SportsTalk’s Rowland, Perry Celebrate 15 Years of Fun, Friendship.
Sometimes, opposites attract. Husbands and wives, business partners and best friends. Most everyone has seen examples. Who could forget the story about Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, the New York bachelors who had nothing in common but the apartment they shared? They showed how diversity of nature and background can be the strongest seal of a true friendship.
Every morning on The SportsTalk Network, listeners enjoy another version of The Odd Couple when the T-Row in the Morning Show hits the air at 6 a.m. every weekday. As opposites, Toby Rowland and TJ Perry have coexisted and entertained for 15 years, winning the hearts of a statewide following with a colorful mix of opinions on sports, pop culture and everyday life.
Long before Toby Rowland was the Voice of the Sooners, he was working to find the best opportunity for his career and his family.
“I was hired to call Norman High School football games back in the early 2000s,” Rowland said. “I had done Southern Nazarene University games for several years and had just started full time at KWTV, so I took the gig to keep my toe in the play-by-play field,” Rowland said, explaining his introduction to the Sports Talk Network. “It was fun. My late uncle, Billy Nichols, would drive down from his government job every Friday night to keep stats for me in the Norman High booth.”
TJ Perry was working as an unpaid intern at KREF and was doing everything he could to get his foot in the door. Even if it meant working overnights, Perry was willing to do whatever it took. And, everything changed in January 2004 when the TRow in the Morning Show was born.
“That’s the day I became a full-time employee,” Perry said. “I remember being so nervous, because in the previous two years, I mostly did evenings and overnights. There was no automation.”
“I didn’t have a ton of experience producing the live shows. Starting that show, I don’t think we even called each other before that first day. I don’t think I spoke to Toby before we started. It was Toby’s show, and I was the producer, but it quickly became evident I was going to be an integral part.”
The two quickly hit it off, and the perception that the duo worked well together became more than just an idea. It was quickly becoming a reality. Like most fledgling endeavors, there were pitfalls and potholes to avoid, including the grinding schedule that Rowland was putting in.
“I was completely opposite of what Toby was. We were the same age but at dramatically different points in our lives,” Perry said. “I was single with no kids, partying, having a good time. He was laid back, easy going with a couple of kids and had been married for a while. He was a professional and I was not. His hours were so crazy at News 9, and he was responsible for so much.”
For Rowland, the challenge of trying to juggle his family along with a TV career could be overwhelming at times.
“Anybody in morning radio will tell you that the hardest part is that stinkin’ alarm clock,” Rowland said. “It’s just so dad gum early. It’s so much easier now than it used to be, but there were several years when I would finish the late news at KWTV and get home around midnight, maybe get up with a baby for a middle of the night feeding and then head to the radio station at 5 a.m. It was nuts.”
“There were mornings when I would actually take a quick nap during commercial breaks, no joke. I’d pitch to break, lay my head on the table, and TJ would wake me up when we were coming out of the break.”
The challenge of the difficult schedule finally boiled over in one of the only true arguments the pair ever had on the air.
“Getting that schedule to work was a challenge,” Perry said. “He wanted to talk on the air about it… I told him I don’t think you want to. So, when I went off on him, he got upset with me and stormed out of the show.”
“I literally went and got in my car and left in the middle of the show,” Rowland said. “I drove to 7-Eleven, calmed down, then came back and walked in like nothing had happened.”
The two ended up finishing the show, a very early sign of just how well they could handle adverse situations. Despite the challenges of being in much different places in life and living drastically different schedules, the two found common ground that helped build the show’s foundation.
THE EXTENDED FAMILY
Rowland and his wife, Jenni, have been married 24 years. They have three kids: Trevor, Peyton and Chloe. Perry is married to Norman police officer Katie Perry, and they have an 8-year old son, Bronx.
But the two radio personalities also have a family of listeners, and some of their closest kin are Lumber Lady, Sean, Kurt, Taco, Shaq Daddy and Bob from Cement.
Lumber Lady, a.k.a. Patsy Shelley, has been a consistent part of the show since day one.
“When they talk about their personal stuff, like going and getting snow cones or going to the store, you say to yourself…man I’ve been treated just like that,” Shelley said. “People identify with them because they’re living life like the rest of us.”
For consistent contributors like Sean King, it is the ownership listeners are given that resonates the most.
“They have personalized the show,” King said. “We’re all in this together.”
Kurt Keeley is someone who has been weighing in on everything from the NFL to Sooner sports for the better part of 15 years.
“It is as good of a show as there is in the market. I listen to it every day,” Keeley said. “Whether getting your golfers for your majors or your horse for one of the Triple Crown races, you know everybody. You know people’s voices.”
But that connection goes beyond just on-the-air interaction. Shelly and her daughter have spent holidays with the Perry’s and they even babysit Rowland’s youngest daughter, Chloe.
For King and Keeley, the connection between listeners off the air is also something they see has developed over the years.
For instance, Taco, otherwise known as Tom Collins, supplies King’s softball team with jerseys. Shelly and her family are great people, King says.
“You get to know people off the air. You become friends and it wouldn’t be possible without TJ and Toby.”
With any radio show, you have moments that will last forever and debates that you never truly forget or, in some cases, debates that never truly end.
Maybe it’s the consistent argument that Keeley has with TJ about the popularity of the NFL compared to Major League Baseball or maybe even the faded memory of a sleep deprived Toby flipping over a table during an early-morning debate. Perhaps no listener has left more of an impact than Miss Effie.
“Miss Effie was a huge part of the show in the beginning,” Perry said. “She was in her 80s when we started and she recently passed away. She called into the show, even in her 90s. She was with it, had great sports takes and opinions and she wasn’t shy about sharing those opinions.”
“Miss Effie was a sports radio superstar,” Rowland said. “She never pulled any punches and stole the show every time she called in. Nothing made me happier as a host than when her name popped up on the call-in screen.”
And take over the show is exactly what Miss Effie did one morning.
“One day, Miss Effie was breaking down OU football, and Toby said Miss Effie should just come in and co-host the show,” Perry remembered. “Next thing I know, this community van pulls up, and these nurses help this woman off. She walked in, didn’t say a word, walked down the hall into the studio, put a headset on and started talking into the mic. They went on for about an hour. It wasn’t until one of the people with her said that’s enough for today. She dropped her headphones mid segment, walked by me, gave a hug, then jumped on the bus and they pulled away. It was truly one of the most amazing moments for the show.”
THE FUN CONTINUES
“They’ve done a great job and have really hit a good mark in this market,” King said. “Go back through the time here, everything has always worked out for better regardless of what was going on, TJ’s illness, Toby with the Thunder and eventually the Sooners. When TJ got sick, Toby keeping everyone updated. Everyone was pulling for Toby to be the next Voice of the Sooners when Senior stepped down. It has always been like family.”
TJ missed almost eight weeks of the show in early 2012, battling a mysterious illness. The listeners were there, waiting to help in any way possible.
“I think we realized early that we’re not the hot-take, warrior-type hosts. We talk about our kids, our families, the ups and downs of our favorite teams. We laugh at each other a lot,” Rowland said. “Neither one of us is afraid of being made fun of. We’re just an open book, good days and bad. We’ve taken a journey together the last 15 years. We’ve had career triumphs and failures, births of children, my sons have gone from pre-k to college. We’ve invited them into that process. I’d like to think we’re a pretty wholesome sports radio show, with a large dash of stupidity.”
“They have a great chemistry,” Keeley added. “They are best friends. I don’t know if they even hang out much outside the show, but it seems like they do. They are different but they connect so well.”
The combination of Toby and TJ has been a success for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons is that they don’t take themselves too seriously on air. But they are serious about making the show entertaining. They are fun, energetic, relatable and, in the end, it feels just like family.
“They are common down to earth guys,” Shelley said. “When you see them anywhere, they are no different than they are when on the radio. They don’t sound different. They don’t act different. They are just completely grounded.”
Listen each morning to the T-Row in the Morning Show on SportsTalk 1400 am and 99.3 fm or on sportstalk1400.com – BSM