig and started his own uncensored Internet radio show from his home with 2,500 to 3,000 subscribers willing to pay $9.99 a month.
But he missed traditional radio. "I didn't feel like I was doing radio. I like being in a studio with a lot of guys. I dig having a program director. I like building with other like-minded people."
He knew Rock 100.5's morning host Jason Bailey, who was known as Buckethead at WTKS-FM in Orlando back in the day. Bailey sent Burke a text about the new job opening at 106.7 after Michael Graham left. And that ultimately led to Burke's presence in Atlanta. "I have a lot of respect for Jason," Burke said. "He's a talented guy."
Bailey, in a text, noted: "The microphone loves Shannon. I knew that they were struggling trying to find true talk talent. Knew Shannon was available. He did the rest during his audition."
Burke, who no longer drinks or smokes, can still get heated on the airwaves.
This morning, he got lathered up over what he sees as the hypocrisy of gays who support Hillary Clinton for president. He noted that the Clinton Foundation takes millions from countries that kill LGBT people. "If there was a Trump Foundation that took $15 from Saudi Arabia, gays would be marching on Trump Tower. You know this! Shame on GLAAD and the LGBT groups of America. How dare you!" he said. "You're a gay xenophobe! Out of sight, out of mind!"
Burke then said Clinton "rigged" the primaries, citing the emails from the DNC. "You are all blind, burying your heads in the sand!" he said, his voice rising in indignation. "Shame on you!"
In an interview, Burke said he doesn't want to come across as a "bombastic screamer telling callers, 'You're an idiot!' I don't like to overpower or cut people off. I want to be sensible. I don't think you have to be at war with liberals. I will listen. There's common ground everywhere."
He's thrilled by the early response from listeners. (He's only been on a few weeks. It's too soon to judge ratings, though Graham's poor numbers gives him plenty of room for growth.)
Burke doesn't worry about NewsRadio's modest listener numbers or Atlanta-based owner Cumulus Media's financial woes. "It's better than some other radio company's financial situations," he said.
Bottom line: he loves doing radio. Besides the more stressful job of owning a bar, "this is the only thing I have ever been known to be good at. It's a natural for me to do it."
He knew hundreds applied for his job. "I'm grateful," he said. "I live my life now where I don't take anything for granted."
"It's been a rough month or so. A lot of protests and police man hours on the street. We thought we'd show them our appreciation with free lunch," Burke said. "They volunteered this location and this menu... We had tenderloin. We had salmon. We had chicken. We had lasagna... It looks like a wedding. It's the least we could do!"
Burke, who is married to a Korean-American hairdresser named Kim, is also big on pitbull rescue. He recently lost his 10-year-old Dutch from congestive heart failure. "I cried until snot bubbled up," he said. "I loved that dog!" He still owns another pitbull named Diesel, who is three.