Andrew Z rebuilds with new radio showWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Zepeda waited for this moment for nearly eight months.
Behind him were three failed restaurants, the loss of his job as one of the region’s top-rated morning radio hosts, criminal charges related to a break-in at his Perrysburg pizzeria and a court-ordered alcohol treatment program.
Ahead of him remains bankruptcy and a two-year probation period.
But finally — after weathering a frustrating series of slammed doors, false leads, uncertainty, delays and months of negotiations — a long-awaited new contract was signed July 8.
On July 13, the host and his crew gathered at Toledo’s 100.7 The Vibe studios to air a live preview show and announce their return to the airwaves.
But there was to be one more delay.
“Brandon, tell them what happened,” Zepeda prompted cast member Brandon Doriot that morning.
Doriot had spilled coffee on a soundboard as the broadcast was poised to go live, knocking the station off-air for about an hour.
“I’m like, ‘are you kidding? First day? And you screw up the board’?” Zepeda told listeners, laughing.
“Andrew Z in the Morning: The People’s Show” will air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. starting July 18.
It’s called “The People’s Show” because the comeback has been a true grassroots effort, Zepeda said.
“It’s been awesome because even when the big companies were scared to take me on, there were people contacting me left and right saying ‘Hey, we want to be part of this show,’” Zepeda said. “It’s been like a community coming together to put on a radio show. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s the people’s show.”
More than ready
Before landing the Cumulus contract, the 42-year-old Zepeda maintained his radio chops hosting a weekly Internet radio show on Wednesday nights from a makeshift studio in his Perrysburg home.
“Believe me, after 7 months off the air no one is more ready than me to get back on the air,” Zepeda posted in a Facebook note July 8. “I feel like a racehorse sitting at the starting gate … I’m ready to run! But this is a marathon not a sprint … this show is going to kick ass for years to come and when we look back a delay of 1 or 2 weeks wont be that big of a deal.”
The show will feature a cast of familiar contributors, including Doriot, Zepeda’s wife Michelle, Corey W. King, Steve Reamey aka “Gay Steve,” Donny Palicki aka “Donny P,” Jerry Pickering aka “Avalanche” and Calen Savidge.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to move forward, past everything that’s happened, until there’s something to move forward with and so to finally have something to do and start to rebuild, I’m excited about getting back and getting started,” Zepeda said. “I wouldn’t have wasted my time staying in Toledo if I didn’t feel the average person could separate making bad decisions in business from being a bad person. The station is taking a chance on me and I’m not going to let them down.”
Scott Meier, general manager of the Toledo cluster of Cumulus Media radio stations, said Zepeda and The Vibe are a perfect match.
“People deserve second chances. We told him to stay out of the pizza business and stick to being a great talent,” Meier said. “I’m just happy and excited to have Andrew back on the air in Toledo.”
Cumulus is in the process of purchasing Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which will make it the second-largest broadcast radio company in the country, behind Clear Channel. Zepeda’s noncomplete agreement with his former employer, ended July 1.
100.7 has a much smaller signal reception than 92.5, but Zepeda said he isn’t deterred.
“I knew whatever it was that we did next, it would be broadcast to a lot fewer people,” Zepeda said. “I want to be back where we were, but as long as every day I know we did the best show we could, I’m happy. I love the crew we put together and they believe in me. A lot of people are counting on me so I’m just trying to make sure that I don’t let everyone down.”
No doubt he would be back
When Zepeda was fired by Clear Channel, Palicki said he knew it wouldn’t be the end of Andrew Z.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he would be back on the air … because he’s the best at what he does and that’s host radio,” Palicki said.
Whatever their personal opinion of him, few can dispute Zepeda’s ability as a radio host.
“Even though he’s the center of the show, he’s not afraid to let the others around him shine,” King said. “He’s a very on-the-fly kind of person. It’s more of a go-with-the-flow feeling, so it feels more natural and unstaged.”
Reamey said Zepeda also has the uncanny ability to read people’s feelings.
“If things are going wrong and you’re one of those people who wear their stress, he zooms right in; he’s like, ‘What’s going on?’” Reamey said. “He’s very intuitive about that type of thing. That’s rare. How many people do you know that you may not see every day that you feel comfortable sharing what’s going on personally in your life?”
Palicki said the team has unbelievable chemistry.
“This is the beginning of something really good,” Palicki said.
Destined for airwaves
Zepeda has been entertaining from a young age. Sitting in the basement of his Perrysburg home, surrounded by photos and memorabilia from his 20-year radio career, he recalls himself as a class clown.
“I remember in grade school, the whole class would be back here, but my desk would be up front with the teacher so she could hit me with a ruler,” Zepeda said. “It happened quite often.”
An only child, Zepeda was raised in Southern California by a single, teenage mother. He never knew his father. A driver’s license made playing hooky too tempting and he dropped out of high school his senior year. He got his GED and enrolled briefly in community college, before seeing a commercial for a local broadcast school.
“I’d always wanted to do something like that. Ever since I was little, like around her age,” — nodding toward his oldest daughter, 4-year-old Mazie, playing nearby — “I’d be playing with microphones and stuff like that. I really haven’t changed much.”
His only job offer after graduation was across the country in tiny Sparta, Ill., where he read farm reports, hog markets and local obituaries on the air.
“You really have to love it because for years and years and years, you just don’t make any money,” Zepeda said. “It’s something you have to be passionate about. You don’t want to do it to get rich, that’s for sure.”
He met his wife, Michelle, when he was a radio host in Wisconsin and she was a senior in high school. Ten years his junior, she entered a contest for concert tickets, which involved making her into a human ice cream sundae.
They’ve been together 14 years, married for eight, and have two daughters, Mazie and 7-month-old Kenzley. Michelle said it’s been heartbreaking to watch everything her husband worked so hard for crumble.
“He has been building his radio career since he was 20 and to see him lose that was the worst,” she said. “He had a dream to open a restaurant. Unfortunately he was not a great business guy and aligned himself with poor management that he put too much trust in. So the personal attacks on his character were hard to take. He’s not a bad guy … just a bad business guy.”
“One thing about society nowadays is they don’t like excuses,” Zepeda recently told Toledo Free Press. “At some point in our society, explanations became excuses. If you do something, there’s a reason you did it. They’re not sinister, they’re not anything, but sometimes they are just complicated. But if you explain the reasons you did it, people just think you’re making excuses.
“I’ve never proclaimed myself to be some angel. I’ve made a ton of mistakes. I screw up all the time. I’m just a regular person. It is what it is. I am who I am. I’m definitely not perfect.
“I try not to make excuses. I’ve made bad decisions. I have no one to blame but myself. In the end, my own decisions led to what happened. No matter what the contributing factors were, no matter who the contributing factors were, no matter what else happened, it all comes back to me.”
In October 2009, Zepeda opened Andrew Z’s Sportz Pizzeria at Levis Commons in Perrysburg, juggling early mornings at the radio station and late nights at the restaurant plus family life.
“My wife hated that year,” Zepeda said. “But I loved it. It was busy, but it was fun.”
Although money was coming in, it was going out just as fast.
“Until you open a business, you don’t realize how much stuff you have to know,” Zepeda said. “If someone opens a doughnut store because they know doughnuts, you gotta know so much other than just doughnuts to make it. It’s really, really tough. And I didn’t know. I was stupid.”
As money troubles mounted, Zepeda opened pizzerias in Downtown Toledo and Defiance, hoping expansion would offset money troubles at Levis Commons.
“That was my thinking; that was honestly in my head how it went down,” Zepeda said. “I don’t even know how that makes sense. We were still figuring out restaurant one. Now we have restaurants two and three. And everyone’s telling me this is a bad idea. But what I’m thinking in my head is when these start to take off, the money’s gonna start to come in. But it was never gonna happen.
“I think when you’re on top and things are going well, you think you know everything and I just think you just stop listening to everyone.”
Both new locations closed within months and Zepeda turned his attention to saving Levis Commons. But on Sept. 30, he was evicted.
Casey Pogan, marketing director for The Town Center at Levis Commons, said it was because he defaulted on terms of the rental agreement with leasing agent Hill Partners Inc., but declined to discuss the terms or whether Zepeda still owed money, citing past and potential future litigation.
“We had been working with him and he had been notified on several occasions that this was a distinct possibility and he didn’t adhere to the terms of the lease. It wasn’t an overnight decision by any means,” Pogan said. “We were the third landlord to evict him and we were the first of his restaurants to open, so we really did try to work with him as we do all of our tenants.”
John Bruin of Perrysburg was the last in a string of general managers at the Perrysburg location and among the many employees who agreed to postpone paychecks at the end.
Bruin said the restaurant’s money issues were obvious as soon as he started work in June 2010, but he was not told about them before taking the job. He said his efforts to fix things were too little, too late.
“He’s dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to business,” Bruin said of Zepeda. “Andrew’s an idea guy and lots of his ideas are great ideas. He just thinks he needs to capitalize immediately on every idea that he has and that’s I think where he runs into issues.
“Instead of circling the wagons and focusing on just the one store, he decided to try to grow to make up the difference and that never works in business,” Bruin said. “That’s what a lot of the employees were pissed about is he owed them money and then turned around and opened another location basically with their money.”
Bruin said the pizzeria was a solid concept and could have flourished under better early management and if Zepeda had stuck to one location.
“It could have worked, most definitely. It was a money-making idea all day long,” Bruin said. “I had to say to myself ‘How did it get to be where I am at the moment? How did I inherit this?”
On Oct. 15, there was a break-in at the Levis Commons location in which cash and flat-screen TVs were removed.
The following month, David Wright, a Levis Commons handyman, pleaded guilty to breaking and entering and received three years probation. Zepeda’s uncle, Paul Zepeda, was found guilty of complicity to breaking and entering and is scheduled to be sentenced July 15.
Andrew Zepeda was also charged with complicity to breaking and entering as well as theft and failure to remit sales tax. He pleaded guilty to all charges and was granted intervention in lieu of conviction, citing an alcohol problem, and two years probation, which will clear all charges from his record if completed.
Zepeda admits he talked with Wright about breaking into the store on multiple occasions — but insists it was all done in jest.
“When we got locked out of the restaurant, I’m like ‘OK, dude, we gotta get our stuff back. Operation Condor, are you in? It was like a total joke,” Zepeda said. “I said it to a lot of people. I didn’t know he was going to take it serious.”
Most of these conversations occurred when one or both were drinking or when Wright was under the influence of drugs, Zepeda said.
“I’m in an altered state, he’s in an altered state, we’re sitting here freaking two altered guys talking and he takes me serious,” Zepeda said. “Maybe he thought I said it serious; maybe I did say it serious, I don’t know. I have no doubt the conversation came, but I thought it was this big joke and next thing you know he breaks into the restaurant.”
The approval of Zepeda’s request for intervention in lieu of conviction was controversial, with many area residents posting online comments echoing Assistant Wood County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel, who stated at the time that Zepeda “seems to have an alcohol problem only when it’s convenient for him.”
Former general manager Bruin is one of those who scoffs at the idea.
“I never once, ever, saw him take a drink. Never once,” Bruin said. “Is he an addictive personality? Yes, absolutely. And I think that’s self-evident with his food issues. But even late on Friday, everybody is partying and he drinks water. Always. That’s all he ever drank was water.”
Zepeda insists his drinking problem was real, stemming from stress and triggered by a few drinks one night at his bar.
“You feel stupid that you fall into that trap, so you don’t talk about it,” Zepeda said. “It was something I did myself and no one else knew. It’s hard for people to understand, and I get that, because they say, ‘But he never drank.’ Well, I never did. It’s not something you’re proud of.”
Zepeda said the “in lieu” is not something granted lightly.
“You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Oh, I have an alcohol problem’; I wish it were that easy,” Zepeda said. “There are strict parameters you have to meet. They don’t just hand that out to anybody.”
An online records search of Wood County Common Pleas Court cases by Toledo Free Press found 62 requests for intervention in lieu of conviction in 2010, with 48 granted. The Lucas County Common Pleas Court reported 66 requests in 2010, with 62 granted.
Wood County prosecuting attorney Paul Dobson said interventions “in lieu” are more commonly granted for drug addictions than alcohol addiction.
“That’s not a typical scenario,” Dobson said.
Dobson bristled at Zepeda’s suggestion that he was treated more harshly because of he is a radio celebrity.
“You have to understand that when the Zepeda case came through my office, I had no idea who that person was,” Dobson said. “My office prosecutes felony offenders. We occasionally have some celebrities, but I’m not going to treat them any more leniently because they have some level of celebrity. We’re going to treat each case individually according to the facts as they come out.”
Zepeda raised eyebrows when he called a press conference just before his indictment to accuse authorities of being on “a witch hunt” to smear his name.
“My probation officer tells me I should let that go,” Zepeda said. “Maybe I’m totally being paranoid and it absolutely wasn’t and that’s very possible. I think I’m OK with it now. It’s more about looking forward. I think I have to, in my own mind, realize that if I didn’t make choices, this wouldn’t have happened. So ultimately it has to come down to being my fault.”
Zepeda completed his seven-week outpatient program for alcohol abuse May 11. He said at first he was dreading the program — which lasted three hours per day, three days a week for seven weeks — but in the end found the process insightful.
“I liked hearing everyone else’s stories,” Zepeda said. “Just because you’ve been in trouble or had an alcohol or a drug problem, doesn’t make you a bad person. A few bad decisions made when things are tough doesn’t define who you are.”
Michelle Zepeda said the hardest part has been listening to people disparage her husband.
“Those who are not his fans have this persona of him that he has a huge ego, and is greedy. That could not be further from the truth,” Michelle said. “As his fans know, Andrew has taken on several charities in Toledo … and sometimes more than one at a time. He has paid people on his show out of his pocket when the station he was working for would not. So it’s difficult when those who don’t know him make him out to be this terrible person.”
Zepeda may be trying to move forward, but cast members rarely let an opportunity pass to take jabs at his weight, criminal charges and alcohol problem.
During one Wednesday night web cast, Zepeda asks, “Gay Steve, is that a wedding ring?”
“You know that’s illegal here right, Steve?” Doriot says. “Criminal over there.”
“Well, he fits in,” Palicki quips, grinning at Zepeda as a middle-school chorus of “OOOOHHs” break out.
Later that night, Zepeda wants to talk about the new season of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”
“Are you on it?” Doriot quips to laughter.
Zepeda isn’t surprised or offended when sensitive subjects are bantered around — after all, that’s what he taught his team.
“That’s why what we do is different,” Zepeda said. “Television is so fake and politically correct and no one wants to say anything. On this show pretty much nothing is off-limits. If you feel it and it’s true and it’s real then I want you to say it. I think everyone can dish it and everyone can take it and you really have to be able to on this show because they’ll be brutal.”
Despite their ribbing, all the cast members have stood by Zepeda.
“Here’s a man who right when this broke out was about to have another kid,” Reamey said. “Should someone owning a business listen to other people that have been more successful? Probably. Should you listen to the advice and maybe scale down your ambitions in a hard economy? Probably. But bottom line, I can’t fault somebody for trying to support their family the best they can. Because everybody is trying to do that.”
Zepeda’s willingness to try new things is what drew Palicki to him.
“He’s just not afraid to try anything,” Palicki said. “There’s good ideas, there’s bad ideas, but if you bring up an idea he’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s why I love him. I think it’s awesome. That’s the kind of people I want to be around.”
King, who DJed at the Levis Commons restaurant. was among the employees not paid toward the end. He said he was apprehensive at first about working with Zepeda again, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I never asked if he did it, I never asked what happened, because everybody has their own issues,” King said. “He admits he screwed up. At some point you just have to move past it, because we all make mistakes. Otherwise you dwell on it and allow it to bury you and no one succeeds in life being buried, especially when you have a family to support.”
Bigger than life
Bruin, however, isn’t so sure his former boss is really sorry.
“I think he’s sorry he got caught,” Bruin said. “Everybody says everybody deserves a second chance and to a certain degree I guess I have to agree. I’m not perfect in my life. I guess what irks me the most is his ability to manipulate. He’s a master manipulator; he really, really is.
“It amazes me the amount of dedication people have toward Andrew. I don’t know what it is. Something in his charisma, something in his personality; he’s a bigger than life kind of guy. I think people are just naturally drawn to that. He has the capability to make people go beyond conventional wisdom to do things for him that he wants to get done.”
But Bruin said his biggest issue with Zepeda was the way he treated his employees.
“My pain and anger comes from the way the employees were ultimately treated and these were the employees who were so dedicated,” Bruin said. “I owned a business I had to close in the past, and when things got really, really ugly, I made sure I paid my employees first. At the very end I personally drove 40 miles to hand deliver a check to somebody because it was late and I felt bad. And the mindset is different with Andrew. The mindset is, ‘Well, I just don’t have it.’”
Bruin created a website intended to chronicle how Zepeda’s failure to pay his employees affected their lives, but it remains largely empty. Bruin said his anger toward Zepeda has eased as most of the money has been paid back.
“Six months ago, this would have been a completely different interview,” Bruin said. “I’d have been ranting and raving. Time heals all wounds.”
Bruin has no beef with Zepeda’s new radio gig.
“Radio is what he does. His radio personality really shouldn’t be influenced by poor business decisions,” Bruin said. “Characterwise, people have to make that determination for themselves. And maybe he’s grown. We all grow. We all evolve. And it would be my hope that he’s taken this situation and learned from it.”
Palicki said he’s learned from show business that nothing happens overnight.
“If it does, it’s probably not good and it’s not going to last,” Palicki said. “So I think given time and the right opportunity, there’s nothing we can’t do. It’s gonna be awesome.”
“I watched an interview with Simon Cowell a couple weeks ago and he said the most fun he had on ‘Idol’ was the first year when they weren’t No. 1. He said the journey to the top is better than being there. And I think that’s true,” Zepeda said. “We’re more excited now than ever before. We’re ready to go.”
For more information or to listen live, visit thevibetoledo.com or andrewzonline.com. Listeners outside Toledo can watch the show or listen live at www.thevibetoledo.com or www.andrewzonline.com or via the TuneIn Radio app.
Tags: 92.5 KISS FM, American Idol, Andrew Z, Andrew Zepeda, Calen Savidge, Casey Pogan, Clear Channel, Corey W. King, Cumulus, Donny Palicki aka “Donny P”, Hill Partners, Jerry Pickering aka “Avalanche”, John Bruin, Levis Commons, Melissa Schiffel, Michelle Zepeda, Paul Dobson, Paul Zepeda, Simon Cowell, Steve Reamey aka “Gay Steve”, Toledo’s 100.7 The Vibe, Wood County Prosecutor