Maintaining a long-term career in Rhode Island radio isn’t easy. It’s even more unusual to consider that siblings can do it.
Consider this. Brian Mulhern, current co-host of the morning show at Cat Country 98.1FM, and Kevin Mulhern, producer of the Paul & Al morning show at 94 HJY, have been “doing” radio off and on for three decades.
It’s a Friday morning before a three-day weekend, and I’m sitting in the Cat Country studios watching Brian and his co-host, Courtney Kelley do their morning thing. “She’s been my co-host for two years, but I’ve known her for 20 years,” says Brian. They’re juggling phone calls, traffic drop-ins, commercials, and oh yeah, music.
Kevin works down the hall in another radio studio.
This morning’s topic is a local woman who’s making a complaint about the noise made by players at a nearby pickleball court. That triggers a series of calls from people talking about noises that annoy them. Fireworks, barking dogs, and neighbors playing music too loud at night. “It’s okay if they’re playing Cat Country,” says Mulhern.
The Brothers Mulhern started out doing comedy bits together at their home in Smithfield. “In 1989, our parents bought a camcorder, which we began using to shoot sketches, parodies, et cetera,” said Brian in our recent interview.
As Kevin describes it, the camcorder was “enormous, as they were back then. It was meant to document family vacations and birthday parties. Bri and I immediately commandeered it.”
They formed MLM with their friend, Bob Leddy. That’s Mulhern Leddy Mulhern. It depends on who you ask if you want to know which Mulhern came first. In birth order, it’s Brian, by 18 months, but that’s not really important.
The sketches turned into a public access show on Cox Cable called “Low Budget Television.” Brian describes it as “a combination talk/sketch/variety show. We did bits and featured interviews, showcased local bands, and more.”
In 1991, Brian sold a joke to Jay Leno, which Leno used when he was the permanent guest host on “The Tonight Show.” More on that phone call later.
In 1993, Brian sent some material to the late Phil Hartman, after catching an appearance on Letterman’s show discussing his upcoming variety show on NBC. The submission contained some of the bits Kevin and he had created for their video shorts. “Phil called me mere days later,” Brian recalls, “and within a week, we were in Studio 8H.” That’s where “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” were taped. “We learned how shows like that are put together.”
Hartman “took us under his wing,” Kevin recalls, “and hired us to write for his variety show, ‘The Phil Show.’” Unfortunately, NBC abandoned plans for the show, but the door to television writing was already opened. Thanks to their connection with Hartman (who was murdered by his wife in 1998), the Mulherns were hired to write for “The MTV Movie Awards” in 1995, 1999 and 2003.
In 2003, “It was time to pursue our true dream. A television career as comedy writers,” says Kevin. “So, it was off to Los Angeles to try our luck.” They worked on a syndicated game show and wrote bonus material for the DVD box set of NBC’s “Friends.”
It was in LA that things became “most complicated” in the sibling relationship. “We spent 24/7 with each other in a one-bedroom apartment, along with a very cramped office we shared at MTV,” says Brian. “Generally, it would always come down to the phrasing of a line of dialogue, or something like that.”
As things heated up, the brothers developed a system. “One of us would have to bring things to a halt by saying, ‘We’re being stupid. Let’s knock it off and refocus.’” According to Brian, this kept things from getting physical.
“We used to be in a rock band together,” says Kevin. “One day we had a creative argument so intense that we literally ended up throwing our instruments at each other. One of us easily could have died or been maimed. Happily, we get along better now. Of course, we work at different radio stations.”
Throughout the years, the pair spent time in and out of Rhode Island’s radio world. Brian started working with legendary broadcaster Carolyn Fox in 1993. “She was paying me for everything she used,” he said. He eventually worked his way up to being her co-host.
In 1999, Brian left WHJY to work at WRX, co-hosting an afternoon drive show. “Jaxon & the Pharmacist” – Brian was the pharmacist, based on his experience as a pharmacy tech – ended up being syndicated on the FNX Radio Network, broadcast in Providence, Boston, Portland, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Brian, says Kevin, “was kind enough to lobby the program director (at FNX) to hire me as a comedic contributor/ producer.”
In 2000, “Kevin and I are offered writing positions with ‘Mad TV,’ but we’re forced to turn it down, as I had just signed my contract to work at FNX.” In 2001, Jaxon was let go, leaving Brian to host the show alone. He stayed with FNX until late 2002, and in 2003, he and Kevin moved to LA.
After about a year, the pair moved home. Brian was offered the morning co-host gig at Coast 93.3 and stayed there for five years before a management change cleared house. Then Brian was hired to work at a new traffic network. “I was on the air with the likes of Buddy Cianci, Cat Country and WBRU.” Some of the radio hosts started tapping into Brian’s comedy mind, involving him in show content from time to time. When Cat Country’s morning host, Tim Leary, left for another radio opportunity, Brian was hired as full-time morning show host in November 2010.
When the brothers moved back to Rhode Island, Brian “heavily pitched me to Paul and Al” at WHJY, says Kevin. “They liked it well enough, I suppose, as I’m still working with them over 18 years later.”
So, let’s talk about that phone call from Jay Leno back in 1993. “The entire experience was surreal,” says Brian. “My mind and heart were both racing. I could barely keep it together. “That is, until Kev interjected, and brought it all to a screeching halt.” This was back in the day of landlines and extensions throughout the house. While Brian was chatting with Leno, Kevin jumped on another line, interrupting the whole thing. “I wanted to murder him, but thought better of it, as it would most certainly have awakened my parents.”
When Kevin tells the story, “I recast it. I’m the protagonist who wrote hysterical jokes and sent them to Jay Leno, and Jay called me, while my idiot brother Brian intercepted the call and ruined my comedy career. That’s the version I prefer anyway.”
Kevin gets the last word. “There have been a lot of laughs and tears during the three decades of my comedy career. To anyone who has watched, listened or read any of my attempts at humor over the years, I say thank you, and in some cases, I’m sorry. I thought it was funny at the time. And to my brother Brian, I say I would never have wanted to go on this crazy ride with anyone else but you.”