In 1981, Ronald Reagan was president, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
was just cracking 1,000 and Prince Charles married a pretty girl named Diana
Spencer. It was also the year Cosmo Leone was hired by Dave Steinle at KGRS(FM)
in Burlington, Iowa, as a nighttime deejay.
almost 32 years later, he’s still at “The New Mix 107.3,” but in the ensuing
years has moved up to the morning show and added “program director” to his
“I only had two conditions when they offered me the job,” said Leone, 54.
“I asked to spend Christmas 1980 with my family back east, and I wanted to fly
home again for my fiancee’s graduation. By the way, that fiancee is now my wife
and we’ve been married 30 years.”
named “Cosmo” after his grandfather (not Kramer from “Seinfeld”), grew up in
the golden era of top 40, listening to WABC(AM) New York’s high-powered
personalities like Dan Ingram and Chuck Leonard, as well as young Big Apple sportscaster
Marv Albert. “He was a great play-by-play guy, and I love sports. I’ve been
able to call a lot of games on the air, including my daughter’s high school
was going to junior college at Nassau Community College where he worked at the
campus station, WHPC(FM).He also worked
as a “gopher” at WPLJ(FM), a big-time rocker in NYC.He did not have the experience to get on the
air there, so he started sending out tapes and Titan Broadcast Management
called him and said they needed someone energetic.His original dream was to be a sportscaster,
and he called himself a “radio geek who went to bed with the transistor radio.”
to your city
While some on-air personalities covet
jobs in ever-larger markets, there was something about small market radio that
appealed to Leone. For him, it’sall about
have a connection to the community and that’s the thrill of the job for me,” he
said. “Chuck Leonard once said that if you’re doing it right and you’re not
there on a particular day, you’ve screwed someone’s day up. That means that
people depend on you and they almost make you feel guilty if you have to miss
work. I do have a life outside of the radio, but this job is very important to
Leone is nothing if not ubiquitous in his adopted hometown. He’s on the air
four hours every weekday. He’s at every large public gathering, including
Burlington’s Steamboat Days, a music festival from which the station broadcasts
is going on, we’re there,” he said. “You have to be seen and heard.”
Leone poses with the staff of local hair
and tanning salon Shear del Sol, at their grand opening.
of Leone’s important community contacts is Tim Manderscheid, branch manager for
Fleck Sales, a beer distributor in the area.
is a lot of fun to be around, full of energy,” he said. “This will be the sixth
year we’ll be partnering with the station for the Toys for Tots drive. Cosmo,
the local sheriff and I stay overnight in a trailer at a mall and Cos broadcasts
until the next day when the trailer is usually filled up with donated toys. And
hey, that’s really fun being outside when it’s about 20 below zero.”
noted that during the event two years ago, Leone wanted to collect bicycles to
hand out to needy kids. He put his appeal out over the air and the trio managed
to collect 176 bikes. Manderscheid is also involved in another local charity
event with KGRS that benefits Crime Stoppers.
has a small but efficient team, about seven people in all, who handle everything
for KGRS and its sister station at Titan Broadcasting, KBKB(FM), “The Bull.”
station owners include Harris Corp., LWM Inc., Jacor, Clear Channel and John
Weird (to name a few). But L.J. Pritchard bought these stations four years ago,
and Leone says he loves having a local owner now. “It’s nice to go down the
hall and get an answer, rather than going through numerous emails.”
some weekend and evening shows are voice-tracked, most broadcast hours are
live. But ask anyone who works long hours with a small staff about balancing
job and family.
was a time when I was doing too much, back when I first took over as program
director,” said Leone. “But I found out that if you don’t delegate and be a great
time manager, you won’t have much of a life.”
member of the staff has known Cos longer than anyone else. Tim Brown met Leone
in 1990; Brown pulls the long noon to 6 p.m. shift on the air.
wouldn’t know it by looking at his messy desk,” said Brown, “but he is very
organized when it comes to planning station promotions, programming the station
and planning bits and features for his morning show. I’ve learned a lot.”
Brown thinks he has discovered the reason for Cosmo’s popularity.
that tough exterior, he’s a very sentimental guy. He’s a softy. Actually, his
listeners probably already know that as he shares just about everything in his
life on the show. That’s what makes him relatable.”
on the other guy
a small market like Burlington, listeners have many choices.
main competition is a group of six stations, but we have a heritage of 36 years
and we’re totally tied into the community,” said Leone. “The idea is that we go
in and sell who we are and if we take care of our own ship and don’t worry
about the other guy, we’ll succeed.”
And what about other forms of competition?
I was growing up there were no home video games, no CDs or DVDs,” he said.“You had to go to a theater to see a movie. Now
there are way too many choices out there now, so if you’re not really local and
tied into stuff, it’s not making an impact on someone’s life. They will find
something else to entertain themselves.”
Even after over three decades at the
same station, Cosmo “Cos” Leone is still having fun.
is nothing like being on a mic live at a radio station,” he said. “It’s like
being the Wizard of Oz. We’re the guys behind the curtain.”
Ken Deutsch is a former deejay who says he
almost used the air name Beethoven Smith until minutes before his first show, when
his program director told him it was a stupid idea.