By Donald Bierhals
Bob Cupp gets up no later than 4:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. He grabs a cup of coffee, catches up on sports news for an hour, then “hits the ground running” as he makes his way to the Butler radio station where he has been working for 36 years.
Tyler Friel admires Bob Cupp’s ability to make those around him feel comfortable while making on-air radio conversation feel effortless.
Jay Kline calls Cupp the “Rock Doctor” for his depth of knowledge in the rock music genre.
Both Friel and Kline work with Cupp at the Butler Media Group, and they agree Bob is revered by his colleagues.
“Bob has the utmost amount of respect from management and the people who work at the station because of how hard he works,” said Friel.
Bob Cupp grew up in Center Township, Pennsylvania. By the time he was born, both of his siblings were out of the house, leaving him to grow up almost an only child. Cupp remembers playing baseball with all the neighborhood kids in his backyard on a baseball field that he and his parents made. Cupp and his friends would play baseball games all summer long, creating leagues and playing in tournaments.
Cupp would sometimes climb up an apple tree next to the field and do play-by-play pretending to be the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates commentator, Bob Prince. Cupp described Prince as a “true character” for his many on-air sayings such as, “If it was a base hit up the middle you got a bug on a rug.” To Cupp, Prince was “larger than life,” and his enthusiasm and passion for baseball and the Pirates resonated with his listeners.
Cupp said that “back in the day,” you were lucky if you got to watch the Pirates play on television a handful of times during a season – listening to the games on the radio was commonplace for most people. “I grew up listening to almost every Pirate game on the radio and that’s when that fascination with radio began,” said Cupp.
Another childhood idol for Cupp was Jack Bogut of KDKA radio. Cupp recalls his parents listening to Bogut’s morning show every day growing up. Cupp described Bogut as someone who was extremely easy to listen to, as his on-air personality was straight forward, informative, and funny. Cupp believed that Bogut wanted to make peoples’ morning commutes easier and more enjoyable for those struggling to find the motivation to get up out of bed and go to work.
Cupp’s parents had a mobile stereo unit in their living room, and it was loaded with music albums and 45 vinyl records – a pandora’s box of music. “My parents would go off to work, and I would wheel that into the dining room, set up a newspaper on the dining room table, and then listen to Jack Bogut,” said Cupp who frequently pretended to be a radio personality at a very young age.
Cupp knew early on that he had a fascination with radio broadcasting and a love for music. It took him until about mid-way through his junior year of high school to convince himself that he wanted to pursue a career in radio. Cupp admits to not being a great student in high school, however, his mother always made sure to give him a “foot to the rear end” to keep him focused, as he eloquently puts it.
Cupp remembers attending vocational school and taking classes on how to become a car mechanic, which he claims he had some skill as he was pretty “handy” and good with his hands. “After a while, I didn’t like the idea of having grease underneath my fingernails,” said Cupp. That is when he became more focused on getting better grades in high school so that he could attend college.
After graduating high school, Cupp attended Slippery Rock University to study communication. His parents were extremely supportive of his aspirations to do radio work, and Cupp knew for his dreams to come to fruition he was going to have to work extremely hard. Cupp learned the value of hard work from his parents, especially his father who worked for 42 years at Butler Armco Steel Works.
“It didn’t matter. He got out of bed and went to work,” which is something Cupp always admired about his father – his relentless work ethic. Cupp believes those in the radio industry must possess a work ethic like his father’s, because even on the bad days you still must get up and go to work and perform well.
Cupp got his start in radio in 1982 during his freshman year at Slippery Rock University working for the school’s radio station, WSRU. During his sophomore year, Cupp applied to the Butler Media Group for what he was hoping would be at least a summer job. “I was looking to empty some garbage cans and ended up getting hired full-time in 1984 and have been here ever since,” said Cupp.
After getting hired by BMG in 1984, Cupp moved back home so he could live closer to the station, he would finish out his junior and senior years at SRU commuting to campus.
Cupp’s first couple years at BMG were certainly “frightening because I was new to the industry and learning on the fly,” while being a college student as well. Back in 1984, Cupp describes being on the radio as much more hands-on compared to today, and it was challenging at times.
“When you were on the air you were moving and keeping things going very actively, nowadays you’re doing that all with a click of a mouse,” Cupp said. When playing music, he remembers having to pull out 45 vinyl records and playing them over the airwaves.
For commercials, you’d record them on reel-to-reel tape and if you made a mistake, you would have to take a razor blade to mark the tape, cut it and tape it back together. There are audio formatting systems for that now. Cupp described the way things were done back then as “archaic,” jokingly. Cupp misses spinning vinyl records and the unique process behind it.
Fast forward 36 years and Bob Cupp has become a hometown staple on the Butler County airwaves with his smooth radio voice, straightforwardness and his enthusiastic passion for music. Cupp is currently the sports director for BMG and program director of WBUT (BMG’s country music station).
Cupp is the morning show co-host on WBUT’s (1050am) “Breakfast Club” where the daily topics consist of local and national news, weather, sports and good conversation. Cupp learned a lot from his childhood idol, Jack Bogut, and applies it to the way he approaches the “Breakfast Club”.
Cupp admits his goal is not to be a Howard Stern or Mark Madden. He strives to be like Bogut. “As I host the Breakfast Club, I think I’ve tried to become that personality where it’s not over the top, it’s just enjoyable to listen to.” Cupp also understands that he “can’t have a bad day,” because you cannot let people know that you are tired or don’t want to get out of bed, or that you’re having technical difficulties. Cupp understands that his job is to be “the other person on the other side of the radio,” providing the public with news and information while also trying to be entertaining.
Cupp is also the sports director at BMG, and he is responsible for how sports are covered at the station. Cupp has a sports segment on The Rock Station’s morning “Rock Show” (97.7 FM) where he and host, Jay Kline, discuss national and local sports news and events. Cupp views sports as entertainment and tries to stay away from contentious commentary when discussing sports. Cupp, much like his idol Bob Prince, likes to make sports talk fun and entertaining for his listeners.
Tyler Friel, BMG’s news director who oversees how news is covered at the station, said, “Bob’s going about 60-70 miles per hour from 6 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. when he can finally catch his breath.” Cupp is not only a co-host on WBUT’s “Breakfast Club,” but he is also responsible for providing morning sports and weather updates on The Rock Station and the WISR (680 AM) station as well. It is safe to say that Cupp does a lot of running around each morning.
From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Bob’s voice can be heard on The Rock Station as the “Rock Doctor”. His prescriptions may include bands like Iron Maiden, Motör Head, ACDC, Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, Black Sabbath or his personal favorites, The Doobie Brothers and Judas Priest. “My all-time favorite song is “Listen to the Music” by The Doobie Brothers,” said Cupp. He loves the song’s good rhythm and sound but believes “if you’re ever having a bad day to me – you put that song on and there’s no way you can have a bad day listening to that song.”
Cupp’s all-time favorite band that he believes should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Judas Priest. Cupp acknowledges that the band had a hard time getting on the radio during the 1980s but took a liking to them for songs like “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” which is Cupp’s favorite. The rest of the world might have caught up with Cupp and his love for the band, as they have been featured on numerous commercials for State Farm Insurance and Honda.
Jay Kline, The Rock Station’s program director, and morning show host believes Cupp is a unique talent as his versatility in radio is one of his strengths. “Bob is Mr. Universal, he can do sports, news and can also be good on-air rock jockey,” said Kline. Kline says that when you think of Cupp, you typically think of heavy metal bands like Judas Priest, but he also appreciates other musical artists like The Doobie Brothers, Michael Jackson, Prince, Billy Joel, and Elton John. Jay Kline admits that Cupp being well versed in many genres is what makes him a great DJ.
Cupp and Kline both share a passion for music. “Music is the soundtrack of your life,” said Kline. For instance, Kline remembers back to when he was in high school “when I hear something off of Def Leopard’s album “Pyromania” or a Quiet Riot song, I remember being 13 and having fun with my friends.”
Cupp believes that entering the radio industry is harder today for reasons like not having to have as many board engineers because computers can often run the boards for extended periods now. However, Cupp did not hesitate to give Tyler Friel a chance when he was in 10th grade.
Friel had finished up a Lanny Frattare summer broadcasting camp and reached out to Cupp via email for an opportunity to job shadow him at Butler Blue Sox baseball game broadcast. Cupp was more than willing to help Friel. Friel remembers showing up to a game and Cupp instantly throwing him into the fire without any hesitation. “Here you go, here’s a headset,” said Cupp, and together they called the game. Friel was the color commentator. One thing led to another, and by Friel’s 11th and 12th-grade year in high school, he was working for BMG doing play-by-play for not only the Blue Sox, but local high school football and basketball games as well.
According to Friel “Bob has a way of making sure everyone is comfortable being in the situation therein.” Friel admits that sometimes you do not even realize you are on-air doing a broadcast with Cupp because eventually, you feel like you are just effortlessly talking to a friend. “We’re two bald guys hosting a radio show,” said Friel.
Cupp can be heard on the weekends too, as he is also the host/producer for The Rock Station’s Rock Fabrik show from 10 p.m. to midnight providing listeners with classic rock and newer rock music as well.
If you listen, you might hear the band UFO and their lead guitar player Michael Shanker’s songs such as “Doctor Doctor” or “Lights Out.” Cupp loves guitar players and introducing people to their music, and if you listen on a Saturday night you might hear those such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and Jimi Hendrix.
On Sundays, you can hear him again on The Rock Station as he co-hosts and produces the Grassroots show, introducing Butler listeners to local bands’ music in the Western Pennsylvania area.
Along with all of that, Cupp is a play-by-play announcer for Slippery Rock University Football.
Like the song “Peace of Mind” by Boston, Cupp finds his peace through the sport of bowling. Cupp grew up within walking distance of a bowling alley and has become a very good bowler over the years bowling a few perfect 300 score games.
Cupp is currently a bowling coach at Butler High School in Butler, PA, and is a member of the Butler County Bowling Association Hall of Fame – for meritorious service.
Cupp met his wife, Betsy, at a bowling alley, as she worked at a bar right next to the alley. He and his wife both share a love for music, but she enjoys her quiet time, whereas Cupp could listen to music 24/7. Cupp enjoys spending time with his two sons as well, RJ and Jeffrey, when they are not busy with either college or work.
Friel describes this year at BMG as “extremely busy.”
“A global pandemic clashing with a presidential election has been a nice way to keep busy,” said Friel. Cupp, Friel, and Kline believe they are public servants to Butler county residents, and that they must inform the public and keep them up to date on pandemic information frequently.
For example, BMG has relied on the knowledge of Butler Health System physicians, Dr. David M. Rottinghaus, MD, and Dr. John Love, MD, as they have frequently spoken on each station providing insight on how to stay safe and other important COVID-19 related information.
“I think we’ve done a pretty solid job by our news department and news team by being very proactive in getting information out and letting people know what is happening. It’s our primary focus,” said Cupp.
Cupp was inducted into the Slippery Rock University Media Hall of Fame in 2017 and was nominated by peers of his, which he found to be extremely gratifying.
Cupp is in his mid-50’s now, and still loves what he does daily. “Just being able to get up and know that there are people out there waiting to hear me start their day is gratifying,” said Cupp. Friel believes that Cupp has developed a long-lasting relationship with his Butler County listeners. “When you are waking up with the same person for 30 years in a row, inherently there’s going to be a relationship,” said Friel.
Kline believes Cupp still has a long way to go before even contemplating retiring, because he simply loves his job too much. Kline admits that what he and his colleagues do for a living is taxing, but “when you do a job and love it, it’s hard to walk away from.”