Sunday, January 27, 2008

Karen Hand

Karen Hand was an important part of the Chicago radio scene for nearly thirty years. She is currently one of owners of Positive Changes Hypnosis Center with former radio colleague Catherine Johns.


1976—KGOU-FM—college radio University of Oklahoma
’77-’78—KOMA-FM—Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
’03-2005—WCKG-FM Chicago

Rick: You've been off the air in Chicago now for a few years. Do you miss it at all?

Karen: Oh yes, I miss it! Radio is my first true love! The first day I walked into the studio and sat behind a microphone at my college radio station, I was in love! I knew I’d found the place where I belong! And the place where I am still most comfortable is in a radio studio behind a microphone.

Please don’t misunderstand. I love hypnosis and what I do now!! When I became a client and a spokesperson for Positive Changes Hypnosis while I was at WCKG, I had that same warm, belonging feeling the first time I walked into the hypnosis center. I loved it!! I’m very lucky to have found such a great life after radio. And I completely enjoy being in business with one of my dearest friends, Catherine Johns! (We are a DYNAMIC DUO!!)

Plus, we record our hypnosis sessions for our clients. So it’s a “Madonna-style” microphone these days….and a very calm “studio” with low lights, soft music, and a “reclining listener”…..but one on one communication is still the most basic similarity. And hypnosis is a tremendous form of communication that helps so many people.

Rick: I know you're originally from Oklahoma. Tell the story of how you ended up in Chicago, and about that first radio job here.

Karen: I got that first radio job in my hometown of Oklahoma City by arguing with the General Manager of KOMA. He was a guest speaker at a class on Station Management and I asked why public affairs shows are always stuffed into the overnight hours. My contention was and still is that public affairs can be placed in morning-drive and get listeners if it’s done well enough! After the class I was offered the job of morning news co-anchor and “Traffic Lady”. That was the first gig. I worked with a great PD, Tom Birch (who later and temporarily rivaled ARBITRON with the Birch Ratings Service). Tom offered some excellent advice. “Do the news like you’re sitting at the dinner table with friends just talking about what you find really interesting.” That was always my motto for doing news.

After about 3 years at KOMA I sent 32 tapes to stations in Los Angeles. Back then it was the number 3 market…but it was the weather that called to me! I got a few rejection letters and one that said I was too colloquial for radio; I should find a different profession. But the PD at the ABC FM station in L.A. forwarded my tape to Bud Miller at WLS in Chicago. I went east to Chicago instead on a cold and snowy New Year’s Day.

Catherine Johns and I first worked together at WLS. In fact, we keep a framed picture in our office now of the entire WLS news staff circa ’79. That picture contains some famous faces: Bob Conway, Linda Marshall, Jim Johnson. (Photo: L-R, News Director Bud Miller, Catherine Johns, Jeff Hendricks, Jim Johnson, writer Ira Johnson, Linda Marshall, Harley Carnes, Karen Hand, producer Lon Dyson....and Bob Conway in the clock.)

Being a 20-something wide eyed Okie, fresh in the big city, I fondly remember the mighty Larry Lujack walking into the studio just before I keyed the mic for my first newscast on WLS and said “Hi, I’ll be listening. Don’t fuck up!” I was TERRIFIED!! And THRILLED!!! And when Ronald Reagan’s deregulation ended overnight news on WLS, and I was set free from the overnight shift, Larry called me offering his support and any help he could offer in finding the next gig. I have always been very touched by that! And I remember Larry Lujack as one of the quietest and hardest working jocks I’ve ever seen.

My first night at WLS was Steve King’s last night on the air there. He took several hours to welcome me to the station and to Chicago. He was very kind! Steve (photo) is definitely one of the nicest people in radio.

Larry Langford worked at WDAI and took me under his wing to show me around Chicago and teach me about the city.

When things went wrong back in Oklahoma, we always said; “I’ll bet it doesn’t happen this way at WLS!” But when I got to ‘LS…I was amazed at how many things did go wrong! My favorite story is the fly that shut down the station. There were two transmitters out in Tinley Park designed so that if one took a power hit, the signal would automatically jump over to the second transmitter. Until that one fateful moment when a fly landed in the transmission path at exactly the same time as a lightening strike and off the air we went….or so the story goes.

Rick: I think it's safe to say that most people remember you from your days at B-96. Talk about your years with Eddie & Jobo. When you look back at those years now, what are some of the moments that you remember most fondly?

Karen: Most of the MANY years I spent with Eddie and JoBo were some of the best of my life! I’m an only child, and they were like my brothers! The station was climbing rapidly in popularity. Program Director Buddy Scott was brilliant to move JoBo from 6-10pm to mornings and pairing him with Ed Volkman was an immediate success!

Dave Shakes (the best PD of my career) arrived to really coach us into a finely tuned, well-oiled morning show. And it was a blast. The Killer Bee was born---put index finger to lips, move rapidly up & down against lips as you say Bbbbbbbbbbbb 96!

AUDIO: WBBM Killer Bee 1990 aircheck (H/t Shakes Radio)

I divorced and got remarried (in life and on the air). My engagement and marriage were both a big deal on the air. Everything we did was on the show! Listeners still come up and ask about my husband Mark and my daughter Jessica. (She now sells radio for Entercom in Sacramento. Jessica first went to California to do a morning show for Dave Shakes!! In Chico.)

We did great promotions under Shakes. Trips with MC Hammer to L.A., annual trips to DisneyWorld, Eddie and JoBo’s Christmas Wish. And the time JoBo took the morning show to Cabrini Green for a live broadcast. During that time there was a warm, fuzzy, community feel along with very fun morning entertainment.

I chuckle at the thought of an April Fools day. That’s Eddie’s birthday, and one year I got his keys and moved his car in the parking lot. Innocent April Fools joke. Until Eddie got pissed trying to quickly get away from a groupie and couldn’t find his car. Happy B-Day Ed! That same day, a couple of my friends from the station and I bought about 50 dollars worth of toilet paper and during a snow storm, T.P.ed JoBo’s house in Wheeling. That’s a lot of toilet paper and took quite some time. Just as we were finishing, the Wheeling police pulled up. Turns out, it’s illegal to T.P. someone’s house in Wheeling. We knocked on Joe’s door…called his house. We knew he was in there!!! But he let us get hassled by the cops and almost arrested. We talked ourselves out of it. Next morning, on-air…he played back the “we’re getting arrested message” we left on his answering machine for morning show jollies.

It was an extended family and some of the best times in radio.

Rick: We also remember the famous lawsuit (against JoBo) that temporarily derailed the show for a few years, which must have been a tense time. Take us on the inside during that time. What was it like?

Karen: Well, the lawsuit was against CBS cause JoBo was accused of slandering Joan Esposito. (JoBo himself was never sued…by Joan Esposito anyway!) It was a long wait but finally, there was a settlement. Our PD Todd Cavanah was thrilled! It was going to just quietly go away. He told us clearly that there was a gag order on the settlement cause CBS didn’t want publicity about the amount of the settlement. When Eddie and JoBo ran into Bill Zwecker at a Mother’s Day event at the races that weekend. They excitedly told him all about the settlement. And as it turns out, they were fired for breaking the gag order.

Anyway, there was a long, boring grueling period of on-air auditions for a new morning show. Seems like a decade went by the year T.J. and Wild Bill did the morning show. I was in G.M. Don Marion’s office daily lobbying for a return of Eddie and JoBo! I took JoBo in to meet Don when it was not acceptable to even mention their names around the station. We needed them back. It was the only thing that could save B96 at that time.

Then George McFly and Frankie Rodriguez teamed up for mornings; both excellent jocks on their own. Never clicked as a team! The interim was terrible!

Unfortunately, one attempt to save mornings was to put my popular Sunday night show, Private Lives, in morning drive for two hours. It was quite successful! And we loved doing it! Proving my original theory that public affairs can do well in morning drive if it’s good entertainment! It was so successful that it stayed on the air in mornings even after Eddie and JoBo returned.

Which set up a new level of tension. Nothing was back to normal when Ed and Joe went back on the air. Part of the condition for rehiring was to require either the General Manager or Program Director to physically be in the control room whenever their mic was on and approve every word before it aired! So for the next two years, either Don Marion or Todd Cavanah sat in the control room every second of the morning show. I aired the news live but every other word on the air was delayed. Everything Eddie and JoBo did was taped--cleared by management and then played back. THAT WAS TENSE!! The timing worked out after a few days and we did have it down to a science, but it was tense. And I think JoBo felt he had to compete with Private Lives for the full morning time slot. The relationship was never the same.

I’m friendlier with the Volkman clan and keep in consistent casual contact with Eddie’s lovely wife, Amber. I’ve known her as long as he has. Eddie and I were doing an appearance at a Haunted House when they first met.

Rick: Your sex-talk show "Private Lives" was on the air for quite a few years in Chicago. Not many people in broadcasting can say they have had a similar experience. I know it was all done in a very respectful way (with co-host Dr. Kelly Johnson), but were there any moments doing that show that made you uncomfortable?

Karen: NEVER! I love Private Lives! It was the highest rated show on Sunday nights for 10 years. What a great show! One of the things I miss most about radio is working with Kelly Johnson! He’s my favorite brother now and one of my very best friends!

When we did Private Lives at B96, it was designed for teenagers as a safe place to go for information; all kinds of information. I was trained (before Private Lives) at Chicago’s MetroHelp and The National RunAway Switchboard. I answered real crisis calls on those phone lines and believe me I heard some chilling things!

We never took suicide calls on Private Lives. They were always screened out and diverted to an actual crisis line. Our first goal was to help, but we were also there to entertain.

When the show added mornings at B96, it evolved into an adult female (and very successful!) show about relationships. We played games and talked and even played some music. When we moved to WCKG, we were definitely talking to adults, mostly male…and the show took a decidedly more explicit tone. But I still wasn’t shocked or uncomfortable with it. It’s just human nature! (Photo: Karen in WCKG Studio. h/t DJ Headlines)

And the nature of the show changed drastically again when Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction and freaked out the entire industry. We softened the content, changed the name and went more general interest to appease CBS management and still kept our ratings!

Rick: I don't know if you realize how respected you are in the industry, especially among women. I've had several former interview subjects (Kathy Voltmer, Jennifer Keiper) single you out as a mentor and an inspiration. In such a cut-throat business, you were always regarded as being genuinely helpful. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or is it just the way you are?

Karen: I was so flattered by Kathy and Jennifer’s comments. I love them both! Kathy has always had a brilliant natural on-air instinct and Jennifer (photo) is the most diligent and trustworthy person I know.

I think I’ve always been fortunate enough to be in a position where I could hire staff and interns. It gave me many employment opportunities to hand out. (Sounds like I had my own patronage radio Queendom.)

I taught a class at Columbia College for a dozen years and came across some incredible talent along the way: Josh Liss, Ric Federighi, Jackie Flores, and many others. And working with young and new talent kept me learning and working harder. They all brought as much to me as I did to them.

Rick: Now you're the co-owner of the Positive Changes hypnosis center along with another former radio personality—Catherine Johns. How has it been working with Catherine, and how do you like the industry?

Karen: Catherine and I share an office on the top floor of the Edens Office Plaza at Cicero and Peterson. We’re two very strong women with a lot in common. I’d say it’s absolutely wonderful that we have so much fun and we laugh….a lot! Not only do we work in a very stress-free environment, we each live just a mile from the office. Life has been very good to me!!

Hypnosis is an amazing tool for helping people reach their goals. Although Catherine and I were entertainers in radio, we’re very much on the clinical side of hypnosis. No one barks like a dog or clucks like a chicken. We help people lose weight, quit smoking, sleep better, reduce stress, and manage pain or symptoms of Fibromyalgia and IBS. And we see excellent results. My favorite story is about a guy who had a tremendous fear of flying and came to our Positive Changes Center on a referral. His boyfriend is a flight attendant…and wanted to take him to Hawaii, big incentive to get over the fear, right? Not only did he fly without fear to Hawaii, he later traveled to Japan. He loved flying so much he applied and was accepted as a flight attendant for one of the major airlines! How could you not love that?

Rick: Any chance we'll hear you on the radio again?

Karen: Every single chance I get!!!!!!!!!!!! Catherine and I often do radio interviews about hypnosis. (Photo: Catherine & Karen w/Mike North morning show) We were just on WLS with the Women Of Mass Discussion (Wendy Snyder, Maura Myles, and Dorothy Humphrey) talking about Smoke Free Illinois and helping Dorothy quit smoking. I’d love to do a radio show again especially with Dr. Kelly! And I would never say “no” to the right opportunity! Keep reading this blog and Robert Feder for any future details.