Richard Cantu was one of the first interview subjects at Chicago Radio Spotlight nearly four years ago. He had recently started working at ABC Network News in New York after a long and successful career in Chicago at WJMK and WBBM-AM. I checked back in with him recently because I know there have been some dramatic changes at the network, and wondered how those changes affected him...
Where we once had three anchors working each 6-hour shift, we now have two—with one of the anchors covering newscasts on two networks. It was a bit nerve-wracking to start, but everybody seems to have settled-in to a workable routine. Due to some personnel cuts in October, 2009, I am now heard, at various times, on all three networks.
On Saturdays and Sundays, I’m on what we call the “I-Net”—it’s the premiere network ABC offers—and I can be heard on WLS hourly from 11am-4pm. Monday-Wednesday, I’m working the evening shift on the “E-Net” and “News Now” networks. Additionally, since the sportscasters were eliminated due to budgetary requirements, I am tasked to write and record two sportscasts that are distributed to affiliates across the country. That’s a lot of fun—especially since, when the opportunity arises, I can talk about Chicago sports instead of the usual East Coast-oriented issues you tend to hear in the national sports media.
Most recently, we’ve been committing a lot of time and effort providing content to Slacker Radio; an Internet venture that allows users to “select” the news content they want to hear(the ultimate in narrowcasting?). Time will tell if all this effort translates into paying customers. That said, I’m still having a blast working in radio; it’s a great job and I work with a lot of pros. I’m still missing Chicago—and if anyone needs a broke-down old newscaster, send ‘em my digits! LOL!
The original interview follows...
Richard Cantu is part of a dying breed--a radio journalist. Throughout the 90s and the first half of this decade, Cantu was a Chicago radio fixture. He looks like journalist, talks like a journalist, and writes like a journalist.
Although he now plys his trade for ABC network news in New York, his heart will always be in his hometown of Chicago.
Rick: Can you give us a capsule rundown of your "radio-ography"?
Cantu: It's a long one. I've worked at nine different places.
1. I started at KDTH, Dubuque, Iowa. 1978. Platteville/Grant County, Wisconsin Stringer/Bureau Chief.
2. WDBQ, Dubuque, Iowa. 1979. Platteville/Grant County, Wisconsin Stringer/Bureau Chief and part-time/fill-in disc jockey.
3. WROK/WZOK, Rockford, Illinois. 1980-'81. News reporter/anchor at the once-legendary stations that, at the time, boasted of having the biggest radio news staff in Illinois--OUTSIDE of Chicago.
4. WBCS/WMKE, Milwaukee. 1981-'82. First long-term exposure to country music. I've loved Hank Williams, Jr. ever since.
5. WOKY/WMIL, Milwaukee, 1982-'87. Really honed my act here. Became a news director for the first time. The guy who hired me now runs the broadcasting holdings of the Milwaukee Journal.
6. WTMJ, Milwaukee. 1987-'92. Worked with some real pros. Some days, I wish I'd never left.
7. WJMK, Chicago. 1992-2001. Good Times, Great Oldies. A truly good time. Working with the likes of Landecker and the "cast of thousands" ALMOST made it worth getting up at 1:30 a.m. for 9-years. ALMOST. The show should STILL be on the air!
8. WBBM, Chicago. 2001-2004. Looking back at my career, I guess the "all news" thing was the last "experience component" I wanted before going network.
9. ABC News Radio. 2004-present. Easily the best job I've ever had. Working with people I've heard on the radio and admired for years is a real tickle. Just wish this job was in Chicago.
Rick: I know you were a radio geek growing up. Who were your radio idols?
Cantu: Larry Lujack/John Landecker. Put these guys #1 and 1A. They're both a major reason why I went into radio. Both are, for better or worse, major influences on why I am the way I am today. Paul Harvey. Never mind his longevity and popularity; anybody who scales the fence at Argonne National Laboratory to demonstrate lax security in pursuit of a story is a hero in my book. Steve Stevens. In 1975(I think that's the year it came out), this guy played "Fight the Power" by the Isley Brothers on WZMF, Menomonee Falls/Milwaukee--an AOR station!!! Well, he did play the unedited album version.
Rick: You've been in New York now for more than two years. What do you miss about Chicago?
Cantu: The architecture; I don't think you can beat our skyline. The food--from pizza to hot dogs, they've got really funny ideas here in New York. Ask for an Italian Beef--and they'll look at you like you're crazy. And, lest we forget, da Bearsssss!
Rick: Anyone who has ever been in radio has what I call "recurring radio nightmares." Do you have one of those?
Cantu: Yes I do, and I continue to have it to this day. I read somewhere that they're "stress dreams". Anyhoo, I'm sitting in a studio, it's "airtime"--and, it varies from dream-to-dream, I either don't have my newscast copy and am stumbling all over the air, or I have no sound bites/actualities loaded--I'm pushing the "start" button for the actuality--and nothing happens! I always laugh when I wake up.
Rick: Finish this sentence: "If I were put in charge of the radio business today, I would..."
Cantu: I would run far fewer commercials.
Rick: Thanks, Richard.
Cantu: Hi to Chicago.