Mike “Cowhead” Calta never thought a career in radio would take him so far.
Long before the Land O’ Lakes resident and host of The Cowhead Show, heard weekdays on 102.5 The Bone, was the No.1 Arbitron rated afternoon-drive host in Tampa, he had other ambitions far beyond the airwaves.
Calta moved to the area with his family from New York in 1989 and enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College. He planned to start looking into working on television or movie sets.
“I wanted to get my associates degree and go over to UCF in Orlando, because they were opening up Universal (Studios),” said Calta, 41. “Either movies or TV, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to be in that field.”
Mike “Cowhead” Calta has risen to No. 1 in the area on his program, The Cowhead Show, which can be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. on 102.5 The Bone. (Photo courtesy of Mike Calta)
It wasn’t until a friend told him about internships at 93.3 FLZ in the early 1990s that Calta began to wonder about a career in the radio industry.
“A friend of mine got an internship at FLZ, which was The Power Pig at the time, and I thought that would be a great way to learn something about the entertainment business when I was trying to get in,” Calta said. “I had never listened to FLZ for one second in my life, but I was a big fan of the talk radio station (970 WFLA). He got me an internship that was really easy to get; you just had to be willing to work for free.”
That’s when Calta’s career took off.
Not long after his internship started, Calta began producing the nightly Todd “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem Show. The only problem for Calta was he didn’t know Clem.
A simple T-shirt changed that.
“They had these shirts called Air Bubba, and there was this caricature of Bubba looking like Michael Jordan dunking a doughnut instead of a basketball,” Calta said. “On the back of the shirt, he had long hair that he wore in a ponytail and a giant hoop earring and sunglasses. I had never met him before. … Two seconds later, that same person, looking exactly like he did on the T-shirt came walking up and introduced himself.”
Calta went on to work as Clem’s producer when the host moved to mornings on 98 Rock from 1996 until 2000, helping the program grow into the highest rated morning show in Tampa Bay history.
He then moved on to produce at 1010 The Team.
“1010 was a (bad) AM station, but they had the Bucs and I was a producer, and I really didn’t care,” Calta said. “I was looking for producer jobs. … I said I can produce these shows, the whole station; I just need something.”
He was soon hired and got his first major on-air position as host of a midday sports show in 2001 with Brent Pearson. Calta said he didn’t know much about sports.
“(Nanci Donnellan) did middays and she was nationwide, but was based out of that building, and the week before the Super Bowl came to town they fired her,” Calta said. “They said, ‘We need you to do middays,’ and I said I didn’t know anything about sports, and they told me I’d be fine. So here I am doing a sports talk show with all of the media in town for the Super Bowl, and I don’t know anything about sports. … But it went well.”
With Calta and Pearson pulling in ratings, CBS Radio decided to move the program to the FM dial where they worked at Q105 for almost a year. When that station flipped from country to oldies, they moved to 92.5, which had rebranded itself as Outlaw Country.
Calta said it was one of the best experiences of his career.
“(Management) wanted to flip the station to something tailored to (Brent and I), and they decided to change it to Outlaw,” Calta said. “It was the most fun. … It still gave me a chance to kind of mature a little bit.”
While the show was going well, a new general manager took over the market and soon flipped the station to Spanish, leaving Calta out of a job.
But when his former boss, Clem, was fired in 2004 after being fined $755,000 by the FCC for indecency, the door opened for Calta to return to 98 Rock two years later.
“Bubba had been fired, they had a series of failure morning shows, and we had a little bit of success. Right away they said ‘Let’s do it’,” Calta said. “I was sitting at home for six months getting paid to do nothing, which you may think is the best thing in the world. But it was the most miserable six months of my life.”
For the first three months back on the station, listeners increased. But after one filed a complaint to the FCC, they were fired in March 2006.
Once again Calta was unemployed, but his next offer carried him further than he had ever gone before.
“Cox (Media) called me and said they may have something over at The Bone,” Calta said. “At first, they actually said I was too young to work at The Bone when it was a classic rock station. … It didn’t make much sense to me, and I had a couple job offers out of state, but my agent called and had a deal and we worked it out.”
At first the new gig wasn’t so smooth.
“It was horrendous,” Calta recalled. “I was at a station that wasn’t sure if it wanted me, my wife was five months pregnant when I got fired, and they didn’t have a big budget, so I couldn’t hire a staff. … That was rough.”
Calta moved his show to afternoons when Clem announced he was returning to terrestrial radio on The Bone in 2007. Clem had been working for nationally known shock jock Howard Stern on Sirius Satellite Radio.
The switch paid off for Calta, who quickly jumped to No. 1 in the market.
“Single best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Calta said. “You’ll never know what it’s like to do mornings until you’ve done it for over a year, and it’s terrible. I did it for 10 years, and every morning my feet would touch the ground and I would go, ‘This (stinks),’ every morning.”
Though his career has been a roller coaster ride at times, Calta cherishes everything that has happened along the way.
In addition to hosting The Cowhead Show, Calta also plays the bass guitar in the program’s band, Pitbull Toddler, which consists of Calta, his co-host Greg Galvin and producer John Brennan, among others.
He and his wife, Amanda, are expecting their second child sometime this month.
“I’m living the greatest life,” Calta said. “I always tell Galvin that we’re living in (the movie), Vanilla Sky. This can’t be real that this (stuff) has happened to us.”