Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Brothers Straus

Scott Straus is the production director of KISS-FM and J.R. Straus is a producer for Mike and Mike at ESPN, and a production assistant at WZZN-FM.


J.R: 93-94 - SRN Broadcasting and Marketing - everything from co-op sales to stringing Bulls games.

Scott: 12/1995 thru about 05/1998, Mancow's Morning Madhouse Producer, 103.5 WRCX.

J.R: 95-02 - WCKG - FM (R.I.P.) - Some of the shows I worked on: Patti Haze, Howard Stern, Jonathon Brandmeier, Buzz and Wendy ( '01 A.I.R. award for best midday show )

Scott: Summer of 1998, Freelance Producer for The Score,Sportsradio 1160AM WSCR. (Primarily for "The Coach and the Kid", but filled in for almost everyone at least once.)

Scott: Fall 1998 through spring 2000, Murphy in the Morning, Producer, 103.1 WXXY/WYXX.

Scott: Spring of 2000, part time board op at 103.5 WKSC, then full time by summer of that year as Production Director, where I still reside currently. (Also a 4-time ILBA Silver Dome finalist during this time, including a winner in '06.)

J.R: 03-present WMVP - AM - Producer for Mike and Mike in the Morning, and 07-present WZZN - Production Assistant

Rick: I don't think I've ever seen two brothers with such similar resumes. You both started in the business the same year. You've worked at rival sports stations (J.R.--ESPN, Scott--The Score), and for rival morning shows (J.R.--Howard Stern, Scott--Mancow). You've both produced shows (J.R.--Buzz & Wendy, Scott--Murphy in the Morning), and you both ended up in the production side of the business (J.R.--ESPN, WZZN, Scott-WKSC). And at no time did you either of you get a job for the other one--you've been at different stations the whole time. How in the world did this happen?

Scott: Fortunately for both of us, we’ve worked in our hometown of Chicago for our entire careers to date. Because we were both full time for so long, there was never a real urgency for one to place the other into a new gig. Instead, we simply stay informed of the changes within the market, and maintain the great industry relationships we’ve developed over our years. We’re always catching up with our old friends, and being introduced to new ones. Between all of those branches we’ve become pretty resourceful. Add the small world of radio, and it’s a matter of time.

Rick: Was there ever any taunting about ratings over the Thanksgiving table? You know, something like "Pass the mashed potatoes, like Howard just passed Mancow in the ratings," or "Mom, this turkey is as delicious as my victory in the summer book."

Scott: That would have been great! I could have found “Turd” references in there somewhere for sure! No, there really wasn’t much taunting at all. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely saw the irony of competing as brothers and co-workers. We poked a little fun, but it was never malicious by any means. The truth is, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we’d both just been through a chaotic Sweeps period, and put in extra hours to prepare for the holidays. I think we were more interested in sitting down at that table without operating anything that had a button or a knob. Or maybe even getting some sleep.

J.R.: The only one who really was affected by any taunting was our Mom, who had to tell people that her two sons worked for Howard Stern and Mancow.

Rick: Before I get to the questions about the individual shows and jobs, let me ask the question I got asked all the time when I worked behind the scenes. JR, I know you've had a taste of the on-air gig when you did sports on Buzz and Wendy's show (WCKG), and Scott, I know you've been on the air quite a bit as a producer for Mancow and Murphy. Do either of you guys have any aspirations of getting back on the air full-time or have you found your niche?

J.R.: Currently, I am just as happy presenting and coming up with ideas and opinions, and then letting the hosts and callers decide which way to take things. I appreciate how hard producers in this business have to work – someone should write a book about that. (laughs) However, if I have learned anything in this business, it is never say never.

Scott: It’s hard for me to say what’s coming down the road since there’s no way I could have predicted my first 12 years so far. I do know that I’m a solid producer. I’m a great writer. I love to perform. Maybe someday I can do it all. On the lighter side, my brother and I get told all the time that we should have a show together. The thought has me laughing out loud. We’d probably have some FCC clause banning the bringing up of “wedgies from childhood”, or the “Shhhhh don’t tell Mom” segment. Now my REAL answer? Who knows. I really just want to have creative fun.

Rick: Scott, I know you got your start working on Mancow's show. I previously interviewed Freak who also worked with Mancow, and it sounded like it was a pretty intense experience. How did you become a part of the show, and what was the experience like for you?

Scott: The planets aligned just right for me to get in with Mancow and Co. (photo: Scott and Mancow) I was going to school at Columbia College. A great friend of mine, Christine, told me that she saw an internship call posted on our school bulletin boards, and gave me the lead. Being a fan, I followed up almost immediately. Right before Christmas of ’95, they called in about 4 or 5 of us one day. We all crammed into a little production room and watched resident technical whiz “LuvCheez” producing bits and parodies all morning. We were to assist.

At some point he turned to our group and said something like “I need one of you to sing this.” It was a parody song about Chris Farley to be sung to the tune of “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. Everyone turned white with terror. I took that opportunity to speak up. It turned out that Farley was actually live in studio that day. He liked our little number so much that he requested his own tape to take home. (Yes, a tape.) Mancow loved that. He immediately called back and told LuvCheez to offer “whoever that was” a 3 or 5 day a week gig. I took 5 and never looked back!

Freak described the experience perfectly. Intense. It’s hard for me to describe what I did and learned in those 2+ years without hiring a publisher. The answer is everything. I learned about ratings, production, promotions, writing, screening calls, booking guests, talent fees, contracts, concerts, site checks, sales, managers, and basically every other inner working of the industry. I got to film bands like Anthrax from on stage, and travel to Amsterdam for live remotes. I just watched Mancow a ton, and made mental notes on things that he liked and didn’t like. I then did my best to do what was asked of me, listen, contribute, and absorb as much as I could. I actually learned to edit on Pro-Tools by simply watching. If I didn’t know it, I learned it. If I knew it, I used it. That show is what made it possible for me to tackle every other radio job with ease. Mancow is really good at what he does. To be his right hand was an education that no school could have prepared me for. I’m relatively certain that his standards, expectations, and demands, are what elevated my game beyond the average producer.

Rick: You later produced another Chicago legend, Murphy in the Morning, when he was the morning guy over at the 80s channel (WXXY/WYXX). How was that experience similar or different?

Scott: That experience was very different. (photo: Scott and Murphy) They may share random similarities, but they had very different shows for different demographics. Murphy's show featured music as well as topics, stories, call-ins, and everything else a morning show does. I also ran the board for this show, so there was a different feel for both the host and the producer this time around for me. It was a slower pace than Mancow, but still very interactive.

There were times on Fridays where the phones would have guests, contestants, winners, song requests, and his mother, all on hold at same time. The experience was great with Murf. The other big difference was the fact that Big City Radio was stuck with a 6,000 watt stick back then. Our formats would also get stolen not once, but twice, in our two year/two format run. We still gave it our all everyday though. It was our radio home, and we wanted it to work more than anyone. We stayed as fun and competitive as we could under our circumstances, and always hoped for the best.

Rick: While Scott was working on those two shows, JR was a jack of all-trades at WCKG. By the time you left WCKG, you had worked with the likes of Patti Haze, Howard Stern, Johnny B, and Buzz & Wendy. In this age of consolidation, radio stations simply can't exist without someone like you, who can seamlessly shift from show to show, and role to role. Tell us about the evolution of your time there, and of your dozen or so jobs, what was your favorite?

J.R.: It almost seems like a badge of honor to have worked at a station that no longer exists. When I started at WCKG it was Howard’s third or fourth attempt to return to this market, and we were running the show off of reel to reel! (By the time I left there, we were running ridiculous commercial loads and the show was all completely digital.)

We were transitioning from a classic rock station to a talk station, and I was also working with Patti Haze (photo), who is great, a total professional. The “queen of rock and roll” was so knowledgeable, and a really fun person - I really enjoyed working with her.

Johnny B (photo) was out in Los Angeles for the time he was on WCKG, and I was running his board here. With all of the hookups between his studio, his newsperson’s studio, and Chicago being sent back and forth, it was always fun trying to run down the hallway to redial one of the myriad ISDN units. Having never really heard Johnny B before running his board – he is just amazing in his preparation and timing. Then, Johnny’s contract ran out – negotiations went down to the last day - I think it was on a Tuesday, and Buzz just walked in, looked at me and said “J.R., it’s you and me today.” (I almost fell over! What did you just say? I am on the air with you in a half hour?)

It was dubbed “The Temporary Buzz Show”, because no one knew how long it was going to last. Then they brought in one of the best morning show personalities to sit next to Buzz, Wendy Snyder, and it became “The Fabulous Midday Show with Buzz and Wendy”. Watching their chemistry come together was one of the highlights during my time at WCKG. They went from two people who were in radio and became this funny, popular midday team. They became two good friends who actually enjoyed spending time together; you could hear it in their voices, it wasn’t just for the show. And I was just hanging on by the seat of my pants trying to absorb it all.

Rick: Now Scott is the award winning production director at KISS-FM. I visited the Clear Channel complex a few weeks ago and saw the way it's set up there. We had a similar set up at the Loop in the early 90s with three stations working in the same hallway (the AM, the FM, and The Blaze), and it led to all sorts of personality conflicts (and even a lawsuit or two). You have twice as many stations all working in the same hallway. Does that ever cause any problems?

Scott: I too caught the tail end of the personality conflicts you speak of. Though I wasn't involved personally with any of them, I do remember our frequency had to move floors within that building. That was pretty much the tail end of most of the activity from what I remember. Nothing like that ever happens here at Clear Channel though. CC staffers are not only diverse, but talented too. They are all as approachable as any human could be on the street. From DreX, to Tony Sculfield, Rick O'Dell, Melissa Foreman. They'd all have time for you. We have great respect for one another’s unique talents, so it's nice to be able to do what I do best and get great support from my peers.

Rick: And J.R. is the man behind the dials at ESPN's Mike and Mike Show in Chicago, which consistently beats the local Mike North Show at WSCR, even though it's a nationally syndicated show from the East Coast. You've literally heard every second of that show. What do you think is the secret to Mike & Mike's success?

J.R.: Mike and Mike (photo) seem to have figured out how to relate to everyone. The chemistry that they have is also apparent – these guys practically finish each other’s sentences. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and are quick to poke fun at themselves on a regular basis. They have incredibly talented production people, who keep coming up with fresh ideas for them to try. I read something this week that Eric Zorn of the Tribune wrote – he wrote that talent is really hard work in disguise. Mike and Mike and their staff have as much talent as anyone. They are constantly plugged in to what is going on in sports so you don’t have to be. When you turn on the radio in the morning, you may not get out of them how many points your favorite player had last night – that’s what the updates are for. What you will be is informed of what happened last night in sports on your commute to work. It is also undeniable that television increases their appeal; if you are in a hotel on business there is a pretty good chance that you will get to hear or even see your morning radio show wherever you are.

Rick: Scott, when you came into the business (as J.R. mentioned), production was in the process of switching over to the digital world. Let me ask you a question for the audio geeks out there. What do you see as the new frontier of radio production, or do you think this digital production world is a final destination for awhile?

Scott: Boy, am I glad the tape era is dead! No offense to the people who love it, but radio is changing everyday. In my opinion, there is a larger access to life and news since the birth of the internet. There is more to say, more to produce, and tape doesn't give you the freedom to increase that pace. The time needed to edit something digitally vs. tape could mean hours of man power. To create a 60 second commercial and edit it on a reel to reel could take all day, especially when you don't nail it in one take. With something like Pro-Tools, my preferred weapon of choice, I can knock out that 60, grab some lunch, hit two meetings, and still have time to revise. I'm not sure where technology takes us next, but I do believe that digital is bigger and badder without question. Machines like the shortcut, or devices with hot buttons, these little things speed you up even more. It's been pretty cool to watch technology advance with me, and invade our industry over the years. Producers are now wicked multitaskers.

Rick: Will the Brothers Straus ever work together?

Scott: We were on to that formula years ago. We've been running and developing "Major Market Media" an idea we came up with. The one constant we shared over our years was the barrage of horrible advertising that we heard on a daily basis. We would literally complain out loud to each other sometimes. Phone numbers mentioned 4 times in a row, fake testimonials that don’t even fool your grandma, it’s just crazy. MMM really focuses on giving those outer market businesses the edge that they need to make an impact. We take the time needed to develop and script that message perfectly. We have the outside studio space, an award winning talent pool, and we have the formula needed to create results! A company that sells cars isn't just selling cars, there's much more to it. How we apply their goal is what makes our work so valuable.