It was 1988, and a 21-year-old Tony Kurre was working as a DJ for 96 QMF in Louisville, Ky. He had just gotten off the phone with his mother, after telling her that he didn’t feel like radio was in his future anymore. He was getting ready to pack his bags, move back home to Cincinnati and finish college, where he would pursue a marketing career.
The next call would change not only his life but set forth a butterfly effect that would change the lives of others as well.
“I hung up the phone, and right after that, the very next phone call, a guy out of St. Louis called. He was driving through Louisville and had heard me on the radio. He said, ‘You sound great. I want you to come with me to Birmingham.’”
WZRR Rock 99 made its debut in Birmingham on Christmas Day of 1988, with Kurre as the afternoon DJ.
Thirty years later, this father of three has one of the most recognizable radio voices in Birmingham, having recently wrapped up co-hosting the “Opening Drive” morning show on Jox 94.5, and as current host of The Web with Dr. Josh Klapow, an adult-themed show that airs on Talk 99.5 on Saturday nights at 7 p.m. Over the last several years, Kurre has used his radio programs to share his experiences as a father raising a child with special needs and to promote his platform, the Bright House Foundation.
When Kurre and his wife Nancy first married 15 years ago, they knew they wanted to adopt, but they wanted to have a biological child first. But after several miscarriages, Kurre said they both felt that the Lord was telling them it was time to adopt. In 2005 they went to Guatemala, where they adopted their first son, Santo, now 13. Two years later they went back to Guatemala and adopted their second son, Xavier, now 10.
“The first time we saw him, we were in shock,” Kurre says. “He’s blind, epileptic, he has brain damage and he’s bipolar. Before we adopted him we had gotten a few pictures, but we had no idea. My wife and I are both optimists, so we said, ‘What are we going to do to find the silver lining in this?’”
Kurre says his wife came up with the idea of an organization to help local special needs children and their families. They came up with the name Bright House after the name Xavier, which means “bright eyes.”
“We raise about $25,000-$35,000 a year, and it all goes back out to local special needs organizations like the Arc and Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind,” he says. “We helped over 120 families this past holiday season, with everything from medicine to dental care, to even taking care of mold in someone’s home.”
Now in its eighth year, the Bright House Foundation is going strong, after most recently receiving support from KFC.
“I’m so happy I could cry,” he says. “That’s so great, to get the word out on a national level.”
Kurre said his best memory after 30 years of broadcasting is still his “billboard camp-out” in 1990, after Gene Stallings had been hired to coach the Crimson Tide. Kurre, who grew up an avid baseball and basketball fan, had gradually become enamored with Alabama football (“When you move here, they always tell you that you have to pick a side,” he jokes.). He stayed on a billboard at the corner of Green Springs and West Valley Avenue, vowing that he would stay until Alabama won a game. It ended up taking three weeks, until Bama finally beat Vanderbilt.
“People were coming out to take pics, Tennessee fans were throwing oranges. It was great,” he said. “The LA Times and some other national publications came out to cover it. It was my 15 minutes of fame.”
Looking back, Kurre says it all has been a huge, unexpected blessing. Kurre remembers, as a 14-year-old student at Lakota High School in Westchester, Ohio, how his mother wanted him to take a radio class since the school had its own station.
“I kept saying, ‘No, I don’t think I’d be good at it,’ but she was finally like, ‘You are going to take it,’ so I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’” he says, chuckling.
He credits his teacher, Kay Taylor, with helping him learn about broadcasting and radio. Two years later, he found himself volunteering at Classic Rock 96 in Hamilton, Ohio, where he eventually landed a contract. By age 21 he was in Louisville, when he came to a crossroads and he received that life-changing phone call.
“My mother said, ‘When you make it big one day, you’re going to use it as a platform to talk about your faith and how wonderful life is,’” he says.
For Kurre, that is exactly what life has become. Five years ago, he and Nancy welcomed their first biological child, Lila. Kurre said he is a firm believer in God’s perfect timing, and he’s looking forward to many more years with radio and making a difference in other families’ lives.
“It’s been an amazing journey for us,” he says. “Every day, I wake up and I can’t wait to get up and go to work.”