Saturday, March 07, 2009

Spotlight Update

After many of years of stability, the radio landscape in Chicago has undergone some drastic changes over the past year or two. At least a dozen or more of my interview subjects have changed stations, time slots, or markets. I contacted many of them this week to see how things are going with them now...

Some are looking for new opportunities...

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.

When I interviewed Stan in 2007, he was the co-host of the Stan & Terry show on WCKG. When the talk format was dropped, Stan & Terry were among the victims there...

Stan: After WCKG flipped in October 2007, Terry Armour and I tried to find a new radio home for our show. Our agent advised us to sit tight, and something would probably open up in the spring (2008). When Terry died unexpectedly on 27 December 2007, I decided to take a job out of the media. I've been working as a project manager for a small engineering firm in Oak Brook, IL.

Take One Video Productions (630-953-8030) recorded the entire Terry Armour Birthday/Memorial Service, and has made it available on DVD. The celebration would have been in Terry's wheel house, and I was honored to be a part of the event. I gave Terry a lot of crap because his so-called "buddy" Russell Crowe always had an excuse for not calling into our show. I have to eat crow because the man came through for Terry. Here's the link if you'd like to order a copy.

At Terry Armour's memorial service, Dean Richards invited me to sit-in on his Sunday morning WGN radio show. After being on Dean's show in November, I got a chance to sit-in with Bob and Marianne Sirott for a special Oscar's movie review, also on WGN.

Thanks to the support of Dean Richards and Bob and Marianne Sirott, I have an on-air audition Saturday, 14 March 2009, from 09:00am - Noon, on WGN 720 AM, with Dan Deibert.

Some are adjusting to new schedules...

When I interviewed Leslie Keiling in 2007, she was the afternoon traffic anchor at WGN. When Spike O'Dell retired, John Williams got the morning slot and brought Leslie along with him....

Leslie: I've been on this shift since December, and I still worry constantly about sleeping through the alarm. 3:15 is just an unnatural time to wake up. That said, I'm setting three alarms, but getting up as soon as the first one goes off. I promised myself early on that I would not succumb to the urge to hit the snooze alarm.

Besides, I honestly look forward to heading to work. John Williams is really committed to making this morning show something special. His attitude's downright infectious, and I can't help but want to be part of it.

(NOTE: Mary VanDeVelde is the one who switched time slots with Leslie. I will interview her next week for Chicago Radio Spotlight)

When I interviewed Julian in 2008, he was doing the night slot at B-96. A few months later Eddie & Jobo were fired, and Julian suddenly found himself co-hosting the morning show with JNiice...

Julian: Well, with the move to Mornings lets just say my RESPECT level has risen to the Nth degree to anyone who performs this daypart! It's definitely exciting to be able to express one's personality a bit more opposed to over a song intro BUT I won't BS ya and say its been a walk in the park.

With that said, I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world right now. I love the battle and have always been a soldier in the trenches. When you've worked solo your entire career and now involved in a multi-person situation there is a definite learning curve in regard to "thought process", character building, and just getting things its just a matter of time when things come full circle.

Its the biggest challenge in my life right now and I'm learning about myself more and more everyday. I continue to strive to work the hardest possible and appreciate anyone who is willing to listen.

When I interviewed Geoff Pinkus late last year he was doing a Sunday night show on WIND. He is now the full-time overnight host at the station (Mid-4AM). His producer is former Stan & Terry producer Bonnie Sporn.

Geoff: Chicago Overnight has really been a great experience. We're getting calls from true third shifters, we hear from people on their way to work, on their way home. Because we're on a political station, we do talk the talk, but we're not restricted to one perspective and that's what our listeners seem to like.

Our listeners include the voices of true Chicagoans; policemen who want to vent, insomniacs that have found a friend, and truck drivers that need the companionship and more. Our guests are lively and informative; we had Vic Guistino, aka The Professor, give us the history of Chicago with all the nitty gritty stories, we had James Laski explain his personal sabotage with the dirty games of Chicago politics, and then we've also had bar owners telling us their 3am drink specials.

The discovery of this new sub-culture of late nighters has been exciting and beneficial for both the host and we think the audience as well.

Some have brand new gigs...

When I spoke to Kevin last summer he was with Audience Development Group, a consulting firm. A few months later he was named program director of 106.5 The Arch in St. Louis...

Kevin: The new opportunity at 106-5 The Arch is going extremely well. This is the most successful Adult Hits brand by any yardstick in the country. The latest trend delivered #1 25-54 for the month and is trending up over the last three trends! The difference is that THIS Adult Hits station followed a customized blueprinted for St. Louis, not national success.

It also presents a foreign opportunity for me. Every one of my previous station-level programming call-ups were rescue missions. Stations which needed immediate triage care and eventually rebounded. At 106-5 The Arch, I've inherited a wonderful brand populated by excellent professionals at every level. My job - don't mess it up!

Plus, Bonneville is a wonderful company that has values in line with my own. Far more than the bottom line, Bonneville honors their people as their most valuable resource - above all. Nice to see that in this or any climate.

The previous 2 1/2 years has taught me that of the 11,000+ radio stations in our country, the best ideas are developing out of local, small market properties. Free of the encumbrance of publicly-traded, corporate mis-steps, the nimble owner-operated brands are producing truly great radio for their markets.

For years, smaller markets were often scoffed at for sounding - 'small market'. You and I evolved out of small markets. Now, in this environment of large-market cookie-cutter formats and nationalized talent syndication, the small market station is emerging as the place many long to return be, in order to reclaim their craft.

And sadly we lost a few local treasures, like Terry Armour, Paul Harvey, Eddie Schwartz, and...

I never interviewed Norm about his radio career for this blog, but his former producer at WMVP, Tom Serritella, wrote a tribute to Norm for my daily blog. I thought it was quite touching. You can read that here: Remembering Norm.

Next week I'll be back with a brand new interview.