If you think (or have ever thought) that Ace’s real name is Herman, blame TJ.
“We were on the air one time and I decided, ‘I’m gonna call him by the wrong name just for fun,’ ” recalls Ritchie Beams, who himself is way, way, way better known as TJ of Channel 96.1’s “The Ace & TJ Show.” “So we were just talking and I said, ‘Well, like Herman said the other day’ – and everybody’s looking at me, and I go, ‘Oh my God, I just said your real name on the radio!’ ”
The more Ace denied it, the guiltier he seemed, and it eventually became a running joke on the show.
“People really thought that was my name for the longest amount of time,” says Ace, whose real name is actually David Cannon. “One day I was in Lowe’s, and I hear this guy yell ‘Herman!’ And I didn’t really pay attention. After about the third time, I realize, Oh, that guy’s yelling at me.”
Cannon and Beams have been Ace and TJ since 1993, when – as the only two single guys on staff – the Louisiana natives were paired up for the first time on a Top 40 station in Alexandria, near their hometowns of Pineville and Winnfield. They moved from nights to mornings, then on to Baton Rouge, then to stations in Huntsville and Birmingham in Alabama, before being hired to do Kiss 95.1’s morning show in Charlotte in 1998.
To that point, they had been trading heavily on doing characters. But they felt as if they’d need a new bag of tricks in these parts.
“John Boy & Billy were already legends in radio and we said, ‘If we’re going into Charlotte, we can’t compete with them by people thinking that we’re trying to sound like them,’ ” TJ says. “So we stopped characters and began having listeners be a bigger part of the show, doing more of conversational things and lifestyle stuff, more observational comedy.”
Oh, and some of the wackiest bits the city’s ever heard, from low-budget/lowbrow contests to high-end/high-risk stunts like the time they had a staffer attempt to land an airplane despite no previous pilot experience.
“In so many movies and TV shows, you’ve seen the pilot have a heart attack in the plane and somebody has to go and fly the plane while the air traffic controllers are talking him down,” TJ says. “We said, ‘I wonder if we could really do that?’ So we got a pilot to take him up and we also had our other producer in the plane with him. They wired it through where we could hear all of their conversations on our radio, and the pilot let him have at it.”
“When he went to land it,” Ace recalls, “he pitched it up at the last minute and the instructor had to reach over and slap the stick forward. They slammed down on the ground and ran off into the grass at this little airport. ... That would have been early 2000s. There are so many legal things now that are in the way of doing any of that kind of stuff.”
But it’s not all hijinks. Through its Kiss days and now for the past 5 1/2 years at Channel 96.1, the duo has spearheaded multiple philanthropic efforts.
The most significant and successful, of course, is its “Ace & TJ’s Grin Kids” charity, which for 17 years has been taking children who are disabled or terminally ill on all-expenses-paid trips to Disney World. (Thirty-three families will benefit this year alone.)
Ace also spent more than a decade moonlighting as lead singer of a band called Charity Case, which was formed to raise money for Grin Kids. TJ, meanwhile, currently moonlights as a right-leaning political commentator on “TJ’s Courageous Conservatism,” a weekly web-only “after-show.”
His goal is to be “kind of like Jon Stewart would be on ‘The Daily Show,’ but just the opposite of it,” says TJ, who has backed off the politics on the main show (now syndicated to 11 other cities, by the way). “There’s a bias against conservatives. If I say something that’s a joke, then I’m spewing hate, but Jon Stewart does it, it’s funny because he’s going after The Man. Which is unfair, I think.”
Then he stops himself, and says: “I just figured out what the headline’s gonna be on this.”
“What?” Ace asks.
“ ‘Charity-driven Ace and conservative hate-monger TJ...’ ”
“Works for me,” Ace says, nodding. “I’m totally good with that.”
Meet more personalities behind Charlotte’s top morning-radio shows
The Ace & TJ Show
Station: 96.1 WHQC-FM, aka “Channel 96.1.” (Top 40; owned by iHeart Media.)
On the air in Charlotte since: April 1998. On the air at WHQC since: January 2012.