CEDAR RAPIDS — His bosses at radio station KZIA 102.9 FM call him “the second mayor of Cedar Rapids,” but Scott Schulte is about to leave that office — and their office — and head east.
A Cedar Rapids native, Schulte, 58, has been sitting in the same padded radio room for nearly 30 years, waking up listeners with his repartee.
That era as part of a morning team will end when he signs off the air at Z102.9 on Sept. 7 and hops in his car that day to drive to new adventures in Connecticut.
His fiancee awaits him, but so far no job. And he’s OK with that.
Armed with a new website — Scott Schulte Communications — and his Screen Actors Guild card, he plans to continue being “an entertaining educator.”
That’s the common thread between his gigs teaching elementary music in Puerto Rico; helping inmates find a voice through theater workshops in 50 prisons around the country; combining language arts and a culinary program to create dinner theater while teaching at Metro High School in Cedar Rapids; appearing as Stubby Digits and other characters in the former Liars Theatre shows in Marion for 16 years; and tackling major roles at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
Those range from a star turn in “Noises Off” in 1989 and sketch comedy fundraisers in the 1990s to bringing down the house as Max Bialystock in “The Producers,” the Mel Brooks musical that reopened Theatre Cedar Rapids in 2010 after extensive flood renovations.
He also has driven a Coca-Cola truck, which required him to earn a commercial driver’s license. That came in handy when driving the KZIA vehicle he calls “a boombox on wheels.”
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His three sons are now young adults, so the timing is right to begin a new chapter in the New York City commuter area. He’s banking on his career resources to find work as a performance and business coach, trainer, performer, writer and consultant.
“I’m not saying ‘no’ to anything. My whole life has been a reaction to opportunity,” he said. “This transition here is the first time I’ve instigated something.”
He fell into most of his jobs by accident, from talking his way into teaching band solely on the strength of having played trombone in high school, to landing his current job after emceeing a political fundraiser at the Irish Democrat restaurant in Cedar Rapids. When the pub’s co-owner asked him if he’d ever done radio, he said no. But his strength at the microphone was enough to land him a recommendation, an introduction and an invitation to begin his mornings on the air, before heading to his teaching job at Metro — which he also got by accident after accepting a job there as an associate, falling in love with teaching, then heading back to the University of Iowa for an education degree.
“Radio was like a paper route for me,” Schulte said. After a few years of overlapping jobs, he shifted full time to radio. It’s a position he doesn’t take or leave lightly.
“I love it,” he said. “I don’t like leaving it. I’m happily doing it. It’s what I’ve been practicing to do my whole life. We were making up stuff into a tape recorder in grade school, so I’ve literally been practicing for this my whole life.
“I love the audience, I love the idea of being able to be silly, of getting into a rhythm. I’m always aware that it’s a privilege, and with the constant change of it — when I do think that I’ve been in one room for as many years as I have, and not had that at all feel stale — it’s a testament to the material.”
Except for “a three-year run of country,” the format for the rest of his tenure has been Top 40. Regardless of the genre, he said the morning show from 5:30 to 9 a.m. weekdays is the freest time slot of the radio day, “because you can be who you are.”
And who is that?
“I don’t know,” he said. “When you look at what’s your brand, I’ve always thought my main thing is ‘funny dad,’ but I’m also a person with empathy. I’m a person that wants to champion people. Without being preachy, I want to try to make a point.
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“People don’t come to us hoping that someone’s going to tell them how to think. They’re getting us in short bursts in the morning. It’s little things: They need to know the weather, maybe hear a song that they like, not have them get punished listening to you by not getting some important information. So it’s like hit it, but we’re not a news station. And then, make ’em laugh. People are going through stuff. Maybe where they’re headed is not their favorite thing to do. They don’t want to hear my troubles, they want to have a little fun on the way.”
But not every day has filled with fun and games. He was at the mic during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“When you think about going from a Top 40 station to later that day having a Catholic priest praying on the air, you know things are off the rails,” he said.
And he was at the mic again when historic floods inundated Eastern Iowa in 2008.
“It’s when you can be there for the community, that’s just been huge,” he said of his years on air.
He’s leaving behind huge shoes to fill, said Julie Hein, chief executive of KZIA Inc.
The “Just Schulte and Clare” show will become “The Morning Scramble” when Eric Hanson teams up with Clare Duffy. Schulte called Duffy “a legitimate comedy partner” for his banter. But Hanson brings improv comedy experience, too.
“They have a lot in common, just like (Clare) and Scott have a lot in common,” Hein said.
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