The control room of KFWR/95.9 FM, better-known as 95.9 “The Ranch,” has a window facing out onto Sundance Square Plaza, where the fountains are dormant during the 8 a.m. hour of the station’s “Justin and Jeremy Show,” with Justin Frazell and Jeremy Robinson.
Most of the people walking by seem more intent on fueling up at the neighboring Starbucks.
Inside the studio, two guys who have been friends for some 20 years, both longtime DFW radio vets who have only recently started working together, are having fun.
They pingpong off each other — on and off the air — commenting on food segments airing on the “Today” show on a muted TV in the studio, teasing a contest call-in winner who doesn’t seem all that excited about winning, sharing their relief that they managed not to wear matching shirts on the day the Star-Telegram dropped in for a photo shoot.
“I actually thought about that,” Frazell says on the air. “What if we show up wearing the same shirt?”
Robinson: “There have been a couple of times where, just by accident, Justin and I wore the same shirt —”
Frazell: “— once, by accident.”
Robinson: “He did not like that at all.”
Frazell: “We don’t play that game when this young lady was in the studio,” he said, referring to Charla Corn, his former co-host of five years, who still contributes a weekly call-in segment promoting local charities. “Thank goodness you were on vacation on Skirt Day.”
Frazell, who has been with the Ranch since 2009, and Robinson, who joined the station in July, have the ease of friends who have known each other since 1999, when both worked at KPLX/99.5 FM “The Wolf,” a country radio station more mainstream than the smaller Ranch with its Texas-country format.
But this is the first time they’ve worked together, on the same show at the same station.
Robinson was still in high school when he was offered a contract to work with the Wolf in 1999. Frazell, who had been interning at talk station KLIF/570 AM and sports station KTCK/1310 “The Ticket” since 1996, wasn’t much older when he was moved over to become the Wolf’s traffic reporter. But Frazell was old enough to drink, which is how Robinson remembers the friendship starting.
“I was underage, and we were at the Wolf’s Christmas party, so I dealt out my drinking tickets to Justin and a couple of other co-workers,” Robinson said. “And he did a wonderful karaoke rendition of Elvis.”
“A lot of my friendships started with drink tickets,” Frazell quips.
Now they both have a reach that goes beyond that little studio in Sundance Square Plaza. Not only does the Ranch have a strong internet following, but Frazell hosts “Texas Red Dirt Roads,” a syndicated radio show that airs in more than 25 markets; Robinson built his own studio and created his own company, JPR Entertainment, allowing him to voice-track into other markets.
“Now I’m working 12-hour days but I’m on somewhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says.
Not bad for a couple of small-town Texas boys who’ve been in love with radio since they were kids.
Small-town radio days
Frazell and Robinson both grew up south of Dallas — Frazell in Lancaster and Robinson in Waxahachie. They listened to such DFW radio legends as Terry Dorsey of KSCS/96.3 FM (where Robinson would eventually work) and Kidd Kraddick of KEGL/97.1 FM “The Eagle” when it was still a Top 40 station, before Kraddick moved on to be a ratings giant at KHKS/106.1 FM “KISS-FM.
Like Kraddick, whose love of radio led him to create a home station for his older sister before he became a pro, both Frazell and Robinson had home “stations” when they were kids. But they had much different approaches.
“I was 6, 7 or 8, and instead of asking Santa for toys, I wanted Santa to bring me the wireless microphone from Radio Shack,” Robinson says. “I had a Singaloden karaoke machine that I would record and play music on, and I would talk up the intro with my microphone, and I would have my best friend, Ryan, out in the yard, and he would do the weather for me.”
Robinson says that he even kept files on his “business,” which also involved his siblings and other friends. He also had a “TV station,” using the family’s video camera.
Frazell also practiced at home, but in a quieter way.
“I started practicing at 12,” Frazell says. “I had a dual cassette player. One cassette I used to record myself and the other I used to record radio programs. Then I’d play back the song from the radio, stop it when the DJ started and take over from there.”
Along with the full-power Dallas-based radio stations, Frazell and Robinson also got a big dose of their radio love from KBEC/1310 AM, a Waxahachie-based classic-country station. It was the first radio station either one of them set foot in, at different times, and it helped convince both that radio was what they wanted to do with their lives.
But Robinson was the one who started his career there when he was 16 years old.
“Waxahachie is a small town, and Ken Roberts, the station manager, knew my family,” Robinson says. “Because I always would go down there. My granddaddy took me down there for the very first time to see the radio station. I fell in love with it. So they knew.”
One night, when Robinson was baby-sitting, Roberts called his mother and asked to talk to him.
“She said, ‘He’s baby-sitting across the street,’ ” Robinson says. “She gave them the number and they called me . . . and said, ‘We know you love radio; we want to offer you this Saturday-night, all-request show. Would you do it?’ I said, ‘I’m calling my parents; I’ll be down there in an hour.’ ”
Frazell, who took a more traditional route, was a jock in another way: He was a pitcher for Lancaster High School’s baseball team and says that briefly — as he puts it, for “a cup of coffee” — he held several school records. That earned him a walk-on spot at Cedar Valley Junior College in Dallas, where he wasn’t a star but he was still on a team that went to the Junior College World Series in Buffalo, N.Y. That led to a baseball/academic scholarship at Lamar University and to the internship at Susquehanna Radio Corp., then-owner of KLIF, KTCK.
“I was brought on staff full time in the winter of 1996,” Frazell says. “I graduated Dec. 21, 1996, walked across the stage, partied it up, came back home to Waxahachie, went back to KLIF.”
Frazell began as an intern for Norm Hitzges, the still-running sports-radio host on 1310 The Ticket. For the most part, Frazell was behind the scenes. On the last day of his internship, though, Hitzges did an on-air farewell — and Frazell experienced a bit of stage fright.
“I was afraid of [my voice] at first,” he says. “[Hitzges] turned around and said, ‘Justin’s leaving us this morning,’ and then he turned my microphone on and . . .[Frazell then makes a noise that sounds like someone in a horror movie getting a scream caught in their throat].’
The sound of Texas
Even Frazell has a hard time describing his voice. Some say it has a twang and others a drawl, but neither description quite captures it. There’s a little more grit to it than that.
It’s easier to describe what it isn’t: a typical radio-announcer voice, especially one you’d associate with a morning show. But Frazell knew from the beginning of his career that he was different.
“I know that just being around people that were on the air at the same time that I was interning, I mean, they didn’t sound like this,” Frazell says. “Even the guys who were from Texas didn’t sound like this. I just went with the gift that the good Lord gave me.”
The gift has worked well for Frazell, but there were those who had their doubts. When he was at Lamar, Frazell had a voice-and-diction teacher who told him that he would “never even smell a microphone” if he didn’t lose the accent. Through the course of the semester, Frazell worked to make his voice more traditional, till he was able to read the synopsis off the VHS box for “Grease” and sound like a slick-voiced, dialect-free DJ.
“She thought that she had saved the world!” Frazell says. “I fooled her, and once I got hired, as the way I sound now, I sent her an air check every month.”
He can still do the slick voice if he wants — but why? It fits the Texas-music/Red Dirt format of the Ranch very well.
Robinson says he really got a taste of how the listeners reacted to Frazell during their time at the Wolf, when station personalities were introducing a concert at Starplex in Dallas.
“I’d done my thing, and Justin was intro-ing an act. They handed him the mic, and he always opened the Friday traffic with —”
“— 7:40. Buenos dias, Tejas,” Frazell interjects.
“He did that in front of the crowd,” Robinson resumes, “They. Went. Nuts. . . . You immediately knew what a monster that was.”
As a Texas-music aficionado, however, Frazell would become even more of a monster.
‘Front Porch’ and Red Dirt
Although the Wolf billed itself as a Texas-music station, it was pretty mainstream, relying not so much on regional music but on the more broad palette of music that Texans like. But it did have a Sunday-night Red Dirt show, “Live From the Front Porch,” that went through a series of hosts before Frazell took it over in 2000. It proved to be the show that made him, and he continued to host it for the next eight years.
“I think they gave me that job just to shut me up and give me an outlet and make me happy,” Frazell says. “Because I was like, ‘Y’know, this Pat Green guy? We should try to give him some air time. I just saw him play with Willie down in Waco, and we should try that guy out.
“And you know, there’s this band that drew the same amount of folks at Lone Star Park ... as Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire did. It’s weird, they’re called Cross Canadian Ragweed, but we really should be playing that stuff.’ ”
In 2008, Frazell was let go from the Wolf, website AllAccess.com reported at the time. Frazell tried to find radio jobs and found himself battling radio-station cattle and “no opening” job-search answers. He wound up working at a Home Depot for a while, but he had a hard time resisting the lure of a microphone.
“I thought, I’ll just work at Home Depot for a little bit,” Frazell says. “A ‘little bit’ turned into a full year. About four months into that full year, I was saying, ‘Can I be the guy in charge of the overheard announcements? . . . ‘Hey, it’s Justin back here in appliances, extension 411! Whaddaya want to hear?’ ”
When he left the Wolf, he wanted to take the “Front Porch” show with him, but when the station realized that he might actually do something with it, it declined. Frazell worked on coming up with another title, which came to him one night: “Texas Red Dirt Roads.”
“The only thing that’s different about it is the name’s changed,” he says. “Because nobody was playing, for the most part, Pat Green or Jack Ingram or Ragweed or [Jason] Boland .… and I was. From that, not just because I was playing them on the radio but because I was hanging out with them, going to their shows, we actually became really good buddies. Been to weddings, been to baptisms, been to hospitals when they had their babies.”
The show proved to be a good fit for the Ranch’s Texas-music format, and it launched there in 2009, bringing Frazell to the station. Later that year, he was given the morning-show slot.
For a couple of years, he was paired with Taylor Scott, but when Scott left the station in 2012, then-program director Kevin McCoy moved Charla Corn, a Texas-country artist who had been hosting some shows for the station, into the co-host slot with Frazell. They clicked, and lasted five years together.
“I learned so much from that man,” Corn says in a phone interview. “He really does have a heart of gold, and being able to see that on a daily basis, that’s where it resonated. Not just the daily contact, but the way that he treated other people and all the work in the community that he did. He takes this public role very seriously.”
In two separate interviews, however, Frazell didn’t mention any of his charity work, other than a reference to Pickin’ for Preemies, an annual benefit concert that he and his wife, Casey, started in 2006 (Frazell’s two children were both born prematurely).
This year’s edition, which benefits Cook Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), takes place Aug. 27 at Billy Bob’s Texas, with a lineup including Austin Allsup, Deryl Dodd, Josh Weathers and many more.
“He is very modest about it, but I think that people know what he does,” Corn says. “Not only through Pickin’ for Preemies for Cook’s, but also drawing attention and appreciation to law enforcement and what they do for the community.”
The Pickin’ for Preemies lineup — nearly 20 artists plus “many surprise guests” — is an indication of the support that Frazell has from Texas musicians.
“He’s like the encyclopedia of Texas country music,” Corn says. “And what I love is, not only does he support, he really is like the biggest fan. He loves nothing more than seeing someone go from a nobody with one song that they wrote to helping them to flourish and hone in on their craft.”
In 2014 — on, as he notes, Texas Independence Day — Frazell was named program director of the Ranch. Conventional wisdom in radio says that if a program director makes choices to his or her taste, it’s a sure road to ruin for the station. But Frazell is one of the lucky ones whose tastes line up with the station’s mission — and has even improved upon it.
“I think that’s the reason they wound up bringing me on,” he says. “It wasn’t because I was some phenomenal air talent; it was the knowledge that I have of the music scene, and it was a perfect fit for everybody.”
It’s not all purist: Earlier this year, Frazell added some classic-rock songs to the Texas-country format, to the consternation of some listeners, although the classic-rock songs are mixed in sparingly.
Robinson, meanwhile, left the Wolf in 2005 to work for rival KSCS/96.3 FM and its sister station, KTYS/96.7, a country station known as “The Twister” that was aimed at a younger audience. The Twister lasted till only 2007, but Robinson continued on, hosting various syndicated shows for ABC Radio Networks, Citadel Media and Townsquare Media. In 2013, he created JPR Entertainment.
“I wanted to do radio on my terms,” he says. “I wanted to be the one being in charge of what I do. I sunk money into my own studio and I was so scared, but as soon as it started, it exploded.”
In April, Corn left the Ranch morning show to become a spokeswoman for a skin-care product line. A mother of two small children, she continues her music career. The station took its time to find a replacement for her, but Robinson, who had already done some fill-in work, seemed a natural fit because of his friendship with Frazell.
“That was the one thing that was really going to sting,” Corn says. “Who’s going to be my replacement? I knew that they took a long time. But when I found out that it was Jeremy, who I had worked with a number of times because he had filled in when Justin was gone — I adore Jeremy.
“I think he’s so much fun. I think he’s perfect for a morning show.”
Frazell concurs. “The most fun that I’ll ever have, and will ever have, is the on-air portion, especially now that Jeremy’s here,” he says. “Within the first three days, I had that feeling of euphoria that I had back at the start.”
Justin and Jeremy Morning Show
6-10 a.m. weekdays
Texas Red Dirt Roads
3-6 p.m. Sundays
KFWR/95.9 FM “The Ranch”