With a daily audience of over 10 million listeners tuning in to his syndicated iHeartRadio morning show, Elvis Duran has become a familiar, trusted voice for the lonely seeking connection. That may seem like a grand statement, but as the veteran radio host details in his just-released book, “Where Do I Begin? Stories (I Sort of Remember) From A Life Lived Out Loud,” Duran discovered his calling as a child when he heard a lone DJ talk on KLIF, a Top 40 station in Dallas. It was at that moment that he fell in love with the medium — one that felt like a friend talking just to him. It is something he still strives to do every morning broadcasting live from the Z100 studios in New York City.
“I think that we all have a need to communicate and connect with people, and this was my way,” Duran tells Variety. “Everyone has a different way, but connection with people is so important. I mean, that’s what keeps us alive.”
As a morning show host, Duran specializes in asking the questions, but turning the microphone back on himself was a new experience. With his new nearly 300-page memoir, Duran opens up about everything from the time he nearly built his own radio transmitter and burned down his closet, to his first contest giveaway (a slice of his mother’s cake to his one listener — an elderly neighbor), growing up gay in Texas, and the road map to radio stardom that included sex, drugs, heartbreak, and the happy ending of his recent marriage to his husband, Alex. “It was awesome,” says Duran of the Arizona nuptials. “I finally went to a wedding I liked.”
One of the key moments in Duran’s life was a letter from his radio hero Ron Chapman of KVIL when he was merely 12: “Learn all you can about words, and how words can paint pictures in people’s minds. That what we do in radio. It’s the theater of the mind.”
In his book, he does just that, using words to paint a portrait of his life, even the “screwups.” Delving into his past proved to a rewarding process, he says, especially sharing details of the crazy, wild west days of radio.
“My most fun moments all occurred while I was drinking or smoking pot, so trying to remember all of that from those days a long time ago, that was difficult,” he says. “But I had a lot of friends and they would remind me and I go, Oh, okay. There it is. There’s the memory. Of course, I remember all those geeky radio moments. That was exhilarating, going into a radio station and doing crank phone calls and recording them and playing on the show. We were adults doing a kid’s job. And I remember I stopped loving radio as much as I used to love it. When I found out it was a business, that was awful.”
The key takeaways from the book, Duran says, is the natural need for connection, as he discovered in the awful aftermath of Sept. 11 when Z-100 stayed on the air taking calls from New Yorkers the day of and after to share their grief, fears and confusion.
“A life of connectivity is the same as having a healthy body. It’s very important because otherwise you get lonely,” he said. “You could live in New York City as I have for many years and be surrounded by millions of people every day and feel very lonely. You need that connection.”
Also, the story of having a childhood dream come true is one that is hopefully inspiring for listeners and readers. Adds Duran: “Some life lessons, I had to learn the hard way. I learned that I’m a good guy. I like myself, and I can look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what, you’re good.’ The hang ups I used to have about myself, I don’t have anymore. And I think those three things are really, in my opinion, the benchmarks of the book, at least for me and for anyone reading it because I do dwell on those, in a way that I’m hoping can be relatable to someone who’s reading it.”
Here are a few things learned from “A Life Lived Out Loud and Proud:”
Backstage Is Boring
With the annual iHeartRadio Jingle Ball tour about to launch this winter, most listeners think that the place to be is behind the scenes. But as Duran says in his book: watching the show is the way to go. “Backstage to me is a hassle. It’s people pushing people around, telling you to get out of their way, clearing the hall. It really is a working corridor. There’s nothing sexy about it at all. But people don’t know that, and people are doing anything and everything they can to do to get backstage. I’m just trying to tell people don’t bother. You have more fun watching the show. “
What to Do When an Interview Goes Sideways
In his book, Elvis reveals that while many celebrity interviews go well, some don’t. Case in point: Madonna, whom he says in his book is one he never quite got right. “I don’t know if she thinks she’s being clever or if she truly believes that’s what we want her to be. But when I do interviews, I like to truly bond with someone and talk to them about what’s in their heart and what makes them passionate about what they do. And I just never got there with her, you know? And I don’t think I’ve ever seen an interview with anyone who really got there. She always likes to kind of play a cat and mouse game. And I guess that’s fine for some people, but not for me. I really want to do it again and again until I get it right with her. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen. It may be that, you know, that that interview that will never, ever be successful in my mind. I’ve been a fan of all of her music. I’ve been to all of her concerts and, and think she’s great, but when it comes to an interview for me, I really feel like I’ve got to get it to click. And they need to click with me. My style of interview doesn’t work if you don’t.”
Pro Tip: Don’t Be Late to a Radio Interview
In his book, Duran tells of the time Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj missed the on-air mark for radio interviews. While it all worked out in the end — Perry did her interview the next day and Minaj became a good friend, even gifting Duran with a designer bag — a teachable lesson was had by all. ” When it comes to TV, I think they understand how rigid the time schedule is for the TV hour. But for some reason I think they think of radio people as we’ll just get you when you get there. Unfortunately when you’re syndicated and you have a bunch of clocks ticking down, you don’t have a choice. You have to have them there and they would show up late and we just tell them to go home. There’s nothing we can do with them. And so it sounds rude, but it’s better to have someone meet them at the street and say, don’t even bother coming up than it is having to come up with and kicking them out.”
All Hail Howard Stern
Elvis Duran doesn’t always find the right words, like the time he met radio legend Howard Stern and talked about “fecal matter,” as detailed in his book. “He’s that one person who I feel, for me anyway, he opened the door of how far we could take things just being honest and connecting. And that really is the overarching theme of the book: my need to connect with people. I was a geeky kid from a fun family, but I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I still had the need to connect. And I found that radio was my way to do it. And he’s the ultimate connecting communicator.”
He’s No Fanilow
“By the time I met [Barry Manilow], it was the nineties and he was just bitter. I told him how much I appreciated his music and how it fit into my life. He didn’t want any of it. I forgot what he said, but it was really rude. You gotta be careful who you’re talking to, ’cause one day they may write a book about you. So there you have it. “