TAMPA — The Q Morning Zoo broke rules and records in the 1980s, hooking listeners of all ages with a brand of irreverent FM radio that captured the world.
Under the leadership of general manager Michael Osterhout, WRBQ (Q-105) blew away the staid "time-and-temperature" FM stations he so detested with talent like Scott Shannon, Cleveland Wheeler and Nancy Alexander.
Mr. Osterhout, who invented programming that became commonplace, died June 26, of esophageal cancer. He was 61.
"It was the golden era of Tampa Bay radio, and Osterhout was the driving force," said Tedd Webb, a Q-105 DJ during the 1980s. Webb, now with WFLA, called Mr. Osterhout's death "truly a great loss for radio in general, (and) a huge personal loss for me."
Mr. Osterhout joined WRBQ in the late 1970s, and trotted out a lively, in-your-face format that kept even the shortest attention spans tuned in.
While competitors such as WMGG "Magic 96" aired "adult rock" to a sliver of the market, Q-105 DJs mixed it up with Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson and Guns N' Roses between skits lampooning corruption on the Hillsborough County Commission and other favorite targets.
"Michael had a wonderful line when people would call in and threaten to sue. He would tell them to 'get in line,' " recalled Luis Albertini, a former Q-105 vice president who succeeded Mr. Osterhout as general manager.
He pushed Q Zoo hosts Shannon and Wheeler to be "equal-opportunity offenders." Their mocking skits cost lucrative advertising contracts from the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Electric Co. They made fun of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even after landing a play-by-play contract for their games.
Mr. Osterhout also broadcast Q Zoo shows on television, an unheard-of move at the time that later would be made famous by Howard Stern.
By the mid 1980s, Q-105 was one of the top 10 radio stations in the country, attracting 367,000 weekly listeners with $16 million a year in advertising revenue.
"I don't think today in Tampa Bay there is a station generating $16 million in billing," said Albertini, who now lives in Houston. "Q-105 had the teens, the young males, the young women, the mothers and the fathers, even the grandmothers and grandfathers. We were No. 1 in every part of the day and every demographic."
The success was quickly copied. Shannon moved to New York in 1983, where the Z Morning Zoo quickly rose to the top of the nation's largest radio market.
"It was like lightning," said Steven Saltzman, a former Q-105 employee under Mr. Osterhout who went on to produce Rock Over London, a syndicated program broadcast in the U.S. "It was an entire movement that radio needed to have a personality, catalyzed by his management."
A Tampa native who enjoyed organized sports, Mr. Osterhout graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Ga., and received an MBA from the University of South Florida. After serving in the Air Force, he joined WDAE radio before moving to WRBQ.
He joined Edens Broadcasting, an ownership group that included WRBQ and stations in Richmond and Norfolk, Va., Phoenix, and San Diego. WRBQ foundered after he left, losing a ratings war to rival station WFLZ, the "Power Pig," and was sold to Clear Channel in 1992.
Mr. Osterhout worked with European radio stations, both as a consultant and an investor, and had worked for about nine years at Morris Communications in Augusta, Ga., where he was chief operating officer.
He included his family in his success. He brought his wife and daughter to Monaco last year, where he was consulting for Riviera Radio. Mr. Osterhout wanted his daughter, Sidney, a competitive swimmer, to meet former South African Olympic swimmer Christine Wittstock. The family had lunch with Wittstock and her fiance, Prince Albert of Monaco.
"Today his work has an impact on a global basis," Saltzman said. "It started in Tampa and went across America. End of story."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]