In the world of talk radio and morning shows, every second counts.
It’s like a nonstop deadline.
It’s a world where 6:41 a.m. can completely change by 6:44 a.m.
Where everything is timed, and every moment in time accounted for.
It’s the world E.J. Becker and Ellen Schenk live and breathe every day.
In the studio overlooking Mission, Kan., the morning show duo – with very different styles and backgrounds – share one thing in common.
They both call Lee’s Summit home.
Listening to Kansas City’s Morning News with E.J. Becker and Ellen Schenk, each morning from 5-9 a.m. on 98.1 FM KMBZ (also 980 AM), one might think the smooth-flowing show is flawless at every turn.
And in a lot of ways, it is.
Hours of show prep from not only the on-air talent but multiple reporters and producers make the popular talk and news show a well-oiled machine.
Over the course of a few hours, the pace is often frenzied, but always by design.
6:55:13 a.m.: Krista Klaus, an anchor on 98.1’s sister station, AM 1660, comes in to give her twice-an-hour report. Becker and Schenk furiously fire away on their computers, reading through copy, anticipating the next moves.
On this day in the newsroom, many topics dominate the airwaves, particularly the still-fresh news of the murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins. Of particular interest on this day are the 9-1-1 tapes that capture the excruciating and terrified tone of Belcher’s mother as she called for emergency help.
Wednesday, Dec. 5 saw a slew of fires, a hotel closing due to health concerns and, of course, traffic and weather on the 9s.
6:59:51: Becker is dumping out for the top of the hour break, and Kyle Hendricks comes in to deliver some of the top stories of the day.
In between those precious seconds, Becker reminisced about his first day on the job at KMBZ, May 7, 2007, the Monday after the Greensburg, Kan., tornado devastated that town.
Behind the wall in their studio is Jay Edwards, “flying the plane,” as Becker puts it. Mike Phillips is the producer of the show.
7:21:28: Becker and Schenk have a symmetry you can hear on the radio, and see in the studio, as they point to each other as each takes a turn on the headlines.
7:21:51: ABC News’ Ann Compton comes on live from the White House to discuss the looming fiscal cliff issues.
While the show begins at 5 a.m. sharp, both are up and at the studio well before that, making the commute from Lee’s Summit in around 30 minutes.
Becker has lived in Lee’s Summit for two years, Schenk for more than 10.
“I’m at Neighborhood Café in downtown every Saturday morning,” Becker said. “It’s nice to have the waitress walk by and say, ‘the usual?’”
7:31:47: “You’ve got to do the thing about the girlfriend in this part,” Schenk says to Becker, referring again to the Belcher story.
7:35:28: “We have to do motel close,” Schenk reminds him.
“Make it quick,” Becker replies.
7:43:10: The hosts remind listeners of the Coats for Kids drive going on, one of Schenk’s assignments later in the day in Platte City.
7:45:44: 610 Sports’ Josh Klingler comes in the studio for his twice-an-hour update.
Becker and Schenk work at rapid-fire pace with live advertising reads, seemingly always in sync on what is coming next, how much time they have in the positive or negative.
Becker grabs a chocolate, rice crispy, protein bar for his mid-morning boost.
Jay Edwards comes through on the headphones.
“We’re back behind again.”
“How much?” Becker asks.
8:09:33: More accidents on the highways during rush hour.
“It’s always interesting when Johnny (Rowlands) says ‘uh oh,’” Becker says, off microphone, after the veteran traffic reporter called in another wreck.
8:13:03: Talk has shifted to polar bears and mating, and if a 23-year old female polar bear is passed her, perhaps, mating prime.
Schenk hits the search engine to find out.
Silly or serious, the activity is nonstop, all morning long.
8:22:02: Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder comes on for a taped interview with Becker on the country’s economic woes. Schenk steps out for a moment on a rare break.
Both hosts keep an eye on both KMBC Channel 9 news, locally, and Good Morning America, on the TV sets on the walls in front of them.
When discussion of opening a restaurant comes up, their banter and wit are apparent.
“I assume you’re mocking the restaurant part, because you know my skills?” Schenk says.
While many of the headlines stay the same throughout the morning, both hosts know that in Kansas City, morning commutes are relatively short – 20 to 30 minutes – so they pack as much in as possible.
“You go to Jon (9 a.m. host Jonathan Weir) at 53,” Becker says. “It is 8:49 on KMBZ…”
“Jon, what are you doing?” Schenk asks the hosts.
8:53:04: After a quick tease of what will be on his show, Schenk subtly gives Weir the wrap up sign.
By five minutes until 9, their parts are, seemingly, over.
Although what is ahead for both Becker and Schenk are usually a few hours of next-day show prep, a live remote somewhere in the Kansas City area and, five days a week, another early morning.
8:55:51: Becker takes off his headphones. “Everybody has a piece, and it fits into place,” Schenk said. “When you have a major, breaking story, it can be exhausting.”
While both are veterans to the radio gig, Schenk has been at the station for many years, although she won’t so say exactly how many.
Still, letting listeners in to their lives is part of the show.
“People know about Ellen’s dogs, people know about my cats, people about Ellen’s speeding tickets,” Becker said with a chuckle, sitting back in a chair in the conference room. “Ellen is so good. She’s quick. We read each other well.
“What allow this whole thing to click is the things you don’t see or hear, all the people that don’t get enough credit and make this possible for us to do what we do.”
Schenk, who said she enjoys the proximity to shopping in Lee’s Summit, is from St. Louis, but she doesn’t consider that her hometown. She loves the Midwest.
“We have a ton of listeners in Jackson County and Lee’s Summit,” she said.
And what do the morning show hosts listen to on their way to work? Like them, it differs.
“It’s my time to get composed,” Schenk said. “This time of year, it’s Christmas carols.”
Becker, a trained opera singer, is doing show prep.
“ABC News, CBS News, BBC, ESPN, back to ABC,” he said. “I listen to it all.”
It’s 9:30 a.m. and Schenk is off to read bottom of the hour news updates; Becker to do show prep.
And both will be back home in Lee’s Summit, soon.