November 14th, 2006 12:12 EST
The Man Behind the Image
You know I had to do it! Happy Halloween everybody, " says Romeo as the first few beats of Michael Jackson`s Thriller " pumps through the studio. As MJ sings It`s after midnight " " Romeo, Kiss 108`s most recognizable voice, starts doing the Thriller dance. After few laughs and quick wit comments with his intern and me the hunky, dark haired DJ turns around to his computer and starts shooting off e-mails. The one-man party that hits the airwaves on the FM station weekdays from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. isn`t sitting behind the mic like a full-time desk job, but rather is full of energy and constantly moving around. The 26 year-old rumored playboy can be as charming in person as he is on the airwaves, but mostly, the man is just busy.
Romeo, born Neil Paris, not only plays the top 40 hits at the mega popular Kiss 108, he also owns a mobile DJ business, Paris Productions, and hosts a weekday syndicated party show, Romeo`s Playhouse. The Boston native has been spinning records on-air since the age of 11 and used to voice over other DJ`s to make their shows uniquely his own. Basically, when I was much younger and I wanted to be on the radio, I would listen to shows on a really crappy boom box with a microphone and pretend I was in a club or something. I would even play music from another stereo in a different room to make it sound really loud and I would yell in the microphone, " Romeo said as he made quick changes to the next music hour`s line up.
However, you would be hard pressed to find him in a club these days. Romeo has been DJing the party scene since he was 16 years old and wouldn`t go now unless he was paid to be there. An interesting fact since he makes his living by creating the illusion of a hyper, flirtatious partygoer for his listeners. I don`t usually have many weekends free between work and my business, but when I do get a day off I`d rather go to a show or a movie than a club. I mean I enjoy it, but it`s not something when I get off the air on Friday I go out and do. " This past weekend on a rare free Saturday, Romeo spent his night watching Nacho Libre on the couch with his two dogs, Bella and Honey.
Out of the studio I`m really just a loser, " he jokes and as an example tells me that he recently brought a tractor this summer. When I go home I`m a dork. I have a house. My hobbies now are mowing the lawn. I have a garden and I have two dogs, and that really is who I am, and it keeps me busy. " The radio jock also loves the food network and just finished redecorating his house adding he likes the pottery barn look. " During a commercial break, he pulls up pictures on a nearby computer of his backyard to show me. I just put in a fish pond at my house. I love Japanese fish. I don`t know where the obsession came from, but I have a salt water tank in my house too. " He even has video of one of his dogs playing in the water among the fish on his cell phone. People at the station make fun of me and say I`m gay, " he laughs and proudly shows me another picture of his recently added pond and another picture of his house. His younger brother, Jeff Paris, can attest that the on-air party master is pretty mellow when he`s not working. He`d much rather hang out with the dogs and make ice cream. That`s common, " Paris said.
This may come as a shock to many of Romeo`s long time fans, who spend their drive home listening to his crazy antics and racy Romeo Needs to Know ", an interactive segment that features questions on love, relationships, and sex. But I began to wonder, between the food network and Nacho Libre, what happened to the man Kiss proudly boasted as Boston`s Biggest Flirt?
That was actually a website contest that I won. The site put up four girls and four guys and people could vote for the biggest flirt. Of course, I had an advantage being on the radio and I told people to vote for me, " Romeo said. Even though now he spends most of his free time at home, I had to know was he ever once the flirt everybody else claims he is.
He shrugs and says, Eh, not really. I had a pretty serious relationship in college. " Which leaves the obvious question, then where did the name Romeo come from? According to him, a couple college buddies started calling him that back in the day and he decided to keep it when he moved from JAMN 94.5 as Neil the Frat Boy " to Kiss four years ago.
Paris, who grew up around the notoriously known flirt, agrees his brother`s claim on his charm-status saying, I think he knows when to turn it on, but it`s more of a joke for his friends than anything else. "
Although the argument could be made that Romeo`s gift of gab and easy way with people could be mistaken for flirtation, his co-worker Justin Weiner says that on-air characters are usually similar to the actual person. Our personas are based off our lives. The name gives a feeling about that person. I think Romeo has grown out of his persona, it`s not exactly who he is now, but he can take experiences from that character and relate them to the listeners, " said Weiner who goes by Spanky " on-air. We try to create an illusion on the radio and take the realness out of life. "
With his airwave persona finely tuned from years of experience, Romeo says that even a bad day doesn`t hamper his character or his interactions with the listeners. In fact, he emphasizes that DJ`s problems have to be left at the door even though at times it`s hard to fake the funk. " For the most part, I play a character, and at the end of the day I`m not like that really. But it`s definitely a persona and people relate to that, " Romeo says.
Joe Hazar, who works as one of the DJ`s for Romeo`s Paris Productions, says that the character definitely follows his boss around. Romeo sent me out on gig, a school dance, and he told me he was going to make an appearance for just a few minutes. So he gets there and gets on the mic, and he goes "Hey, it`s Romeo from Kiss 108` and all the girls start screaming. The thing to remember is that Neil isn`t who Romeo is, Romeo is Neil. " In the studio, Romeo swivels back to the mic and says to me hang on a minute " as he replaces his earphones and comes to life for his audience. Kiss 108. How would you like to party like a rock star? How about partying with rocks stars? Even better. Giving away tickets for Panic at the Disco concert and your chance to win a trip to party with them in their hometown of Las Vegas. Coming up at 5:20 be caller 25. "
The music goes back up and Romeo jumps out of his seat and returns minutes later with a TV dinner. I figure music in the background, food on the table, a perfect intimate opportunity to ask about his love life. Still finding it hard to believe that his mega personality of flirt and fun isn`t completely legit, I ask if he has a girlfriend. No. Well yes. It`s an on-again, off-again type thing. Today it`s off. "
Being a well known, successful, radio host, it can`t be terribly hard to find dates, especially with his ultra-smooth smile. It has been tough. It`s kinda funny because it`s hard to get into a serious relationship unless the girl completely understands what my job is. At the end of the day, it is a job. When I work I`m in the character, but none the less it is a character, but, yeah, that`s definitely a concern, being out and flirting. "
For now, the radio celebrity is concentrating on his career. He recently got a gig as an entertainment reporter for Channel 7 and has interviewed artists such as the Pussy Cat Dolls and JoJo. We get to talking about different types of media and I ask if he has a preference for TV or Radio? He says no, but admits the radio industry is in trouble between downloading online music and satellite radio. We`re [the station] trying to be the innovators and make people stay with us. We`re trying to push the online stuff. You can now get the music and videos on demand on our website, so you can come to us instead of iTunes. And also the radio on your cell phone. You can listen to us on your phone, and you can be interactive with text messages. It`s totally changing. The industry is always changing. "
And with a shifting industry, publicity is key. While Romeo loves his job and his listeners, he never forgets that marketing himself as a smooth talker and a seducer of the ladies is what helps him keep his job. As he surfs the web Romeo says, You can`t be on the air and be a 50 year old flirt. Then I`ll just come off as a dirty old man. Hopefully, by that point I`ll still be entertaining, just without the flirting part of it. But, it works for now. "
Romeo steps into character for the last time tonight and turns on the mic, and the charm, for his final goodbye. As he signs off, women and young girls all across New England fall a little bit in love with an imaginary man that Neil Paris has spent years creating.