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On Air With a Lively Pair

These Two Radio Hosts Have Been Friends Since 1982, and It Shows in Their Rapport

Article by Chris Watson

Photography by Terry Fravel

Originally published in Canton Lifestyle

Every weekday afternoon from 3:00-7:00, Stark County can tune into 1480 WHBC to listen to the Kenny and JT Show. It’s been described by its hosts as the “Seinfeld of 2020,” i.e. a show about nothing. But for a show about nothing, Kenny Roda and Jeff Turk manage to fill it to overflowing with high school, college and professional sports news, entertainment stories, and whatever banter these two friends are feeling.

How did you two meet?

Kenny: We met when I pledged Alpha Tau Omega at Baldwin Wallace University. It was 1982, my freshman year and his sophomore.

JT: I played football for four years, Kenny went for basketball.

Kenny: Yeah, but it only took two years for me to realize I’d make a better career out of radio than the NBA. Faces for radio, that’s why we do it!

JT: Speak for yourself!

Kenny: I grew up near Pittsburgh listening to sports on the radio and thought it would be fun to do, so I took classes for Communications.

JT: I was more of a DJ. I always jocked, never talked.

Kenny: So we worked together at WBWC radio, doing play-by-play and color commentary of Baldwin Wallace baseball and basketball, as well as music shows. 

What was college life like for you?

JT: Animal House.

Kenny: The movie has some similarities to our experience, but we both graduated! What’s the old saying, C’s get degrees, too? We’re both outgoing, so we were involved in a lot of events together. But JT always had an interest in music, even back then. He was our Spring Sing director, he was put in charge of getting a bunch of guys to–

JT: No, I–

Kenny: Yes you were! You were in charge, I have a picture to prove it!

JT: But I wasn’t put in charge, no one else would do it! He never stops talking long enough to hear everything. We’re like an old married couple.

Kenny: He said it, not me. Remember that!

What happened after graduation?

Kenny: I got a job out of college in 1986 in public access, very lucky. I started part-time at WKNR in 1992. When they went all sports, a lot of people had doubts.

JT: It was like Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie. They didn’t think it would last.

Kenney: But it worked. I became a full-time update guy, then a sports talk host and was at WKNR for 21 years. 

JT: Back in college, there was no ESPN, none of that. So Kenney was on the cutting edge in Cleveland.

Kenny: I’d come down for Hall of Fame Games and stay at JT’s house, we never lost touch.

JT: I’m a lifelong resident of Canton. Humongously huge family, mostly in the restaurant slash grocery business, so I did everything from beer sales to working nightclubs and restaurants. 

Kenny: You know, he’s got his own DJ business and has been doing it ever since he stopped slinging beverages.

JT: After about a 20-year hiatus I started part-time at local radio stations. WDJQ, WNPQ, I floated around. But again, all music. No talk or sports. Not until I teamed back up with Kenny after 35 years.

How did you end up back together?

Kenny: I’d been out of work, let go by WKNR in 2013. The next year I was approached by Larry Gawthrop, who is now the station manager and our boss, about handling WHBC’s afternoon drive. I happily did so for a couple of years, but we needed a local flair that an outsider like me couldn’t provide. Who better than JT? He knows or is related to everybody in Canton. He owns a local business. I worked with him already in college. Once we reached out it was like riding a bike, and we’ve been going strong for five years.

JT: It was really a no-brainer. We’re fraternity brothers, we’re best friends, even if Kenny is a replanted Pittsburgh yinzer. The Steelers will always be his favorite team, but after covering them for so long I think that somewhere deep down he really likes the Browns.

Kenny: We laugh like brothers, we fight like brothers. That’s what makes it work, and listeners love to hear us put each other in our places. I’m not from Canton so I had to earn my place, and bringing JT on board made that a lot easier. 

JT: I, however, grew up with WHBC. It was always a goal to work here. One of my first applications out of college in 1985 was to WHBC, and they firmly closed the door in my face. So who has the last laugh?

Anything exciting coming up?

Kenny: I had the honor of being involved with the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a number of years as part of their “Heart of a Hall of Famer” series. where a couple hundred high school students could ask questions of these athletes and I would moderate. It was a big deal to me then, and now JT and I are starting to do more stuff over there.

JT: We’re both very excited about the Hall of Fame Village and everything going on there. I saw what this town was like when it had the steel mills and everything else, but now to bring together retail, entertainment, and the service industry in the context of sporting life is just fantastic, it’s gonna do great things for the city.

How does the show impact the community?

JT: Very easy answer. This past August our team at WHBC got together with the staff at Mix 94.1 – I also host Saturday Night Mix Party on Mix 94.1 – and we raised how much money for Wishes Can Happen?

Kenny: $228,000 to help make wishes come true. For fifteen years now we’ve held an annual 36-hour Radio-athon, and we’ve raised just over $2 million for kids with terminal and life-threatening illnesses in that time. It’s the most important two days of the year for us.

JT: That’s our community. That’s them, not us.

1480 WHBC has been on the air since 1925, and next season will mark 79 years of covering Stark County high school football. The Kenny and JT Show will celebrate its sixth anniversary in March 2023. Even if you’re out of town, you can visit and click on Live to tune in over the internet, or on any major radio app.