When Jason Pullman worked at a country radio station in St. Louis, he used a different name and kept his Judaism on the down low.
"Not that I wasn't proud of it, but I just let it go," said the 31-year-old disc jockey. "People in country music are different, a little more anti-Semitic than they are in other formats. From time to time they would say a Jewish joke, and I was just little afraid of a backlash."
Now working as the co-host with Lisa Foxx on the drive time "Afternoon Shift" on top-rated radio station Star 98.7 in Los Angeles, Pullman can -- and does -- talk about his Jewishness as much as he wants. Whether it is telling listeners that he won't be celebrating Christmas because he has Chanukah to worry about, or kibitzing with Jewish rockers like Adam Levine of Maroon5 about a shared heritage of overanxious parents, Pullman's Jewish background has a good chance of being thrown into any on air conversation.
"I am very proud of my Jewish heritage," he said, talking to The Journal from the Clear Channel offices (Star's parent company). "I used to use stage names, but then as of four or five years ago [I decided] I am myself, and that is only person that I want to be."
Pullman is a relatively new voice on the Los Angeles radio, but he stepped into some big -- or at least very trendy -- shoes. In December 2003, when Ryan Seacrest left the station for a new position as the morning DJ at KIIS-FM and -- in addition to his hosting duties with "On Air with Ryan Seacrest" and "American Idol" -- the Star's producers needed another fresh young voice to take his place behind the microphone. They received about 3,000 audition tapes from DJ hopefuls, but Pullman got the job. He had worked at the station before, doing weekends and occasionally filling in for Seacrest and Foxx, but he had never worked with Foxx. The producers didn't think that mattered. They were so sure of his talent that they threw him into the booth with Foxx without a test run, and the partnership worked.
Although he is anxious to differentiate himself from Seacrest, it is easy to find similarities between the two. Both are from Atlanta. Both have boyishly cute faces and spiky hairdos, but Pullman doesn't have highlights in his. Both wear ultramodish T-shirts. Both have slick and easy tongues and similar voices, but Pullman's on-air personality is nicer -- it doesn't have what some might consider a cheeky, malicious edge sometimes found in Seacrest's talk. Pullman also steers clear of the more raunchy conversations -- he's a nice Jewish boy.
"I wouldn't want to ask something that my mom would not be proud of me asking," Pullman said. "Especially now with the FCC and fines -- I don't want to embarrass myself like that. It's not the kind of radio that I want to do."
"Pullman gets a lot of grief for sounding like Ryan Seacrest, but he is quite a bit different from Ryan," said Lindsay Lawler, a producer for the afternoon shift. "Ryan is more of a metrosexual, and Jason's more of guy's guy. He's also a little more vocal on his views."
"People are comparing me to Ryan, but [sounding like him] is not intentional at all," Pullman said. "I just think that I am down-to-earth guy who listeners can relate to. I'm just a Jewish guy who grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta who loves this business and wants to achieve more."
Pullman grew up in a Reform family in Atlanta that celebrated all the holidays and had a strong Jewish identity. His father was a general sales manager at a radio station. From the time he was 5, Pullman knew that he wanted to be on the air. He would tag along to work with his father and spend his free time emulating on-air personalities. In high school he interned at Power 99, a popular Atlanta station. He told them that when he was older he would come back and be on the air. They didn't believe him, but after he went to the University of Florida and majored in communications and broadcast journalism, he came back to Atlanta and got the midnight-6 a.m. shift at the station. Since then, he has worked on-air in radio stations all over the country.
"Radio was the only thing I ever wanted to do," Pullman said. "I have a passion for music and very eclectic tastes. But I love what goes on between the songs, and I love the interaction with people on and off the air."
Now Pullman is trying to parlay his voice into other opportunities. He is the host voice of the Sci-Fi Channel's house of horror reality series, "Mad Mad House," and TLC's "Faking It." But his on-air Jewishness is brings him opportunities of a different kind. He received a Passover dinner invitation from someone on the sales staff in his office who never knew he was Jewish until he brought it up on air, and other people call the station offering to set him up with Jewish girls they know.
"My mom and dad would love for me to wind up with someone who is Jewish, and I would want that too," he said.
Jason Pullman can be heard on 98.7 FM on weekdays from 3-7 p.m.