Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jeff Hoover

Jeff Hoover made his name in Chicago radio as one of the hilarious writer/performers of Jonathon Brandmeier's show in the 90s. He is now one of the producers of the highly rated WGN Morning News on Channel 9 in Chicago. A show Hoover helped produce for WGN-TV in 2005, "Bozo, Gar & Ray: WGN TV Classics," won three Telly Awards in entertainment, variety and documentary categories. The awards honor excellence in local, regional and cable commercials and programming.

Jeff Hoover with Bob Saget


News/Talk 1400 WSJM & Magic 107 WIRX
(St. Joseph-Benton Harbor) A Mid-West Family Broadcasting Station is very approximate - I would say it was probably 1984 - 1988

Jonathon Brandmeier Showgram WLUP/AM1000/WCKG 105.9FM. I was a contributor from '93 to '95 and hired as a creative producer in 1996 to 2001

Was a free-lance producer in 2002, and joined WGN Morning News as a producer in 2003.

Rick: I know you got your radio start in your hometown of St. Joe's in Michigan. Tell us a story or two about what it's like working at a small market station like that--compared to working in a market like Chicago.

Hoover: I worked at WSJM/WIRX during my summer breaks from attending Business School at Western Michigan University. I had a sweet lisp back then. I must have picked it from doing too much musical theater in high school. Anyway, the station tag line was "the Spirit of the Southwest." I have the airchecks and if you heard them, you'd swear that it was Garry Meier doing one of his Cliff Mansavage bits. We played soft rock music on reel-to-reels and I would read the weather forecast, blood drive information and let the elderly know what parking lot the Bookmobile was going to visit next.

Yes, I saved many lives in those days.

Rick: You made your name in town as a writer/performer on the Johnny B Showgram. How did you get your foot in the door there?

Hoover: First of all, I was (and still am) an avid fan of Johnny's for many years before I ever worked for him. I could hear the Loop on my boom box in Michigan.

Anyway, I moved to Chicago in 1991 and didn't get the idea to call in to his show until he had a Jerry Lewis impersonation contest in 1993. Johnny had tickets to see Jerry at the Drury Lane in Oakbrook. I was working at a marketing company and heard this and thought this was my chance to play. I asked the HR manager if I could use her office for a minute and closed the door and made the call. I had never tried to say anything more than "LADY" in the Jerry voice so I was nervous and anxious. Luckily, some of the Second City improv training kicked in when it came to my turn. After riffing about my colostomy bag looking like a Steakum, I won the tickets. Now, this is going to sound really dorky, but the greatest feeling during that first call was making Johnny laugh. I still have the tape and it is great to hear Johnny, Buzz and Robin together. And, to this day, the best thing that I can ever hope to do, is to make people laugh. Jesus, I really sound like Jerry Lewis now.

Since that day, anytime Jerry Lewis came up in the news, they would call me and see if Jerry was available. Soon, they'd call for Jerry even if he wasn't in the news. I was invited to remote broadcasts, too.

(I even got to sit on stage next to Andy the Clown and Jack Brickhouse at the Danny Bonaduce/Donny Osmond fight. One of them smelled like pee.)

One day, I thought that I should try and see if I could work on the show full-time. It was a long shot, but why not. I called his office and spoke with his Executive Producer, Carol "Lamb Lady" Harmon. She advised me that she didn't think that there was any position open at the time, but if I was serious, I should approach it like it was a business. Johnny is "just having fun" on the air, but off the air, he is a solid businessman. I sent a cover letter and resume. A few days later, he sent me a handwritten note on his letterhead that said "Timing is everything!"

Several months later, we talked on the phone. I decided to dump the suit and tie and 401K and get up at 2am to work for the funniest man in radio. My first day there, I was on the air doing a bit as James Mason in Hell. That was huge for me because Johnny hired me on nothing but my Jerry impression, Second City skills, marketing degree, and I was hungry. Johnny gave me my break to go nuts and drive the clown car.

Rick: Pretty soon you were doing all kinds of voices. You also did Bobby Brown, Bob Hope, Christopher Walken and many, many others. Have you always had a knack for mimickry, and has that gotten you in trouble over the years?

Hoover: First of all, you should know that I was a fat kid with a soup bowl haircut who circled the new Saturday Morning Cartoons that I planned to watch each Fall out of the TV Guide. I watched all of the old Abbott & Costello movies and the classic kids' shows on Channel 9. I watched Svengoolie and The Three Stooges. I watched so much television, my eyes were shaped like rectangles. So, I guess you could say that I was like a Mynah bird soaking in the sounds in front of the TV.

I never really got into trouble doing the voices. But, I did fool some "celebs" into thinking they were talking to Jerry Lewis (Bruce Willis, Bea Arthur, Charlie Daniels, Carol Channing, The Smothers Brothers, etc.)

I only felt bad one time. There was a story of this retired couple that live in Mud Lake, Minnesota and they were battling the city officials because they wanted to change the name of the lake from Mud Lake to Golden Pond, which happened to be their favorite movie. So, Johnny calls them up as Katharine Hepburn's caregiver and I am on the phone as Katie. The husband bought it, even though I was working a tad blue. Katie said that she would come and visit and help their campaign. Johnny was saying that I needed a parachute harness to be lifted around and Katie was saying that her diet consists of eating toothpaste and she wanted to bring her 37 cats, etc. They were excited. They were even contacted by their local CBS television news station and arranged for an interview with Katie.

We did the interview with the reporter and they all bought into it. Well, some listener ended up calling them and told them that Katie was a fake. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until Johnny called them up to hear the audio from the television interview. The wife answered the phone and told us how ashamed we should be, especially since her brother had died during all of the excitement of Miss Hepburn's visit. The husband knew days earlier but didn't want to spoil things. Oopsy daisey.

Rick: Those aren't the only people you offended. I'm German, pal, and we weren't too thrilled with your Wilhelm the Stormtrooper character either.

Hoover: (laughs) I know nuthzing! The Stormtroopers were born out of the "mass firings" that were happening at the Loop when it was bought by the Mormons (Bonneville) and we suddenly became "the Best Music on the Planet." (Turns out that listeners didn't want to live on a planet where the song "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is played every quarter hour either.)

Wilhelm and Helmut (very funny Showgram Player Brendan Sullivan) would interrogate various people and fire them. We played it safe like "Hogan's Heroes." Johnny played audio of jackboots marching up and down the hallway. It was all fun and games until we started making bar appearances and some schweinhund sales guy booked us at a place in Skokie. Hello? Is this mic on?

Rick: How did it work on Brandmeier's show? Did you and Brendan come up with ideas and pitch them to Johnny or did he come to you guys and say..."Hey, I need Jerry Lewis to call Charo!"...or was it a little of both?

Hoover: Brendan (photo) was there before me. He was actually one of the writers that worked on Johnny's television show. Johnny liked his stuff and hired him to work on the radio show. He was a one-man band. Jimmy Mac was doing the wacky edits and Artie Kennedy was doing Mike Tyson and showing off his dead-on Demi Moore pregnant pose. But, Brendan was alone in the creative department. When I came onboard, it could have been very awkward or competitive, but we clicked very well and we knew right away that the best way to get the job done was to work together and bounce ideas off one another as a team. Some ideas were Johnny's, some were ours, and some were listeners. It didn't matter as long as it was funny. As Johnny would say, bake the cake, find the meat, keep your head down and stay focused. Johnny likes to keep it real. Real is funny. A guy who invented a machine that sucks up prairie dogs is more entertaining than the best comedian or biggest star in his mind. That's the meat to him. The rest is frosting. So, frost the meat. Huh? Nevermind.

Rick: After the Johnny B show ended at WCKG, you had a hard time finding something else in Chicago radio. I tried to convince my bosses at the time to hire you and they just didn't have it in the budget. Do you think that says something about the kind of radio being done now in Chicago, or was it just one of those cases of bad timing?

Hoover: I think some radio people didn't know what to do with me. Hell, I had Johnny's hand comfortably up my puppet pooper so long, I think that most Chicago radio shows didn't know what else I could do. So, I sent out my resume and tape to other dream job long shots like Letterman and Conan.

The only callback I received was from the producer of The Howard Stern Show. Gary Dell'Abate (photo) said that Howard loved my stuff and wanted to know how I worked. It was perfect timing because Jackie the Jokeman had left in a huff over money and they were looking at rotating in different comedians, writers, voice guys, etc. The Labor Day Telethon was a week away so I suggested that we try a "Jerry Lewis" bit with Howard and see what happens from there. We did it. It went great and even nominated for an F Emmy later that year.

However, I think Gary probably saw me as a threat since I did more than write bits and do voices. I booked some guests and came up with giveaway ideas, too. So, I sat around drinking way too much coffee in the morning and started watching WGN Morning News. It was like a great radio show ensemble, but on television. Me likey.

Rick: I know you're too modest to admit this, but you've really made your mark on the WGN Morning News. This is just my personal opinion, but I think that show took it to another level when you came aboard. Tell us a little bit about what you do on the show.

Hoover: Wowie-wow-wow. That is way too kind. This show was fast, fun and funny before I ever showed up here. In my opinion, no other station in town can pull off what the talent does on this show. I fell in love all over again watching this show. I never thought there could possibly be anything close to the experience I had with Brandmeier. I was wrong.

One moment, Larry Potash is doing a hard news story about Iraq and by the time the next Victory Auto Wreckers commercial is on, he is up on the desk doing the Fred Sanford shuffle. He's the only anchor in town that can pull that off. Although I think I saw Ron Magers do the Macarena once.

So, I started emailing and leaving goofy voicemails. They started using my ideas and playing my messages. After several months, Larry said that he wanted to try and get me an interview with the news director. It was a perfect opportunity to show that the skills I had learned working in radio were transferable in many ways to producing for television. Breaking the sameness barrier is important. Finding ways to do old things and make them new again. I think that the one thing we do better than anyone else is to be real people. No fake small talk tosses to weather and traffic. They are quick to break each others hump and aren't afraid to let viewers see all of the wheels come off the show. I also believe that between Larry, Robin Baumgarten, Paul Konrad, Ana Belaval, Dean Richards, Pat Tomasulo and Valerie Warner, we have the best morning news team in town, and it's reflected in the show's ratings.

Granted, our show is not for everyone. But, hopefully Sam Zell likes it.

Rick: Talk about the differences between working in radio and television.

Hoover: Radio is more spontaneous. To appear to be spontaneous on television sometimes requires 29 people to know what you are going to do ahead of time. But that is also why television is more exciting. Everything is there to be seen and there is so much more that can go wrong. And some of the best stuff happens by accident.

Rick: Tell us the dirty dark secrets about Paul, Larry and Robin.

Hoover: Well, it's not that dirty or dark, but it's stuff you probably wouldn't guess about them.

Paul Konrad is one of the most naturally funny men I have ever worked with in my life. He is quick-witted and his sense of humor is effortless. What you don't know is that in our post-show meetings, he actually has a great news brain. He offers a lot of suggestions in the meetings about newsmakers and story angles that we might have missed. He also has a third testical under his left armpit.

Larry Potash is the best all around talent in television morning news. He can do it all. He can hold down the fort and find the funny in the same breath. What you don't know is that he is a workaholic. He works late after the show and from home. He also works during his sleep which is also when we are on the air.

Robin Baumgarten is the real deal. She is South Side. She likes to knock back a few beers and smoke a heater. She's not afraid to speak her mind. She kinda reminds me of my Dad when I'd have my friends over to the house and he'd be in the garage working on the car and his ass crack would be showing, and I'd ask him to pull up his pants and he'd say "if you don't like it, don't look at it."

What you don't know about her is that she is really sweet underneath it all. She also will probably kill me for comparing her to my Dad's crack.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ed Schwartz

Eddie Schwartz, long-time overnight radio voice in Chicago, has passed away after a long illness (February 4, 2009).

I knew Ed (we worked together at the Loop). He truly loved radio, and deeply cared about Chicago. He will be missed.

When I conducted the interview below, he was obviously already in ill health, but his mind was sharp as ever...

For three decades, Ed Schwartz was a late night radio institution in Chicago. They didn't call him "Chicago Ed" for nothing.


WLS-AM 890 1965-1966

WIND-AM 560 1966-1982

WGN-AM 720 1982-1992
(See Ed on the WTTW special Radio Faces during his WGN heyday. The show aired in 1989. Thanks to Mediaburn, for the video.)

WLUP-AM 1000 1992-1996

Since leaving WLUP after it was sold, Ed has been a newspaper columnist. He wrote a column for Lerner until 2001, and has been a free-lance writer, mostly for the Daily Southtown, ever since.

Rick: First of all, I know your health has been a concern in recent years. How are you feeling?

Ed: I'm feeling like Sam Zell's Tribune bid: 334 million bucks. With the humor now established let me truthfully say I'm feeling good. About a year and a half back I was stunned to learn I was going into renal failure. That means the kidneys going on permanent vacation. It was a total surprise. No obvious signs or symptoms. There are two basic ways to attend to it. One is a kidney transplant and the other is kidney dialysis. I'm doing the dialysis course at the moment.

Three times a week I buzz over to the Lincoln Park Dialysis Center. It's a 4 hour committment, and is painless. I get to plant myself in a recliner in front of a small color tv equipped with stereo phones and I watch the tube. Also a good time to read or gab on the phone or catch 40 winks. So 12 hours a week are devoted to dialysis. If you follow the program you can lead a fairly normal life.

Rick: Columnists Robert Feder (Friends rally around 'Chicago Ed' in need) and Eric Zorn (Behind the musings: Eddie Schwartz) both put out public pleas for help on your behalf last year. What sort of a response did you get, and how did that make you feel?

Ed: You really find out what kind of friends you have when a really serious situation overwhelms you. Robert and Eric are both long time friends and they used their pulpits to spread the word that a group of my friends and former radio colleagues had joined together to support me. It was much more than raising funds. They were there when I was frightened about the future, worried about the treatment and not sure if I could even handle all that was occuring. I guess I was a bit "shell shocked" by the seriousness of the diagnosis.

Radio friends and special people such as Dave Baum, Clark Weber (shown here), Cheryl Morton, Mitch Rosen and Paul Heinze put together a Radiothon to help defray the costs of setting up a dialysis regimen. The fund they made possible thanks to contributions is what saved my bacon without a doubt. While I'm fortunate to have adequate health insurance the number of dollars for related costs not covered by insurance are pretty large. We sent every contributor a thank you, and it was from the heart.

The results of the Radiothon, a five hour broadcast on WSCR were gratifying. Lots of friends and former listeners called in to wish me well and many sent along a contibution to help me at a most difficult time. When first mentioned to me, the public fundraiser idea made me uncomfortable. I had spent my professional life participating in a number of efforts to aid people with problems and it was difficult for me to accept the fact that in this instance my role would be reversed and I had become the needy one. Dave, Clark, Paul and Mitch kept calling and coming to the hospital to convince me there was no reason not to let them help because if any of them was so afflicted they knew I'd be there for them. So the Radiothon was born, and it saved my keister for sure. Life is all about relationships. Don't leave home without them.

Rick: You made your mark in Chicago as the all-night guy at WIND. You were there for 17 years. Tell us the story about you came to WGN, and how Bob Collins and Larry King tie-in to that move.

Ed: During a very long and successful run at WIND 560 Bob Collins from WGN invited me out to dinner. He shared his hopes for the future. The retirement of Wally Phillips was on the horizon and Bob knew the WGN morning show was going to be his biggest challenge. Replacing an icon like Wally was no small assignment.

Uncle Bobby knew how to read a rating book and he realized that WIND was #1 in both male and female demos and had been so for years. He wasn't looking forward to hitting the air every morning with a competeing station having a larger audience. He knew it would take him longer to get each morning off the ground with a 3 or 4 share when WIND had 12's and 14's. So Bob proposed I join him at WGN and work overnight as his lead-in. I was a bit stunned, but it was something I had always hoped for and didn't know how to make happen. WGN was the home of Franklyn Macormick, Jay Andres, Mike Rapchak and the Meister Brau Showcase. My kind of act had never played there at night.

The opportunity Bob presented came at the perfect time. WIND had just welcomed a new G.M. He was a corporate guy from back east. The station was doing well with all time slots well established and this new dude comes in and tells us it's his station now and we all better get used to his ways. He also told us he was looking at the entire schedule with the possibility of juggling some of us around. I knew at that moment I wasn't going to put my future into the hands of a guy with his poor people skills. I had my agent make a deal and a few days after my WIND contract expired without a new deal ready it was the time to jump. I called a friend with a truck and one night after my show I just moved out and never said goodbye. It was a tough but correct decision.

WIND was scrambling to replace me and Larry King's program which had been on for a while at WCFL with no perceptible audience so WIND made him a pitch and his syndicated show moved into my old slot. King, when asked by Irv Kupcinet in the Sun-Times how he intended to procede said that "He wasn't concerned about me and my program. I spent most of my time interviewing the sewer commissioner."

The next day one of his minions called to "apologize" for the unkind remark and said that Kup misquoted King. He said Larry didn't really mean that. I knew from that point my mission was three-fold. 1. Build an audience 2. Support Bob Collins and 3. Kick King's ass bigger than he'd ever been kicked before. And that is just what I did. He was a total failure on WIND. He is the most ill-prepared interviewer I've ever seen or heard.

Rick: For nearly three decades you were the overnight guy at WIND and WGN. I know it's almost impossible to pick out a few examples or highlights, but are there any moments that really make you look back at with pride all these years later?

Ed: Actually my on-air years included WIND,WGN and WLUP AM-FM for a total of just about 29 years on the radio every day. There are many moments I fondly recall, but I think the most important was the establishment of the "Good Neighbor" Food Drive. It was a very sincere effort to help those less fortunate. Over the years we raised millions of pounds of foodstuffs and several million dollars.

My other prideful feeling comes from just being there every night and developing a bond with the listeners. I have a very personal style and it works. I worked every holiday to make sure my listeners had something dependable when the rest of the world was off I was there. Every Christmas, New Years Eve and all the others. It was well worth it.

Rick: As a rival producer, I was always amazed at the A-list celebrities that you got to appear on your show, and many of them came on quite often. Did you have any favorites? Were there any that you really felt didn’t click with you?

Ed: I was always prepared for my guests. I did my homework and they appreciated that. I would go over biographies, history, and whatever I could find to help bring more out of the guests. They liked to see an interviewer that didn't do it on the fly like lazy Larry King.

Not only did I have some favorites, but some of them became personal friends and because of that were always available to me. Some of the guests who became friends included: Stan Freberg, Steve Allen, Bill Cosby, Phyllis Diller, Myron Cohen, George Carlin, Dennis Franz, Bobby Vinton, and Mrs. Richard J. Daley. I was the only program Sis Daley would ever go on. She was a special friend.

During the campaign for Rich Daley's first winning term I had him booked one night before the election. His people called in about an hour before show time to say he just couldn't make it. I had promoted the hell out of it and wasn't going to let him welch. He knew his mother and I were buds, so I called his campaign manager and I said "I want him here at 11 o'clock or my next call is to Sis Daley." I hung up. Promptly at 11 he walked in and sat down. He waited until a commercial and then said "I hope you didn't call my mother. She'd kill me if I didn't show up."

I was also very close to Prof. J. Allen Hynek the Northwestern Astronomer and UFO expert. I'll tell you a secret that solidifed our friendship and caused him to include me at length in two of his books.

Allen Wrote a fascinating book called "The UFO Experience". It was in this book that he categorized for the first time the important of UFO sightings with the terms: "Close Encounters of the first, second and third kind". You will recall the Steven Spielberg blockbuster 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind".

This is the rest of the story. Shortly after his book came out and long before any such movie was conceived I was in Los Angeles to tape some celebrity interviews. I bought a copy of the Hollywood Reporter to read when In arrived and in it there was a paragraph of just a few dozen words telling of Stephen Spielberg's next movie project. He was about to go into production of a UFO film and the working title was "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind". I was stunned. Dr. Hynek hadn't told me or anyone that he had sold the rights to his book for a movie. I called him from my hotel that night and asked him when he had made such a whopper of a deal? He didn't know ANYTHING about it. No sale was made, no permission obtained. Somehow Spielberg had come up with that title as if it were in the public domain.

Dr. Hynek wrote down the little story as I dictated it and said he was going to call his lawyer a.s.a.p. As a result of my call to him his book was in fact "bought" by Spielberg, as it should have been. Dr. Hynek not only was given credit for the title, but he was hired as the films technical advisor and he even appeared in the movie too.

I have many stories like this. I think I better write a book.

Rick: You left WGN in the early 90s to join the all-star lineup at WLUP. In retrospect, would you make that move again?

Ed: Under exactly the same circumstances, yes. I loved every minute at WGN, make no mistake. It is a very special place to me. Simply put, when my last contract expired the Loop offered me a job. The facts were presented to my bosses. All they had to do to keep me was was offer me 1 dollar more than the LOOP. They refused to let anything or anybody influence their decisions. They didn't take me seriously because NOBODY ever left. I never expected to myself. I could have put 20 or more years in there easily. I was actually very mad at their stupid gamesmanship. But it also gave me a chance to re-energize myself in a new environment and to work with some great people. I can't say enough about the talent of people like Wendy Snyder, Kathy Voltmer, Johnny B, Mitch Rosen who came with me as producer from WGN and a bunch of other folks who made working there a ton of fun. That includes the former GM and my boss Larry Wert.

Rick: What did you think about Kevin Matthews parody band tribute to you, Ed Zeppelin?

Ed: It bugged me at first. I couldn't figure out if it was meant to be funny or something less kind. When I got to know Kevin (shown here) I realized it was just a put-on. He is a unique talent. His voice work is remarkable. He can conduct a conversation with himself and two or three other character voices without stepping on himself. Seamless work like that is brilliant.

Rick: So many of your former co-workers still work in radio today. Do you still follow their careers and stay in touch with them?

I do keep in touch either by phone or e. mail with quite a few people in the broadcasting community. In fact you would be totally shocked if you knew who several of them are, but I won't tell. Sadly there are far more radio people not working than sitting in front of local mic's. That is a crime.

Rick: Since leaving radio you've become a columnist and writer. I know you were joking about it earlier, but you really are writing a book, aren't you? Tell us a little bit about that...

Ed: I was a writer in grammar school and high school. The college years were devoted to radio but I never lost my love of the word. I write all the time. Space is so tight in the local print community that free lance work really has to be top drawer to get considered. I have had good luck in that regard but it's never enough for me. I could write every day if given the opportunity. My computer skills are now very sharp. I spend many hours on the Internet and the computer. It is totally intoxicating. I'm on my third computer. If I had this technology when I was in high school and college I can't imagine where I might have gone. As to my writing a book, I have a way to go, and who knows if anybody will care about it besides myself? But I've got some funny and yet untold stories, so I hope to get it done.

Rick: Last question. You are known as “Chicago Ed” because you championed local issues. What do you think about the job Chicago radio is doing on local issues today, and is there anyone on the dial who you think carries on your legacy?

Ed: The local elements of radio are about gone. With the exception of WGN and NPR, everything else is pretty homogenized. There are few really strong programmers around anymore. This syndication stuff erases the local importance of radio by eliminating the local coverage of almost everything.

Outfits like Shadow and the other traffic joint have aided the broadcasters in destroying the career path of radio. All these underpaid often inexperienced "news and traffic" voices that rotate thru the market are just more platforms for the sales guys to pitch. Everybody sounds the same, uses the same info and makes the same mistakes.

I love radio and I'm sad to hear what's no longer happening on the dial. I can't think of anybody on here today who does what I did. I'd love to go back tomorrow and show them how it's done. This is not ego talking. It's experience.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bob Sirott

Updated 9/16/09

I previously interviewed Bob Sirott when he first got the Noon show at WGN Radio. (You can read that interview here.) I spoke to him again this summer just after he left Channel 5. Portions of that interview appeared in Shore Magazine. The full interview is below.

Rick: Sorry to hear the news about you leaving Channel 5. What happened there?

Bob: I chose to leave the station when I noticed the small print in the new deal said I'd be required to eat tarantulas during the 10 PM News.

Rick: What was your favorite part of that Channel 5 job?

Bob: The favorite part of the job was the requirement that I sit very close to charming, beautiful women like Allison Rosati. (Don't let my wife know--she thinks I'm a lawyer)

Rick: You've been doing this TV and radio thing for a long time now. Of all the people you've met, who have you been most impressed by?

Bob: It's a three way tie: I was impressed the most by Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Paul McCartney. Hard to top a president or a Beatle. The way they handle interviewers is fascinating. President Obama (I interviewed him when he was a Senator--just before becoming a presidential candidate) was exactly the same off the air as he was on. Carter disarmed you with that great, big smile that preceded every answer no matter what the question. McCartney has the ability to turn on the charm as though every interview is his first. You know it's a studied technique, but he's so good at it that you would swear it's 100% genuine.

Rick: You're an institution in this town, which means you probably get recognized wherever you go. What's the most unusual place you've ever been recognized?

Bob: At a funeral for a relative. That wasn't so bad, really. It was the fact that the person wanted an autograph as I was walking out of the chapel.

Rick: Tell us something about you that your listeners/viewers would be surprised to hear.

During the 70's, I rarely listened to the lyrics to any song I played. I knew the first line and the last, but that was about it. Ask me about a record I introduced on the radio ten thousand times and I probably couldn't recite more than two lines.

Rick: You've done just about every job in the media. Is there one job that you'd still like to do?

Bob: I'd love to do Cubs games on the radio. My nephew Judd is living my fantasy.

The original interview is below...

Bob Sirott is the anchor of the 4:30 and 5 p.m news at NBC-5 in Chicago. He also works on special reports for other NBC5 newscasts and develops content for NBC5 programming specials and digital platforms. He got his start in Chicago radio, however, and just this week announced he will be returning to the airwaves to host a new one-hour newsmagazine at Noon Monday through Friday on news/talk WGN.


I started out as a page for NBC-TV and Radio. Both stations were in the Merchandise Mart in those days. I started that job in '66 while I was a senior in high school, continued there while going to college, and in '68 went to work exclusively for the radio station (WMAQ) as public affairs and production director. I wrote but wasn't on the air. I left that job to go on the air at WBBM-FM in the summer of 71 as a vacation fill in..and by the fall of that year they made me the morning drive person.

WBBM-FM 1971-73
WLS-AM 890 73-79
WRCK-FM 94.7 1980 (which later became countless formats on 94.7...I left to work for Channel 2 in the summer of 1980)
WCKG-FM 105.9 Weekend show with Marianne Murciano 2005-2007
WGN-AM 720 Beginning April 30, 2007

Rick: I know you’re a Chicago guy, born and bred. Who were some of the voices on the radio here in the 1960s that inspired you to go into the business, and what was it about their delivery or presentation that you admired?

Bob: The people I liked listening to in the 60's were the WLS and later WCFL personalities. I also idolized Jack Quinlan, who was the Cubs play by play radio voice of the Cubs. He not only had a big warm voice and knew baseball inside and out---he had a great, playful sense of humor. I liked the way he sort of "stepped out" of the usual baseball game announcing format. I also discovered Wally Phillips on WGN around that time. Not many people remember that when Wally first started, he did a mid day show that was quite wacky for its time. Non-stop "drop-ins" and comedy cuts, along with prank phone calls. He hadn't exactly started the "people helping people" concept at that time.

But, for the most part, I listened to Biondi and the other WLS jocks of the era. Each one had a very conversational delivery. They really talked right to us--not at us. It's interesting to go back and listen to some of those old air-checks. Other than Biondi and Art Roberts, those guys didn't talk very much, or do too many special features---they made a name for themselves with a kind of quiet, warm, friendly approach that made us like them and feel like we knew them. Guys like Clark Weber had some sort of mysterious quality to their voices that pulled us right in. Later when Lujack burst on the scene, I was--along with many others, captivated by his groundbreaking "I hate this job and think this format is stupid" persona. His "inside" humor appealed to those of us interested in radio.

By the mid 60's I became enamored of WCFL, with its stable of unique personalities, great jingles, and brilliant production (Dick "Chickenman" Orkin). Ron Britain had one of the strangest, greatest rock radio shows of all time with his "wall of sound" backround--a non-stop barrage of voices and sounds that were constantly thrown at him without his knowledge. His reactions were hysterical. Jim Stagg was one of my favorites. He did a very formatic, tight music show in afternoon drive. He did an occasional interview with a rock star, but for the most part he just kept the format moving and only talked over the music, but from him I learned that if you used every second wisely, put some honesty and "soul" into what you were saying, and really "felt" the music, you could effectively make your mark. Joel Sebastian was another great talent. He had a God-given beautiful, rich voice, but rather than come off as a sterile, unreal, mechanical announcer voice--he used his wit and warmth to captivate listeners.

Rick: You were just a kid when you started at WMAQ. How did that first gig come about?

Bob: I got that job as an NBC page after hanging out in their studios occasionally. Officer Vic Petrolis, a kindly former Chicago cop who had been a traffic reporter on WLS in the early 60's was doing the same thing for WMAQ Radio. I got to know him first when I used to visit WLS as a kid, and after running into him a few times at WMAQ he suggested I call their Personnel Director about an opening on the Guide Staff for a Page.

Rick: In the 70s, WLS-AM owned this town. You were a big part of that—as the afternoon drive personality. Was there a rivalry between shows, a friendly competition, or did it feel like you were all on the same team working toward the same goals? Talk about life in the hallways of WLS.

Bob: Working on WLS in the 70's was thrilling. After all, I was now broadcasting from the same studio where I would watch all those legendary jocks work when I was in the visiting room in the early 60's.

There really wasn't any competition at all--not friendly or otherwise. No rivalry. Not sure why, but we we were all just into doing our own thing. A few of us even spent a lot of time together off the air. JJ Jeffrey (10am-2pm) John Landecker (6-10pm) and myself (2-6pm) used to hang out with each other on weekends, and many times during the week after John would get off the air. What we did is still classified, but will be released to the public after we're all dead! Seriously though, mainly we would just go out for dinner--with our without our respective significant others--many times along with our great production engineer Al Rosen. I think we all kept each other in-line--nobody could get a big head or become too serious about what we were doing on the station because the rest of us would just heckle that person back into his senses.

Rick: Are there any on-air moments or memories from your radio days that really stand out to you even now?

Bob: I guess, since we didn't do them often--it would be some of the interviews. I once somehow persuaded Wolfman Jack to substitute for me while I was on vacation. He turned out to be one of the nicest, most caring humans I ever met. Always wanting to help young jocks anywhere. John Landecker can tell a few good stories about hangin' out with The Wolfman.

The one person who created the most commotion when he visited our studio was not a rock star. It was Peter Falk. At the height of The Columbo craze he was in town on behalf of Easter Seals. I managed to book him for an interview (convincing John Gehron PD that it would be worth it to stop the music for a few minutes for him) and he came up all by himself--no people with him. I still have a picture of him with me in the studio, waiting for a song to end so he could go on. He's wearing a rumpled coat, and has a pile of newspapers in front of him that he was going thru--just like Columbo waiting for his suspect to arrive on the scene.

Gehron also let me do a 15th anniversary tribute to WLS and it's rock format in '75. One afternooon I played the old songs, with the old jingles, and got Art Roberts to be my "guest teen disc-jockey" in the last hour. (That was a feature Art and Dick Biondi had done in the 60's) I still have all but one hour of that show on tape. Anyone out there have the whole thing?

I also have many memories of taking my tape recorder to Wrigley Field in the morning, and doing interviews with Cubs players that had nothing to do with sports. I found out that, while I wanted to be a ballplayer, most of them wanted to play music on the radio! One time when Harry Caray was with the White Sox, we traded jobs for a day. I did a couple innings of play by play on TV (Channel 44 was doing Sox games back then) and Harry came in to host an hour on WLS. You should have heard him giving away Rolling Stones concert tickets to the 15th caller! I had quite a collection of "custom drop ins" from Chicagoans that I used to use back then. My favorites were the ones from Jack Brickhouse, Vince LLoyd, and Lou Boudreau-the Cubs announcers.

Rick: You’ve obviously made a successful transition to television. Would it be wrong to say that a few of your earlier shows, particularly your morning shows on Channel 5 and Channel 32, seemed to be inspired by your radio experience? If so, how did that radio background manifest itself on your television programs?

Bob: Everything I do now, or have done since leaving radio, has been inspired by my work in that medium. Radio people know how to write the way people talk, they know how to say things in a way that doesn't sound formal and phony, and they know how to react quickly to what's on the mind of the public on any given day. Radio folks know how to talk to millions of people one at a time.

Rick: To this day, you still have a radio presence in Chicago. Tell us about the about "The Noon Show" you'll be hosting on WGN starting April 30th, and the weekend show you'll be hosting with your wife Marianne Murciano.

Bob: At this point both the Noon Show and the weekend show I'll be doing with Marianne are coming together with a few new and old ideas. I can tell you that the noon hour will be like a newscast I might anchor on NBC-5; the hot topics of the day, along with what you need to know--headlines, traffic, weather, and sports...and of course Paul Harvey news is part of the mix, and so is Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong--so there will be a nice business feature every day. We're talking about adding some weekly segments too, things you might find in the Tribune's Tempo section. The weekend show will feature an extended interview with a well known Chicago name most of the time, much like the Friday night show I used to do on Channel 11. It'll allow us to have a longer, more relaxed conversation than you usually get on TV and radio.

Rick: One last question. Are there any other personalities on the air in Chicago that you admire today?

Bob: Too many to mention who are around now that I admire. The successful ones work harder, have it tougher because of all the competition, and are much better in every way than I was back in the 70's.

You'd be hard pressed to find another radio personality in the country who has been as successful as Steve Dahl has in growing with his audience, and having them follow him from station to station for more than two decades. And there can't possibly be anyone in the history of radio who has genuinely cared more about his listeners, been more supportive of rock and roll (and the early efforts of black artists doing what used to be called "race music") enjoyed meeting fans in person, and loved being on the air than Dick Biondi.

And Paul Harvey continues to entertain me endlessly. Many of his stories are quite interesting, but the way he writes them, the way he delivers them, the way he slides in his own "take" on them--well, let me just say you better listen to him every day because when he stops broadcasting that will be the end of an era that will be gone forever.

I found this 1983 Channel 2 report by Bob Sirott on YouTube

Robert Feder also interviewed Bob this week in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wendy Snyder

UPDATED: 3/20/08

Rick's Note: I interviewed Wendy Snyder for Chicago Radio Spotlight last year just after she left the Steve Dahl show. At the time she was auditioning at WLS to join the Don & Roma show, but didn't want to talk about it, because she didn't want to jinx it. I caught up with her again recently and asked her how it's been going...

Wendy: Things are going great for me at WLS. I'm having a lot of fun with Don and Roma in the morning, and I'm finally starting to understand some of the traffic reports that I'm giving! I've been getting around at WLS. I sat in on Roe Conn's Show a couple of times, and every Friday, you can hear me talking about sex on The Jerry Agar Show (his show airs from 9-11 a.m every weekday). My goal is to be heard on WLS all day long!

Speaking of which, I want to tell you about my weekend show, too. There are three of us who do the show; Maura Myles (who is also on WLS with Jerry), my former partner-in-crime from the Kevin Matthews show, Dorothy Humphrey, and me. Wendy, Maura, and Dorothy....WMD....Women of Mass Discussion. It is a blast! We talk about anything and everything and nothing is taboo. Plus, we have a great time interacting with our callers. Be sure to check it out, Sundays from 12noon to 2pm on WLS 890AM.

* * * * *

Below is the interview in it's original form...

Wendy Snyder has been on the air in Chicago for twenty years. Most recently, she was part of the Steve Dahl Show on WCKG.


1986-1992: Rock Jock, Various time slots, WLUP FM 97.9

1992-1993: News/Traffic on the Kevin Matthews Show, Middays, AM 1000

1993-1994: News/Traffic on the Garry Meier Show, Middays, 97.9 FM

1994-1995: Co-Host, Wendy & Tony, Nights, 97.9 FM

1995-1996: Co-Host, Wendy & Bill, Nights, 97.9 FM

1996-1998: Co-Host, Wendy & Bill, Mornings, Q-101

2000-2001: Rock Jock, CD 94.7 FM

2001-2002: Co-Host, Buzz & Wendy, Middays, WCKG

2002-2007: The Steve Dahl Show, Afternoons, WCKG

Rick: In January you ended a long run on the Steve Dahl show. I know you were suprised--but I thought you handled it in a very classy way. Why do you think it ended the way it did?

Wendy: Well, thanks, but I didn’t know how else to handle it. I was quite surprised to find out that I had lost my job, but what could I do? I guess Steve had other ideas for the show and I wasn’t one of them. That’s all right. If things aren’t clicking then you have to get them clicking again. I just want people to know that it wasn’t my choice to leave the show. I had taken a few weeks off to get a cool, new titanium knee and when I showed up back to work, Drew Hayes (the program director of WCKG) met me at the door and said, “Well, it’s good to see you, but we’ve decided to take the show in a new direction.” I really thought he was kidding and then I noticed he wasn’t laughing. Oh well, life goes on, right? It’s probably a blessing ….for both me and Steve.

Rick: Before you worked with Steve, you worked with some other big stars on the Chicago radio dial. Give us your impressions of the following people, and what you think their greatest strengths are as radio performers. Let's start with your former midday co-host, Buzz Kilman.

Wendy: Buzz is the coolest guy I know. He has a unique and interesting take on life and there’s no one else quite like him. I hate to sound all mushy, but he’s a great friend and a fabulous mentor, but don’t tell him I said that.

Rick: What about your long-time co-host Bill Leff?

Wendy: One of the funniest guys I know. He can be so funny without working blue. He’s like a big kid who never grew up. Hey, he’s like Peter Pan…and I’m Wendy---no wonder we worked so well together.

Rick: And finally, Johnny B?

Wendy: I never really worked with him on a regular basis, although I’d love to. I worked overnights on the Loop and handed things over to him in the morning. He is definitely one of the craziest guys I know, on and off the air. He’s all about putting out a quality radio show. He has a unique way of entertaining the listeners and letting the listeners entertain him. His show is still laugh out loud funny.

Rick: You got your big-time radio start at the Loop during it's heyday. What was it like working at such a popular radio station with so many stars, and how did that prepare you for your career to follow?

Wendy: Well, you were there, too….wasn’t it the coolest? Here I was, 23 years old and working at the same station as Jonathon Brandmeier, Buzz Kilman, Steve and Garry, Kevin Matthews, Bob Stroud, Bobby Skafish, Patti Haze-----I grew up listening to many of these people and now I was working with them. Too cool. Later on, throw in a Danny Bonaduce, Chet Coppock, Eddie Schwartz, ’85 Bears Tom Thayer and Keith Van Horne, Artist Tony Fitzpatrick, Stan Lawrence, and Rick Kaempfer. It really was a blast back then….one big happy family. And, of course, the Loop is where I met my future husband, Jimmy “Mac” McInerney.

Rick: In your career, you've met just about everybody--actors, musicians, politicians, athletes--you name it. Was there anyone who really stands out to you--a moment with someone you admired that you'll always treasure?

Wendy: You know, I really enjoyed all the people I interviewed, and it’s all kind of a blur. I was so excited to talk to David Duchovny (being a HUGE X-Files fan), Brian May from Queen was cool. Hugh Grant was quite charming and very funny.

I had a lot of fun with Darrell Hammond from Saturday Night Live. He actually came in to do an interview with Danny Bonaduce, who was on before me, and I kind of stalked him and told him I thought he was really funny. So, he decided to stick around and hang out on the air with us. We really hit it off and he would call into the show every week when they were doing their dress rehearsal on Thursday nights and he would just put various people on the phone….Cheri Oteri, Tim Meadows, Tracy Morgan, and even Will Ferrell jumped in on the conversation.

Warren Haynes and the late Allen Woody from the Allman Brothers Band came up to the studio to jam and later on that night when we did a thing called the “Pothead Party Line, (just random phone calls from stoners) Warren and Allen called up the request line from their hotel room and joined in on the fun. After that, they’d just call in whenever they felt like it.

And then, there was always the impromptu call from Betty Loren Maltese. She happened to be listening when I mentioned her mascara. I wanted to know what kind she used, because it really did the trick. So, she called up to talk makeup and she invited me to Cicero to have a spa day with her and grab a beer. Maybe I’ll take her up on that when she gets out of prison.

Rick: You've really done it all in radio. You were a rock jock, a music personality host, a talk show co-host, a newsperson, and a traffic reporter. What did you like the most about each of those gigs, and where do you think you're heading from here. Is there something you haven't tried yet that you'd like to try?

Wendy: I love being on the radio--period. Being a rock jock was perfect for a young 23 year-old who grew up in Brookfield, listening to the Loop and then getting to be ON the Loop. Being a closet news-junkie, I really enjoyed doing the news; thankfully it wasn’t all that serious. A few real stories and then the rest were entertainment or bizarre news stories from around the world. I could never be called a credible journalist.

I think I’d have to say that doing a talk show was the best. It was a lot of work, but it was really gratifying to put out an entertaining show. And when you’re working with a good co-host, it’s an equal playing field, not all the pressure is on you. It’s great to be able to bounce things off of someone and really be yourself on the air. And, let’s not forget about my brief singing career. I was in Buzz Kilman’s band for about 4 or 5 gigs. It was great while it lasted.

What’s next? Getting back on the air here in Chicago. Until then, I’m going to keep trying to figure out how to use my MySpace page at

As for emails, you can reach me at

I really want to thank all the listeners for all their support and kind words. I can’t wait to get my headphones back on. I’ll keep you posted on my return. Stay tuned…

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Phil Manicki

UPDATED 5/31/08


Phil was the afternoon man at the Drive when I interviewed him last year. He's now doing nights and I asked him recently how things were going with the new shift...

Phil: The biggest change in doing the night shift for me is not seeing my buddy Bob Stroud every day. That, and having to hurry home for last call. But seriously, it's got to be not being at the station during normal business hours (and not seeing the bosses, either).

That along with the one day delay that sometimes happens with correspondences is probably the biggest change. It necessitates better planning on my part. On the plus side, there are a couple of new features that I get to share:


It's a nightly celebration of the long song...anything over 6:30 is eligible, and while Led Zeppelin, Yes and Pink Floyd are core artists, I get to stretch out with cool "OH WOW" songs from Iron Butterfly, Robin Trower, King Crimson and Jeff Beck to name a few.


Every Thursday, we spotlight a group or artist (sometimes 2 artists) throughout the day, and in the 11:00 pm hour, I get to wrap up the feature with an hour's long fireworks display-like grand finale.


Now here's the original interview...

Phil Manicki is the afternoon host on WDRV-FM 97.1, The Drive. Every weekday afternoon at five he features some of the greatest live recordings in rock on The Drive’s Live at 5.


WPGU-Urbana-Champaign 1981-1984 (second from the left, bottom row)

WWCT-Peoria 1984-1988 (Peoria is really an underrated city. I loved it there.)

WRKU-Youngstown 1988-1989 (I was brought in to start up a new station as Program Director)

WMYG-Pittsburgh 1989-1990

WWRX-Providence 1990-1992 (I was afternoon drive and promotion director)

WPXC-Cape Cod 1992-1995 (I was the Program director there)
Then I was out of the business for a few years, and returned to my hometown of Chicago.

WCKG-Chicago 1998-1999 (I hosted a show called "Lunch with the Stones")

WLUP-Chicago 1999-2001

WDRV-Chicago 2001-Present (I've been there since we signed on. I did nights at first before moving to afternoon drive.)

Rick: You're a Chicago boy--born and bred. How great is it to be on the air in your home town after working around the country?

Phil: It's very cool being on the radio in the world's greatest city. Like you said, I grew up here--around Narragansett and Archer--and went to John F. Kennedy High School. I'm a proud graduate of the Chicago Public School system.

Rick: That explains a lot.

Phil: (laughs) Thanks. In all seriousness, there's really no place like home. I get calls and e-mails all the time from people I grew up with--people who went to school with me. I went to an allergist recently who told me that I went out with his sister a long time ago. I didn't actually go out with her, but I did remember her.

Rick: Growing up in Chicago you heard some of the greatest radio performers in history. Who were some of your childhood heroes?

Phil: Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack, and even Wally Phillips. My mom had him on every morning when I was growing up. I also loved Bob Sirott and Fred Winston. Then, when the rock jocks started on the FM, my favorites were Sky Daniels, Mitch Michaels, and of course, Steve Dahl.

But I have to say, my fondest memory of listening to the radio in Chicago was playing hockey on my driveway on Mobile Avenue, and listening to John Records Landecker doing his Boogie Check.

Rick: You've been a program director and an air personality--which I think is kind of unique these days. Does that give you more sympathy for management or did it give you more empathy for talent when you were in management?

Phil: Both perspectives can really screw you up. Actually, I always tried to be fair as a manager. Being on the talent side first, I knew that air personalities needed and wanted encouragement and positive feedback instead of only focusing on what is going wrong. It definitely helped. Also, on the flip side, having been a manager, I can see the reasons for saying or not saying certain things on the radio. You don't have to be controversial to entertain or inform an audience. Being a father also helped me realize that.

Rick: After doing rock radio for more than twenty years, you've probably met some of your rock and roll heroes. Do you have any good stories?

Phil: I have two favorites. When I was in Peoria I interviewed Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick live at the Heart of Illinois Fair. In order to get a signal back to the station, we had to do the interview from the top of a riser. I was trying to balance my notes, my walkman, my microphone, and my antenna at all at once.

Rick: You were the engineer too?

Phil: Oh yeah. You have to do it all in smaller markets like that. Anyway, as soon as we went live on the air, Rick Nielsen grabbed the notes out of my hand, and he conducted the interview of Robin using my notes. That was such a kick.

The other one happened in Hyannis, Massachusetts. I was interviewing Ted Nugent within spitting distance of the Kennedy compound. He went off on a rant about the Kennedy family, especially their feelings on gun control. In retrospect, that was probably the beginning of the end of my time in Cape Cod.

Rick: If we took a look at Phil Manicki's iPod, would we find any surprises there?

Phil: I really love Captain Beyond's first album. It's like Spirit on steroids. I also like Kings of Leon, which has a cool 70s vibe, sort of a Cream influence. And of course, I still love Zeppelin--especially "Physical Grafitti," and Aerosmith's "Rocks" album. Plus, I really love the Stones--especially "Sticky Fingers." When I was doing the Stones show on WCKG, I got to play whatever I wanted, so I really grew to love the Stones. I have a lot of Blues on my iPod too.

Rick: What songs have you heard one too many times? After playing classic rock for so many years there must be a few songs that you never want to hear again.

Phil: Nice try.

Rick: C'mon. You can tell me. There must be one song you can't stand.

Phil: I love them all, Rick.

Rick: OK, OK. One last question. I know you're a University of Illinois alum. What are your feelings about the Chief controversy?

Phil: Trying to understand the big picture is not easy. The main question is this: 80 years ago it was OK. Now it isn't. What happened? Someone obviously signed off on it, and decided it was done with taste, and meant as a tribute. So when the NCAA uses words like "hostile" and "abusive," that's a problem. I look at it this way; if my kids go there, and I hope they do, they will not be able to enjoy the thrill of the halftime performance that gave me goosebumps so many years ago. I think that's wrong.