WJCU is thrilled to recognize two great hosts with our DJ of the Month honors. Join us in congratulating Eric and Jason of NEO Rocks, as our November DJ’s of the Month! Learn about how these two local music lovers linked up to produce one of our most recognizable shows.
What’s the story of how you two were brought together to host NEO rocks here at WJCU?
JASON: This all stats with Mr. Krieger actually. Back in 2008 there was an opening – the local show, he was leaving – and I sent out an email to Mr. Simna also known as Eric and he wrote me a scathing email back explaining that he’s not Mr. Simna that’s his father’s name. Knowing Eric now, I find it funny back then I just thought he was a jerk! (laughing). So, I read this email and he said “if you have any questions about how to submit your music for the local show, cause I was in a band trying to get my music out there, contact Mr. Krieger. So, I reached out to Mark and I talked to him for about an hour and a half and what resulted from that was a friendship with Eric or Mr. Simna as I still call him today, and we’ve been friends since. So, when an opening came up in 2012, Eric’s co-host was leaving, I told him I was going to be his new co-host and he kind of laughed but I said ‘no that’s like, gonna happen.’ And the rest is history.
I thought at the time it made sense cause I was in the music scene and I was playing all around, I was traveling, touring with my band. I knew northeast Ohio really well being here my whole life and I thought it was a perfect fit. So Eric somehow agreed to let me on, even though I was pretty demanding and the rest is history!
ERIC: NEO Rocks was plugging along and I kept going through hosts. We originally tried to do the show by getting as much student involvement as we could. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. When things kind of broke down I was left hosting the show on my own. Jason and I had known each other for a while and he was already becoming the troubadour that he is for Cleveland. He wanted to be part of the show and said ‘I’ll be your co-host,” to which I asked ‘when can you start?’ (laughing). And now it feels like he’s been a part of the show forever.
He kind of has become the face of the show. I wish I could take credit but he’s the one who actually deserves the credit for the show at this point. He’s done so much getting the involvement from the rest of the community. It’s been crazy how he’s evolved the show, and the growth from Radiothon and Blizzard Bash and all that is really attributable to him. But he saved me because things were tense at times with former co-hosts and I was really glad to find stability. We’ve still been able to bring students in once in a while to help out with the show and we still would love to get students involved in the future.
How did Blizzard Bash come to be and how have you seen it evolve over the years?
JASON: Blizzard Bash actually predates me and I’ve heard stories that it was held on campus, they had one Blizzard Bash at The Grog Shop, we’ve been Brother’s Lounge and recently we’ve been at the Beachland Ballroom. And of course this year is the evolution, doing a 48-hour version of it.
Of course you can find out all the information online and obviously the proceeds are going to the Hunger Network. I’ll say this, when I first started working on Blizzard Bash I noticed there wasn’t a lot of communication with the Hunger Network so one of the things that I took on a few years ago was developing relationships with folks at the Hunger Network. We’re working with Maire Reynolds; she’s been helping us big time. And Hannah Westfall has been helping us big time. So we’ve really worked on developing these relationships over the last few years which I think has helped immensely. We were at the Happy Dog a few years ago, Welshly Arms played right before they blew up and got signed out of Europe. Overall, Blizzard Bash has really evolved and I think what I’m most proud of is we’re able, as a station, to form these relationships with Hunger Network and I think it’s pushing things forward.
This year is our most ambitious goal ever. Usually we hope to raise about $1200, $1300. This year we’re searching for $4800 to coincide with the 48-hour virtual music fest. It’s ambitious but I think what’s so inspiring is what we have 48 musicians playing over two days, really three days, followed up by a NEO Rocks show featuring many of those same artists playing Christmas songs and holiday songs. So I just think this year is very special, No. 1 because we’re trying to raise that $4800, which is the most we’ve ever tried to raise for the Hunger Network. And then we have so much participation with the local music community really doing their part to help this cause too. So there’s a lot of synergy happening between all parties.
ERIC: So Blizzard Bash actually predates even me. It started I think two years before I started NEO Rocks. And it started as a tiny, little event on campus. It was a concert down in the Underground by the cafeteria and they tried doing canned food drive. That food ended up sitting in our production studio for about six months before it finally got turned into the Hunger Network. And when I came in, even the first year I was not part of producing the concert it was really still a WJCU production. The first year I was involved it was on a Tuesday night at The Grog Shop, weather was awful. Very few people came to see the show and from that point forward I kind of took hold of it with NEO Rocks and said ‘we’re gonna run with this now,’ to try to create more unity with the local community cause there was some but they weren’t really reaching out so we grew that connection with all the musicians in town and kept growing it. One year we had Welshly Arms, a band that’s touring Europe now. And it was just before they signed their deal with Universal Europe. We were at the Happy Dog that year, you could not move. And that was like the height of Blizzard Bash, I thought it would never get any better. And then Jason has taken it and run with it even more as my life has gotten a little bit crazy and he was able to keep it going and keep it going and really pushed.
Then this year happened and we looked at each other and said ‘what are we gonna do? How are we gonna do this?’ We didn’t wanna give the station a bad name by having a giant concert inviting people to come out and suddenly we’re a super spreader event. Initially we had a really cool idea that was going to take it our doors at a local church and we were gonna have kind of the format we ended up with just out doors and on a smaller scale. Bands would play for six hours in the parking lot of this church which was also a food pantry for Hunger Network. Then numbers spiked, and we thought maybe we need to take a step back and at that same time we got a really awesome message from Meg Stepka – who created the 48 hour Virtual Music Festival earlier this year – saying ‘hey I’m looking for a December benefactor and I would really like to work with you guys and your Christmas show.’ And our response was ‘how bout Blizzard Bash?’ She goes ‘I forgot about that, yes please, let’s do it!’ And really things just took off from there because Meganne has this huge stable of musicians that are working with the festival and then we have our entire roster and connections of bands. So now, we’ve got a mashup of 48 hour Virtual Music Festival and NEO Rocks WJCU just kind of colliding into Blizzard Bash 48 hours to End Hunger and it’s been really cool to watch.
Meganne has put together a lineup that is huge. There are so many people. There are other local theatre troops that are doing something. There are painters. There are poets. There are obviously tons of musicians. Last time I counted there are over 56 different acts performing for Blizzard Bash this year. This year is poised to be out best year ever.
How much do you enjoy doing a show on a college radio station that’s all about local artists?
JASON: Synergy is really the perfect word to describe it. If you think about it, people love WJCU. I knew about WJCU forever. The station has been around for a long time and it had always been in the back of my head and the fact that Eric said yes to me doing a Monday night show with him – you should have seen me doing the cartwheels in my apartment at the time. I was so excited. So I think there’s a unique situation happening where WJCU is known in the community. NEO Rocks has made its own footprint within that. A lot of people know Eric from doing sound in the area. Lot of people know me from singing at them in bars. And then we’re obviously trying to help get the word out about local musicians. We love the local community here in Northeast Ohio, hence the name of our show Northeast Ohio Rocks. So when you put all of that together it makes sense that I get. Huge kick out of this, it’s amazing.
I remember sitting down with Eric, we were maybe two or three shows in and I said lets go talk. So I bought him some chicken wings cause that’s all he eats, (laughing) and I asked him ‘who do you think our main audience is for NEO Rocks?’ He thought about it and he went, “you know, families, men, women.’ I said, ‘that’s a fair answer but I feel a good majority of our listening audience, they’re actually musicians or friends and family of musicians hoping to hear them on the air. I think we need to maybe redraft how we approach the show.’ I can say that the community has stepped up and I get such a kick out of playing local music for Friends I know from people I know people I don’t know, people I want to know or may play with one day. It’s such a thrill.
ERIC: When we first saw that news, Jason was the first to find it, and he saw all of his nominations beforehand and he got really excited about them. And then he was sitting down and was like ‘wait, hold on, really?’ And to see NEO Rocks on a list with Bull and Fox, Alan Cox, Rover and Sound of Ideas at WCPN and then us a tiny little college show that has zero budget and zero support staff, it was humbling. We said on the show, we’ve been doing this so long that sometimes there are moments where you say ‘should I keep doing this?’ And then something like this happens and the community shows how much they value the show and it reenergizes you. That is what it was for me. The pandemic has been really draining so seeing that was like ‘Oh wow. Okay, I need to kick my butt back in gear because everybody else is showing they have value in us, I need to live up to that.’ It’s really cool.
Early on in NEO Rocks I went to a concert it was a Carlos Jones concert at The Grog Shop and in that concert I stopped in my tracks because in that concert Carlos Jones thanked Dee Perry from WCPN and me from NEO Rocks in the same sentence. And it’s moments like that like ‘I have no business being in the same sentence as Dee Perry, but you just put me there. Holy crap.’ So the nomination was just another manifestation of that and it was one of those moments where you’re just like, ‘Holy crap. Yeah what we do is worth it.’ It’s awesome.
What did it mean to you to see NEO Rocks in the running for Best Radio Show in Cleveland last month?
JASON: It’s weird because obviously I work hard at what I do, whether it be the show or playing live throughout the year. But I can tell you when I saw that come through and I was nominated in several categories, which was great. I got home at like 11:30 at night and I saw an email from Jasen Sokol our GM and I followed the link and I saw NEO Rocks was nominated for best Radio Show in Cleveland. I gotta tell you there was a great sense of pride that came over me. It was great that I was nominated for singer, song writer, vocalist, I was very appreciative of that. But seeing NEO Rocks was like ‘wow.’ So I called Eric and I’m thinking there’s no way he’s gonna answer. Sure enough he did and we talked for 45 minutes and we’re like, ‘is this a mistake? No, no, we earned this.’ I think what we settled on that night was that we’re doing a good job of getting the voices and the music of the community out there. It sounds cliché but the musicians are the ones who earned that nomination because without them, we’d be nothing.
ERIC: I’ve always been somebody who thrives in the background and helping other people succeed. And in doing this, I don’t do it for the accolades like Best of Cleveland, that’s great, but that’s not about me. That’s about the local musicians and presenting them. So for me I love watching everybody else success so well. Watching Welshly blow up is awesome. Watching people like Madaline Finn go off to Nashville and have great success and Callie Shea Sullivan down, she also is in Nashville. So many people have gone so many different places and it’s awesome to see. Just being able to watch their growth.
I mean Madaline Finn had her in on the show just after she won the High School Rock Off. To see her go from her original band Maddie Finn to On Void to The Whiskey Hollow and then to her own solo stuff as Madaline Finn. Her transformation from Maddie Finn all the way to Madaline Finn, it’s kind of like – I don’t wanna say watching my kids grow – but it’s like being that that big brother uncle much older, getting to sit and watch these groups grow from being kids who don’t know how to shut their mouths to being kids that are actually now full adults helping the younger groups do what I think I tried to help them do. It’s awesome to watch. I feel a responsibility to them and doing what I can because I’m in a place that not many people are in. Up until recently we were the only show in Cleveland dedicated to local music. It was in the last year that BW got the Locally Grown Show. But for a while we were the only game in town.
Is there maybe a favorite show you guys have hosted or put together over the years where you left the studio and felt it was something special?
JASON: The top two things that enter my mind, one would be Welshly Arms at the Happy Dog. I wanna say that was Blizzard Bash 2015. We pulled in some good money for the Hunger Network and I remember after that they just blew up. And just seeing them all over TV and they were on Conan O’Brien and I’m sitting here like ‘I can text those guys right now! They just played at the Happy Dog, how cool is that.’ So if I’m going with a concert that’s No. 1.
I think something that speaks to what NEO Rocks is about, it’s community and so we tried a few years ago – I had this crazy idea – for Radiothon to reach out to 50-60 artists in Northeast Ohio and asked if they’d put together a simple 30 second video promoting Radiothon tonight because we’re trying to raise a certain amount of money and use this hashtag. So we holy crap it worked! So we’ve done it the last couple years with up to 90-100 different musicians blasting out these video of themselves. There have been some memorable and creative ones. So I guess that really defines what WJCU and NEO Rocks is all about. It’s all about community so between the Blizzard Bash with Welshly Arms and everything everyone has done for Radiothon the last few years, those would be my answers.
ERIC: I’m gonna go to the very first Christmas special that we did. That was an absolutely stupid idea that first year. We had no business succeeding in it. We had I think 20 musicians in the studios. We had people in studio C in PDX on air with me and in the lobby. And they all performed in the lobby. That show went about 2 hours and 10 minutes. We planned that show in a week. Jason and I looked at each other and said ‘we want to do something for Christmas, what do we wanna do?’ And we decided just to have a bunch of people in studio with us and everybody played two or three songs. We mashed up and played some prerecorded tracks but we got through it and we looked at each other and went ‘did we just do that?’ (laughing).
Afterwards we were like ‘wow, that worked.’ And everyone else was like ‘that shouldn’t have worked.’ We had 20 people in close quarters and nobody dropped an F-bomb, nothing was broken. We knew we had something special after that night. And then we were able to grow it and go up to Marinello Theatre and do a full-fledged concert. It’s one of those things that you do it and it shouldn’t work but it does and you’re like ‘well, let’s se if we can break it.’ And we haven’t broken it yet.