Sunday, December 09, 2007

Jenniffer Weigel & Clay Champlin

UPDATED: November 25, 2008

Jenniffer Weigel & Clay Champlin
I interviewed Jenniffer and her husband (and fellow broadcaster) Clay Champlin in December of 2007, not too long after her book "Stay Tuned: Conversations with Dad from the Other Side" came out. She has since turned that into a one woman play, and I asked her about the status of that show...

Jen: The producer of Tony N Tina's wedding has picked up my one woman show, "I'm Spiritual, Dammit!"! It re-opens at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts on Dec 10th. The show is based on my book and talks about my life in broadcasting and all that got me where I am, so broadcasting is definitely in there! It runs until Feb 1st- on Wednesday and Thursday nights 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm.

The original interview is below...

Jenniffer and Clay have been on the radio in Chicago for more than a decade. They also happen to be married to each other.

Rick: I've known both of you for a long time, but I don't think I've ever heard the story of how you met and wooed each other. Is there a good story there?

Clay: Not really. We met at Actually, it was a lot like how you and Bridget met. (Rick's note: My wife Bridget and I met while working together at the Loop in the 80s.) She had just started at Shadow, and we got to know each other through work. But she had to ask me out first. Actually, she had to ask me on our first two dates. Technically, she still had a boyfriend, and I didn't know if he could beat me up, so I was waiting until the coast was clear before asking Jenny out.

Jen: Clay is right that we met at Shadow- but I had BROKEN UP with my boyfriend- but I guess I wasn’t clear about that with him because he seemed TOTALLY not interested in me- I’d asked him out twice- and gotten the good ole’ friendly “hug” goodbye at the end of the night- so I wasn’t picking up any signals… so I backed off. Then, a couple weeks after our second date- he asked ME out- and we’ve been together ever since.

Rick: This is fun, I've never done a couples interview before. I feel like Oprah. Obviously both of you are multi-media stars, but this is called Chicago Radio Spotlight, so I have to ask you about that first. I'll get to some of the stuff you did separately in a second, but I want to hear about it was like doing a radio show with your spouse. (They hosted a show together on WGN Radio)

Clay: I really enjoyed it. The cool part was appreciating her as a professional in a way I hadn't before. We'd done stuff on TV before, but radio is such an intimate medium (at least from the broadcasting side) that I experienced her a unique way only that environment could provide. The part that sucked was when we were pissed at each other and had to drive home together. Honestly, I thought we'd fight a lot more than we did, but I'd be lying if I said we didn't squabble over when to take a break, or who was going to do the next live read.

Jen: It was easy in a lot of ways because we both knew the ins and outs of radio- and I think we made a nice team because he wanted to talk about Nascar and I wanted to talk about Wayne Dyer. But when we would argue about content- it did make things tough on the drive home!! But I loved doing a show with Clay. After my maternity leave, we went back in to WGN to talk about getting back on the schedule, and they said they were “going in a different direction”- so we haven’t been on the air together since. But I am going to start hosting a weekly show for the Grapevine Radio network in January.

Rick: You've also worked with a long list of radio stars in this town. Between the two of you, you've been on with just about every major radio star who has been here since the mid-90s, whether you worked with them as a co-host, a news reporter, a traffic reporter, or a sports reporter. What are some of your fondest memories from those days and who was the most fun to work with?

Clay: I had a lot of fun working with Wendy Snyder (photo) and Bill Leff at the Loop. I also liked quoting the Simpsons on the WBEZ talkback line, in an attempt to make Lisa Labuz crack up as she introduced traffic. My least favorite memory is filling-in on the WJMK morning show because the producers were so mean. They hit me a few times.

Rick: I'm sure you had it coming. What about you, Jen?

Jen: Steve Cochran (photo) treated me so well- and I just loved sitting in the studio with him and watching him do interviews because it was so effortless for him. Johnny Brandmeier was also a blast. I was never in the same room as Johnny- but I think the two of them are the best in the business. They taught me everything I know about radio. When Buzz went on vacation for a week- I got to do the news for Johnny instead of just traffic- and that was a huge step for me. It gave me the confidence to walk into my job as the news anchor for Steve and I will always be grateful to both of them for helping me get my start.

Rick: Jen, you have written a book "Stay Tuned: Conversations with Dad from the Other Side." What has the reaction been like, and specifically what has it been like from people who knew your dad (Tim Weigel)?

Jen: I never thought I would write a book- I’d always had this feeling that there was more to life than broadcasting- or at least the kind of broadcasting I was assigned to cover- (which included celebrity interviews, or fires and car accidents, depending on which boss I had at the time.) Whenever a certain “spiritual” guru came through town, I requested interviews, and felt very moved by the conversations. I kept a journal about it- and even wrote articles to pitch to the papers or to magazines. After an encounter with Carolyn Myss (best selling author of “Sacred Contracts” and “Anatomy of the Spirit”) I had the courage to walk out on my reporter job- and after my Dad died- I then became obsessed with interviewing all these “mediums” who claimed they could talk to dead people. I wanted to continue the conversation with my Dad- but I knew he was gone- and so my grief took me on a journey of discovery and soul searching that has been incredible.

I’ve gotten more reaction from people who DIDN’T know my Dad (photo), than from those who DID. One man out of California- (60 years old, CEO, work-a-holic) wrote me an email saying my book changed his life- which is still hard to imagine for me. He says he now works fewer hours, and tells his family and loved ones how he feels about them every day, because he realizes that it’s his EGO that wants to make money and chase his tail. He now gets that it’s about the relationships you have, and the people whose lives you touch that matter most.

I got another email from a 20 year old college student on the East Coast saying after reading the book, she decided to follow her OWN career path instead of one her parents set out for her. It’s these kinds of reactions that just blow me away.

After doing a few interviews about the book- one reporter said “Are you worried that your former broadcasting colleagues won’t take you as seriously now that you’ve put this information out there?” and I just laughed and said, “Look at the quotes on the book jacket- most of them are from nationally known broadcasting colleagues. I don’t think they think less of me. I think they respect me MORE for telling people what was true for me..”

(Read Laura Caldwell's review of "Stay Tuned" in Chicago Magazine.)

Rick: And now, Clay is writing too. I've been checking out your blog, and I've read some of the stuff you've written for Chicago Sports Weekly, and Clay, would I be incorrect if I assumed you knew your way around a casino?

Clay: Yeah, I've spent a lot of time gambling. While I've wagered the GNP of a small Balkan nation in my lifetime, I'm not some high-roller hanging out at the Bellagio. Nowadays I only have time for low-limit online hold'em games. More importantly, all of that time in a casino has shown the enormous impact gambling has on our society, but, because it's a taboo subject, it's difficult to have an honest dialogue on how that impact effects us. My writing has allowed me to explore that, and Chicago Sports Weekly has been kind enough to publish some of my work.

Rick: You've also both done television work (Jen's show "Taste" is currently airing on NBC in Chicago), in addition to radio and writing. Is one of you dragging the other one into these new mediums or has it just kind of worked out that way?

Clay: I think to work in news, in any medium, you have to be able to write. So we've always been writers, it's just now we're writing about stuff we enjoy. But Jenny hasn't been dragging me along - she's been leading the way. If it weren't for her I'd be nothing more than a pale version of Ronnie Woo-Woo. But she's very inspirational to watch work. I mean, how many women do you know, not named Oprah, who have their own TV show, production company, and book?

Jen: I think we’re really lucky- because if people weren’t knocking down our doors, we created shows for ourselves. I created Taste for NBC- but a lot of people don’t know that Clay created, hosted and Executive Produced a sports talk show for CBS in “Notre Dame country” out of South Bend Indiana for over a year when he moved there to take care of his mom. (she was diagnosed with cancer a few months after my Dad died- GOOD TIMES!) To wear all those hats is hard work- and we’ve both done it.

Broadcasting is so “hit or miss” and so I think we both realized that we needed to arm ourselves with as many skills as possible to stay busy!

Rick: So here's my last question. I know you have a little boy. (See video of Jen, Clay and Britt on Jen's TV show "Taste") With all of this stuff going on for both of you, how do you juggle that with your family duties, and how have you managed to split up the assignments at home?

Clay: I was going to ask you about that! Three boys? Jesus, I watch our son for three hours and need a nap. We used to arm wrestle to divide the chores, but Jenny kept beating me. Now it's rocks, paper, scissors.

Jen: Grandma has been a big help- but luckily- we both love our son so much- we WANT to be with him as much as possible. He’s so active, it gets exhausting, but we really make an effort to “co-parent” as much as possible. Since we both work from home a lot, that gives us a lot of flexibility- which is handy. But I have SOOO much respect for people who have more than one child! Don’t know how you do it!!