Radio disc jockey
Russ Parr became a leading radio talk show host in the twenty-first century, with the Russ Parr Morning Show syndicated in 45 cities and reaching an estimated 3.2 million listeners. "Parr's outspokenness, mixed with his banter with the many black listeners who call," noted Krissah Williams in the Washington Post, "has made his program the top-ranked morning show among 18-to-34-year-olds in the Washington market...." His success is the culmination of 20 years of experience garnered as a stand-up comic, record label owner, and television actor. Parr's talent for satire and gift for celebrity mimicry (including Magic Johnson, Michael Jackson, Jesse Jackson, and Mickey Mouse) add a freewheeling quality to his radio program. Although first known for his comic gifts, Parr has shown a willingness to examine socially sensitive subjects including domestic abuse, voting, and breast cancer. The success of Parr's weekly radio program also led to On the Air with Russ Parr, a weekend program that reached two million listeners in 40 cities.
Parr attended Cal State University-Northbridge, where he attained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio, TV, and Film. Initially, he launched his career in television, working as a production services supervisor for ABC. He also worked as a stand-up comic for eight years, performing his first show as an opening act for Joan Rivers in Santa Monica, California. Parr also found parts on a number of television shows including, Martin, Jenny Jones, and Turnstyle, and appeared in television commercials for Kodak, Thrifty's, and McDonald's. Despite Parr's success, he left Hollywood in 1989 and found his niche working as a disc jockey on KJMZ in Dallas, Texas. The popularity of his radio program quickly bolstered KJMZ rating from 15th to 9th in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "Listeners are drawn to his assortment of impressions—from Little Richard to Mike Tyson," noted Ken Parish Perkins in the Dallas Morning News, adding that listeners "seem to have a love-to-hate affair with his mostly improvised, sometimes dark humor."
Parr also found success when he wrote the lyrics to "We Like Ugly Women," a comic rap song that sold 50,000 copies. "When I got that big, fat check," Parr told Perkins, "I said, 'Hey, we might have something here.'" The hit led to the founding of his own record label, Rapsur Records, in the mid-1980s, though he would eventually sign with Eazy E's Ruthless Records. Parr recorded under the name Bobby Jimmy, a character based on a childhood friend, and used the persona to rap his way through songs like "Big Butt," "Weave," and "Roaches." "Basically, I do it because it's so much fun," Parr told Perkins, "it gives me a chance to be creative in writing and, hey, it's like playing the lottery. You really don't know if a song will be the one that hits." Parr's creative streak also won him a MTV's Top Comic Video award in 1987.
Parr recorded several Bobby Jimmy and the Critters albums and multiple singles, and sold 100,000 copies of "Hair Weave" and 300,000 of "Roaches." While these parodies proved popular, many fans failed to realize that Parr and Bobby Jimmy were the same person, even though Parr made no secret of his double identity. This, however, proved less problematic than attacks on his songs' lyrics from feminists, African-American groups, and even speech therapists. The Los Angeles branch of the National Origination of Women (NOW) threatened to boycott KDAY because of the sexism of "We Like Ugly Women." "In hindsight," Parr told Perkins, "I agree. It wasn't done with feelings for the women's movement. I thought I was being funny, and it totally slipped my mind that I could offend some people." African-American groups were angered at Jimmy's "jive talk," and when Parr explained that his persona had a speech impediment, speech therapists also weighed in with criticism.
Criticism failed to stall record sales, and Parr was soon able to use his profits to found Flava TV, a variety/video program. He quickly brought his radio sidekick, Alfredas, on board, and honed his skills as a writer, actor, and producer. In 1989 Parr accepted the position of morning host on KJMZ (later KRBV) in Dallas, Texas, a position he held for nearly seven years. In 1994, however, the station switched to a nationally syndicated morning show and moved Parr to an evening slot, eventually leading to his departure. "We hate to see him go," R.W. Schmidt told Arts Beat, "but he's a great guy and a great talent, and he's going to go do what he loves the most, and that's being a morning man."
In 1996 Parr moved to Radio One's WKYS-FM in Washington, D.C., where his program was syndicated throughout the United States. The Russ Parr Morning Show won listeners by adhering to a freewheeling style that included live calls, song parodies, and unscripted monologues. "Watching Parr and crew do their thing is a refreshing journey back in radio time, back to an era when satellites and computers didn't call the shots, back to a place in which talents were left free to create their own world of sound" noted Marc Fisher in the Washington Post. "They do not employ comedy writers. They walk into the studio at 5:59 for the 6-to-10 a.m. shift. And they pull it off."
Parr also reserves time for serious issues. "For all its bawdy banter and crackling fun," wrote Fisher, "Parr's show is also a running commentary on class, a daily conversation in which Washington's economically rising black population questions itself and pokes fun at its willingness and even eagerness to conform to majority expectations." Parr is quick to criticize double standards and hypocrisy, including ridiculing certain rappers for their use of non-standard English. His program is also unusual because its target audience is women. Popular subjects on the call-in program include relationships and parenthood, and Parr frequently allows his audience to set the agenda. "If you allow people access to your radio show," he told Fisher, "they start to take on your personality."
Parr's philosophy produced results at WKYS, making his show the number one morning program in the Washington, DC area in the spring of 1997. His weekend program pursues another track, featuring a countdown of the week's most popular songs, while a Dallas television program features videos. Parr, however, no longer made his own records and videos, noting that the record industry was too ruthless. Even while widely successful, Parr's radio career has been no stranger to controversy. In one early radio interview, he was confronted by controversial author Shahrazed Ali while on the air. "You're only trying to get ratings!" she accused him, while he answered, "You're only trying to sell books." One of Parr's practical jokes also backfired when he pretended to be Tom Joyner, a radio competitor, and convinced the IRS on live radio that he had not paid his taxes in years.
At a Glance...
Born Russ Parr in 196(?), in San Antonio, TX. Education : California State University-Northridge, BA, radio, television, and film, 1981.
Career: KDAY, Los Angeles, CA, radio disc jockey, 1980s; KRBV, Dallas, TX, radio disc jockey, 1989-1996; WKYS, Washington, DC, Russ Parr Morning Show, host, 1996–; TV ONE, Get the Hook Up, host, 2004.
Awards: Top Comedic Video, MTV, 1987.
The success of Parr's radio program can also be attributed to the strength of co-anchors like Olivia Fox. Fox joined The Russ Parr Morning Show in July of 1996. In 1998 the team was nominated in Billboard for Personality of the Year. Together, Parr and Fox garnered laughs and ratings by shocking audiences with audacious skits. "The show is a guilty pleasure that kept morning audiences in stitches," noted Black Press. The partnership came to an abrupt end in 2002 when Radio One failed to renew Fox's contract. "Olivia Fox is one of the most talented people I have ever worked with in radio," Parr wrote in a statement on his Web site. "I will miss working with her." Some commentators even predicted the demise of Parr's radio program without Fox, but he continued to be competitive in the crowded Washington, D.C., market.
Parr has worked hard to promote community involvement and he practices what he preaches. He remains active in the Russ Parr's Kids Klub, an organization that promotes a number of activities including attending movies and museums. The club also boasts of an active chapter in every city that Parr broadcasts from. In 2001 he led an effort to raise $700,000 for the restoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s former church. "Radio One is a company that serves African-American communities across the country," Parr was quoted in PR Newswire, "and we feel that it is our obligation to try to help save Ebenezer Baptist Church. Dr. King tragically lost his life and devoted his time to making this world a better place for everyone to live in."
In January of 2004, Parr and Alfredas started Get the Hook Up, a dating game show/beauty pageant for TV One. "Russ Parr and Alfredas will essentially serve as the voice and face of TV One," noted Jonathan Rodgers in PR Newswire, "and we are delighted to make use of their tremendous talents." Parr also continued to interview athletes, recording artists, and politicians on his radio program, keeping his fingers on the pulse of current events. During the 2004 election season, he interviewed presidential candidate John Kerry, asking tough questions that many interviewers skirted around. "Russ's appeal is a little older, more adult...," Steve Hegwood told Fisher. "He's an adult who has children he can talk about. And he's married. He talks about real life."
Arts Beat, March 5, 1996, p. 19A.
Dallas Morning News, May 9, 1991, p. 1C.
PR Newswire, September 4, 2001; January 9, 2004.
Washington Post, August 12, 1997, p. D1; February 5, 2003, p. E1.
The Official Russ Parr Website, www.uptoparr.com (March 23, 2005).
"Out Foxed?" Black Press, www.blackpress.org/oliviafox.htm (January 3, 2005).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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