Saturday, February 28, 2009

Maura Myles

UPDATED 9/13/10

Maura Myles now co-hosts the morning show at WLS-FM with Dave Fogel. I caught up with her to ask how she likes the new gig...

Maura: Would have to say it's been surreal, to reach what I had always thought of as my dream job... mornings, on (I can hear the jingle in my head!) "Musicradio WLS" - and in the Catherine Johns position (I had just idolized her - and the way she represented that a girl could grow up to do something so cool). So honored that Scott Shannon and Michael Damsky let me do it.

It's also been a fun change, after listening to very much political discourse (on the AM)... and very much, only one side of the issue, each time.

But, I have been surprised, for both better and worse, to find that the big hits, which we grew up with, still rock us, so well (old and young!)... but the way in which they are packaged is still so very guy-announcer-oriented... almost like Mad Men, if they had continued on in advertising, virtually unchanged by time... LOL.

The original interview follows...

Maura Myles is the midday anchor and traffic reporter at WLS Radio. She also co-hosts the weekend show "Women of Mass Discussion" with Wendy Snyder on WLS.

Rick: First of all, I have to ask you about your WLS weekend show because I love the name of the show so much...Women of Mass Discussion. You co-host it with Wendy Snyder. How would you describe that show to people who haven't heard it before?

Maura: Do you love the name? Pretty creative! I can't take credit for it - only the concept. Wendy (photo) is one of the top Chicago talents, ever - and underrated, & underutilized, I believe. And you really can't let Rick Kaempfer interview you, without mentioning or crediting Wendy Snyder... it's tradition, right? (laughs) I was a big fan of Wendy & Buzz, middays on the old 'CKG. I will admit that's the only show I ever called in to, besides Bob Sirott on WLS, when I was a kid. And that's radio love, right there.

Kipper McGee came up with the name, while he programmed WLS... kind of like a secret weapon, right? Always grateful that he took a chance on us. And it conveniently stands for Wendy, Maura, Dorothy, as well as Weapons of Mass Destruction or Women of Mass Discussion. Dorothy is still one of my closest friends - such a doll - and a tremendous talent, in her own right. She's actually a brilliant content-producer and manager, hiding behind the cutest voice ever.

If you haven't heard us before, I'd say you're in for a mess - a yummy, odd, intriguingly good mess! It's really very much like a favorite of ours: the Roe Conn Show on WLS... or like Seinfeld's "show about nothing"... the conversations you end up having, while you're trying to have the first one. And it's that table at the bar you want to walk over to... we're having fun. Or we're really, really into something.

It's also a little rebellious, without meaning to be... it's just that you rarely hear a show without a male lead... don't get me wrong - I LOVE MEN! It's just that Kathy & Judy, and my dear friend Melissa Forman, are about the only female leads in this mega-market. Isn't that odd? Women are half the population, and make most purchasing decisions for households... but aren't yet heard on radio here, as much as they are in real homes or offices or stores. Silly.

Rick: As you mentioned, that show was put together by previous program director Kipper McGee. How are things going these days with the new sheriff in town; former WGN program director Bob Shomper.

Maura: You know, it's funny, and it's true - after several years working here, you mostly know everyone in our little Chicago radio business, or your close friend knows the person you don't. It's like that with Bob (photo) - old friends like Mary Vandevelde or Leslie Keiling have gotten to enjoy working with him, but I've just met him - and heard only good things.

When you get to the level where you run a WGN or a WLS, you've shown you have some kind of a big clue about how this all works - and it shows. That's true with Bob as it was/is with Kipper. Great guys. I like when the programmers program, and they let us anchors ank... Or hosts host... you know? On top of programming, he's great with guidance and organization and diplomacy - that's all you can ask for. It's an honor for me, to work at my favorite station ever, with the folks who know their stuff.

Rick: Anyone who listens to WLS, even occasionally, has heard your voice on the air there. You do the local inserts on Rush Limbaugh's show, but you're also a part of the Mancow & Cassidy show. Mancow & Cassidy are still getting their sea legs beneath them, but that really is a radio's oddest couple. I know you're not physically in the studio with them, but how do you feel that show is developing, and how has that transition gone for you personally?

Maura: I love Mancow & Cassidy. I never would have put them together - I'm not sure they would have, either! But they are truly the Odd Couple. I was so honored, well, first of all, that they pulled me into this - still am. Then, I was tickled-to-death to hear them use the Odd Couple theme, that first day... because I told Kipper that's all I could hear in my head, when I heard Erich and Pat together. It's brilliant - like peanut butter & jelly or Burns & Allen or the northwoods and Tab.

Plus, I've had the pleasure and honor of working with Pat (photo) at WMAQ - it's WONDERFUL to get to hear what he actually thinks of the news, now... the insightful and brilliantly informed questions he can ask, now that he's not mindcuffed by "newsradio" formatics. Didn't you always wonder what Pat actually thought of this world, as he told us all about it?! I sure did. He brings welcome, laid back common sense to any discussion.

And Erich is symphonic-conductor-genius. If you've never seen how a fully-involved, morning-show type of shift is actually orchestrated, you'd be amazed at what's accomplished, behind the scenes. But "Mancow" takes this to a truly sophisticated level of engineering, theatre, personnel management and timing - both literal and comedic. He's firing on 12 cylinders while the rest of the world prides itself on 8.

That makes each day fun for me, because I'm challenged to keep learning, and to "play up." Just like tennis, the best way to improve your game, and really have fun, is to play with the folks who play better.

And I've been blessed to work with Jerry Agar (photo), as well. He brought WLS to the number one position on the AM dial, in middays. Though we disagree, generally, politically, I love that guy. Jerry's got a great heart, a passion for people - he really wants to make this world better.

Rick: I appeared on the Jerry Agar show a few times while you were co-hosting. Whenever the Democrats did something he disagreed with (which was often), he brought you on to defend it because you were the official show liberal. Did working on that show sharpen your debating skills, and how politically interested were you before you started working with Jerry?

Maura: Rick, WAS I REALLY THE OFFICIAL "SHOW LIBERAL"?! (laughs) Oh, that's so sad - because I would have LOVED to have taken that on, for real. Good manners, protocol, old fashioned decorum - pick whatever you like - have kept me from "bringing it," when the show doesn't bear my name. That was Jerry's show - on a conservative station - so, my roll was simply to 1) foil, 2) report news, or 3) offer comic relief...all good.

But, yes, Jerry and WLS have indeed sharpened my skills, I believe (and "miles to go, before I sleep"! - still / always improvement to make!). I confess I've always been politically interested, but hadn't thought I'd move into political debate as part of my career in my beloved radio.

Rick: I interviewed Melissa Forman a few years ago and she mentioned you as one of her radio idols. Her exact quote was: "She was the first great female co-host I heard who wasn't a giggly side-chick, and she had great chemistry with her partner. I wanted her job, I wanted that feeling." Is there anyone in radio that inspired you similarily when you were first starting out?

Maura: Melissa Forman (photo)- what a great talent she is, and a sweet person. As with so many of the performers who prove really great, tested & true over time, Melissa has that gift of bringing real smarts and skill to a huge and high-pressure task, while making it seem effortless, natural and just plain fun. For Melissa to say that I inspired her in any way is a happy honor. She inspires me, too - she did when I first heard her work, about 18 years ago.

Though we're only a couple of years apart, she came on as an intern with WLRW in Champaign, while Steve Grzanich (now WBBM) and I were working with John McKeighan. It was clear to all of us that she was incredibly talented. When I had to quit "John & Maura in the Morning" to start married life, she was the only person I could wholeheartedly recommend for my job. And Saga had flown in some "co-hosts" (translation: female radio hosts) from much bigger markets, to interview, but Melissa shined brightest - even back then.

I wonder if folks realize how many truly great women help them laugh or learn something each day, thanks to radio. I'd love to get friends like Melissa, Kathy Hart (photo), Bonnie Greene - I could go ON & ON & ON - all together, for some really fun WMD shows... but contracts will not allow that. Ah well.

I'm just thrilled that I get to sit in the same seat as my favorite Catherine Johns once filled for WLS, and try to honor her, and Karen Hand, and all the great women who've inspired me. Guys have, too! It's just that, when I was 7, and first loving BTO's "Takin' Care of Business," and falling in love with radio, I didn't hear a lot of roles for girls. So the voices of these amazing women were keenly heard by my heart.

Rick: You've been in radio now for more than 20 years, and you've worked in just about every different format; from the Loop (with Pete McMurray in the mornings) to the Fish (Christian rock/with my good buddy Tom Sochowski) to US-99 (as a country music jock) to WLS-Talk radio. Which format has been the best fit for you over the years?

Maura: Wow, Rick, you couldn't just soft-pitch it, could you? (Laughs) What a tough question. Sometimes, I felt challenged to have to keep wearing different hats to stay employed - but mostly I feel blessed that I've gotten to enjoy so many different ways of trying to encourage, inform or bring laughter.

Pete, MY BUDDY, will always be treasured - LOVE working with him. Talk about a talent - in the form of Brandmeier - phenomenal.
And I've been blessed to work with over 30 different top-notch hosts, from Big John & Ramblin' Ray to Steve Downes, to Dave Fogel, to Pete, to Jerry, to Wendy & on & on.

My heart is so happy when I can share my favorite country music with you from inside the big speakers at US 99. And I hold dear the public trust in me to bring unbiased, concise news of the day. But my most rewarding work of all, has absolutely been to host mornings at "The Fish" (Bloop, bloop!). Talk about great people to work with: Tom, Abby Ryan, Eric Zapchenk and the rest - the best. And though I am simply a spiritual deist who wants us all to be good to each other - as opposed to what some folks call a "thumper" - I was humbly thrilled to try to provide respite or laughter or thoughtful consideration to any one who may have needed that little bit of encouragement, that particular day they heard me try to offer it.

Rick: Do you have a few favorite radio memories from your various different stops along the radio dial?

I treasure so many - but flubbing my own name, on WMAQ, because I felt my first baby (Dillon - who's now a "Baby Van Halen" at 14) kick for the first time... that's one of them. Or when Jim Frank (God rest him) announced my second baby's birth (Quincy - who's now a "Baby Urlacher" at 11) with the TV theme "Quincy M.E."... that's another. I sure loved laughing with Fogie on the Mix.

I even loved when Steve Dahl would roast me, almost daily, at about 2pm... he challenged me to do better work... and he's just really, really smart and funny.

But maybe the best of all is this one:
About 20 years ago, my father was a regular contributor to Don & Roma, on WLS. He suggested they name their sailboat outing the "Gotta," like slang for regatta... so they thoughtfully included him; and he thoughtfully included me, as his daughter-date. I had just been picked by Nick Farella (God rest him) for an internship at WXLC in Waukegan - but hadn't yet really started my radio journey. Well, I was simply mesmerized by the masterful work of the Wades on the waves. And then it happened. Roma called me to the microphone, put her arm around me, and offered me a beautiful poem to read ON WLS...WLS!!! I'll never forget it, as long as I live... and I can't believe that moment - thanks to the love and thoughtfulness of others - has brought me full-circle to this moment, when I may treasure my own work on WLS, still treasure Don & Roma on WLS (tremendous!), and hopefully honor the treasured memories of my great dad.

Rick: Over the years you've done your part of the show live in the studio with your co-hosts, and remotely from the Metro studios. When I interviewed Leslie Keiling about this a few years ago, she said she kind of liked not being live on site during her Steve & Garry days, but that it was challenging from a performance standpoint. What are the pros and cons of each from your perspective?

Maura: You know, Leslie's got it right, on both counts, I think. Plus, when you're removed from the simmering inside-politics of these high-profile stations, there's a little more job security. But you're also not fully immersed in the work. When you love what you do, that matters much. I should point out that Metro Networks and Shadow Broadcast Services provided lots of talented folks with good, regular work, when deregulation began to seriously take that away, about 15 years ago. Some people think that's a relatively new problem... it's not... it just finally made it up from the trenches to the mega-managers. Now we're all multi-tasked to the gills.

Rick: I mentioned this to you when I asked you to do this interview, but it really is strange isn't it? We know all the same people, and we've worked at some of the same stations and markets for twenty plus years, and we've even been on the air together, but we've never met.

Maura: It's the strangest - yet it's become modus operandi for so many of us... The whole time I worked with Steve Downes (photo), each time I've gotten to work with Kevin Matthews, John Landecker & so many other great people (including you!), I never laid eyes on 'em.

But that's the great thing about radio, isn't it, Rick? You create the whole picture in your head, anyway! So, our friendship (yes, we may claim it!), may be one of the most rewarding and entertaining BECAUSE we have not physically met... I can remain tall and blonde - or whatever I am for you... and you can be that fabulously sexy brain & brawn which I have concocted. Deal?

That's, I think, what got us into this whole beautiful mess, in the first place.
; )