Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dan McNeil

Updated 8/29/09


I've spoken to Dan many times over the years, and got an update from him after he left his job at ESPN. This summer he returned to the Score, and now hosts the mid-morning show with Matt Spiegel. I asked him how it was going...

DAN: I'm pleased with the direction the new show has taken. It feels comfortable and I wouldn't have anticipated that in such short order. You never know how these things will go. It's not a predictable thing. Spiegel is all I thought he'd be and I had high expectations from the lad. He pushes when it's the right time and can 'drive' it from time to time. I've never had that from a partner and it's refreshing. We also laugh a lot. With each other and with the audience. The Score needed an infusion of joy.

UPDATED: 3/7/09

When I interviewed Dan McNeil in 2008, he was the co-host of "Mac, Jurko & Harry," one of Chicago's top rated afternoon shows. In one of the more shocking moves of recent years, he was replaced by Carmen DeFalco a few months later...

Dan: I've had a few conversations with several companies and those talks will continue. I haven't been offered a position yet, just doing the 'getting to know you' kind of thing. I wouldn't say there is a front runner. It's an exciting time,trying to re-invent yourself. The next show will be much different in a handful of ways, partner or partners being only one of them.

Radio is in a tricky place right now, not unlike many other industries. I keep hearing that local radio is dead. That's crap. It's changed and dramatically, but traditional radio always will be in demand, especially in big markets. Local radio is not dead. It only has been forced to get better because there are so many alternatives. Podcasting, streaming and blogging all will be a part of the next project, but the over-the-air product will remain top priority.

The most satisfying thing about this time on the beach has been the volume of correspondence with former co-workers and other colleagues in the business. Nice to know there are people out there who respect what you've done and want to be a part of the next gig. Guess I'm not the monster an executive or two have led people to believe.

The original interview follows...

Dan McNeil hosts the "Mac, Jurko & Harry Show" every afternoon on ESPN AM 1000 along with his co-hosts John Jurkovich and Harry Teinowitz. I've previously written about Dan in his early days at the Score ('93) and his early days at ESPN ('04). This is the first time I've interviewed him for Chicago Radio Spotlight.

Rick: How are you guys getting along these days?

Dan: It’s a unit of push and pull. We’ve managed to handle our rifts better while we’re on, but we all are quirky and often irritable. It gets dicey… sometimes contentious off the air. We do a better job than we used to when it comes to airing our grievances with one another and then moving on.

Rick: How would you describe everyone's role on the show?

Dan: I’m the front man, for better or for worse. I set up the dialogue, direct the content, the traffic. Depending on the topic, I throw it to either Jurk or to Harry. I lean on Jurk more during football season and Harry more during the summer. We’ve got a good mix of interests. I don’t think there’s a sport or a hobby that at least one of us doesn’t enjoy. The ‘Surgeon of Sound,’ Ben Finfer, is incredibly valuable. He’s the best at what he does, which is ‘play radio’ with soundbytes, music, movies, show highlights. He and executive producer Danny Zederman do a good job keeping us ‘younger.’ It’s a functional five-man band.

Rick: Will the people meter have any effect on how you do your show?

Dan: Not sure just yet if it’ll play a role… other than having to spend more time in meetings with management about ways we can overanalyze the data.

Rick: Over the years you've had a few famous feuds with guys like Chet Coppock, Mike North, and Harry. Now Chet is working at the same station, you recently had Mike North on after he was fired, and you and Harry haven't had any major altercations in awhile. Are you mellowing with age?

Dan: I’d like to think I’m more mature than I was during a lot of that stuff. And I’m not sure how ‘famous’ those feuds are. There are tons of guys in this business who don’t like each other. I’ve just been more of an open book about it. When I observe assholish behaviors, I’m not reluctant to share it on my show and let the chips falls where they may. And if somebody fires on me, bully for them. It’s give and take… mix it up. I like the heat sometimes.

Rick: I don't think I've ever talked to you about your radio heroes. Who has had the biggest influence on you, and who do you admire the most?

Dan: I’ve worked for and with a lot of talented people. I admired Steve Dahl (photo) a lot when I started at the Loop in ’88. From him, I observed many things I should do, and a few things I shouldn’t. Alan Freed, who died broke many years ago because he refused to succumb to ‘industry standards’ as he blazed the trail for rock’n’roll radio, was an amazing dude. Chuck Swirsky and Chet Coppock taught me the ropes as I was cutting my teeth. I’ve had several great co-hosts and some terrific producers.

Rick: Do you consider yourself a sports guy doing radio or a radio guy doing sports?

Dan: Can I be both? When I was kicking ass in the Highland Little League in the early ‘70s, I also was writing about sports and doing play-by-play of Blackhawks games I was watching on TV while talking into a cassette recorder. I guess I’m both a jock and a geek.

Rick: I know you used to consider Steve Dahl your biggest competition in the afternoon. Now that he's doing mornings, which shows on the radio dial are your biggest competitors?

Dan: There are a lot of guys rockin’ on those expressways during the afternoon commute. The Loop and the Drive are consistently solid performers in the adult male demo. And ‘GN draws an enormous bump when the Cubs play day games at Wrigley.

Rick: As someone who fights for the cause of Autism awareness, what are your thoughts about the recent comments by talk show host Michael Savage? (He said: “Now you want me to tell you my opinion on autism since I’m not talking about autism … a fraud, a racket. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them don’t act like a moron, you’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up! Act like a man! Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.’")

Dan: Savage (photo) likely said that just to get people talking about him. He succeeded. If he truly believes that, he is an ignorant, insensitive man and I’d enjoy slapping him. He possesses the privilege of getting a public forum to express his ideas and opinions and should treat that right with more reverence.

Rick: How much longer are you signed for at ESPN, and do you think this is your final radio destination?

Dan: Under contract until the spring of ’10. For the first time in 16 ½ years of afternoons, I’m flirting with the idea of a different day part... if anybody would have me. This is a good thing here right now. I don’t know what I want for lunch today so it’s tough to predict what may happen in two years.