RADIO PERSONALITY: Ryder’s hyperactivity an asset

Ryder GigCity EdmontonA notorious Edmonton broadcaster has turned his childhood ADHD diagnosis into a gift. Where Ritalin failed, radio has done wonders for Ryder in the Morning.

“I had a 2014 attention span in 1990, which was dangerous,” he says, getting ahead of himself already. “I think the 2014 attention span works now. People live in Vine videos. You have to be funny in seven seconds.”

The Hot 107 morning man hastens to add that he doesn’t want to take anything away from people struggling with ADHD (which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, in case you think abbreviations without explanation are part of the problem), “But I am very lucky,” he says, “to have found an industry where it’s a positive, which is ridiculous to think.”

Radio is a ridiculous industry, so maybe it works out.

Ryder Travis Lisa Hot 107 GigCity Edmonton

From left: Ryder, Travis and Lisa are forming a rap group

Following the grand broadcasting tradition of the Wacky Morning Zoo, because working people need something zippy to wake them up, “Ryder in the Morning” does not reveal his real name. That’s because a lot of people hate him. He’s had stalker issues, threats. The 31-year-old announcer does not hold back on the air, at his best and perhaps most controversial when he’s just yapping off the top of his head. There are lively conversations with callers and on-air guests, including his vivacious Thursday morning partner “Lisa,” who has no radio experience whatsoever but seems to be a natural. Backing them up with pre-recorded hilarity is local production whiz Travis Bretzer, recently stolen from his gig at Rogers Media (which owns Sonic and the Bounce). Quite the team of young comic minds we have here. They’re also forming a rap group to be called Edmonton LRT (Lisa, Ryder, Travis).

“Expect big things from us,” Ryder promises.

With deadpan wit and apparently no filter, the radio host heaps sarcasm upon many of his subjects. Some get it, some don’t, some play along, some definitely don’t. There is frequent (bleeped out) swearing. Some callers deserve every bit of scorn they get, of course, and you know who you are.

In short, Ryder is considered the biggest asshole in Edmonton radio. He’s fine with that, too.

“Embrace the asshole!” he declares.

Pranks with a purpose

In real life, during a recent interview at Hot 107’s studio, Ryder is a perfect gentleman. He’s a husband and a new father who admits most of what he says is directed at his wife and all her friends, who seem to share the same twisted sense of humour. It’s all an act, see?

Oh, the pranks he’s played. Flowershop Friday is a good one. Ryder phones florists and tries to get the clerk to fill out unusual gift messages, as in: “Sorry I got a little too drunk at your little nephew’s birthday party, and that I blew chunks. Chunks is the name of the clown.” He got made once when a florist sent the station a bill for the $25 bouquet he said he wanted, along with the note he dictated: “I apologize for illegally breeding dogs in your parents’ basement.”

Have you ever taken a (BLEEP) in the river valley?

Have you ever taken a (BLEEP) in the river valley?

Ryder sometimes has inappropriate conversations with wrong numbers. He tricks people. He plays with their emotions. In a contest to award the 107th caller a trip to Mexico, he’ll talk to No. 106 and taunt them. He pranked Don Iveson with “Unnecessary Censorship” (a joke Ryder swears he came up with before Jimmy Kimmel did), recording the new mayor saying things like, “Have you ever taken a (BLEEP) in the river valley?” He impersonates authority figures. He lets callers believe they’re not on the air when in fact they are. It’s part of the trend of mean-spirited comedy made popular by entertainers like David Letterman, where everyone except one very confused patsy is in on the joke. Hopefully he or she can be a good sport about it.

“I try not to be mean spirited,” Ryder says. “There were stretches in my career where I thought that was funny. But I try not to be. Flowershop Friday is slightly cruel, I guess.”

He can use his powers for good, too, as in a bit called “Busting Distracted Drivers.” With the assistance of an intended target’s buddy for a pre-arranged sting, Ryder phones the victim, saying he’s with “the RPMC” and has photographic evidence proving the person was texting while driving. He offers the errant driver a choice between a fine or giving up their cellphone for a week. The perpetrator’s reactions are priceless as Ryder becomes increasingly more abusive and bizarre.

“It’s amazing how people change their tone when they think they’re talking to a cop,” he says. “They turn into somebody totally different – that’s the funny part about that bit. You get those people on phone who are like, ‘oh, sorry officer.’ There have been people who are pretty upset when you tell them afterwards. And you’re like, hey, you get a free hands-free device out of this, and I think it’s time you learned a lesson. Shame and a prize!”

Blame Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus GigCity Edmonton

Not salvia

Ryder’s reputation precedes him. He’s from small town Saskatchewan – like Edmonton’s only other solo morning host Garner Andrews of Sonic – where he says his first inspiration to go into radio came at the age of 17 not from music but from hearing prank calls from the nearest FM station in Lloydminster. The future Ryder, his nickname bestowed by his older brothers, didn’t do very well in school. He studied theatre at Red Deer College, but says he wasn’t happy no longer being the strangest person in his social group, so he quit and went to the Western Academy of Broadcasting in Saskatoon, which had a seven-month program and was located in a mini-mall. He “barely scraped by” there, too – “I don’t think they ever failed anybody” – but once in the real world of radio started to thrive. Thank that pesky ADHD.

“With this job, I actually think it’s a tool,” Ryder says. “I can focus on a lot of things at once. I know how much time I have left in the song, I know where that caller swore that I have to bleep out, I can upload stuff on Facebook, all in a three minute span. I don’t think I’d be able to do my show with a more focused, one thing at a time-type mind.”

After stints in small markets, Ryder landed a job as the morning man on Wired 96.3 FM in Saskatoon, where one of his stunts went viral. He smoked salvia (a formerly legal hallucinogen that was sold in head shops) to prove a point about how dangerous the drug is. Salvia was so underground at the time, Ryder recalls, that he wouldn’t have done it at all over fear of just serving to introduce kids to it. Then Miley Cyrus lied about that time she smoked pot, and salvia was fair pop culture game.

“It only lasts for 10 minutes, but it is ridiculous,” Ryder says. “You go bananas. It’s that intense. I ended up smoking it on the air live to give a realistic depiction of what it does. And I look back at the video now and I think, damn, I wish I wasn’t high on salvia when I was trying to make an argument against salvia. I was messed up.” (You can see the video below.)

The story got picked up by national TV in Canada, and by Jimmy Fallon and Perez Hilton in the US. That was also the year Ryder won the Young Broadcaster of the Year award at Canadian Music Week. Program directors across Canada started to take notice. He got a job as the morning guy at a new station in Vancouver – where uptight West Coast audiences weren’t ready for his brand of irreverent radio – and then a year and a half ago landed at Hot 107 in Edmonton, where listeners seemed to be more receptive.

“I think people have a thick skin here,” he says. “I love it here. You can get away with saying things that piques people’s interests and questions their sensitivities, but I think people in Edmonton know how to take a joke.”

Evidence is in his favour. While Hot 107 sits almost dead last in the crucial (but fatally flawed) PPM ratings, Ryder in the Morning has pulled ahead of the Bounce’s morning show with the 12-plus demographic (according to Ryder), and is “catching up” to the mighty Pepper and Dylan at Virgin Radio. Aside from the ladies, he says he’s popular among males aged 30-40 – and they can’t all be tuning in to listen to Katy Perry.