Every weekday morning at 3:15, when most of us are sound asleep, Scott Shannon drives from his home in Purchase to Manhattan. “The road’s fairly empty,” he says. “You can get right in.”
He’s been driving in early to WPLJ 95.5 FM— where he’s half of the Scott and Todd in the Morning show as well as the station’s program director—for 19 years. He also hosts The True Oldies Channel, a 24/7 syndicated oldies station that airs on PLJ and on other stations across the country, and is the official voice of The Sean Hannity Show. And, every December, he spearheads Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Annual Holiday Spectacular, which is broadcast on PLJ. The concert, which has featured many famous musicians over the years, has raised $4 million in its nearly two-decade history (this year will be the event’s 20th anniversary). “I’ve always worked really hard,” Shannon says.
Right now, Shannon is especially hardworking. This past summer, he and his morning show launched Dish Nation, a TV program featuring celeb news and gossip (basically, Scott and Todd in the Morning, sans music) that aired on seven FOX stations, including WWOR, and finished a six-week trial run in September. Shannon’s excited about the endeavor, but it’s clear that this TV stuff is just a side project. “Television’s not my first love—it’s a companion art,” he says. “A lot of people get into radio as a stepping stone to another business. But radio is my love.”
Shannon had wanted to be a DJ from the age of 10, when he began listening to network radio. At 17, he dropped out of high school to do just that. He got his first full-time radio gig while serving in the Army in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He then hopped from station to station—and also worked for a while as a record promoter at Casablanca Records, and even recorded a Billboard-charting song—before landing at WRBQ in
Tampa, Florida, where he started the station’s “Morning Zoo” show, a format he later made famous on New York City’s Z100 in the 1980s.
Today, the format popularized by Shannon—a mix of music, news, guests, and banter—proliferates on hundreds of radio stations across America. “I was just a kid messing around,” he says. “If I had known the format would take off, I would have tried to trademark it or copyright it.”
After leaving Z100 in 1989, Shannon worked a couple years at Pirate Radio in Los Angeles, before returning to New York to launch a morning show and serve as program director at WPLJ. It was then that Shannon, his wife Trish, and daughter Kathleen, settled in Westchester; Shannon and his wife (now with dogs Riley and Lucy; Kathleen is in law school in Virginia) still live in the same house in Purchase. For Shannon, a military brat who attended 18 schools and who was, he says, “kind of a loner” throughout childhood, Westchester was the first place he ever put down roots. “Our daughter went to school here, and we made most of our friends from the parents of her schoolmates. There are a lot of great families in Westchester.”
One of the ways Shannon has made his presence felt in Westchester is through WPLJ’s involvement with Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla. Two decades ago, Shannon read about a young boy who, after falling off his bike, had suffered a brain injury and was in a coma at Blythedale. Right before Christmas, Shannon and his daughter visited the child and placed a guardian angel ornament above his bed. Sadly, the child died. Shannon was so moved by the experience, “it kick-started our relationship with the hospital,”
In 1992, Shannon and partner Todd Pettengill decided to hold a concert for the young patients at Blythedale that would air on WPLJ, and also serve as a fundraiser for the hospital, with listeners bidding on items during the broadcast. The first concert featured performances by Debbie Gibson, Bobby Helms, and Rockapella.
This past year, the concert featured John Mayer, Rob Thomas, and Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, and was held in the packed-to-capacity Blythedale gymnasium—renamed the 95.5 WPLJ Scott and Todd in the Morning Gym
Diana Scholl is a Brooklyn-based writer who was raised in Ossining. She last wrote for Westchester Magazine about gay life in the county.