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Morning zoo is a format of morning radio show common to English-language radio broadcasting. The name is derived from the "wackiness and zaniness" of the activities, bits, and overall personality of the show and its hosts. The morning zoo concept and name is most often deployed on contemporary hit radio (CHR-Top 40) radio stations.
A morning zoo typically consists of two or more radio personalities, usually capable of spontaneous comedic interaction as well as competent delivery of news and service elements. Most morning zoo programs involve scripted or live telephone calls, on-air games and regular contests.
The first morning zoo program, focusing on the zany interactions of two hosts, was conceived and performed by Scott Shannon and Cleveland Wheeler of WRBQ-FM in Tampa, Florida, known as Q105 FM. Wheeler had been serving as the personality DJ hosting the morning drive program for the station's previous four years. Shannon was the new operations manager in 1981. The two decided to break with tradition and work up a wilder show together, founded on their own playful, irreverent and provocative interaction, with spontaneous bits of parody and comedy leavened with straight news. They called the show the Q Morning Zoo, and it quickly became a hit. At its height it had 85 people working to produce it.
Prior to this development, radio station KZEW in Dallas was known as "the Zoo" because of its call letters. Beginning in September–October 1976, morning DJ Charlie Kendall hosted a zany show initially named Zooloos In Your Morning, the name being play on the Zulu people. However, Kendall's was a one-man show, not a "zoo" with multiple radio personalities.
In July 1983, Shannon left Tampa to reinvent WHTZ "Z-100" in the New York City market, based out of Secaucus, New Jersey. On August 2, Shannon hosted the first Z Morning Zoo at WHTZ, soon settling into a team which included straight man Ross Brittain, newscaster Claire Stevens, public service director Professor Jonathan B. Bell, 22-year-old "Captain" Kevin on the phones, and production manager J. R. Nelson. Shannon's popular new format brought WHTZ from last place to first in just 74 days, and put longtime #1 morning DJ Don Imus in second place. When WHTZ became a huge ratings success, the name and format of the "Morning Zoo" was copied by stations across the USA.
We borrowed the 'Morning Zoo' moniker from our New York sister station Z-100, which borrowed it from WRBQ in Tampa, which borrowed it from a station in Australia.
Tampa's WRBQ continued to run the morning zoo show after Shannon left; Wheeler teamed with Terrence McKeever and others to keep the show a success. Other US stations that adopted the morning zoo program in the early-to-mid-1980s include KKBQ-FM in Houston in 1982, WRVQ in Richmond, Virginia, in April 1983, KMEL in San Francisco in early 1984, KFMB in San Diego, California, by late 1984, WZOU in Boston by November 1984, WKPE-FM in southeast Massachusetts in early 1985, WKRQ "Q102" and WEBN's Dawn Patrol in Cincinnati by October 1985, and WNVZ in Norfolk, Virginia in September 1985.
In Australia, the morning zoo format is heard on Triple M as 'The Cage', amongst other stations. The Don and Mike show originated as a morning zoo show at WAVA in the 1980s, and retained some elements of the format. In Vancouver, British Columbia, LG73 (call sign CKLG) adopted this format for its popular morning program, led by Dean Hill, from 1985 to 1993. Personalities of note included "Jon Bon Bichin'", "Constable Bob", "Uncle Angus", and "The Coach". The LG Morning Zoo featured a house band "The LG Morning Zoo Cement Heads", who recorded parodies of popular songs, such as "Yack Yack", a spoof of the Paul Lekakis hit "Boom Boom"; "Change of Socks", poking fun at Cyndi Lauper's "Change of Heart" and "(Baby You Can't) Drive Your Car", mocking the provincial government's automobile insurance monopoly ICBC, to the tune of the Beatles' "Drive My Car".
In Quebec City, CJMF-FM 93.3 had Le Zoo du 93 from 1985 to 1990. Not only does the show still hold a number of records in terms of ratings and market shares (a quarter hour of 148,000 listeners), but it also skyrocketed the station to now unreachable numbers, with 573,200 listeners on a weekly basis (according to the BBM summer 1987 survey).
In the UK, Steve Wright (currently of BBC Radio 2) is famous for revolutionizing British radio by introducing the format when he started his Steve Wright in the Afternoon show on BBC Radio 1. Chris Moyles and "Comedy" Dave Vitty also used the zoo format with great success. Their audience was measured at eight million listeners by RAJAR.