Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jack Silver

Updated 9/5/09


I interviewed former WLUP Program Director Jack Silver earlier this year, just after he was let go by his radio station in Los Angeles. He got a new gig this summer, so I checked back in to find out more...

Jack: I'm back with CBS Radio Los Angeles as Director of Integrated Marketing and Promotions for Classic Hits K Earth 101 and Smooth AC 94.7 The Wave. It's a chance to use my sales skills while integrating clients into live events, broadcasts and other non traditional revenue ops. I like it a lot and both stations are huge in Southern California.

The original interview follows...

Jack Silver is a 30-year radio veteran, most recently as program director of KLSX radio in Los Angeles. In the early 90s, he was the program director of AM 1000, The Loop in Chicago.

Rick: You’ve been out in LA a long time now, but you grew up here in Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this before...but who did you listen to as a kid?

Jack: Easy one. I was a big WLS and WCFL fan. I’m 51, so we’re talking about the 60s and early 70s. I loved Kris Erik Stevens (photo), Larry Lujack, Joel Sebastian, really all of the guys at both of those stations. I would hang out and watch them doing their thing. In those days they’d actually let you do that. My buddies and I would watch from the windows at 360 N. Michigan for awhile (WLS), and then we would go over to Marina City (WCFL). I was always more into the jocks than I was into the music. All the big top 40 guys.

My brother and his friends would listen to WXRT and WVVX, which I think was out of Highland Park, but I never really liked that. They were into the music, and they would give me a hard time about listening to those “bubble gum tunes.” But it wasn’t about the music for me. It was those guys on the air. I’ve been real fortunate over time to get to know a lot of them. Kris Stevens, for instance, lives near me out here in LA, and we’ve become friends.

Rick: You were in the news recently when CBS blew up the talk station you were programming in LA, KLSX, and turned it into a top-40 station. Were you surprised by that? I looked at the numbers and I have to tell you, I couldn’t believe they blew it up. The numbers were very respectable.

Jack: I’m glad you said that, because if you really looked at it, and you knew what you were looking at—which you obviously do, that’s a fair assessment. You would think why in the world did they do that? We really did figure out the people meter, unlike some of the other talk stations that didn’t make it. It was more of a financial decision to pull the plug—it wasn’t the ratings. Was it a shock? No, not really. I knew about all of the deliberations happening behind the scenes, even though I didn’t agree with the decision. I wish them the best.

Rick: I read somewhere, and I wish I could remember where I read it because I was unable to find it in my preparation for this interview, but you were quoted somewhere as saying that hiring Johnny B for your station in LA was the biggest mistake you made out there. Was that an accurate quote or is my mind just playing games with me?

Jack: Thanks for asking about that. Let me clarify. The final days of KLSX were very emotional. I was on the air here one of those final days, and people were making fun of me, questioning what I had done in my career--which is fine, it was part of the job. In defending myself, what I actually said was that over the years I have had some great successes, and some non-successes. I named Brandmeier as one of the non-successes, but not because I don’t think Johnny is great.

The situation he was in here was just completely backwards. He was on the air live in Chicago (from LA), but in LA he wasn't live--he was on tape delay after Howard’s show. It made absolutely no sense, and I’m sure Johnny (photo) would agree with that.

It wasn’t a mistake to hire Johnny, and give him the chance to do it, but it wasn’t fair for him on the LA side of the equation. He was completely unable to connect to LA because he wasn’t talking to the LA listeners personally—-the listeners calling in were from Wisconsin and Chicago but not really here. It didn’t translate—but it wasn’t his fault. If he had to do it all over, I’m sure he wouldn’t agree to that backwards way of doing it again. And when I said it was a mistake, I was only referring to that. I’d hire him again in a second, under the right circumstances. Doing mornings on the Loop in Chicago, now that’s where he should be.

Rick: Your LA station isn’t the only FM talk station that was blown up. WCKG was dismantled here in Chicago too. Is this the final nail in the FM Talk coffin, or do you think it’s possible it will make a comeback?

Jack: I believe talk radio on FM does work. Whether it’s in the mode of our station, which really was patterned after the old Loop-- morning shows all day long, or like an AM station on FM—which is working in some markets, like sports or whatever. The truth of the matter is, we just didn’t execute the Free-FM plan very well, and that is probably what temporarily has killed FM talk.

We had to put 37 morning shows on at once. We also flipped several stations at the same time, and to be totally honest, the people we had in place in some of these markets, just weren’t able to execute the plan. Whether it was David Lee Roth (photo), or Rover, or the guys running those stations, too many of them didn’t pan out. That was the problem. It absolutely can succeed with the right people and the right situation. It’s not dead.

You know this, Rick. Radio is a very cyclical business. In a couple of years it will be back. In a lot of ways, talk is the perfect format for this new era. Our station was #2 in streaming in our whole company. It makes sense to stream when you have big time talent giving you something you can’t get on an iPod. No one’s gonna stream B-96, because there’s no reason to. I love the station, but you know what I’m saying. The music is already out there.

Rick: For a few years now you’ve had your own consulting company which specializes in advising morning shows. Are you planning on doing that full-time now?

Jack: I started the company like 12 or 13 years ago. Yes, it’s true, I’m trying to revive that, and now that I’ve had this experience with talk radio, I’d like to expand beyond morning shows, and work with shows of all kinds. If anyone’s interested, I am available. You can reach me at and I can forward information about the kinds of services I provide. If you look at the list of people I’ve worked with over the years, you can see that I have some idea of what I’m doing.

Rick: Are you also looking for a regular full-time gig?

Jack: Yes. I’m talking to a bunch of different people right now. I must admit I feel most at home in a radio station, but I’m meeting with television people too. Luckily I’ve got some time, so I’m not in a mad rush. I am actively looking, but I’m getting married soon, and my youngest son is still in high school out here, so I’m not really interested in moving out of the market.

Rick: People in Chicago obviously remember you from your time at AM 1000. You were the program director of the station during its personality talk era, and you were on the air all the time with Kevin Matthews, Steve & Garry, et al. I know that’s a role you’re comfortable with because you’ve done it your whole career—including most recently with the Adam Carolla show. What do you think are the pros and cons of being such a public program director?

Jack: No cons. Zero cons. One of the things I learned is that the listeners have a boss too, so if you become a boss that can be made fun of, the listeners seem to absolutely love that. I probably met more of the listeners than any other program director, because they knew me. (In LA, they called me Jack-S, or jackass). This whole radio thing is about the listeners, and when you put yourself out there, they go out of their way to meet you. The guys that sit in the offices and don’t get out there are usually the guys who never been on the air, and don’t really understand what a personality is thinking or what they’re dealing with, that moment of panic that can set in when you’re not 100% what you’re going to say next. If you haven’t had that, haven’t experienced that, what good are you?

Jimmy DeCastro (photo), Larry Wert, and all those guys at the Loop in Chicago, they totally got that. There was no con in it. If you’ve ever spent any time in public with Danny Bonaduce, he’s a perfect example of the right mindset. I hired Danny in Chicago and LA, and now he’s in Philly, but going to an airport with Danny is an experience. It takes him a half hour just to get to his car because people stop him every few seconds. When you ask him about it, he always says: “These people pay my salary. I will take all day talking to them if necessary.” He means it too. Some of those other guys who don’t want to be bothered might be missing the big picture there.

Rick: You’ve already touched on this briefly, but I wanted to go back to something. I know you were a big part of CBS programming during the immediate post-Howard Stern era. Looking back on that time now, do you think the company should have done that differently?

Jack: You’re right, I was part of the brain trust, so I have blood on my hands from that fiasco as well. Here’s the way I look at it. There were really only three ways to go.

1) Pick one show to replace Howard Stern.
2) What we did do—go with regionalized shows
3) Local shows in every market.

That third choice. That’s what we should have done. That’s what I was fighting for behind the scenes. I suggested Dahl in Chicago. Adam in LA, Opie & Anthony in NY, etc. There were local options in every market. But they didn’t want to do it. They wanted the big splash.

Rick: You were the producer of the Rick Dees show in LA before you came back home to work at the Loop. I remember you used to tell the producers here in Chicago a few stories about your days with that show, just to make them feel better about the daily humiliations they had to endure. Is there any way I can convince you to share one of those publicly?

Jack: The one I always tell was the one that made me change my career trajectory. Rick Dees (photo) and I were in Florida at Disney World doing a live broadcast. The sun was rising in the sky and barreling onto Rick’s back and at one point, he looked at me and asked if I would mind standing behind him to block the sun. That was an eye-opening moment for me. I didn’t want to be a 31-year-old sun shield.

I actually went home after that broadcast and called Jimmy (DeCastro) and Larry (Wert). They had told me that if I ever wanted to join them in Chicago to let them know—and that was the moment I decided I wanted to pursue it. This isn’t a slam on Rick. Rick is actually a great guy. They all have their quirks—it’s what makes them the guys in the spotlight and us the guys in the background—but I decided that wasn’t the way I wanted to go anymore.