Never in his wildest dreams did Steve Cooper ever envision that one day he’d be sitting face-to-face in intimate conversation with revered entertainers and musicians, many of whom shaped his youth. Yet for this proud New Jersey native, it’s exactly where his life path has taken him.
The 59-year-old, who resides in Marlton, NJ with his wife, JoAnn Buttaro Cooper, has been the host of CooperTalk for the past 11 years. The podcast, with a national and international listening audience, was started in California, where he lived for two decades. Initially, the one-hour podcasts were conducted in person in a Burbank studio. But ever since he moved back East five years ago, he’s been working his magic (via Skype, then Zoom) from a converted closet – now a production studio. Each episode draws more than 10,000 listeners. People tune in from across the country and the world, including Finland, England, Australia and Canada, to name a few.
“I’ve done close to 1,000 of these,” said Cooper of the podcasts that can be found at www.coopertalk.net. They are also aired on Internet radio stations in an array of locations, such as Las Vegas, Seattle, Los Angeles and Montreal. Some of the episodes, he added, are condensed, and appear as the lead story in the entertainment section of the local Hammonton Gazette.
“I don’t call them interviews,” explained Cooper (aka Coop). “I call them organic chats.” Cooper’s guests, predominantly entertainers and musicians, include Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winners and nominees, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and music icons of the 1980s.
Entertainment, in fact, is a field that Cooper has long been associated with. He worked as a stand-up comedian for many years and from time to time, still takes the stage for special occasions and benefits. But these days, his focus is all about shining a light on his guests. It’s about talking to guests, he explained, and finding out how they got to be where they are. “One of the best things is that you find out that all of these people are really just like us,” said Cooper.
Though too numerous to mention, his plethora of notable guests encompass renowned comedian Rita Rudner, the late actor Ed Asner, musician Steven Van Zandt (from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong and Philip Rosenthal, creator of the popular sitcom Everyone Loves Raymond. He’s also featured writers from Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers and Frasier.
“I’m always humbled when these people talk to me,” said Cooper. “I listen to my guests. I care about them.” Cooper attributes much of his success to his listening skills and background in stand-up comedy. “When you’re doing comedy, you always have to think on your feet,” said Cooper who has appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Cooper is quick to point out that he does his research before a podcast, but never brings written questions. He compares the free-flowing chats to sitting down next to someone at a bar. The conversations evolve and often take unexpected directions. Guests open up, he elaborated, and sometimes share personal vignettes or little-known aspects of their lives. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” noted Cooper.
Acknowledging his knack – honed from many years of experience – for organic chats and expressing his passion for New Jersey, Cooper recently launched The Coop Tank. The hourlong podcasts, similar in format to those on CooperTalk, spotlight local entertainers, musicians and businesspeople. Guests have included comedian Joe Conklin, the original Phillie Phanatic Dave Raymond, Tony Luke Jr. and former Philadelphia Eagle and publisher of JerseyMan/PhillyMan Magazine, Ken Dunek. Listeners can find the locally focused podcasts at thecooptank.podbean.com and on Spotify, Amazon Music and IHeart Radio.
Cooper’s love for his home state and his belief in the power of connections led him to also form a business networking group in the region. In fact, his local podcasts evolved from this endeavor.
And this month, January 2023, Cooper is taking his advocacy of New Jersey to the next level with the launch of CooperTalk Local, a weekly, late-night style television show airing on RVNTV (available via streaming). It will feature 30-minute segments with established musicians, comedians and actors from the tri-state region. He’s hoping local advertisers will support his effort.
Cooper shared how his life in the world of entertainment took shape. “I’ve always loved movies and listening to comedy albums,” he said. As a child, he watched a lot of Woody Allen movies with his dad.
An avid sports fan of all Philadelphia teams, Cooper once dreamed of becoming a sports announcer. In his youth, he kept diligent records of all the stats. Yet, somehow, he felt he might eventually do something in the entertainment arena. Yet he knew he needed to be practical when choosing a course of study.
Cooper graduated from Stockton College in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. In his freshman year, the school held an event called “Mr. Stockton.” “It was like a Mr. America,” recalled Cooper. “I signed up as a joke.” Cooper took to the stage as Rick Springfield on air guitar. “Being on stage was so cool. The audience went nuts,” remembered Cooper, who placed second in the contest. “I also ended up being in the local paper and on the local news.” After that performance, the entertainment bug was born.
Following graduation, Cooper enrolled in a course at The Learning Annex in Philadelphia. It taught him some tricks of the trade about breaking into comedy. Soon he was appearing at open mic nights at clubs throughout the city, such as Comedy Works and Comedy Factory Outlet. “I was selling fax machines by day,” said Cooper of those early days in comedy. His stage life led to travel. Eventually, he moved to California – San Diego, Hollywood and Burbank, the location of many of the entertainment studios.
Cooper had a job doing corporate marketing for a restaurant. One day, he attended a chamber of commerce event. It was there, he explained, that he met a guy from an Internet radio station. People at the event were talking him up, saying he would be great as an on-air talent. Those connections led to a gig at the station. His entrée into on-air, up close and personal chats with entertainers took flight. Things kind of spiraled from there, noted Cooper. There were offers for other Internet radio jobs and then the podcasts evolved. He attributes his longevity in this niche to constant networking and staying current with connections in the industry.
Cooper is humbled to put his guests at center stage. Although decades ago, he aspired to be in the spotlight, that has changed. These days, he wants to build a brand and be a big fish in a small pond. “I love New Jersey and I love what I do,” said Cooper. “I want to build a following and do what I do. I want to entertain people and help them connect with each other. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”