Elvis started his career as an on-air personality at WIOQ, Philadelphia’s top music radio station, and eventually became the program director before getting fired back in 1990. A year later, he became the program director and morning show host of KGSR in Austin, Texas. From there, he had a stint at Z-93 in Atlanta and 104 in Houston, before finally landing at Z100 in New York City. As the daily host of the “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show,” he and his team grew to 30 stations in a single year. Today, the show is America’s most listened to Top 40 morning show and one of the 10 most listened to programs in all of radio, heard live by nearly 10 million people in more than 80 markets across the country.
In the below conversation, Elvis Duran talks about how he overcame mistakes in his childhood, how losing 100 pounds changed his life, coming out as gay, how to build a personal brand, and his best career advice.
Dan Schawbel: Looking back when you were a teenager, what are some of the biggest mistakes you made, and how did you overcome them?
Elvis Duran: I think the biggest mistakes I made were the ones I needed to make — where I didn’t communicate well with management or I partied a little too hard when I should’ve been focusing on my work. I was way into my career until I realized that you really should go to work sober. But I was in college and that was a long time ago. I made a lot of mistakes, but, you know, I don’t feel like I should be ashamed of them or regret them because every step forward and every step backward we lose is important to make us who we are.
Dan: In 2014, you had this big surgery where you lost over a hundred pounds. How did that change your life?
Elvis: Oh, everything. I wasn’t sweating when I was walking up staircases. I could put clothes on. I could buy in stores. I never ever hated myself for being obese, but getting around in this world of ours is difficult when you’re overweight. It changed my life in so many ways. My mom and dad who have passed away, I watched them make bad health decisions in their later years and they paid for it for many years. They died slowly. I said I don’t want to do that, so I decided I had to get healthy. When they retired, they really didn’t have a plan. You need to have a plan. You can’t just go, “Okay, I’m done working now.” I learned that I needed to take care of myself and have a roadmap of what to do next. I never was a five- or 10-year plan kind of guy. I just took the jobs that were available, did them, and now I’m realizing I lucked out doing that because not everyone can succeed that way.
Dan: You came out as gay many years ago and you recently got married. Was it hard to initially come out as gay? Were you fearing the reaction by other people?
Elvis: I’ve always been out to my friends and most of my family and everyone I went to high school with. I’ve been out as a gay guy since I was in high school, so that wasn’t the problem. I just was never out on the air. I really didn’t put myself out there on the air with many aspects of my life. I didn’t talk about my private life and being gay was just one of the things I didn’t talk about. I was the host of the show surrounded by a lot of people, and I used them as my interviews. I would interview everyone on my show and to ask them how their date was the night before or how’s the new apartment or what new restaurants did they try. I never talked about myself, and one day I realized I needed to connect with people other than just talking to them. I needed to connect with them on a, “Oh we have this in common level,” and being gay was one of the things I started talking about. It was underwhelming when I came out. Everyone was like, “Oh, you’re gay. What else? Tell us something interesting cause that’s not interesting. It’s just what you are.” I never ever want to be identified as the gay guy. It just so happens that I’m gay, but I’m the nice radio guy.
Dan: What do you recommend for people who want to build and elevate their personal brand?
Elvis: I say be true to yourself. People have BS detectors. If they don’t hear you being original or true to yourself, they’re going to move on to something else and not everyone’s going to like you and you have to learn that really fast. You have to learn that you know you’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but you are many people’s cup of tea. You will resonate with a lot of people, and so stay true to who you are and eventually the map you’re following, they’ll follow it too.
Dan: What’s your best piece of career advice?
Elvis: Stay true to who you are. Don’t lie. Be honest. You can lie about mini little surface fun things about where you had dinner last night. Maybe you didn’t, but you ate there three years ago, but it sounds more interesting if you say you ate there last night, that’s a little lie. That’s okay. But staying true to your character and what makes you tick. I think people totally, totally lock into that and get it. That’s why I love Howard Stern. He really gave us all license to be honest on the radio, which is for some reason on the radio that’s a very rare thing to find. So be it, we ripped him off. We’re honest and I think people like that.
Watch the full video interview on YouTube.
Listen to the audio podcast