Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kathy Hart

Kathy Hart is the co-host of the top-rated Eric & Kathy show on WTMX 101.9 FM


Oh my. Here we go……….. ’95-current WTMX; ’94-’95 WNCI in Columbus, OH; ’92-’94 KVRY (KZZP) and KDKB Phoenix; ’90-’92 WTRG and G105 in Raleigh, NC; ’87-’90 WZOK in Rockford; ’85-’87 Z95 in Milwaukee; ’83-’85 WYFE/WKKN in Rockford.

Rick: People may not remember that you were actually doing the morning show at WTMX before Eric arrived in town. What do you remember from those days, and how did you first react to Eric when he arrived?

Kathy: The program director fired the morning show (Patterson and Faulkenberry) while I was doing PT/vacation fill-in. They put me in mornings while they looked for a replacement. They decided I “would do” in the meantime, but eventually I asked for a partner. I got into radio because it wasn’t a lot of work. Doing mornings by myself, I was waking up at 2:50am. That’s STUPID early. I was thrilled when Eric (photo) came on board because it meant less work for me and he grew up in Chicago. Bringing on a local boy meant not having to ‘explain’ Chicago to him.

Rick: The show was not an instant success, but it slowly but surely built an audience, despite some pretty big-name competition (Brandmeier, Stern, Mancow, etc.). What was it about the Eric and Kathy show that helped you break through the clutter and beat all of the bigger name competition?

Kathy: As much as I would like to take credit for our talent being the reason for our success, I believe our early success was a result of good timing. When we were finding our groove, Brandmeier and Wendy & Bill left the airwaves. It seems we got a few listeners ‘by default’ early on but eventually it was our incredible talent that kept them around. (Laughs) The sarcasm doesn’t translate on paper, does it?! In all seriousness, I believe it was as simple as our ability to relate to the audience and include them in the show.

Rick: The Eric & Kathy show really is an ensemble. There's also Barry, Melissa, Swany, and Cynthia. Not many shows have six names that are recognized by the audience. How would you describe everyone's role on the show?

Kathy: Over the years, every member of the show has become an integral part of “The Eric & Kathy Show”. They each bring a different opinion/lifestyle to the show.

Rick: Your company, Bonneville, has never been shy about advertising your show. That certainly hasn't hurt your success, but how weird is it to walk or drive around the city and see your face everywhere? Do people ever stop you, point to your face, then point to the billboard, and say..."Hey, aren't you...?"

Kathy: Bonneville has been incredibly generous in marketing the show. The first time I drove past a billboard with my face on it was a bit surreal. I have to admit……I took a picture of it and sent it to my mom in Phoenix! Now, I just thank God for Photoshop!!

Rick: One of the things that your show is famous for is having the biggest-name guests. In the ten plus years you've been doing the show, you've literally had almost every celebrity on the air. Is there anybody left who you'd still like to have on the air?

Kathy: I would like to have Jennifer Aniston, Bono and Mayor Daley on the show.

Rick: Who were your favorite and least favorite guests and why?

Kathy: One of my favorite guests was Lenny Kravitz. I was a Lenny fan before he got radio play. I was like a giddy schoolgirl when he came in the studio the first time. I even went out and bought a new outfit! Matt Damon was also cool because he remembered the names of everyone on the morning show. I don’t have many least favorite guests because I’m happy with the experience of any interview, however, Cyndi Lauper comes to mind. She was very serious and rambled on and on about nothing. As much as we tried to turn it around, she would have none of it!

Rick: Recently your show was in the news because of the couple that was supposed to get married on the air without ever meeting each other. In retrospect, how do you feel about that promotion?

Kathy: While “Two Strangers and A Wedding” did not result in a marriage, it answered our question on whether or not love is blind. In the case of Ted and Laura, it was not. And anytime a radio station gets TV coverage on a local and NATIONAL level that is a huge success!

Rick: Speaking of marriages, you and Eric probably spend as much time together as you and your husband do. In what ways is your radio marriage the same or different as your real marriage?

Kathy: I’ve been with Eric almost as long as I’ve been with my husband. The relationships are the same in that we ‘get’ each other, we embrace our differences and actually enjoy our time together. I don’t think I need to go into details on how it’s different. (laughs)

Rick: So where does the Eric and Kathy show go from here? How long do you see yourself doing this show?

Kathy: It’s difficult to think about ‘where the Eric & Kathy Show” goes from here’ because I am having so much fun, I can’t imagine doing anything else. As long as Chicago will have us, I hope to stick around.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bruce Wolf

Bruce Wolf is a sportscaster for WMAQ-TV (NBC-5), and WLUP Radio (on the Jonathon Brandmeier Showgram)


WXRT "athletes' feats" 1976-82
WLUP 1982-1996. Included work at WMVP as Steve Dahl's partner ('94-'96). Rest was with Johnny, Steve and Garry, and Kevin.
Short stint on 94.7 with Kevin
1998--WCKG with johnny
2003--present at WLUP. first with spike, dobie and max, then byrd, now johnny
2009-2015...WGN radio morning host


1987-2006...WFLD (Fox 32)
2006--present...WMAQ (NBC 5)
2009-2015...Son of Son of Svengoolie, ch. 26

Rick: You are one of the few Chicago media stars who has managed to be successful in both radio and television. How have each of those mediums helped you in the other?

Bruce: Everything helps. Practicing law helped. When you argue in front of a jury you're employing every communication skill, including the demogogic ones, you can muster. TV and radio are the same, except radio has more pictures (in the mind. oooh. heavy).

Rick: A lot of people know that you are a lawyer, but not many people have heard the story of how you got your big media break at WXRT. Could you tell us that story?

Bruce: Danny Lee, who owned WXRT, was in my father's hardware store on Fullerton and Clark and heard me on the radio announcing a Highland Park or Deerfield high school football game on WVVX, a north suburban station. Danny said WXRT was starting a sports feature for a non-sports oriented audience. I auditioned for it, and got it. That was "athletes' feats." I neglected to ask for stock in the company. I could have cashed out for about $25 million several years ago.

Rick: In the 80s it seemed like were on the radio in Chicago every minute of every day. In the mornings you were part of the Johnny B. Showgram, and in the afternoon you were on the Steve & Garry show. How were those two experiences the same and/or different?

Bruce: Johnny was mostly me doing a scripted sportscast...although we had many moments, like when I got Howard Cosell to hang up on us. Steve and Garry were basically me fending off their inquisitions and then laughing my head off when they broke up. I loved it all.

Rick: After Steve & Garry split up, you essentially replaced Garry on Steve's show. You even released a CD of your material if I recall correctly. How do you feel about that stint looking back on it now?

Bruce: It was the second best thing I've ever done in broadcasting. I think I was the only real partner Steve (photo) ever had. Granted, I got to be his partner because Garry sacrificed his career and I came in through that little window when Steve was receptive to having someone argue with him on the air. (I mean someone other than Janet.) It was an amazing time. We would sit there for four hours, often with no calls, no guests and, well, nothing to talk about. But it was great. I would throw out all kinds of topics, suggestions, comments. I always felt like we were in Wrigley Field, and I was hitting fungoes out to Steve, who would try to field everything, including foul balls into the grandstand. He'd try to have a comeback for everything and most of the time did. Steve is brilliant. Howard Stern wishes he had Steve's imagination. I think the show was actually better than Steve and Garry...technically, that is. But listening to Steve and Garry was like being around for the invention of the wheel. Nothing will ever compare with that.

Rick: I've always called you the Dennis Miller of Chicago Radio because some of your references seem to go over the head of the audience. I guess I can't say that anymore now that Dennis Miller is on the air in Chicago himself, but you know what I mean. Have program directors over the years tried to reign you in, or get you to dumb down your act?

Bruce: I've listened to Dennis Miller on the radio, and he's very good. I didn't like his recent television show (on msnbc? cnbc?) that much. So go figure about the difference between radio and television. Hey, what's wrong with a reference to Pelops, the son of Tantalus, anyway? Everyone knows Greek mythology nowadays. Didn't you see "Troy" with Brad Pitt? I have had management tell me from time to time that I'm speaking over the audience's head. I actually speak over my own head when I quote Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God (that which nothing greater in the mind can be conceived of, I think), I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Rick: You were also an important part of the ill-fated Morning Loop Guys show, featuring Spike, Dobie and Max. You actually did a newscast as well as a sportscast on that show. What was that experience like?

Bruce: The great thing about getting older is that each succeeding experience in life has very little impact on you. There's just too much history in your life for anything new to matter that much. In other words, I have no recollection of Spike or Dobie, but I do remember Max. He was the guy who appeared on "Oprah" with his wife and talked about his anger management problem, and I was the only one on the radio the next day who tried to make light of it. I knew we were cooked then.

Rick: After that show was blown up, you were the lone survivor on the Loop, and now you've come full circle as the sportscaster on Brandmeier's show again. How is it different working with Johnny B the second time around?

Bruce: I just try to shut up and do everything he says. Actually, it's been a lot of fun. We did a show at the House of Blues, and I sang a medley from "Jesus Christ Superstar." Johnny and I sang "I don't know how to love him" to each other and meant it. Dennis Deyoung played Pilate, and had me (as Jesus) get down on my knees. He went through this tirade for about a minute until I finally sighed "Jesus Christ, Dennis!" You don't get to do stuff like that on Spike O'Dell's show, I don't think.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Catherine Johns

Catherine Johns became a well-known radio personality in Chicago during her 18-year-stint at WLS AM 890. She is now the co-owner (along with fellow radio veteran Karen Hand) of Positive Changes Hypnosis Center on Chicago's North Side.


From most recent...
WJMK, Oldies 104.3 – Morning Show Co-host – 1998 – 2000
WLS, News & Talk – Talk Show Host – 1990 – 1997
“The Rock of Chicago” – News anchor, reporter, sidechick, human laugh-track – 1979 – 1990
WERE, Cleveland, All-news – Anchor and reporter – 1978 – ‘79
KEYH, Houston, All-news – Anchor/reporter – 1977 – ‘78
WSQA, Sarasota, All-news – Anchor/reporter – 1977
WERE, Jackson, MS, All-news – Anchor/reporter – 1975 – ‘77
WIUM-fm, Western Illinois University – News anchor and DJ – 1974-75
WVUR-fm, Valparaiso University – DJ – 1971 – ‘73

Rick: You've been a newscaster, a sidekick, a traffic reporter, and a talk show host. Which one did you like the most and why?

Catherine: I started out in news, mainly because back in the ‘70’s that’s where opportunities were opening up for women. I worked at all-news stations reporting and writing and reading the news; I considered myself a serious broadcast journalist, and I brought those skills to WLS. My sidekick role grew out of that. The WLS GM called us in one day and said he wanted Larry to “interface with the newspeople.” You know Larry – he’s not the kind of guy who wants to interface with anybody.

(He once told a Tribune interviewer the best time of his life was the summer he spent as a look-out in a national forest – alone for about three months!) But the interfacing turned out to create a pretty good show. And what a blessing for me – it gave me the chance to become a “personality.” It was also an opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business how to tell a story for maximum impact. And perhaps most importantly, when to shut up.

Much as I loved being part of Larry’s (and later Fred’s) morning show, I loved hosting a talk show even more … for the freedom, the opportunity to connect with listeners, the chance to play with words. But doing a solo talk show is quite challenging – you’ll notice, not that many people do it. What I’d really like is to do a two-person, equal-partners, don’t-call-me-sidekick talk show.

Rick: Lujack, Winston, and Landecker. Which one is the craziest?

Catherine: Well clearly, they’re all crazy. I was unbelievably lucky to work with such talented people. And I learned a lot from all of them. I also struggled a bit, working with all of them, to be honest. Larry (photo) was probably the toughest. I wanted so much for him to like me, and he was just so distant – I thought he didn’t like me. He must have known I worried about that. Get this – I was cleaning out my flooded basement recently; I found, in a box of memorabilia, a letter from Larry. It started out, “I like you.” But of course he went on to say, “There is one thing about your personality that bothers me …”

Oh, you probably thought I was going to tell you what that one thing was, didn’t you?

Fred’s silliness still makes me laugh. He and Jim Johnson and I had a lot of fun together. Fred (photo) is volatile – he blew up once in awhile. But mostly, it was a good show at a bad time. Those were the last few years of the music format at WLS: the competition from fm radio was fierce, the corporate honchos did some really strange stuff with the play list, and rumors about format change were rampant … it was difficult. With all the turmoil, there was a period of time when the station had no news director and no program director. We used to joke that WLS stood for We Lack Supervision. And we took full advantage of it.

John (photo) amazes me – he is so quick! I think he’s at his best when he’s spontaneous, playing off the people around him. There’s a reason people who grew up in Chicago still remember “Boogie Check.” I was lucky to land at WJMK, working with John and his terrific team. And it was challenging, too.

I always tell people I had a circular career path. Came to Chicago and sat down next to Larry Lujack, and laughed at his jokes, and fed him straight lines, and felt his muscle and told him how strong he was. I was 27, and it was the best job a girl could possibly have. Fast forward twenty years … and there I was, sitting next to John Landecker. Laughing at his jokes and feeding him straight lines, and feeling his muscle and telling him how strong he was. I was 47 … and that sidechick thing wasn’t nearly as satisfying. I struggled with that, and I suspect John did, too.

Rick: You were recently a part of the WLS Rewind over Memorial Day weekend. I listened most of the day and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I watched the video Art Vuolo produced ( and enjoyed it all over again. In the video you look like you're having a great time. What was it like to get the old gang back together again?

Catherine: It was a hoot. Can I just say that Les Grobstein is exactly the same 20 years later? It tickled me. Of course I didn’t get to see Larry – he was doing the show from his home in New Mexico – but it was a delight to talk with him and Li’l Tommy and then later with Fred.

Interesting, doing the news in a 21st century way. Last time I worked in the WLS newsroom, we were using carbonless paper in our IBM Selectrics.

Rick: You were one of the few that managed to make the transition from the Rock of Chicago days to the talk radio format at WLS. Which one did you prefer and why?

Catherine: After years of doing the Larry Lujack Show and the Fred Winston Show … and even, after the format change, the Stacy Taylor Show … it was a thrill to finally be able to do the Catherine Johns Show. I loved being out of the sidechick role. And I really enjoyed the conversations with listeners. It’s amazing, the stories people tell! I relished the challenge of drawing out those great stories, and weaving together the calls that would make for the most compelling show. I also enjoy interviewing, and while I’d done a lot of that as a newsperson, having a guest on a talk show allowed for much more in-depth conversation.

But WLS was pretty hard-edged talk in those days, and that was difficult for me. The program director was all over me to be tougher (“Ya gotta be mean, CJ!”); that part, I didn’t love so much.

Rick: In the late-90s you and John Landecker did a music-based entertainment show together at WJMK. Recently you've done a few talk shows with John at WLS. How are those two experiences different?

Catherine: You never hear “My Girl” on WLS! And, John (photo) and I have a chance to actually have fun, without some program director shutting us up all the time. There’s obviously a lot more opportunity for listeners to get into the mix at a talk station – I like that a lot.

Also, the WLS shows are closer to a real partnership; I don’t feel so much like a second banana. It probably helps that I’m not reading the traffic (badly!) every 15 minutes as I was at WJMK.

My sense is that if John and I could have done then what we’re doing now, it would have been a very successful morning show at Oldies 104.3. But then, maybe I’m crazy and the bosses were right. Maybe Oldies listeners really would rather hear “My Girl” one more time.

Rick: Of course, radio isn't your main gig anymore. Tell us about your business "Positive Changes" and has it lived up to it's name for you?

I own the Positive Changes Hypnosis Center on Chicago’s north side, along with my partner Karen Hand (you remember her from B-96 and WCKG).

At Positive Changes ( ), we work with people who want to lose weight, or stop smoking, or reduce stress, or relieve pain, or improve their sports performance, or … well, it’s a long list of changes people can make with hypnosis.

It’s thrilling to watch those changes happen – I can’t tell you how rewarding it is when clients begin to reach their potential. I love being part of that process for them.

And, certainly, it’s been a “positive change” for me! It’s also been a challenge. Karen and I are fundamentally performers (shown here with the Mike North morning show), not businesspeople. There’s been a lot to learn about running a business and marketing it and growing it. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed that too, even more than I thought I would.

Many of our clients are in some kind of transition – in their professional life or their personal life or both. It’s satisfying, working with them. I’m a big believer in reinventing oneself every so often. You know, leaving WLS was devastating. I’d been there for 18 years before somebody woke up one day and said, “I don’t think she’s that good.” Working at WLS was so much a part of my identity; it was very painful to lose that. And I truly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything other than radio. It’s all I’d ever done, since college, and I was sure I had no skills that anyone else in any other business would want. I would have done anything to get another radio gig.

It was a whole different deal when my time was up at WJMK. By then I was sure I had a long list of skills that people in many other businesses would want. And the jobs that were available to me in radio … well, I didn’t want to be on the radio that much. I went into corporate communication training, and did quite well. It was a very different world (I actually worked at a bank and wore a pin-striped suit!) but I dug that, too. I’d probably still be coaching professionals in communication skills, if Karen and I hadn’t decided to move forward with Positive Changes.

So Positive Changes is my third career, and that experience with Transition is really useful when I work with clients who can’t see all the possibilities that are open to them. I love helping them discover what they can do!

One more thing – in many ways, hypnosis uses exactly the same skills as radio. It’s all about voice and language and communication. As John says, it was either become a hypnotist … or go to work for one of those 1-900 sex lines.

Rick: If someone in radio offered you another full-time talk show would you take it, or do you consider your radio career part of your past?

Catherine: Why – do you know someone who’s looking?

Seriously, if you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said I’d never go back to radio. When people wondered if I missed radio, I always told them I missed some really good times we had – in 1983. But the business changed, and I changed – and I was happily looking at radio in the rearview mirror.

Doing the WLS shows with John has been so much fun; I’m reminded of what I loved about radio in the first place. So today … yes, if it were the right show, at the right time, with the right partner, I’d do it again.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Dave Benson

Updated 9/5/09


I interviewed former WLUP and WXRT veteran Dave Benson two years ago for Chicago Radio Spotlight when he was the program director of KFOG in San Francisco. He was let go in the spring, and re-emerged in Seattle over the summer. I asked him to tell me about the journey, which I have been following on Facebook. He handled the situation in a way only Benson would handle it...

Dave: Well, things at KFOG came to an end in mid-April. Cumulus told me I'd done a great job (KFOG was # 1 in demo in April) but that I "just wasn't their kind of guy," so they didn't offer me another contract. That was fine with me. Over the 3 years of Cumulus' ownership the company's priorities and capabilities had become clear. Cumulus is a broadcast property consolidation company. Quality, localized programming isn't something they excel at or seem to aspire to. And the reality of their precarious financial position just made them more and more desperate, which lead to even more screw tightening and fear-based decision making. I had a great run at KFOG and hated to leave those good folks behind but I also looked forward to a break. I hung out a bit, walked the dog, rode the bike and just enjoyed living in my home during daylight hours.

I decided to take the kind of trip that you can only do when you've got enough time, so I got ready to go and then got a call from the good folks at Entercom. They were interested in having me join them in Seattle and they were willing to be patient while I took my trip. We made a deal and I took off for about 6 weeks, going to New York, London, Paris, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan. I landed in Seattle on a Friday in late July and went to work the next Monday. I feel very fortunate to be able to go back to work with a company that aspires to quality broadcasting. And the move to Seattle feels great. I'm among friends and talented radio folks once again and I look forward to the work and life in this area."

The original interview follows...

Dave Benson was in Chicago radio for parts of three decades. He is now the program director of the legendary rock station KFOG in San Francisco.

(Benson is the one wearing the hat in the photograph.)


1972-74 WIBA-FM - Madison, Wisconsin - "Radio Free Madison" the midnight -2am announcer on a truly free-form radio station. I made $3.25 an hour. The guy who mowed the lawn got $3.75.

1974-1976 - KGB-FM, San Diego - Full-time announcer working for the legendary Ron Jacobs. KGB was designing the template for what formatted rock stations were to become. 80% of what I know about how radio works, I learned at KGB.

1976-1979 - WIBA-FM - Returned as program director, which meant I opened the mail and made out the announcer schedules. We had fun.

1979-81 - WMET Came to Chicago from Madison, Wisconsin. I was hired to do production and weekends but became the station's music director pretty quickly. Worked for two general managers and 3 program directors in this short period of time. The week I moved to Chicago, Steve Dahl blew up some records at Comiskey Park. (Whatever happened to him?)

1981-82 - Tour manager for the Pat Metheny group. Hello, America.

1983-86 - WXRT Worked as a full time announcer doing all of the fill-in shifts. Saturday morning, Sunday middays and Monday night overnights + all of the vacation fill-in shifts. I remember having to set my alarm clock for a different time everyday. It was like having jet lag constantly.

1986-1992 - WLUP - Music director and weekend airshifts. This was like high school with money...or maybe reform school with better food and drugs.

1993 - I think if you checked my W2's, you'd find some time spent back at WXRT, doing fill-in shifts.

1993 - Lost in america.

1994-1997 - SBR radio consulting, Boulder, Colorado. Found out I still liked radio by working with the rising AAA format with two great radio guys, John Bradley and Dave Rahn.

1997-2000 - KBCO, Boulder, Colorado - Realized that I ought to stop telling folks how to run radio stations and try to run one myself.

2000- present - KFOG, San Francisco. Program director. Lucky guy.

Rick: People still remember you from your days at WXRT and the Loop in Chicago. What are some of your fondest memories from those days?

Benson: WXRT was and is a charming anachronism. The station is the physical manifestation of Norm Winer's (photo) brain; a sincere, intelligent, well-intentioned, erratic, musical mess. The station's format - the actual directions that the announcers were supposed to follow to avoid Norm's wrath - had never actually been written down. It was an arcane, oral tradition passed along from announcer to announcer like verses from the Talmud. It was a blast! The last bastion of commercial radio where the announcers chose all the music for their shows. I am very grateful and proud of the time I got to spend within the confines of that funky little dump of a building on west Belmont Street.

One afternoon, I called Norm Winer up from the payphone in the bleachers at Wrigley Field and told him I was leaving WXRT and going to work for the dreaded Loop. Norm told me I was a traitor and a fool. I made the move from west Belmont to Michigan Avenue and it was a whole new world. I wish I could give you just one "fond" memory of those years, but there were so many wild and, frankly, unmentionable stories from those that Christmas Party at the Hunt Club where the sales department decided it would be funny to splice in scenes from gay porno flicks into the station's year end promotional video...Greg Solk managed to keep the lid on the place, but just barely.

Rick: I remember that Christmas party. I want to say it was 1987 or 1988.

Benson: That was the Loop. The list of talented and/or crazy people all under one roof was amazing. Steve & Garry (photo), Johnny B, Kevin Matthews, Bob Stroud, Bobby Skafish, Patti Haze, Chet Coppock, Ed Schwartz, Tony Fitzpatrick, Wendy Snyder, Stan Lawrence, John Fisher, Sandy Stahl, Bill Evans, Buzz Kilman...

Rick: But you always held your own. In a station filled with razor sharp tongues walking the hallways everyday, I always thought you were the razor-tongueyist (yes, I know that's not a real word). Did that ever get you in trouble?

Benson: It was nearly impossible to get in trouble for saying something outrageous at the Loop. My God, Steve Dahl called Wally Phillips an "ass wipe," on the air! Working at the Loop required that you be ready to defend your turf, verbally or otherwise, at any moment.

Rick: At one point, you and Bob Stroud were roommates. I always pictured the two of you as Felix and Oscar. Is that an accurate description? Do you have any good Bob Stroud stories from those days?

Benson: It is the perfect characterization. Bob (photo) is, how do you say...fussy? And, I was, well, less fussy in those days. We went on a two week roadtrip to Florida - via New York City - in a flesh colored station wagon with fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. I brought a gym bag and a copy of Kerouac's "Dharma Bums." Bob brought 4 pieces of luggage including one suitcase devoted entirely to shoes. Bob Stroud saved my life once or twice and I am eternally grateful for his patience and his friendship through the years.

Rick: By the way, I asked Stroud about you--and he told me a story about a Korean restaurant, and said 'If anyone in Florida ever says they love Lyrnryd Skynryd, Benson will tell you what he really thinks.'

Benson: Yeah, someone served us collie meat in a Korean restaurant in North Park one night. We thought we were in a Chinese restaurant...stupid white guys. And, I got knocked off a barstool in Florida one afternoon by telling some redneck that Molly Hatchet couldn't carry Lynyrd Skynyrd's jockstrap.

Rick: People may not realize that you and Greg Solk were the guys behind the music at the Loop in the late 80s and early 90s. You've been programming stations ever since. How has your music programming philosophy changed over the years?

Benson: Greg taught me a lot about radio. He grew up in a radio station and has nearly infallible instincts about programming and how to manage talent. He was also one of the rare program directors who could actually verbalize what sort of music he wanted the station to play and to look for. It made the music director's job so much easier. And, it helped me understand that it wasn't about what I liked musically that was important. My job was to find music that worked for the program. While i enjoy the music that I play on KFOG, my personal musical preferences are quite different. I play the Goo Goo Dolls at work and Thelonious Monk at home.

Rick: I love the story about how you broke into radio in the first place. Would you mind telling the story about your high school newspaper, and how that led to your radio career?

Benson: When I was a senior in high school, I wrote an article about the new "underground" radio station that had just appeared on the FM dial in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. (In 1971 it was a revelation to hear Jimi Hendrix and Savoy Brown and Phil Ochs coming out of your radio.) So, I talked my way into the station to interview the program director, Stryder - the whole staff had names like that: Croyd, Riff, etc. Well, at the end of the interview, Stryder invited me to visit the station anytime I felt like it. I came back the next day...and kept coming back until they hired me for the midnight to 2am shift on WIBA-FM. I became the station's first music director and, eventually, the program director.

Rick: In a lot of ways you would be considered a "free spirit." You were a tour manager for the Pat Metheny Group for a couple of years. You rode around the country for a year and a half in a jeep--reading books and riding your bike. Yet, you're the boss man at KFOG in San Francisco, one of the most respected radio stations in the country. Does that "free spirit" side of you influence your management style at all?

Benson: I've been fortunate enough to follow a path in this business without ever having to look at the map beforehand. If I'm a good manager, I hope it's because I try to remain mindful of the talent of the people I work with and respectful of the audience we work for. In Zen there's a saying along the lines of, "if you want to control your cattle, take down all the fences." I think I try to let people and situations find their own space and solutions before I try to rein them in. Seems to work for me.

Rick: You've been out of the market here now for fifteen years or so. What do you miss about Chicago?

Benson: The Bucket of Suds, long-legged women in red dresses crossing Michigan Avenue on hot Saturday nights, the Park West, Nick's Bar, the bleachers at Wrigley, Lake Shore Drive, Clayhead, the Jazz Workshop, May, June & July, The Billy Goat, Michael Jordan and the Bulls 1991-1993, my hair...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Drew Walker

Drew Walker is the afternoon host at WUSN, US-99, Chicago's country music station.


WKRS-AM, Waukegan, 2002 (weekend board operator, promotions)
WXLC-FM, Waukegan, 2002 (promotions)
WZSR-FM, Crystal Lake, 2003 (weekend on-air / weekday fill-in / promotions)
WAIT-AM, Crystal Lake, 2003 (promotions)
WMYX-FM, Milwaukee, 2003-2004 (weekends on-air / weekday fill-in)
WUSN-FM, Chicago, 2004-present (weekend overnights, to weekend daytime & weekday fill-in, now weekday afternoons)

Rick: You grew up in Indiana. Who were some of the people on the air who influenced you during your formative years?

Drew: I mostly remember the morning show on WAZY-FM 96.5 "Z-96" (Lafayette, IN … and the station is still on the air today!). Not so much for who they were, but for the excitement and craziness they created each morning. I could not wait to get up, tune in, try to be caller #9 and win as many things as I could. I was a pain. Thinking back, I was always fascinated with the fact that you can be talking to so many people, in so many different places, all at one time, through this one medium. It was excitement that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Rick: The first time I heard your name was when I stumbled onto your website. That is such a huge project it must have been a labor of love. How did you get started doing that site, and do you miss being able to work on it more now that you're fulltime at US-99?

Drew: It *was* a labor of love. The site grew out of another website I'd put together for my wedding. I essentially started blogging (before it was called that) about anything and everything Chicago radio and TV that I could find. I loved the different personalities, promotions, you name it. It grew from there, and it remains a passion today. The Radio Stations Directory page lists every station in town, all the personalities, formats, phone numbers, everything. I also maintain the Where Are They Now section, plus old audio clips and a few other things too.

It was very time-consuming, and I do miss the detail sometimes. However, what I do now is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m very blessed for the opportunities I’ve had and continue to have. I wouldn't change a thing.

Rick: Your climb up the ladder at US-99 is pretty astounding. Do you have any secrets to share with other aspiring DJs?

Drew: Pretty crazy, huh? Like I said, I’ve been very blessed. Full-time in market #3 in less than 5 years is something I’m very proud of. I've had some amazing mentors and good advice. Jim Moran gave me my first break, and I’m grateful to this day. Tom Gjerdrum and Tom Rivers also took chances on me, and one of my biggest mentors is Tom Lazar. My goodness, that’s a lot of Toms.

The best piece of advice I ever received? "Pleasant persistence pays off" from Jeff Corder. I truly believe it. I think you can achieve anything with a lot of hard work, a great attitude, some talent, a bit of luck and "right place / right time" (for anything you do), and to surround yourself with similar-minded people. It helps when you work with folks who are as driven as you are. If you all want to succeed, the goals and the challenges become easier to reach for. That said, our team at ‘USN now is firing on all cylinders. Mike Peterson came to town and tweaked some minor things here and there; ratings went up, we grabbed the CMA Station of the Year award last year (the biggest honor in country radio), and we try to have fun every day. Absolutely.

One more small secret - always be yourself. I think that’s the one part I love the best about my job now. I get to talk with folks every day, about the things that matter to them, and I don’t have to be anything other than myself.

Rick: Now that you've been holding down the fort for a few years, and your afternoon show is in the top ten in Chicago, what have been some of the highlights for you?

Drew: I've had a few very big highlights. One of my favorites was that I was featured in a national music video by one of our new stars - Miranda Lambert. The song's called "New Strings" (great song to boot), and my two cameos are of an in-studio interview. It’s still available at, and plays on CMT / GAC occasionally. What a thrill!

I also really enjoy my live broadcast shows. This summer alone, I have at least 7 on the schedule already!

The one I’m most excited about? I talked about Willie Nelson’s new [Ben & Jerry’s] ice cream flavor on the show a few months ago, and I’d mentioned my wife’s dream flavor, along with all the listener choices (for their flavor creations) as well.

A Chicagoland ice cream shop contacted me. They’re going to make my wife’s flavor, we’ll name it, and I’m going to broadcast a full show from their business next month. The best part is that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the new flavor will benefit a local charity of their choice.

Things that come together like this are why I love what I do.

Rick: I've always been amazed at the way the country music industry and country radio have managed to work so closely together. You'll never see another portion of the music industry give out an award to a radio star every year like they do at the Country Music Awards. You're really all on the same team aren't you? Why do you think that is, and what role has that played in both the artists' and radio stations' respective success?

Drew: Great question! We are on the same team – country radio / country artists / country listeners. Artists recognize how much of their success is owed to their fans. The fans connect to them through their local radio stations, the stations connect to the artists directly, and we serve as a liaison. Yes, there are other mediums to deliver music, but not in the way we do.

A quick example. This year is the station's 25th anniversary of broadcasting country music in town. One of our very special birthday events just took place. Brad Paisley (picture), a superstar, flew into the DuPage County Airport at lunchtime. Stepped off his jet, picked up a guitar, did a 45-minute acoustic set for 100 listeners in an airplane hangar, a quick Q&A, and then back on the plane to Nashville. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those in attendance, and through the internet now (the station website), our entire listening audience can now view the video, hear the performance, and much more.

I truly believe our listeners hear that we care about them, and that the artists do as well. It is very much a relationship that we value. (Photo: Drew Walker & George Strait)

Rick: Why can't the other formats figure that out and emulate it?

Drew: I don't know. Maybe it’s never been that way before, or no one’s ever tried to focus on that? It is interesting, as although there are similarities with a few other genres, the country audience is very passionate, dedicated to the artists, and they truly feel the station is the additional member of their family. For me, that’s what I’m trying to achieve every day. To be the extra member, and I think availability is a big key to that. Through the phone, e-mail,, instant messenger, MySpace, – all of these things are open and working each afternoon. I let the listeners know this continuously, and I know they pick up on that.

Paul Harvey was interviewed by Larry King a few years ago (still saved on my TiVo). King asked him how he felt about his 12 million + audience each day, and the impact of that. Without pause, Harvey said, “Well, you know, Larry, I’m only talking to one person.” That is a very powerful statement.

Rick: After listening to country music all day, and going to country music events at night, what other shows in Chicago do you listen to--to get away from it all?

Drew: Music-wise, I like it all. Music is the one thing I can’t imagine my life without. My favorite is 80s – most genres too, but admittedly, I dig the hair bands. We have Sirius at home through our dish – one of my favorite channels is called “Hair Nation.” Love classic rock as well.

As for other radio shows, I get up early to take my wife to the Metra train. She really enjoys Eric & Kathy, so our bathroom radio is on the Mix right now.

I think Joe Cicero's morning show on WXLC in Waukegan is very good too. It can be funny, moves along really well, and he & his co-host Rebecca Ortiz have a great on-air rapport.

I'm enjoying Big John & Cisco's new show in WIND too.

I think Bob Stroud's show on WDRV is fantastic. You learn something every day, the music is great, and the vibe is very enjoyable.

Electra on Q101 – her personality, the Last Letter Game. Good stuff.

In the afternoon, I was always a big fan of Roe & Garry, and continue to enjoy both of their programs when I can catch them.

We check out Ryan Manno's new Q101 evening show too. Again, a great music mix now, and the program moves really well.

Someone who's no longer in town, but I still enjoy his stuff – Kevin Matthews.

Music-wise alone, we listen to 9fm and Jack in the car too.

Rick: Your mom Sheena was on the air with you from Arlington Park about a month ago. How has she reacted to your success?

(Photo: Drew with his mom and wife Jill)
Drew: My Mom & Dad are straight off the boat from Scotland (their siblings are still overseas). So, you can understand if she's a little more traditional than most folks. My sisters & I tease her about it now, but growing up was another story. Strict and proper.

First thing she said when I excitedly called her about my full-time promotion?

"Well, that's great, honey, but you can always go back to accounting." HA! She’s always looking out for me and my CPA.

In all seriousness, she is very supportive and I think she got a big kick out of experiencing the live show, with the listeners and the madness at Arlington Park.

Regardless, if I’d known her appearance fee beforehand, I might have reconsidered.