"Baltazar" and "Goumba" Johnny Sialiano are KTU's morning personalities. They team up every weekday at 6 a.m. in a small studio on Washington Boulevard in Jersey City to entertain thousands of commuters with a variety of gags.
The show features such segments like Baltazar's "Balt Busters," a clever phone prank to a listener; "Goumba's Joke-Off," jokes from listeners who call in; and entertainment news from Lynda Lopez. The show also plays a few heavy-rotation songs after each segment.
"We're fun and light-hearted," said Baltazar, who would not disclose his full name. "Our listeners are fun and the show keeps getting better and better."
In addition to their funny bids, the DJs interview entertainment celebrities. So far they've chatted with singer Brandy, singer/actress Cher, rapper LL Cool J, comedian Paul Rodriguez, and castaways from the television show "Survivor."
"We bring celebrities here and try to find something new about them," Sialiano said. "They come here to promote something, but we like to make the experience fun."
Hudson County is a great place for the show because it embodies the station's dance and techno music format, said the show's executive producer, Mike Opelka.
"I love the nightlife in Hudson County and the sense of community, and the people dedicated to the preservation of the buildings and history," Opelka said. "Despite the gentrification, the county remains a great place to find personality and character amid the generic cities we so often see around the country."
In January, the producers of the morning show, which is geared toward a female audience, decided to reformat the program. So at the start of 2002, they went from a five-member lineup to a duo.
"This format is working well for us so far," Opelka said last week.
Every morning, Baltazar and Sialiano battle against such powerhouses like the Howard Stern Radio Show, WPLJ's "Scott and Todd in the Morning," La Mega's "El Bacilon de la Manana," and other programs. Despite the tough competition, KTU has been lingering in the top five in the ratings.
"This show is the most accurate reflection of the KTU audience. A hilarious Italian from the Bronx and a Hispanic married male," Opelka said. "Plus our showbiz news comes from a Puerto Rican from the Bronx."
Opelka has been at KTU since September of 1997. Before KTU, he produced shows at the Fox network and the FX cable channel.
Baltazar, on the other hand, joined the show four months ago after a successful seven-year run in Boston. While in Boson he dominated morning radio, and he said he hopes to do the same in New York City.
"Just like Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens, I am heading to New York to get my championship ring with KTU," said Baltazar.
Originally from California, Baltazar enjoys the diversity and sense of community in Hudson County.
"The people here are the best," he said, smiling.
Sialiano, Baltazar's partner in crime, has had a different journey in radio. He was born in the Bronx and fell into radio after many different career changes. Shortly after graduating with a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Brockport, Sialiano signed as a free agent in professional football with the New York Jets and then with the New York Giants, also as a free agent.
"Football is one of my passions" said the muscular Sialiano during an interview at the show's studio.
Although both opportunities were a dream come true, Sialiano had to retire from the sport due to a neck injury. After football, he founded the company "Broadway Bodyguards," and traveled around the world guarding celebrities and famous businessmen like Smokey Robinson, Sam Kinison and Malcolm Forbes.
In the mid-'80s, he wrote comedy sketches for radio stations across the country from Z-100 FM in New York City to KIIS FM in Los Angeles, Calif. And with his natural quick wit and charm, he established himself as one of the area's top comedians, performing stand-up at popular comedy clubs like Caroline's in Manhattan, Rascal's in New Jersey and Grandpa's Shooting Stars in Yonkers, N.Y.
"Comedy comes naturally. You either make people laugh or you don't," he said.
KTU discovered Sialiano in 1996 and originally brought him in as a writer. The chemistry that he brought to the station was too good to waste behind the scenes, so management decided to put him behind the microphone. Sialiano was so successful as a co-host in the evening slot that KTU quickly changed his status and made him co-host of their morning show, according to Opelka.
"I know everyone's listening to the radio," Sialiano said. "I want them to stop on our show and listen to what we're doing."
In his free time, Sialiano donates his time to many charitable organizations within the tri-state area. He works annually with organizations such as the Guilda Club, March of Dimes and Ronald McDonald House, to name a few.
"Being a part of KTU is more than being a part of a radio station. It's being a part of radio history," Sialiano said. "I feel tremendously indebted to my mentors for giving me this once in a lifetime break - a break that has changed my life and has given birth to a new career."
Working in Jersey City also gave Sialiano a newfound appreciation for the Garden State.
"I knew very little about New Jersey before KTU. I am amazed at the diversities in cultures in New Jersey and how beautiful the state is," Sialiano said. "You don't realize the amount of famous people who came from New Jersey."
The KTU morning show airs Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on 103.5 FM. Their web site is www.ktu.com.
The crew is preparing for a big show in May for "Cinco de Mayo," which will include surprise guests and prizes, Opelka said. q