SPRING HILL — Jon-Paul Coriaty — "Mo' Bounce" to his listeners on the air — watches the phones light up and laughs.
Outside his window in Manhattan, hundreds of cars snake along. They might be listening to his show right now.
"It's surreal," Coriaty tells a reporter on the phone. "I'm in New York on the radio. This is unbelievable!"
Coriaty, 29, spent much of his childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his favorite top 40 radio station, Z100 — WHTZ-FM — provided the score. DJs Spyder Harrison and Elvis Duran told jokes between songs.
He loved video games like Super Mario Bros., played Little League baseball and was an altar boy. It was radio, however, that would become his dream.
But it almost didn't happen.
• • •
Coriaty's family moved to Spring Hill for the same reason many do: for the weather.
For young J.P., who was about to enter eighth grade, the move was an adjustment. He could pursue many of the same things, but he missed his friends. And he missed Z100.
With his high energy and an upbringing in a theater family, he pursued drama. Years later, he is still remembered by drama teacher Mark Pennington for his rendition of the winged monkey, Nikko, in The Wizard of Oz.
Then he discovered Tampa Bay radio station WFLZ-FM 93.3 and became a fan of the MJ & BJ Morning Show.
• • •
When Coriaty graduated from Springstead High School in 1998, while many friends headed off to college, he took an unpaid gig as a promotions intern at WFLZ. He cleaned CDs with alcohol wipes and fetched coffee.
Spyder Harrison had left New York to work closer to his wife's family, eventually ending up at WFLZ. He became one of Coriaty's best and most valued mentors. "He seemed to know when to laugh and when to add a comment," Harrison said.
It was Harrison who decided that "J.P." wasn't the best radio name.
"J.P. sounds like someone from Gilligan's Island," said Harrison, who frequently pinned air names on interns. "I said, 'Guess what? Your name is Mo' Bounce.' "
The name stuck. After two years, a small family-owned station in Crystal River, WXCV-FM Citrus 95, hired Coriaty as a board operator, and eventually gave him his own nighttime show.
Coriaty was finally getting paid to do what he loved best.
• • •
In the years since, Coriaty has crisscrossed the United States, working at radio stations in Gainesville; Mobile, Ala.; Philadelphia; and San Antonio.
Along the way, he met and married Raquel, 25, a radio devotee who speaks with the same cadence as her husband.
But radio is a tough business. A station wants to go in a new direction, and you're out the door. And when his Clear Channel station in San Antonio went through budget cuts in 2007, Coriaty was out of a job.
At first he was optimistic. He sent out hundreds of demo tapes. Something would come up, he thought. Nothing did.
He and Raquel ate through their savings. Coriaty began to second-guess his career choice. Maybe it was time to hang up the headphones. They began to worry. Coriaty felt depressed.
San Antonio was hiring police officers. Coriaty took the necessary exams, applied to the academy and got accepted. He was relieved. He could earn a living again.
Before he started, however, a friend called and urged him to apply to a new radio station in Houston. "You're close. You should just drive there," he said.
It seemed crazy. He was wary of spending money on the gas.
But he grabbed his demo tape and CD and drove anyway, wearing the shorts and T-shirt he had on.
The vice president and general manager were playing mini-golf in their office. On a whim, they agreed to see him.
"In a desperate, passionate move, I had cold-called a new station and now was sitting on their leather couch in my shorts and T-shirt," Coriaty recalled.
They liked his material and asked him to come back for a tryout show.
"I'd been out of work eight months," Coriaty said. "I was not getting my hopes up."
But his tryout turned out to be one of the best shows he'd ever done, and the station offered him the job.
Mo' Bounce was back on the air. "I literally cried," he said.
• • •
Houston's Hot 95.7 was a success, and a year and a half later, Coriaty was recruited by a station in New York.
Not just any station — Z100, the station he grew up with and one of New York City's top-ranked stations.
"When he was little, he used to force us to take him to places where his favorite DJs were performing," said his mother, Rosemary Coriaty.
These days, Coriaty's voice carries across the airwaves every weeknight from 6 to 10.
"We have a listening area of almost 16 million people," he said. "I'm in the city. This was my dream!"
The phone lights up. Someone who knows all nine songs on Mo' Bounce's "9 at 9" contest is about to win an iPod Touch.
"You win!" he tells the caller.
And it's hard to say who's more excited.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at [email protected]