Getting Comfortable

It’s time for a commercial, so Kerri Kasem begins reading ad copy for a lender who wants radio listeners to convert their adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, into fixed-rate mortgages.

Somewhere in the middle of the spot, inspiration dawns.

"So lose your ARMs," Kasem ad libs with a playful smile, "and use your legs to walk over to …"

Watching through the glass from the adjoining studio, Jack Landreth, program director at KXNT-AM, 840, smiles, covers his eyes and shakes his head in the way somebody would do when watching a little sister do something goofy.

The impromptu departure from the script is a sign that Kasem, who joined Alan Stock as co-host of KXNT’s morning drive time show in October, has become comfortable in her new gig.

It turns out that KXNT’s early bird listeners have become comfortable with Kasem, too. According to Landreth, ratings trends show solid increases in the station’s desired 25- to 54-year-old and 35- to 64-year-old demographics since Kasem’s arrival. Stock and Kasem, he adds, helm the No. 1 morning talk radio show in town.

Kasem’s arrival has helped to turn what used to be a straightforward news/politics talk show into something a bit more fun. Kasem, talk veteran Stock notes, "likes to go after the fun in radio.

"There’s a little bit more humor and lightness to what we do," he says, "and the audience seems to relate to that more than if we were just hammering away at things."

Kasem overhears him and interrupts. "Now, how much do I owe you?" she asks Stock.

"Well, let’s see," he answers, playing along. "Six and a half, seven bucks?"

They laugh. "I adore Alan," Kasem says. "He’s one of the main reasons I took this job."

Kasem, 34, is attractive in that cute-sexy sort of way, tinier than you might think from looking at her modeling photos — 5-feet-5, according to the MySpace page she’d love for you to visit (www.myspace.com/kerrikasem). She has an engaging, occasionally pleasantly silly personality melded with a strong, almost blue-collar work ethic that surfaces when the conversation shifts to matters of career.

Most important, Kasem possesses the key traits required of any successful talk radio jock: Opinions — lots of opinions — and the willingness to spill all about anything, even herself, if it serves the show.

First: Kerri Kasem is the daughter of Casey Kasem, legendary radio broadcaster and voice-over artist. Yet, Kasem says she never harbored any childhood dreams of sitting behind a microphone to earn a living.

"What’s so funny is, my dad would always say, ‘Why don’t you try voice-over?’ " she says. "Ah, no, no way. I’m gonna be a movie star. I’m gonna act."

Kasem did pursue an acting career during her 20s, although, she admits, without any particular drive or focus.

"It’s really easy to sit on your butt and wait for things to happen — take easy jobs, make a little money here and there, ask Dad for money," she says. "That wasn’t making me happy."

As her acting career foundered, Kasem found herself clubbing, partying and drifting, becoming convinced that she was letting her parents, and herself, down.

Her father and mother — they divorced when Kerri Kasem was 7 — had instilled in their daughter a strong work ethic.

"A few years ago, I said, ‘No more.’ " I cut a lot of people out of my life who were filled with drama and chaos.

"It was the hardest year of my life, but it changed my entire life, my entire thought process, and I became extremely successful within that one year."

That success came in her father’s line of work. Kasem had enrolled in broadcasting school in 1996, mostly to do something until she figured out what she really wanted to do, but found herself unexcited at the thought of playing music for a living.

But during the long drive to and from her classes, Kasem discovered talk radio and became, she says, "a talk show junkie. Once I found that I could talk — which I’m really good at and I do a lot of — it was, ‘Wait a second …’

"The minute I started doing voice-over (radio) — my first radio show was in ’97 — I never auditioned for another acting job."

Kasem and her brother, Mike, created a show featuring behind-the-scenes interviews on TV show sets. Her resume includes a stint at MTV-Asia and a variety of TV and radio shows. Most recently, Kasem had worked in Los Angeles, doing weekend shows and fill-in work on weekdays. And when the morning co-host slot at KXNT opened after the departure of Heidi Harris, Kasem’s program director in Los Angeles recommended her to Landreth for the job.

"The minute we met, we clicked," Stock says. "She came on the air and did two or three shows with me as an audition, and I tell you it went great."

So great that Stock told Landreth to forget about auditioning anybody else.

"She and I just played so well on-air together that I said, ‘Why go through the hassle of it?’ " he says.

The adjustment was rockier for some longtime listeners who, Kasem admits, "hated me."

" ‘Who are you?’ ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ ‘Who is this chick?’ ‘Chick’ was supposed to be demeaning to me," she says, laughing.

"Now, I get calls all the time: ‘I used to not like you, now I love you.’ ‘I’ve been listening, and now I wake up with you and you make my day.’ I’m so appreciative to have that. That makes me happy. That makes my day."

She also likes the challenge of doing a show that’s different from the more feature-oriented programs she has done before.

"I do get serious on subjects I need to be serious about, but I’m really the entertainment part of the show," Kasem says. "I put the smiles on people’s faces, I annoy my co-host, I annoy my producer with my singing. I bring the morning show aspect into this."

When the talk does turn to politics, Kasem considers herself "more of a centrist" than Stock.

Kasem’s mom was a Republican fundraiser, so "I have a lot of, I guess, Republican ideals," she says. "But I also have a lot of tree-hugger ideals."

Kasem now lives in Las Vegas, but commutes back to Los Angeles every few weekends to visit family and friends and work other jobs, which currently include two weekly radio shows and hosting duties for the UFC martial arts league and the SiTV cable network’s "The Rub."

Kasem, for years an occasional visitor to Las Vegas, says she has enjoyed discovering Sandy Valley, Red Rock Canyon and other parts of Southern Nevada tourists seldom see.

And, if any further proof is needed that Kasem just might be the perfect match for her new gig: She’s actually looking forward to her first scorching Las Vegas summer.

"I’m a lizard," she says, smiling. "I could be on a hot rock and just look at the sun and love it."

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