Saturday, May 03, 2008
Steve Scott is the afternoon news anchor at WCBS in New York. Before going to New York in 2006, he was the news director at WLS Radio
KSJS-FM/San Jose 1979 - 1983 (college station)
KRVE-FM/Los Gatos (San Jose) CA, 1981 - 1982
KLIV-AM/KARA-FM/San Jose, 1982 - 1984
KWSS-FM/San Jose, 1984 - 1986
WRXR-FM/Chicago, 1986 - 1987
WCKG-FM/Chicago, 1987 - 1993
Shadow Broadcast Services/Chicago, 1993 - 1997
WLS-AM/Chicago, 1993 - 2006
WCBS-AM/New York, 2006 - present
Rick: I know you still follow the Chicago radio scene from afar. Not much has happened here...other one of your old jobs being eliminated and one of your old stations changing it's call letters and formats. Let's start with the first one. What are your thoughts about the cuts WLS recently made in their news department--including your old job of news director?
Steve: Oh, that was a terrible day. I was shocked when I heard about the cuts…shocked, but not really surprised, I guess…if that makes any sense. Radio companies – just about all of them – are making cuts and tightening their belts. It’s a tough time. I feel badly, not only for the news people (Jennifer Keiper, Bill Cameron and David Jennings) who lost their jobs…but also for the staffers from other departments who were let go. I have a lot of friends who lost their jobs that day.
Sometimes, when you hear that a station “cut 15 people,” you have a tendency to focus more on that big number than on the individuals. But, for many of those who were let go, this is a very traumatic time in their lives. For some, it’s potentially catastrophic. Each of those people has bills to pay, rent or mortgage payments to make and a family to support. Some have already landed on their feet with new opportunities, and I pray the others will, too.
I honestly don’t think John Gallagher and Kipper McGee woke up one morning and decided, “Let’s gut the news department” or “Let’s layoff the producer whose wife just had a baby.” I really doubt it. I’m guessing they were given a set of (financial) numbers that they had to meet. Sometimes being a boss isn’t much fun, and I’m sure they took no personal joy in what happened at WLS on February 29th.
Rick: You probably heard that the GM of WLS, John Gallagher, resigned this week too.
Steve: I'm sorry to see John go. I know he was painted as a villain by some, for the recent cutbacks, but he was in a tough spot. I think John is a good guy - and, at least in my experience - a good manager. I'd work with him again. I'm happy to see him land on his feet so quickly - I think he'll do well back in Detroit.
Rick: Are you worried about the future of radio news in general?
Steve: Well, yes and no. When I first came to Chicago in 1986, most of the FM stations had at least a small news staff. Some had full newsrooms. Remember that great news team WXRT had back in the day? Wow! (Photo: Neil Parker, Marj Halperin, and Charlie Meyerson) Those days are mostly gone now. The number of stations doing news has dwindled consistently since the early- to mid-1990s. In Chicago, you can probably count the number of stations doing serious news gathering and reporting on one hand, give or take a finger. And, I think the listening public is poorer for it.
But, I do think there will always be some sort of role for radio news. The National Association of Broadcasters recently touted a survey that said something like 92% of Americans still consider radio an important part of their lives. 92%. And, I don’t think all of those people are tuning in for music. There will always be a need for local news and information. Yeah, I know the internet is everywhere. Radio will need to continue to evolve to survive. But, I think I’d rather be a radio newsperson than, say, a DJ right about now.
Rick: I know you were with WCKG back in the classic rock days (late 80s, early 90s), but have you heard that the call letters WCKG don't even exist anymore? How do you feel about that?
Steve: 105.9 in Chicago is a CBS sister station of mine, so I hope whatever the company does with that frequency is a huge success! (laughs)
I have to admit, I haven’t carried any great allegiance to the WCKG call letters with me through the years. I worked with a lot of great ones there…Tim Kelly Sabean, Mitch Michaels, Dan Michaels, Patti Haze (photo), Allan Stagg, John Howell, Stephanie Miller – wow, the list goes on! I got to report some big stories while I was at WCKG…the death of Mayor Washington, the election of Mayor Daley, the Great Loop Flood (remember when the river sprung a leak?). I enjoyed my time there, but the call didn’t stay with me when I moved on (especially since the “moving on” part was their decision, not mine.
I think I would be much more devastated if the WLS call letters went away.
Rick: You didn't just read the news when you were news director at WLS, you reported the news. I was looking over some of the stories you covered, and it's really amazing. Talk about some of the highlights, the most rewarding story, the story that gives you the most pride, and the most memorable story...
Steve: Yeah, one of the great things about being news director at a station with a relatively small staff is that you get to do a lot stuff. Of course, when you’re news director at a station with a relatively small staff, you’re also the one who gets those breaking news phone calls at 2am Sunday morning!
I always thought that I was a decent anchor…and, hopefully, a slightly better reporter. For years, I was a much better storyteller from the field than I was from the anchor desk. It’s when I got it through my thick skull that I should anchor with the same mindset I used as a reporter – and stop trying to be some freakin’ Ted Baxter sound-alike – that I got much better as an anchor.
Certainly the biggest story I ever covered was 9-11. I was on the air with Don and Roma on WLS the morning of 9/11/01 – I remember that our lead story until mid-morning that day was that Michael Jordan was plotting another comeback. Then, the world changed. WLS was part of ABC back then, and ABC News Radio asked if I could come to New York to help with their reporting from Ground Zero. Just getting there was tough – no planes were flying, trains were over-sold, buses would take too long…and, you couldn’t find a rental car anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. ABC had had a crew out on an unrelated story in Ohio or somewhere like that…and they were just about to return their rental car in Chicago, when the network found them, and told them to STOP, and bring it to State and Lake. I drove 13 hours from Chicago to Manhattan, stopping only for gas, munchies and the bathroom. I spent eight days reporting from Ground Zero, working alongside then-ABC News Radio correspondent Tim Scheld – who is now my boss at WCBS.
I’ll never forget the sights, sounds and smells of my time at Ground Zero. Fire trucks flattened to just a few feet high…flag-covered stretchers being passed down the debris pile…the acrid smoke and smell of rotting debris…the heroic efforts of rescue crews and volunteers. It was amazing. Now that I’m here, it affects me even more. I may not have been living here when the planes hit the towers…but, now that I am here – combined with my experience of covering the immediate aftermath of 9/11 – I take it very personally. You asked about the “most rewarding” story – does rewarding necessarily have to be a joyful, positive word? After the attacks, most of us wanted to do something to help. I guess reporting from the scene is what I did – trying to paint the picture for radio listeners who weren’t there. So, in that way, it was very rewarding for me.
I went to Bosnia in the mid-1990s, and reported on the peacekeepers there. That was an incredible trip. Houses riddled with pock marks from machine gun fire…other buildings that were completely blown up…mine fields everywhere…gunshots heard in the distance…and refugee kids everywhere – thousands of them. I gained a new appreciation for the over-used term “war torn.”
I also covered the war against Serbia from an aircraft carrier in the Adriatic Sea…and also from Albania, which where many of the refugees from Kosovo fled to. I interviewed many refugees, and heard first-hand about the atrocities they faced. Hearing – and telling – their stories really affected me. I took a lot of pride in that assignment.
Being part of the Illinois press corps that traveled to Cuba with then-Governor George Ryan was absolutely surreal. I mean, we were in Cuba! And, then…to meet up with Fidel Castro on our final day was one of the most bizarre moments of my career. He was in his early 70s then…but had the energy of a man half his age. He talked and talked and talked…out-lasting many of the reporters (or, at least, out-lasting our tapes and batteries!).
Other memories…the terrible Bourbonnais Amtrak crash in 1999. The deadly Lincoln Park porch collapse in 2003. The E2 nightclub stampede, also in 2003. The death of one great mayor, and the rise of another. The fall of at least one governor. And, some really lousy weather – from a deadly heat wave, to killer tornadoes, to a bunch of blizzards.
Rick: You also got to work with some Chicago radio icons. Looking back on it now, which radio personalities in Chicago do you admire the most, and for what reason?
Steve: Well, that list certainly begins with Don and Roma! (Photo) Any discussion of Hall of Fame-quality radio personalities in Chicago over the past quarter century is incomplete if Don and Roma are not on the list. The consistency they have brought to WLS for so long is amazing. Absolutely amazing. I don’t think they’re given enough credit for evolving and adapting to the Chicago radio landscape as it evolved. Remember, Don started as a swinging rock jock in his early days. Roma – who’s mastered more crafts than I have socks (what the heck is a “shrimp pot weaver,” any way, Roma?) – started in radio as a sidekick. As radio in Chicago evolved, so did they. They became a respected and highly-rated talk team. Do you know how hard that is? And, they’ve kept it up for over 20 years! Agree or disagree with their on-air opinions, you can’t argue with the success they’ve had.
You know what I learned from Don and Roma? From the moment I first started working with them as their traffic reporter in 1993, I was amazed by how prepared they were every day. Every day! I mentioned that to Don one time – I asked him how he could always be so “on,” so prepared every morning. I remember that he gave me an incredulous look that said, “How could you not be ready to go every day?” Every day I was on the air with them, I never wanted to be the guy who wasn’t prepared – who had the bad day that messed up their show. They instilled that in me, and I’m grateful to them for that.
As good as they’ve been on the air, Don and Roma are even better people. I wish every one had the chance to meet them and get to know them as I have. They treated Jeanne and me as if we were family. It was very hard to leave them behind when I came here to New York in 2006, but that decision was made easier by the encouragement they gave me to spread my wings and give it a shot at WCBS. I miss them a lot!
Roe Conn is a wonderful talent and a great guy. He is incredibly smart and witty – and, he has an excellent sense of comedic timing. His pairing with Garry Meier, another amazing talent, was lighting in a bottle. Like many of their fans, I keep hoping that the bolt may hit the bottle again someday.
Jonathon Brandmeier is a genius. I’m only sorry that, because I worked mornings my entire 20+ years in Chicago, I rarely got to hear him on the air.
Steve Dahl – he’s made it work for a long time, huh? I see he’s nominated for the Radio Hall of Fame this year. You sure can’t argue with success. And, Steve + Garry = MAGIC!
Doug Banks – an abundance of talent and class!
Two great rock jocks – John Landecker and Dick Biondi. In an age of iPods and other sources of music, these guys are still disc jockeys who make you want to listen to the radio!
Patti Haze. To me, she was the queen of Chicago Rock and Roll radio.
Mitch Michaels. Yeah, Baby!
And, the late Allan Stagg. His “Sanctuary” program was very good radio. He left us too soon.
Rick: What about fellow newscasters?
Steve: John Hultman. Lyle Dean. Jeff Hendrix. Wow. Can I be them when I grow up? Delivery, knowledge, confidence and authority – the full package.
Jim Johnson tells stories extremely well. He can make you forget that you’re listening to a newscast…which, I think, is one of the keys to his success on Roe’s show. It’s seamless. You don’t last 40 years at one station without being really, really good at what you do. Jim is an absolute treasure.
I think Pat Cassidy (photo) is an excellent anchor – great communicator. I’ve always admired his style and delivery.
Bob Roberts is one of the hardest-working guys in town – he’s also very versatile in the stories he can report. Steve Grzanich, when he was in the field, was just outstanding – he filed some real gems. He’s doing a great job as an anchor, too. The political reporters…Bill Cameron, Bob Crawford, David Stewart, Craig Dellimore. You get smarter just talking to those guys. I’m also a big fan of Julie Mann and Andrea Darlas – both very talented.
Remember great names like Neil Parker, Dan Parker, Charlie Meyerson, and Michelle D’Amico? All tremendous radio news people.
I have great admiration for Barry Keefe, who recently exited WTMX. For a newsman to last 30 years at one FM station - especially in this day and age - is incredible. Barry's a great newsman and a wonderful person.
And, of course, the people who made our little WLS newsroom shine for so many years…Jennifer Keiper, Cisco Cotto, Susan Carlson. They always had to work extra hard to try to keep up with the bigger newsrooms (WBBM, WGN, etc.) – they never let me down.
There are so many others. I know I’m forgetting some.
Rick: People also remember you from your days as the public address announcer at the Chicago Bulls games. You must have a few stories from those days...
Steve: I had a blast announcing the Bulls. It’s funny. I spent more than 20 years in Chicago radio…but, to a lot of people, I was “the Bulls’ announcer.”
I started as the Bulls’ backup P.A. announcer the year before they won their first championship…and, I was Ray Clay’s fill-in guy during their entire championship era. I would usually do maybe four to six games a year filling in for Ray. When Ray and the Bulls parted ways, they asked me to be the regular announcer. I really enjoyed it. Whether the team on the floor was good or struggling, we always put on a good show for the fans. Every timeout had something going on…music, a contest, the Luvabulls – it was a great show. I think the fans always had a good time – even during the lean years, when the team was struggling.
Of course, I have great memories of introducing Michael Jordan and that great Bulls championship lineup. I remember Michael’s final appearance as a player at the United Center – that was pretty special. “From North Carolina!!!”
I remember the time Antonio Davis jumped onto and over the scorer’s table – almost stepping on me – to run into the stands when he thought he saw someone bothering his wife. I caught a few errant passes through the years. It was either catch the ball, or get hit in the face! I liked interacting with the players and referees. And, I had a lot of fun working with the other Bulls’ staffers at the scorer’s table. It’s funny – Tommy Edwards was the main PA guy when I started as the backup…and, he took over for me when I left to come to New York. Tommy is the best – he played a huge role in creating the Bulls’ famous introductions.
I’m keeping my hand in it here in New York by announcing some Knicks and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden. I really enjoy it!
Rick: You're the afternoon anchor now at WCBS in New York. How do you like that job and how are you adjusting to life in the Big Apple?
Steve: I love my job! I hope people understand that I didn’t leave WLS because of some sort of problem there – I loved working there. But, an opportunity came along to try something new. I had always been a supporting player on Don and Roma’s show – an important part of the team, but a supporting player. Now, I had a chance to be a main anchor at a station where news is the priority. And, although I think market size is very much overrated, I have to admit there was an allure to giving it a shot on the largest stage.
CBS has been great to me. I work with a great news team here at WCBS. We have some really, really good people…both on and off the air. I think our team is especially good on breaking news stories – we can shift gears and change our focus on a moment’s notice. That’s a lot of fun. (Photo: Steve with John Bolton)
There’s certainly been a learning curve. In addition to learning a new format on a new station, I also had to a whole new geographic area…the names of towns. You don’t want to mispronounce Mamaroneck or Massapequa or Hauppauge on the air – it can kill your credibility. And, since we are big in three states (NY, NJ and CT), you need to know about three governors, three legislatures and three different sets of laws – everything from the death penalty to whether the states allow cameras in courtrooms.
My on-air co-anchor, Wayne Cabot, is a lifelong New Jersey guy who’s been at WCBS for 20 years. He never tires of answering my questions of “where’s this town?” or “how do I pronounce this town?” He has really helped me adjust. I’ve been here since September of 2006…and, I’m finally not feeling like “the new guy” any more.
And, working in the CBS Broadcast Center is pretty cool. You never know who you may see walking the halls…Katie Couric, Andy Rooney, correspondents from the CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes or 48 Hours Mystery – you could bump into any of them. Katie comes on the air with us every day – that’s fun. Oh, Guiding Light films in our building, too – we see them in the cafeteria sometimes.
As for New York – it’s a great city! The restaurants, theater, nightlife, etc. are all very cool. We hit Broadway shows quite often – we’ve seen some wonderful shows. There is something about New York City – I guess you either like it or you don’t. I took to it right away. It’s very fast-paced. You walk at a brisk pace, just to keep up with the crowds on the sidewalk. Then, when you go to another city, you can’t figure out why every one is walking so slowly! There really is an energy in New York that is unlike anywhere else I’ve been.
We live in New Jersey, right on the Hudson River, directly across from lower Manhattan. We look across the river into NYC from our balcony, and the back door to our building opens directly to a lovely riverwalk. I never used public transit a whole lot in Chicago, because we lived downtown. Now that we’re in the suburbs, my wife and I both take ferries across the river to work (we can also take trains). So, it’s very convenient. The public transit here is great. We’ve gotten to be pretty good at getting around town via the subway. Driving in Manhattan can be a little crazy, but we do it when we have to – it’s not that bad.
Rick: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans in Chicago?
Steve: Fans? Well, I don’t know about that. But, to any one who remembers me, I would like to say that I enjoyed my 20+ years in Chicago. It’s a great city, and I met a lot of wonderful people – it’s where I met my wife! I also had a chance to work with a lot of fantastic radio people. To those with whom I worked…and, to those who listened through the years…thank you!
I hope they’ll keep listening to the radio. Sure, it’s a difficult time for the industry, and there’s a lot of competition for the listener’s attention. But, radio – when done right – is local, immediate and intimate. That’s what has kept the medium viable for nearly 90 years. And, if you happen to patronize an advertiser on your favorite radio station, please tell them you heard their commercial on the air – and that’s why you’re there. Radio advertising still works – but every bit of reinforcement helps!
Finally, if any one would like to say hello, I hope they’ll drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s always nice to hear from old friends!