Sunday, June 17, 2007
Terry Gibson was a Chicago rock jock in the 80s and 90s, and now works as the special projects manager for the rock group Styx. He lives in Los Angeles.
WSPT-Stevens Point 1977-1979
KLUC-Las Vegas 1979-1980
Rick: You’re from Chicago originally, aren’t you?
Terry: Yes I am, born and raised. I lived here until I was fifteen years old, and then my parents divorced, and my mom moved us to Stevens Point, Wisconsin. That really turned out to be a blessing in disguise for my eventual radio career, because I got my foot in the door there at WSPT.
Rick: You must have been very young.
Terry: I was 17. WSPT was such a great station too. The owner had lots of money, so he ran that place like a big market station even though we were in such a small market. I learned so much, and learned it right.
Rick: Would you say your big break was working at Milwaukee’s legendary Q-FM? People in Chicago may not realize how huge that station was in Milwaukee in the 80s.
Terry: That’s so true. Unlike the station in Stevens Point, Q-FM was owned by a small company. We were the David in a town full of big-money Goliaths. With a small fraction of their budget, we managed to beat them, too. That was really gratifying. It was a really fun time for me, because I was living the lifestyle 24/7. The listeners were just like the guys on the air, and we spent a lot of time together. I had just turned 21 and I was hanging out at rock shows, doing appearances at clubs, and I was also the stage announcer at Alpine Valley.
Rick: Weren’t Steve & Garry on Q-FM in Milwaukee?
Terry: Yes. I started on Q-FM a month or two before Steve & Garry were fired at the Loop, which essentially killed their affiliates in Detroit and Milwaukee. Everyone thought Q-FM was in trouble after that, but we got a guy named Tim the Rock and Roll Animal. The next year he did a stunt that they still talk about in Milwaukee. He sat on a ledge on the 26th floor of a building, and vowed to stay there until The Who agreed to come to town. Now you gotta remember, at the time, Milwaukee was always bypassed by the big rock acts. They did Chicago, but they almost never came to Milwaukee. The Who weren’t really any different than the other big rock acts, but this was 1982—and they had promised this was their farewell tour, so we all believed them. That’s why Tim did his stunt. The amazing thing is that it actually worked. The Who not only showed up; they did the show in special zoot suits to show us how important they thought we were. It really was a big moment for the rock radio audience in Milwaukee.
Rick: Didn’t you do a few stunts while you were there too?
Terry: I did a few. In 1984, on the 15th anniversary of the John & Yoko Bed-In, I spent ten days on a waterbed. It was a fundraiser for charity. For a dollar, you could sign a “Peace Board,” which would eventually be placed in the Peace Museum in New York. Yoko even called a few times to check in and encourage people to participate. Then the night before we were supposed to ship the Peace Board to New York, a torrential downpour came in, and we hadn’t taken proper precautions to safeguard the Peace Board. Literally all of the signatures went right down the drain. It was a disappointing end to a great promotion. Yoko and Sean sent me a real nice handwritten thank you note, which I still have up on the wall at home.
Rick: After being one of the big stars in Milwaukee, it must have been quite a shock to come to Chicago in 1987, and join that unbelievable lineup at the Loop.
Terry: You got that right. It was the land of the giants casting some pretty big shadows. I was just happy to be there. In the history of Chicago radio I’m just a trivia question compared to the rest of the full-time lineup at the Loop FM when I started. Tell me which one of these names doesn’t belong? Brandmeier, Stroud, Skafish, Haze, and Gibson. I used to listen to Skafish (photo) in the afternoon and just marvel at how good he was. He was a mentor, and a friend, and I think he was the best FM music jock of all time…and here I was on the same station as him.
There were lots of other people there at the time too. On the FM, there were part-timers and fill-in people who could have been, had already been, or would someday be full-time at other stations like Matt Bisbee, Wendy Snyder, Scott Dirks and you. And on the AM, we had Steve & Garry, Kevin Matthews, and Chet Coppock too. Man, that was something. It was like the Big Red Machine. I certainly wasn’t Johnny Bench or Pete Rose or Joe Morgan, but I was on the team, and I’m real proud of that. I was more like that little shortstop on the Reds at the time--Davy Concepcion.
Rick: What are some of your fondest memories from that time?
Terry: The one that comes to mind immediately was embarrassing and gratifying at the same time. Steve & Garry were celebrating their 10-year anniversary together. I had the bright idea of writing a parody song about their ten years together, and I dragged Wendy into it with me. After I got off the air one morning, and turned it over to Johnny B, Wendy, Mike Davis (known on the air as “Igor”), and me went into the production studio to record the song. We’re not exactly great singers, but that didn’t matter to us. It was really more about the lyrics—a tribute to Steve & Garry. Well, somehow Johnny B (photo) got wind of us doing this, and put our studio on the air while we were singing. We had no idea we were on the air. Johnny thought it was hysterical, so he called Steve up on the phone. Mind you, this was 6:15 in the morning. Steve was out cold when Johnny called, and he wasn’t happy about being awakened. I heard the tape later, he said: “Johnny, I don’t do mornings anymore, babe.”
Anyway, it took Steve a long time to figure out that the song was about him, but he wasn’t quite getting the concept because he was so groggy. After he hung up, Johnny called into the production room and Wendy answered. He told her that the entire thing had been live on the air. We were mortified. I could feel the red in my cheeks. By then though, we had finished the song. So when you came in that morning we gave it to you, and asked you to give to Steve. I was listening that afternoon when Steve & Garry played it on the air, and all the embarrassment we felt that morning was worth it.
Rick: I remember that well.
Terry: You have no idea how much that meant to me. I idolized Steve as a radio personality. He was the king.
Rick: I also remember from that time that you were one of the champions of the band Styx.
Terry: They have been my favorite band since high school.
Rick: When I heard you were working for them, my first thought was, “Wow, that’s perfect for Terry.”
Terry: It really is. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.
Rick: How did it come about?
Terry: Well, I had known the guys in the band since I was a DJ in the 70s and 80s, and had become friendly with a few of them. James Young (photo) and I really hit it off, and we started hanging out a little more in the 90s. Well, after Styx had been retired for 14 years, they decided to do a comeback tour in late 1999. That was when Dennis DeYoung had issues with light sensitivity and couldn’t do the live shows anymore. The rest of the band decided to carry on anyway. JY thought of me to be their radio promotion guy because I was such a big supporter of the band, and I obviously was very familiar with radio, so he asked me if I wanted the job.
Rick: Do all bands have guys handling radio like that?
Terry: No they don’t, but Styx always has done it, and it has really paid off for them. I’m only the third guy to hold this position, but I’ve been doing it for seven years now. And I’ve been really lucky to have been part of Styx’s rebirth (photo). They are as popular now as they ever have been. It’s not just people our age (mid-40s) who come to these shows—it’s kids in their teens and 20s. Styx has become a part of the popular culture.
Rick: I think Adam Sandler helped with that.
Terry: Yeah, Adam Sandler is a huge Styx fan. He says they’re his favorite group, and that’s why he has used their music in his movies. In the movie “Big Daddy,” Styx actually became a part of the dialogue—he taught the kid to say that Styx was the greatest band in the world.
Rick: I think he even mentioned Tommy Shaw, didn’t he?
Terry: Yeah. He tells a story to a girl about Tommy Shaw picking him out of the crowd at a Styx concert. In fact, Sandler is such a huge fan, he asked Styx to perform last week at Spike TV’s first annual Guy’s Choice Awards. Adam was given the “Guy’s Guy” award, and he got to choose who played—so he chose Styx.
Rick: You can’t pay for that kind of pub.
Terry: It has been great. But Sandler isn’t the only one pushing Styx. They were featured in The Simpsons, Scrubs, and Sex in the City too. Then there was the moment on American Idol when Chris Daughtry (photo) chose “Renegade” as a song to sing on the show, and Simon Cowell congratulated him on such an excellent choice. Also, when they did the “Behind the Music” special about Styx on VH1, it was one of VH1’s all-time highest rated shows at the time. I really think those pop culture references are partly responsible for their popularity with kids these days. That, and the band really sounds great. This lineup is amazing. They are a great rock and roll band.
Rick: And they’re coming to Chicago soon, right?
Terry: (laughs) Thanks. Right on cue. Yes, they’ll be at the First Midwest in Tinley Park on June 30th with Def Leppard and Foreigner.
Rick: So is this it for your radio career?
Terry: I guess I would answer that by saying, “Never say Never,” but at this time I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing.
Rick: Do you miss radio at all?
Terry: I do miss it sometimes. It was a passion for me from age 17 well into my 30s. I ate it for breakfast—always thinking about that day’s show. I do miss that. Although, I’m reading $everance right now—it’s hilarious, by the way, but it sounds like I haven’t exactly missed the golden years of radio the past ten years since the Telecommunications Act was passed, have I?
Rick: Not exactly, no.
Terry: I still do voiceovers, and I record these radio specials for Styx every time a new album comes out, so I keep my fingers in it, but it really would take a full-time offer in a place like Chicago for me to consider it.
Rick: Do you mind if I give out your e-mail address to Terry Gibson fans who would like to reconnect after all these years?
Terry: Sure, my pleasure. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.