Sunday, April 22, 2018
TV and Media

Radio star Mike Calta dropping 'Cowhead' nickname with all-star comedy roast

More than 20 years of having friends, colleagues and complete strangers call him Cowhead is quite enough for Mike Calta.

The longtime local radio personality, who currently hosts an afternoon drive show on WHPT-FM 102.5 The Bone, will retire the Cowhead name and be rebrand his show The Mike Calta Show on April 14.

"I have two kids now and I don't ever want my 14-month-old daughter to hear the name Cowhead, unless maybe she is cashing some huge check from my will. Then she can know," Calta, 42, laughed.

Changing the name isn't just a move to protect his kid either. It represents a sea change in terrestrial radio and a concerted effort by Calta to take the next step in his career.

"When I started at the Power Pig (currently 93.3. FLZ-FM), everybody had those types of names. I was Big Mike for a while but that didn't really stick. Then they asked me if I ever had any nicknames in high school and I remembered that a few people called me Cowhead and it sort of stuck. The minute I said it I immediately regretted it.

"I think times change. Even the Power Pig changed its name. As times change and you age, it just gets silly."

He's been warning fans about the change for the past year, with only a few negative responses along the way.

"People have said, 'In the very beginning we knew you as Cowhead.' You can call me what you want," he said. "Some people will be against it but it's time to grow up a little bit (with the name). (The show) will still have the same mentality of an 8-year-old. Don't expect any maturity there."

The radio funnyman hopes to take it to the next level in the coming year.

"My contract with Cox (Media Group) is up in June, and I would like to enter into syndication. So any sort of negotiation has to involve talks of syndicating the show, so nothing will probably happen on that front until early next year," Calta said.

The way people commute is changing, Calta acknowledged, but he still believes there will be a place for him and other DJs in the future of terrestrial radio.

"Honestly, my music station, as soon as they figure out how to get Spotify and Pandora in place in cars, I think we'll see a little bit of a shift," he said. "But radio will always be around. They said the end of AM was FM. And it's still around. And people still like what's funny. Funny will always will be the draw for radio. And traffic reports. Until they alleviate Tampa Bay traffic, there will still be FM radio."

The way he sees it, his show is built to be funny no matter where you are hearing it.

"If a show is funny in Tampa, it will be funny in Orlando, it will be funny in Miami," he said. "I believe the show is structured so it's funny no matter what market it's in. I would like to get the opportunity to show people that. I would like to see the show be successful in other places, I think it can work."

It wouldn't be the first time the DJ has helped his parent company make a major decision. "You know we didn't ask Cox (about the name change). We just decided to do it. We said, 'This is our plan. We're doing that.' You don't ask, and you get a lot more," he giggled.

•••

To part ways with the famous moniker, Calta's holding a comedy roast, funeral-izing the name in a sold-out event on Thursday at Tampa's T. Pepin Hospitality Centre, featuring a slew of comedians including Bert Kreischer, Robert Kelly, Jim Florentine, Greg Fitzsimmons and Jim Norton.

The cavalcade of comedians reflects Calta's great relationship with comedians from around the country, from Kreischer, who Calta said he could have on every day, to stars like Ralphie May, who calls Calta one of his best friends.

Even with such a packed dais, Calta said he's bracing hardest for the people closest to him.

"Out of all the Comedy Central comedians coming to do the roast, the people I am most afraid of are Galvin, who works with me on my show, and my wife," he laughed. "Galvin just has 13 years of bottled-up hate he's going to release on the stage. He's just one of the meanest, but funniest, people I've ever met. And my wife has been working on jokes nonstop. She's going to try to make me cry; like, that's her goal."

Calta has been married for 11 years. Their anniversary was in March, and he says his family has stayed well away from his work for the most part. "Unfortunately, my wife has no interest in being on the show or even listening to us. She stays out of that portion of my life. She just spends the money," he joked.

One instance in which he got her to participate turned into an almost awkward moment for him and his son. Once, while driving his son somewhere on a Saturday morning, Calta flipped to The Bone and heard a reairing of one of his shows featuring a bit titled "The Not-So Newlywed Game," with Fox 13's Charlie Belcher hosting.

"A lot of the questions we got were about our sex lives, which we called 'whoopee' like the old show (The Newlywed Game)," Calta said. "My son hears my wife's voice and goes, 'Mommy is on the radio', and I had to turn it off real quick."

It's a complaint that he'd gotten before from loyal listeners — that they had to turn the show off with their children in the car — but one he didn't understand until becoming a parent himself.

"Sometimes I'm listening and I just go, 'Whoa,' " he laughed. "It's weird. I never regret anything we say or do on the air. But I get it now."

•••

Calta likes the place he's in right now, and wouldn't trade Tampa Bay or his job for any other.

"My worst job was when I did mornings as a part of a country show," he recalled. "That was singlehandedly the worst period of radio in my career. We played eight country songs an hour, back before country was cool. I don't know anything about country, I'm from New York. I wasn't in control, the host felt like he wasn't there and there was nothing I could do at the time. So I'm doing my best telling jokes, and there was a lot fake laughing and that kind of crap."

Since landing his own show, Calta has had to duke it out in the courtroom with former boss Bubba the Love Sponge Clem over who owned the Cowhead name, but he prevailed in both lawsuits.

When he considers his legacy in Tampa Bay radio, all he can do is laugh.

"This is ridiculous," Calta said. "We've done so many great things on the show. We even had the vice president on our show. But at my funeral I probably be remembered as the guy who played 'Guess Who Farted.' It's just so popular. Somebody had to come up with it."

Calta hopes to remain in Tampa Bay even if he does get syndicated. He said hard work in combination with a strong fan base has kept him thriving in radio longer than some of his contemporaries, and will sustain his crew for years to come.

"I think sometimes some of the other guys got too big for their britches," he said. "Listeners know I'm appreciative of the work I get to do. I get to go to work every day with four creative people and be creative and be funny and at the end of the day look back and think, 'That was a great show.'"

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