Sunday, March 25, 2007

Leslie Keiling

UPDATED: 3/7/09

When I interviewed Leslie Keiling in 2007, she was the afternoon traffic anchor at WGN. When Spike O'Dell retired, John Williams got the morning slot and brought Leslie along with him....

Leslie: I've been on this shift since December, and I still worry constantly about sleeping through the alarm. 3:15 is just an unnatural time to wake up. That said, I'm setting three alarms, but getting up as soon as the first one goes off. I promised myself early on that I would not succumb to the urge to hit the snooze alarm.

Besides, I honestly look forward to heading to work. John Williams is really committed to making this morning show something special. His attitude's downright infectious, and I can't help but want to be part of it.

The original interview follows...

Leslie Keiling is a traffic reporter on WGN Radio. Her reports are heard every weekday on the Steve Cochran show, and the John Williams show.


Because Leslie has been an employee of Shadow Traffic for much of her Chicago radio career, we can't feature a typical radio-ography.

Instead, we offer this section of her WGN bio...

By the time she graduated college, Leslie was reporting traffic on radio powerhouse WLS. In the morning, she flew in a helicopter reporting traffic for the Larry Lujack Show. Afternoons she’d be back on the ground reporting traffic for radio bad boys, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier.

In the following years she was also lucky enough to work with any number of other radio legends, including Jonathon Brandmeier, Buzz Killman, Bruce Wolf, Eddie Schwartz, Clark Webber, Herb Kent, and Morton Downey Jr., just to name a few. In 2001, she paired up with another Chicago icon, John Landecker on his WJMK morning show.

Rick: Your name is known to almost everyone who listens to the radio in
Chicago because you've literally been on almost every station in town,
and worked with just about every major personality.

Leslie: It's more like "names." I was Lane Closure for so many years. I think a lot of people are more comfortable thinking of me as Lane, as opposed to Leslie. Like a well-trained pup, I happily answer to both.

Rick: Are there any major stations you've never appeared on? Any major personalities you've always wanted to work with, but didn't get the chance?

Leslie: Because of the nature of Traffic, I have, at one point or another, had my voice aired on just about every dial position in the market. The stations come and go but the airwaves live on. The only part of Chicago Radio I've missed out on are stations like WOJO and La Ley. I'm just not ready yet. Es verdad? Now that I'm at WGN, I can't help but wish I had had a chance to meet Bob Collins. I pass a big smiling photo of him every day. He's a huge part of the station to this day, that you can't help but be intrigued and inspired. And now I find out that we have the same birthday. Spooky cool, eh?

Rick: So you've worked on the air with Steve & Garry, Brandmeier, John Landecker, Larry Lujack, and now Steve Cochran and John Williams. I don't think anyone else can say that. What can you tell us about each of those guys?

Leslie: Soft hands. Very clean. I want what he's having. Loves dogs (a very good sign in a man). Didn't care if I lived or died...yet very nice. And the last two are great kissers.

Rick: (laughs) Any way I can get a little more detail?

Leslie: I don't really know where to begin on this one because each one needs a string of superlatives to start defining them. Each has also played a part at pivotal times in my life. I was on with Steve and Garry around the time I was getting married. They told everybody I was would be wearing red. They also taught me exactly what an on-air team should sound like.

Johnny B. = fun. If he was a dog, he'd be a Jack Russell terrier. I'd get within 5 feet of him, and get scared that he'd steal my life force to keep it all going.

John Landecker is sweet and funny and wonderful. I wouldn't trade the time we spent together on the morning show at WJMK for anything in the world. Sure, Rick, you were there. And so was Vince Argento and Richard Cantu. Come to think of it, I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. John was Scarecrow. You were the Tin Man. Vince was the Lion, and Richard was the Wizard. On a serious note, being with you guys on the morning of 9/11/2001 is etched in my head and heart. I now have a glimmer of understanding about sharing a foxhole.

I really did almost die on Larry Lujack's show when the helicopter I was traveling in lost power and made a hard landing. When I brought the incident up to him at his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, he looked me straight in the eye, and said something to the effect that he wasn't really paying attention at the time.

And here I am now getting to spend time every day with Steve Cochran and John Williams who are both complete pleasures to work with. I am one lucky woman.

Rick: For most of your years in radio, you've actually worked at Shadow Traffic, which means you weren't in the studio with most of these guys. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that arrangement?

Leslie: Eye contact is huge in everyday conversation. Without visual cues, your timing can suffer. However, not seeing someone rolling their eyes at you lets you take a little extra self-esteem home with you every day. One of the cool things about Shadow was its location on the 94th floor of the Hancock. It was fun being up in the clouds with a bunch of other reporters doing traffic for about 30 other stations. I remember one morning riding one of the other reporter's bicycle around the perimeter of the Observatory Deck as fast as I could. It was a silly perk, but a perk nonetheless.

Rick: For many of those shows, especially Steve & Garry and Landecker, you had to share many details of your personal life. The plus side of that is that listeners really feel like they know you. The downside is that listeners really feel that they know you. Has anything you said or did on the air ever spilled into your personal life and caused problems?

Leslie: When we were doing the morning show at WJMK, a discussion about my underwear somehow led to a funny little bit we did called "Thong of the Day." People still bring that up...right around the time they also note my lack of a visible panty line. I've never seen it as a problem, but it really creeps my daughter out. Still more often than not, being honest on the air has only brought me closer to listeners.

Rick: What is the worst advice you've ever gotten from radio management?

Leslie: One program director told me, with furrowed brow and a kind nod of the head, "you don't really have a voice for radio" and that I should consider doing something like sales. I also had a very successful broadcaster tell me that staying in Chicago was a terrible mistake, and that I should head to Boise or Omaha or someplace and maybe make my way back from there. Then there was a man named Harvey who reveled in browbeating his employees. After putting in weeks of 18 hour days, no overtime pay, and no hope of any let-up, I walked into his office and told him that things had to change or I would be forced to quit. He said, "get used to it." I said, "Then I quit." He then told me that if I walked out of his office he would see to it that I never worked in Radio again. He is gone. I'm still here.

Rick: You hear people say that working at WGN is different than working anywhere else in Chicago. You are uniquely qualified to say if that is true or not. Is it? If so, how?

Leslie: WGN oozes history. The walls are lined with photos dating back to the 20's. That certainly puts the station's staying power into a unique perspective. There are more than a few people here who've been at the station long enough to receive gold watches...and yes, they do get gold watches. It's heartening to work in a place that doesn't scream "staff turnover." And then there's the fact that people are genuinely nice. On my first day of work, Orion Samuelson came to my booth just to say howdy and welcome aboard. I was awed. He could have chosen to ignore me for months, and I still would have counted myself lucky to share the same air. Yet here he was; the warm, wonderful human I hoped he would be.

Meanwhile, I'm also lucky enough to work on both Steve Cochran and John Williams' shows. They are both smart and thoughtful and sincere...and yet, so completely different from each other. Getting to work with both of them really does make the job that much more fun and interesting. They're both open to whatever I bring to the table, so I end up trying to bring something different to each without ever feeling like I have to be something I'm not.

Last year, Leslie wrote a very funny story about caring for her aging mother for one of my other blogs. If you are taking care of aging parent, you'll love it.