Many people got acquainted with Peter Rosenberg, one part of the Cipha Sounds and Rosenberg Hot 97/WQHT morning show, after a controversial turn last summer with Nicki Minaj.
But there’s much more to the man.
Rosenberg, originally from the Washington, D.C. suburbs, isn’t just a hip hop guru, he’s a fan of broadcasting. Right from his Twitter bio, he pays homage to one of his idols, calling himself the “Jewish Johnny Carson.” He says the title was self-imposed after the PBS documentary on Carson aired last year.
“I’ve always pursued things that I dreamed of doing,” Rosenberg tells FishbowlNY. “I dreamed of being like Funkmaster Flex and all the great jocks who were on Hot 97, and the other thing I’ve dreamed about doing is being a late night host.”
Rosenberg has branched into television with numerous projects for MTV. But as he told FishbowlNY in the video clip, Rosenberg has always been fascinated by hip hop.
Rosenberg is part of the group on Hot 97, sharing top billing with DJ Cipha Sounds. K Foxx handles the entertainment/gossip news (here’s an on-air clip). Rosenberg brings his cutting edge humor to the show, but when it comes to radio, he is no joke.
“I went to journalism school at the University of Maryland. I’ve been on the radio for years,” Rosenberg says. “I’ve done every kind of format.”
He points to Edward R. Murrow, the godfather of television news, as another industry pioneer whom he respects. He also thinks highly of Howard Stern, but Rosenberg adds he does not share similar on-air styles.
“That said, I’m funny and I’ve been a hip hop DJ since I was 14 years old,” Rosenberg says. “So, all those things I bring to the table I’m very sincere about.”
It’s his passion for the genre that led to his most talked about moment at Hot 97.
Last summer, hours before the annual Summer Jam concert at MetLife Stadium, Minaj was scheduled to be one the headliners. Rosenberg was addressing the crowd at an earlier show on the grounds that afternoon. The air personality took offense at Minaj’s new song, Starships, for being too much of a pop hit.
Minaj, at the behest of her manager and mentor Li’l Wayne, canceled her performance.
“I was surpised that everyone got so bent out of shape about it. I think it could have been quelled very quickly and not been a big deal at all.
“It was just a situation being utterly taken the wrong way and getting huge, and then when once it started getting huge, me running with it,” Rosenberg says. “I wasn’t thinking about that fact that it was live streaming, none of that was on my mind. All I was thinking about that was doing what I normally do, which is hyping a crowd.”
The remarks took on a life of their own after Minaj began a Twitter war with Rosenberg. She used ammunition from her millions of fans to help blow the story out of proportion. The next week on his show, Rosenberg kept firing salvos at Minaj and her camp. Backing down was not an option.
“I thought that would have made me seem weak. I meant what I said.”
Rosenberg says that incident has given him a bum rap as being a controversial, Stern-like shock jock.
“Sometimes I can be a little bit critical because I’m a big hip hop fan, but I don’t consider myself particularly controversial,” Rosenberg insists. “…The people who just get on the mic and go, inherently run into controversy because you don’t really have much of a filter. So I do say things that I think people view as controversial sometimes, but to me I don’t see myself as that.”
Now as Hot 97 gears up for its 20th anniversary of hip hop concert, Rosenberg would like the opportunity for glasnost with the rap superstar.
“I’d like to talk to her,” Rosenberg admits. “I’d like to say that I’m sorry if she felt bad about it… This is a station that has been like home for her and she felt like one of the jocks was a dick to her on a big day like Summer Jam. If that’s how she felt about it, I’d want to apologize for that.”
Although it wasn’t a “master plan,” on a personal (and professional) note, Rosenberg can’t complain.
“Ultimately, I was glad that it turned out the way it did,” Rosenberg admits. “It helped people think of me in a way that I do that I do want them to think of me–not the controversy part, but the stand against pop music and in favor of ‘real’ hip hop.”
He contends that the morning show saw a definite ratings boost for the next six months. (Rosenberg talks about Hot 97 ratings below)
His social media status also jumped in the Minaj aftermath. Rosenberg uses those tools, specifically Twitter with nearly 150,000 followers, to promote his “brand.”
“I got my job in a sense through social media because it was YouTube videos that got the attention of my program director,” Rosenberg says. “So I was pretty early generally in all forms of viral stuff. I was fairly active.”
He remains quite involved with his own YouTube channel featuring extended interviews at the Hot 97 studio.
Hot 97, a recognized leader in hip hop and R&B for more than 25 years, is the Last of the Mohicans for owner Emmis. After selling CD 101.9 and KISS in 2011 and 2012, respectively, Hot 97 is the last station standing for Emmis in New York.
“It was weird to see KISS go away. But the marketplace was very different for them,” Rosenberg says. “I don’t think anyone started thinking, ‘Uh oh, Hot’s next!’ No, I haven’t felt that.
“I feel that Emmis is truly committed to Hot 97, and I sense that even if everything else were to change, I think Hot 97 and Power 106 [Los Angeles] will always be what Emmis hangs their hat on.”
Hot 97 may be secure but the industry is in flux and Rosenberg knows the glory days may be lost forever.
“There were people before me in my seat who were making a million dollars,” Rosenberg says. “That has become a very difficult goal to attain. But as long as those limited FM signals exist and are able to broadcast music for free with the level of sound quality that it has, I feel that radio will always be around.”