Rick's note: A few weeks after I interviewed Scott Childers for Chicago Radio Spotlight, he was moved to a different radio station by his station owners, Next Media. I recently caught up with Scott and asked how he was liking his new gig.
Scott: I am having a great time - in late January, I transitioned from The River to Star 96.7 where I am afternoon host. It's a blast being back at a Hot AC station, playing new music again! Most of my career has been spent at either AC or CHR formatted stations. Hey, I like Steve Miller and Fleetwood Mac, but it's nice to be someplace that is a bit more current-based. I'm also doing some fun things in the afternoon - the Brainbuster Question has followed me over to Star -- we do that in the 3 o'clock hour and it's nice to be able to banter with Marti Jones (who does traffic). Marti and I have known each other for many years, but this is the first time we have worked together on the air every day. I also put together some fun bits here and there, and we play listener requests back with "Your Four at 4:30." I'll bet you can't guess when we do that! We just recently gave away a wedding package worth over 27 thousand dollars to a lucky couple. I was the one that called them and they were ecxtatic. Star 96.7 is on the verge of a transmitter and tower move which will greatly increase our signal coverage in the western portion of the suburbs. We have a great staff with a wonderful product that I am happy to be able to contibute to.
Off the air, I (along with WCCQ host) Todd Boss head up NextMedia's IT Department here in Crest Hill. We are responsible for the look and operation of the station websites (star96.7net, wjol.com, wccq.com, wrxq.com). In an average day, I may work on artwork for the site or for email blasts, load (audio and graphical) content up to the sites, troubleshoot problems and interface with the company sales and promotion staff. Days go by very quickly and the staff here (many of which I have worked with in the past at The River or other outlets) are just great. They have built a very smooth running, effective and professional environment here that I am glad to be a part of.
The WLS book project continues on. I am getting to the final stages of preparation and it should be off to the publisher by May. Hopefully we will see it on the shelves (and on Amazon) by mid-summer. I am still interested in any WLS material that anyone may have and would be willing to share. They can contact me at thoughts (at) wlsfanmail.com.
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Now here is the interview as it originally appeared...
Scott Childers is the Asst. PD and afternoon host at "The River" in Aurora, and the traffic anchor on the Dean Richards Show on WGN.
1988-1990 PIA RADIO NETWORK
1989-1991 WJTW-FM weekends.
1990-1998 METRO NETWORKS studio and airborner anchor/APD/Studio Supervisor.
1991-1993 WWBZ-FM The Blaze! weekends/fill-in.
1994-1995 WXLC-FM Hot 102.3 weekends.
1995-1998 WPNT-FM weekends/fill-in.
1998-2003 WNND-FM Windy 100 (middays) and WTMX The MIx (weekend and fill-in)
2003-now METRO NETWORKS/WGN Dean Richards Sunday Morning show.
2004-now WERV-FM The River APD and afternoons.
1998-now WLS History Project - Lead Historical Consultant for Big 89 Rewind
Rick: Before I get to your radio career, Chicago radio-philes may also know you as the man who has maintained an excellent site about WLS history called wlshistory.com. What inspired you to create that site in the first place?
Scott: My wife would say lunacy. (laughs) Actually, I grew up here, I'm from Chicago, and WLS was the station I listened to when I was growing up. I didn't start listening to FM until the 80s.
Tommy Edwards was always one of my inspirations. What appealed to me about him, and Jeff Davis too, he had a similar style-—was they spoke to you one to one, it was more like personal-casting than broadcasting.
When the 25th anniversary came around, and they did that great special, I was hooked. It was interesting to hear all the sounds from before the 70s—-people I hadn't really heard before like Dick Biondi, Art Roberts, Clark Weber, and before that, the Prarie Farmer. I realized that no one had chronicled it, other than the specials on the radio. I felt it needed to be chronicled, and since I was a pack rat and had accumulated a fair amount of stuff, I figured it might as well be me. The more I learned about WLS History—the more it interested me. It's really an incredible story. That a radio station started up for farmers by Sears has led to this…
Rick: And WLS doesn't seem to mind?
Scott: They've been great. The people at the station over these past few years seem to appreciate and encourage it.
Rick: And now you've got a new book about it coming out via Arcadia Publishing.
Scott: Arcadia is the publisher that specializes in the small books for local communities or organizations, and my friend Jim Moran at Metro was doing one of their books for Libertyville (Photo: Book Cover). He suggested to me that maybe I should think about putting something like this together for WLS history. I hemmed and hawed about it, thinking yeah it should be done, but was I really the guy to do it? The more I thought about it though, the more I thought, sure. Nobody else is doing it. Jim talked to Arcadia and they called me, and I ran it by (WLS Program Director) Kipper McGee, and it stalled there for awhile. They were in the middle of an ownership change and it took awhile to get official clearance. But now it's coming together.
Rick: What can you tell us about the book? When and where is it coming out?
Scott: Well, if you've seen the Arcadia books, they are mostly images, and this book will have about 200 images or so. The forward is being written by Jeff Davis. It's been a lot of work digging up the pictures, and a lot of people that had to be pursued and contacted. My due date is the end of April, so hopefully everything will go well, and it will be out sometime in the summer, but I still don't know an exact date.
Rick: Can you give us a few nuggets?
Scott: I found some stuff at the Sun Times I didn't expect to find. For instance, there were some photos of the late great Yvonne Daniels from the early to mid 70s. It's a glimpse into how much times have changed. In each of those pictures she was smoking in the studio--they actually had ashtrays built into the studio back then. There are at least three pictures of presidents or potential presidents that will be in the book. The one that really caught my eye was a picture of (former WLS General Manager) Tom Traddup and a young Hillary Clinton, and the caption was "The President and First Lady."
Most of the stuff I've run into are things I've already seen--and come from sources I’m familiar with, but I have to keep reminding myself that I have seen far far more than most people, and they will be just as excited to see it as I was the first time I saw it. For instance, the 1967 personality album the station put out—I'm so used to seeing that sort of thing, but most people still haven't seen it. The toughest decision is going to be what to put on the cover. That will be the publisher's decision, which is a good thing, because I don't know if I could pick.
Rick: You were a big part of the WLS Rewind Weekend that WLS did back in May. I thought it was just fantastic. What were some of the highlights from your perspective? You ran the board for my old boss John Landecker that day, didn't you?
Scott: That website has opened all these doors for me, and it's really been wonderful. I've met and worked with many of these WLS greats like Fred Winston (at WPNT) and Brant Miller (at Channel 5), but that day was special. The response was huge that day.
Jeff Davis, Michael Garay (tech producer for Don & Roma), and I form the nucleus of the WLS history project. I had the distinct honor of board operating John Landecker's show. (Photo: John and Scott) I had listened to him so much for so many years, it was so natural. It was like I instinctively knew what to do.
Rick: I talked to John right after he got off the air, and he was really happy that day. He had a blast.
Scott: It sure seemed like it. He was saying during the breaks…"This is going really well isn't it?" Those of us at the station had no idea how much it was swirling all over town while it was on the air. I was so happy they replayed it over the July 4th weekend, so I could hear it on the radio. It just felt right.
Rick: You burst onto the scene here via Metro Traffic. I remember hearing you on Bob Sirott's first morning TV show on Channel 5—First Thing in the Morning, and then later on Fox Thing in the Morning, but you were also on the radio doing traffic at places like WBBM, WMAQ, WLS, and WGN. Talk about those early years.
Scott: When I started at Metro we were a staff of about five—and we worked in the same tiny little room. Metro was larger nationwide than Shadow, but not in Chicago. I started as a producer and did fill-in work at WFYR and the Score at 820, and then ended up at Channel 5. It was really the dawn of TV traffic--at the time, the concept of traffic on TV was something very new. I remember thinking to myself...Who would watch TV for traffic? Shows what I knew. During my Metro years, I also did traffic on B-96 for Eddie & Jobo. I was Rich Scott there.
Rick: Looking back, what was the highlight of your traffic reporting career?
Scott: The highlight was working with Bob and Allison on Channel 5—it was so new then, and by the time we went to Fox it was like we had done this before—it went very smoothly. I wasn't always on camera, but everybody knew about that show. Everyone watched it. Plus, we also did that 'Coffee With' segment, and were on just about every radio show in town.
The other highlight was doing traffic and news on WLS the first time. I was so nervous and excited to say the call letters. This meant everything to me. It was during Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh, and people gathered round the studio to watch, because they knew what a big deal it was for me.
Off the air, another highlight was the good fight between Shadow and Metro. At one point we were actually beating them. Now it's one company, but that happened after I left.
Scott: I know you also worked, and continue to work as a music jock (currently afternoons on The River, in addition to Asst. PD and Imaging Director). How do you like doing music shows compared to traffic?
Scott: Jocking is what I've always wanted to do in this business, and I love it. To sit in an air studio and do that is absolutely fantastic. I learned from the best, listening to my heroes like Tommy Edwards and Jeff Davis. It's such a personal medium, it's one on one. I also love music—all different kinds. It's a natural extension to work as a music jock.
When I was at the Blaze, that station came out of nowhere like a rocket and suddenly everybody was listening to it. I heard from people I hadn't heard from in years after they heard me on the Blaze. Radio is so immediate. That's something people in charge of radio stations should remember.
Right now, I'm also really enjoying myself at WGN (I do the show with Dean Richards). Dean doesn't do an issues-oriented kind of show, which isn't the kind of personality I am either, and we've been having a great time. (Photo: Scott, Dean Richards, and Rob Hart at WGN)
Rick: You were the midday guy at Windy-100 for several years, an adult contemporary format that never quite seemed to catch on. What mistakes do you think Windy made, and have you listened yet to what they are doing at Fresh FM? If so, what do you think about their attempts to get that female audience?
Scott: Too early to tell about Fresh Fm. I like the music, but I also really enjoyed my time at Windy. Bonneville was a great company to work for—and I worked on the Mix side too. When I did middays that was probably the widest audience I ever had in my career. We had Lite on the ropes for quite awhile. It was a fun time, and tastes change, and I guess they needed to come up with something else. It's hard to say what could have been done differently.
I do have some advice for Fresh. They should be get people that are known to the Chicago audience. Look at what the Lite has done, now that they have Melissa back in the morning, and John Symons in the evening.
Let's talk about The River...
Scott: I've been at the River for four years and it's been fantastic so far. I got a chance to go into programming here which has been great. When I first started I was working with Didi Foley, who had lots of experience in programming--she had been a PD since very early on in her career, but very little downtown Chicago radio experience. I was exactly the opposite, so we worked really well together. The nice thing about working here is that the job is never boring. I started middays and got to air out my personality a little more, then I got to learn more about music, production, and promotion. That's something that working at a suburban station teaches you...a little bit of everything.
Rick: I know you're a Cubs fan. Is 100 the magic number?
Scott: Boy I hope so. How long can the heartbreak go on? Brian Peck and I have spent quite a few days out at the ballpark. Unfortunately, it's getting too expensive to go now. I know Wrigley is the Taj Mahal of baseball, but when they charge that much for tickets, a lot of them go to the people who don't know the game—the tourists. They should have an area for people who don’t want to watch the game, and let them sit there.