UPDATED: NOVEMBER 25, 2008
When I interviewed Todd in November 2007, he was the creative director at WGN. He has since moved to St. Louis and is the program director of KTRS. I asked him how he is liking his new gig...
Todd: I’m lovin’ the work. The team here is full of energy, and can do it all. You’d dig it, because that’s your background. Sling sound. Host. Book. Package. Kiss babies. I just got our FIX-IT guy booked as the builder on the St. Louis episode of ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition !!
August 18th we re-launched our morning show – I reunited our current star with his former partner and they’re really a great combo platter of jib and jab and have a taste of Bill and Wendy(aka Q101 days). I always loved those two. It will be a re-freshing way to do News-Talk. Also very proud of our web-site – www.ktrs.com – Our PM drive star has a tremendous blog internal to the site. I sure miss Chicago – but this has been a really rewarding adventure.
Below is the original interview...
Todd Manley is the Creative Director of WGN-Radio (720 AM)
"I'm a Saluki. SIU grad in Communications and Fine Arts. Worked as features producer for NPR/WSIU-FM. By my 'second sophomore' year at Southern, I was working full-time doing high school football play-by-play, hosting mornings, nights, producing spots, and sweeping the floors at WCIL-AM & FM. Basically whatever they asked in order to pay my tuition. My theater scholarship got chewed up by Reaganomics. Basically, two ad agencies and seven sets of call letters took me from Carbondale to Champaign to Indianapolis to Chicago. In Indy I had a weekend show and did imaging for a hip hop station. My agency work was mostly as a writer/producer for radio campaigns. The highlight was a series of spots I produced with Lorenzo Music(aka Garfield the Cat/Carlton the Doorman)."
1989-1990 WYSY-FM -- Production Director
1990-1992 WPNT-FM/The Point -- Morning Traffic Reporter
1992-1994 WPNT-FM/The Point -- Nighttime Jock
1994-1996 WPNT/FM 100 -- Production/Imaging Director
1996-1998 WCKG-FM -- Production/Imaging Director
1998-2000 WGN-AM -- Production/Imaging Director
2000-2004 WGN-AM -- Production Director & Asst. PD
2004-present WGN-AM -- Creative Director
Rick: Anyone who listens to the Cubs on the radio has heard your voice hundreds of times sending everyone back to the "Pat & Ron Show." It's time for full-disclosure. Are you, in fact, a Cubs fan?
Todd: I am absolutely a Cub fan. My grandma worships Ernie Banks, and I still listen to her. Although I am not a southside basher. My best friend in high school was a Sox fan so I actually had been to the Old Comiskey more than Wrigley before I came to WGN. I even crawled under the demolition fence to swipe a white-washed brick from 35th & Shields.
Rick: You're the Creative Director at WGN. What does that mean exactly for the uninitiated?
Todd: The Creative Director role just expands my responsibilities some. In addition to overseeing the commercial production staff, and producing the station imaging -- I work with the PD, marketing director and sales managers on how our products are merchandised and produced in podcasts, specials, streaming, print, and events. The reality of all our gigs -- how do we increase revenue without adding commercial inventory.
Rick: Working at a station like WGN, someone in your position has the opportunity of working with all sorts of shows and all sorts of different personalities. Do you have any favorite stories from your years in the job?
Todd: Is this where I tell you about the fist fight over Henry Kissinger between Milt Rosenberg & John Williams' producer? Or how Wiser has to wipe the cheek of the Elvis on Velvet pic that Spike kisses for good luck every morn on the way to Studio A? There was the look on Mayor Daley's face when I asked him after a Bob Collins interview to come into my studio and say 'GO SOX' a couple times to use for a Cubs ticket giveaway.
Generally, I relish the innocence that climbs inside our jaded biz. Especially, when it comes to Santo. One night during the 2001 season a streaker ran onto the field during a Cubs game in KC. He jumped the wall on the first base side, raced across the infield and slid into second. Ron was in shock. Not that the guy was naked, but that he chose to go head first into what Pat called a 'very painful encounter with the bag.' Ron replied: "I thought I'd seen it all Patrick" Hughes: "You've never really seen it ALL Ronnie".
Rick: You also produced that excellent tribute for WGN's 80th birthday a few years ago. What did you learn about the station that you didn't know before you began the project?
Todd: In terms of what I learned on the WGN Gold 80th anniversary CD project ... the Colonel (photo: Robert R. McCormick) started out truly committed using the radio station as a non-commercial entity. He went to great lengths in the 20s to produce long shows which were historical recreations. He drew clear lines between the public's airwaves and the profit of the press. I also learned that Roy Leonard had an incredible gift for knowing when artists were on the cusp of something great. Reference: an incredibly prophetic interview with the Star Wars cast one week after the first movie was released.
Rick: Before working at WGN, you held the same title at WCKG, and worked with the likes of Stern, Brandmeier and Dahl. How did that experience prepare you for WGN, and how was it completely unlike what you're doing now?
Todd: The difference between 'CKG & 'GN for me is mainly what I knew going in -- the major shows at 'CKG when I left were Stern in the morn, Brandmeier in mid-days, and Dahl in the afternoons. Each of those shows were islands unto themselves. Howard (photo) would not allow sound to be lifted from his show for promos...so we were left to snag pulls from "PRIVATE PARTS". Johnny was brilliant at packaging his show from day one, but he was in LA. Stever was the one show of those three originating from the Pru Two. He was as insightful and poignant and funny as I have ever heard him during the time I was there. It was the height of the Lewinsky scandal at the White House and I thought Steve was in the zone.
At 'GN everything was live and local. I needed to thread the soul of the station throughout the day in promo form(but I had complete access to each show in order to do it), and it was/is a challenge that gets me pumped. When push comes to shove I'm a sucker for a great storyteller. I dig using the words of hosts to write copy on a hard drive.
Rick: I know you spent most of your life in Chicago. Now that you've been working in the industry for as long as you have, and with the legendary talent that you've worked with, you've probably met just about everyone. Who were some of your radio heroes growing up, and how did they measure up to what you thought they would be?
Todd: My radio hero is Ken Nordine of Word Jazz fame. People would know him from the COLD STEEL ON ICE commercials for the Blackhawks. I've gotten to meet him, but never worked with him. My use of filtered voice was inspired by him -- he used the concept as an alter ego. The second voice that could call someone's bluff and then note some 'amazing thought' in a self-effacing way. Ken's gifts hit two of my passions, twisted prose and bebop.
Rick: What's the best and worst advice you ever got in the business?
Todd: Advice doesn't usually play well with me. It is so absolute. I like to keep my options open...which means I occasionally fall flat on my face, but the one thing I'm really great at is getting back up again--so that seems to work for me. I do collect adages, though. My favorite is: Do what you love, and the rest will follow.