TV and radio personality Todd Newton is a bundle of energy and positive attitude.
The St. Louis native’s regular itinerary is daunting as he crisscrosses the country for commitments as a game show host, radio DJ, author, motivational speaker and emcee. You might remember him as DJ Rikk Idol on KSLQ 106.5 FM and a stint on KPLR-TV Channel 11 before he left town in the early 1990s.
Todd, who lives in Boston, Mass., has been back on the air in St. Louis since February. You can hear his friendly voice between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays on NOW, 96.3 FM, the first Top 40 radio format to debut in 17 years.
While behind the microphone at the Union Station studios, Todd, 44, discussed this new chapter in his impressive career. Listeners couldn’t see his smile, but there was no doubt about the enthusiasm in his tone.
“It feels wonderful to be back,” he said. “I’m always looking forward, but at the same time, grateful for the life experiences I have had the opportunity to do.”
Emmis Communications wanted to switch formats because K-hits, classic rock, was under-performing. They wanted the new format to have a local focus and feel.
Station Program Director Tony Mattern had asked Todd if he knew anyone who would be interested in the new venture. The music would be chosen locally, the station would be programmed locally, and the contests would be played locally so St. Louisans wouldn’t have to compete with people from other cities.
“I said: ‘How about me?’ It worked out, and we were off and running,” he said.
“It was the right opportunity to come back for. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. It’s like I never left.”
His biggest surprise was listeners expressing their feelings of nostalgia.
“I got calls saying, ‘I listened to you when I was 15 years old. Now I’m married and have three kids.’ I love hearing this. They love the music. I envision moms listening after they’ve dropped kids off at school and are going to yoga class.
“We’re not talking down to the listener, not yelling or screaming. It’s live, it’s local — there are no syndicated shows.”
No matter where he is on the road, he can do his radio broadcast from a remote studio. “I’ll still be talking to St. Louis. That’s the only way I wanted to do it,” he said.
Irons in the fire
Todd tours with “ The Price Is Right Live!” and is currently at sites along the Eastern seaboard for several weeks. His new game show “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club,” taped in Las Vegas, recently premiered in syndication.
Making game show magic has defined a 20-year career in television, but his radio roots are still near and dear to him.
He discovered he liked to entertain audiences, which was encouraged by his grandmother, who was a comedienne during World War II and later helped stage shows at a local college.
“I watched people react to her, and I got the itch. I never wanted to act, but I wanted to entertain,” he said.
After graduation from Oakville Senior High School in 1988, he studied communications at St. Louis Community College- Meramec. While at University of Missouri-St. Louis, he became radio DJ Rikk Idol. He broke through on KSLQ 106.5 FM, a Top 40 station, in 1990, later adding TV at KPLR (Channel 11).
“It was a great foundation to jump off of,” he said.
In 1994, during a trip to Los Angeles to report on movies, he landed an agent, and six months later, became part of E! Entertainment Network’s on-air team. Among his duties, he co-hosted the live red carpet pre-show to the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes Awards during his 12 years at the cable TV network.
“E! was very new then. There were only four hosts. We did everything in-house,” he said. “For a 25-year-old boy from the Midwest, I took a big bite out of the entertainment industry.”
His first game show gig was “Hollywood Showdown” in 1999, which led to “Whammy!” (“The All-New Press Your Luck”).
For five seasons and 90 episodes, he has hosted “Family Game Night,” for which he won an Emmy in 2012 and has been nominated three other times, including this year. The other Outstanding Game Show Host nominees for the Daytime Emmys on April 26 include Steve Harvey, Craig Ferguson and Pat Sajak.
“This is what I love. The moment I stepped foot on the set for an audition, I knew that game shows were what I wanted to do,” he said. “When a contestant wins a life-changing large sum of money, there’s nothing better,” he said. “I get to share these once-in-a-lifetime moments.”
He grew up watching Bob Barker, Johnny Carson and Gene Rayburn. Before he hosted, he studied old tapes of Steve Allen and other legends.
“Johnny Carson made me realize I could make a career in the entertainment business by being me. I had to have a vital rapport with the listener,” he said. “Hosting means trying to find a balance between business and fun. It is a craft. It’s a delicate dance of timing, the ability to read the room, and the art of conversation.”
Two mentors gave him advice that he uses to this day. Sandi Stewart, whose father created “The Price is Right,” “Password” and “To Tell the Truth,” told him to “make the game the star.”
“Bob Barker told me that every contestant has a story. It’s a host’s job to bring that story to the forefront so that the viewer at home can relate to the contestant,” he said.
Todd described the newest show, “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club” as a full-throttle, full-speed-ahead game show, with drama, suspense, energy and major payouts. Billy Gardell of “Mike and Molly” is the host, while Todd co-hosts from another stage, giving local winners a chance to win $10,000 in up to 60 seconds.
In January, he launched a charitable foundation, The Newton Fund 4 Kids, which provides state-of-the-art pediatric health care to children in need, despite a family’s inability to pay. SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center will benefit through donors’ contributions, bequests, sponsorships and planned gifts. (www.newtonfund4kids.org).
“My children and I came up with it together,” he said. His son Mason is 10; daughter Kingsley is 13.
Todd and his ex-wife, Silver, left Los Angeles to provide a more down-to-earth childhood for their kids. They all moved to Boston. He wanted to be a hands-on parent, so he and Silver decided to live a few miles from each other in order to keep a united front.
He loves being a dad, and embraces the challenges of parenthood, admitting: “No matter how many super-cool things I’ve done on TV, I’m still the dork Dad.”
He has detailed his life experiences and positive outlook in two books. In 2012, he wrote “Life in the Bonus Round: A Game Show Host’s Road to Success and Fulfillment,” which was followed by “The Choice Is Yours: Six Keys for Putting Your Best into Action and Create a Superstar Demo Reel” in 2013.
Looking back at his career, what would he say to that young guy just starting out?
“It’s going to happen. Enjoy every step. There is never a finish line.”