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.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rob Hart

UPDATED January 2012


Rick: When I last spoke with you, you were a member of the WGN Radio news staff. Now you're the morning co-anchor at FM News 101.1. How has that transition gone for you?

Rob: One day I'm going to write a book about the early days of Merlin Media. Because I've got plenty of good stories. I left WGN at the end of June. I spent the first two weeks at my new job working out of conference rooms. I arrived at the Merchandise Mart on a Friday morning....eight hours after the Q101 DJ's, past and present, signed off with a wild party. The studio was awash in empty liquor bottles, beer cans, beer bottles, and bottles of champagne. I wasn't at WGN anymore. It was a sign that my new gig was going to be....different.

It's been a hell of a lot of fun. The station's early growing pains have been well documented. But what can I say? News/talk radio stations are complex entities that take a long time to gel. Thankfully, we had the right manager to keep us positive. The first couple of days of the format were so bad, they are best heard through a pinhole in a paper plate. Even so, Andy Friedman (our supervisor, for lack of a better word) told the troops they were doing good work, and that things would only get better.

You know what? Things did get better. An ill-conceived and poorly executed attempt at "lifestyle news" was jettisoned in late September. Our technical capabilities and procedures came together in a matter of weeks...and now we have ourselves a darn fine radio station. We are first on breaking news more often than not. We had dozens of guests during our three hours of commercial-free coverage of the Blagojevich sentencing hearing. I'm looking forward to flexing our muscles during the first big snowfall.

We don't have much of an audience - yet. But we all know news/talk formats take a long time to build. We have managers who know this. Andy Friedman was around for the first days of the talk format at KFI in Los Angeles. Our executive producer, Diana Bodkins, helped launch the talk format at WLS in 1989. In both cases, it took years to catch on with the audience. It will take time. Thankfully, everyone involved in Merlin has plenty of patience.

I love this job. I love the fact that you have the opportunity to do great things every day. I love the idea that we are building something that could be around for a very long time. I'm well aware of the fact that some people in the industry are rooting for us to fall on our asses. That would be a very bad thing for radio in this town. If Merlin is successful, it will demonstrate to the world at large that local radio is a worthwhile investment. If not...we're back to where we were: tired music formats, syndicated talk shows, and a radio environment that punishes risk. Who wants that?

The original interview follows...

Rob Hart is a reporter and anchor at WGN Radio

Rick: I'm a big fan of the quality reporting coming out of the WGN newsroom--one of only two actual newsrooms still functioning in Chicago radio as far as I can tell. (In order to qualify, you need at least five full-timers). How would you describe your role in that newsroom?

Rob: Four days out of the week, I am the morning reporter. You can hear me on the street during the John Williams Show. I'm the guy at O'Hare on the day before Thanksgiving. During the Cubs playoff run last October, I was live on Clark street during morning drive watching the beer truck drivers roll kegs into the bars. I covered the Holy Name Cathedral fire. Back in December, I was one of the reporters staking out Rod Blagojevich's house the day after his arrest. My reports usually air during Andrea Darlas' newscasts, but I am also a contributor to the show. John will talk to me for a couple of minutes if I am at a breaking news story.

I'm also the news anchor on Dean Richards' Sunday Morning show, which is a lot of fun. We get along very well. (Photo: Rob with Dean Richards and Scott Childers)

After that, I update the WGN web site, shoot videos for the YouTube page, do the news podcast, and a bunch of other stuff.

Rick: You've covered quite a few big stories in your time at WGN, including most recently the Family Secrets trial. What are a few of the favorite stories you've covered for WGN, either out in the field or from the anchor chair?

Rob: The Family Secrets trial was like something out of a movie. Five feared members of the Chicago Outfit were on trial for a bunch of crimes - from extortion to murder. The feds said they were bad guys who did very bad things. I saw five old men wearing cheap suits. (Photo: Star witness Nick Calabrese)

Most federal trials are pretty dry. You could spend the entire day in a courtroom and get nothing more than attorneys detailing tax returns. Not this trial. On the first day, the federal prosecutor showed the pictures of the dozen or so men killed by the Outfit over the past 20 years. One week was devoted to secret tapes of mob enforcers shaking down an adult bookstore owner.

Every morning you had to wait in line outside the courtroom while US Marshalls looked for bombs.

Last October I got to cover playoff runs by the White Sox and Cubs. You can't argue with a week of free baseball games.

It goes without saying that the Rod Blagojevich saga has been hours of fun. I was on that story from beginning to end. I was standing next to Rod when he said he had nothing but sunshine on his shoulders, and the station paid my way down to Springfield for the vote to remove Blago from office.

Rick: Recently you've also had a chance to spread your wings a little and co-host a talk show or two. How did you like that experience, and would you be interested in doing more of that?

Rob: My career as a talk show host is still in its larval stage. I like doing it. But my expectations are rather low. I consider my show a success if the bosses ask me to fill in again.

Here's what I have learned so far - the preparation is much harder than the actual show. I spend so much time worrying about finding show material, that the actual program is a snap.

I would love to do it again. I would not mind making the jump from news anchor to host. But that's still a long ways off. I'm still working on the fundamentals.

Rick: You've worked with just about everyone at WGN. Tell us a behind-the-scenes story or two that helps to illustrate the atmosphere in the WGN hallways.

Rob: People ask me about the mood here since the bankruptcy. It hasn't changed much. We're still a bunch of cynical, funny, sarcastic bastards. Like every other newsroom in America. (Photo: Rob with Spike O'Dell and Dave Stewart)

I have a couple of behind the scenes stories. But they are so good, and so funny, they can never be told in public. Ever. I've got to work here, you know....

Let's just put it this way: there are a lot of creative people working at WGN, and if they weren't working here, they would probably be in jail.

Rick: You got your start in Milwaukee at another legendary station, WTMJ. Tell the story about the morning a bear climbed a tree...

Rob: April of 2005. Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. For a couple of days, there had been reports of a bear lumbering down the street. But police couldn't find the bear. A couple of days later, the bear was spotted napping under a tractor trailer at a warehouse loading dock. The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department had to shut down US 45, a major expressway, as a precaution.

This happened during the morning show, so I did live play by play of the Sheriff's Deputies chasing the bear into a tree, shooting the bear with a tranquilzer dart, and then the bear falling out of the tree and clothes-lining itself on a branch on the way down. You could hear the crowd gasping in the background.

Of course, a bunch of other stuff happened in Milwaukee during that time. Three aldermen and a state senator went to federal prison, Green Bay Packer Mark Chmura was accused of teenage sex assault (he walked), and there was a near-riot at the Harley Davidson 100th Anniversary Concert. Bikers don't like Elton John, apparently.

Rick: When I met you I was surprised at how young you are. For all the talk of young people not breaking into the big bad Chicago market, here we have a 28-year-old man working at Chicago's biggest station. First of all, what's that like for a native Chicagoan like yourself to be working at WGN at such a young age?

Rob: I started at WTMJ when I was a sophomore at Marquette University in Milwaukee. It was my goal to get to Chicago by the time I was 30. I said that when I was 21, and it seemed reasonable that it would take nine years to get to Chicago.

I wanted to work in a larger market than Milwaukee (#31) before making the jump to Chicago. I interviewed at stations in Tampa, Cleveland, and Dallas. I could not get a job to save my life. In July of 2005, I cold called WLS, WBBM, and WGN. WLS and WBBM were full up, but there were several part time openings available at WGN. Six weeks later, News Director Wes Bleed offered me a job. In the end, it was easier to get hired in Chicago than it was in several smaller markets.

I was 25 when I started at WGN. I thought that was pretty cool. But then I did the math and figured out that all of the other full time reporters and anchors were hired at 25. There have been plenty of twenty-somethings in this news department. I'm glad I accomplished a personal goal, getting hired in Chicago five years ahead of schedule, but I wouldn't say I'm breaking any barriers here.

Rick: What advice do you have for your fellow 20-somethings trying to break into this market?

Rob: Good Timing. That's the name of the game. I could not get hired in Cleveland, Ohio. That does not mean I wasn't cut out to work in northeast Ohio. There were no radio news openings available when I was looking in late 2004 and 2005. I had the good fortune to call Wes just as (news anchor) Tom Petersen announced his retirement. Tom retired, Andrea Darlas went to the early morning shift, and the next thing you know I was a full time reporter/anchor at WGN.

My best advice is "be in the right place at the right time." But it's up to you to find that right place and that right time.

Rick: You're also, dare I say it, a White Sox fan. There can't be too many of you at WGN. Do you have a secret handshake or wink to let each other know you aren't drinking the blue koolaid? Are you secretly sabotaging the broadcasts? You can tell me. I won't reveal your methods.

Rob: There are three of us. I won't name names. We're like early Catholics. We meet in storage closets, and sub-basements. In lieu of secret handshakes we make the sign of Carlos Quentin (I won't say what it is, but it involves breaking your wrist).

It's pretty cool, actually. For all of the screaming and yelling, Sox fans and Cubs fans are a lot alike. With one very notable exception, it's not like the White Sox have a distinguished, Yankees-like history. There have been a bunch of fun seasons on both sides of town, with ton of crap in between.

Here's the one thing I don't like: If the Cubs win on Opening Day, the fans at WGN will start planning the World Series parade. Wait until May at least.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mary Van De Velde

Mary Van De Velde is the afternoon traffic anchor at WGN Radio, 720 AM.

Rick: I think its safe to say that your world has turned upside over the past few months. After a long stable life in the morning traffic anchor chair at WGN with Spike O'Dell, you're now doing afternoons. How has that transition gone for you from a lifestyle perspective?

Mary: Okay...stay positive now...I have to tell myself that because instead of giving something up for Lent, I'm trying to be more positive. Yeah, right! life has actually turned upside down since I switched to afternoons. On the bad side, I miss being home with the kids after school and helping with homework and also being chauffeur to my youngest and all his activities. I especially miss coaching track, which is my passion. I'm hoping I can sneak away during a Cubs broadcast and make it to a few practices. On the good side, I don't have to cook dinner - which I hate, and I get to sleep 8 hours a night for the first time in about 16 years!!

Rick: I'm guessing the change from Spike to Steve Cochran is a bit of a transition too. Spike's show was meticulously planned out (a necessity in that time slot and format), while Steve is notoriously off-the-cuff and spontaneous. Has it required a different mindset for you?

Mary: I'm definitely sitting on the edge of my seat working with Steve (photo). He is so hilarious and quick...I never know what he's going to say. I'm hoping once I get to know him and his timing better, I'll be more "with the program". For now, I'm just going with it, knowing traffic may not always be "on the sevens"!!!

Rick: You've also now worked with what seems like a hundred different people in that 1-4 time slot, many of whom you've never worked with, and a few you've never met. How has that been going?

Mary: I never thought I'd be working Jerry Springer and Garry Meier (photo) all in one week, but here I am! It's definitely been an adventure and work is never boring. We've also had almost every other host on WGN trying out for the position, not to mention the superintendent of the Tribune Tower. When the lady who waters the plants gets an audition, I'm going to go for it!

Rick: When I interviewed Spike just before he retired I got the definite impression that he wasn't a big fan of that "traffic at the 7s" format instituted by former program director Bob Shomper. (Spike said it felt a little like he was doing the Mary Van De Velde show). Spike has since moved on, and Bob has since moved on, but the format remains. What are your thoughts about that format, and do you think it's going to remain?

Mary: It's hard to seems once we get used to one format, it changes again. I'm not a programmer and every program director has their own agenda, so I have no idea what will happen tomorrow...I could be doing weather on the 8's...oh wait, I already do that!! The format used to be a bit looser with traffic about three times an hour, usually done at the end of interview segments. At least now, the listener has a better idea of when the traffic and weather are actually coming!

Rick: You have been at WGN now through several different eras, and you've seen it change dramatically. Talk about how things are different today than they were when you began all those years ago.

Mary: When I first auditioned for this job in 1997, traffic was done in the Showcase Studio with this huge map with lightbulbs on it. When traffic was heavy, the red lights would come on...when it was fine, the green lights were on. It was hilarious...especially when the bulbs went out! Sometimes some pretty weird characters would wander by the windows and just I was pretty happy when Traffic Central moved to the inside studios. Over the years, traffic continues to be a learning experience, especially when all the tollways now have two names - i.e. I-90 is also the Jane Addams Tollway and formerly the Northwest Toll, and I-88 is now the Reagan Tollway, not to mention it used to be the east/west...very confusing, not only for us, but for the out-of-towners.

Rick: Do you have any favorite memories from your time there?

Mary: Working with Bob Collins was a great experience. He was hard to get to know at first, but I found him to be a very compassionate and generous man. Whenever he went out-of-the country, his wife Christine would pick us out very thoughtful gifts. I once got a silk jewelry case from China, which I cherish to this day. I'd have to say though... my all-time favorite memories are the early morning "meetings" with Spike, Andrea, and Jim Wiser (photo: Andrea and Mary). We rarely discussed what we were going to do on the show because Spike always had us cracking-up about something he usually found on YouTube or Sky-Cam....or he had some new gadget to try out on us. His homemade beef jerky helped us wake up in the morning!

Rick: Before you started at WGN you were predominantly a news anchor. You're a broadcast journalism major from the University of Illinois, if I'm not mistaken. (I never miss a chance to mention that). Talk about the difference between doing news and traffic, and which one do you prefer?

Mary: My plan was to continue with news and possibly head toward TV, but as most of us know...having kids changes everything! In between maternity leaves, I was having trouble finding a news job and a friend of mine, Jim Sharp at Metro Traffic needed a traffic reporter FAST since they were acquiring a new station - WSCR, the Score. I had no clue how to do traffic, but I was trained rather quickly and started within a week. I love anchoring both news and traffic, but I was not a very good news reporter - I always hated the idea of shoving microphones in people's faces for quick interviews. At least with traffic, you don't have to do that...but you do have to deal with irate listeners calling to complain about traffic jams! I guess if you ask which one I's neither one...I'd much rather be doing full-time voice-over work or even co-hosting a show...WOW...I guess I have goals after all.

Rick: You really worked your way up the traditional way, by starting in small markets and working up to the bigger markets. I love hearing some of those small market radio stories. Want to share a few of your favorites?

Mary: I guess my favorite story is that I met my husband at my first radio job in the northwoods of Washburn, Wisconsin at WBWA. There were only two other women working at that station - the receptionist in leather and an older when I got the job, I had three dates the first week. Of course, none of those dates was with my future husband (he waited two years to ask me out!). The only thing to do up there was go to a bar since the nearest theater was about 15 miles away, so it was quite different for a Chicago girl just out of U of I! More humor from a station I worked at in the Quad Cities - KSTT/ WXLP. When I left, the station was moving into a mausoleum and they wanted to put the newsroom in the crematory closet...nice!

Rick: A lot of people are concerned about the future of radio. Are you one of them?

Mary: No, I'm not that concerned...I think there will always be a place for radio. People want up-to-the-minute local information and they won't always get that from satellite radio or their I-Pod. Talk-Radio is always entertaining and I think listeners identify with certain personalities. It's kind of like a reality show on radio.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Neil Sedaka

He may have written a song called "Happy Birthday Sweet 16," but Neil Sedaka turns 70 years old today.

Last summer I interviewed Clark Weber about his new book, the foreword of which is written by Sedaka. I asked how he knew him, and Clark told this story that illuminates the kind of man Neil Sedaka is...

"I knew Neil from back in the 60s, and I decided to call and ask if he would do it, and he said hell yes. He and I were good buddies, and he would call on my office at WLS from time to time when I was the program director at WLS. The record company had their own promo people but if he was in town, he would come in personally. One time he was in my office and I got a phone call about a band cancelling at a church event in Evanston that I was supposed to be hosting. Well I went there that night, and I was ready to go on stage, and the people from the church said, 'You're not going to believe who is backstage to perform.' It was Neil, and he entertained the crowd for a half-hour."

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.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Remembering Paul Harvey

A few previous Chicago Radio Spotlight interviews have discussed the Chicago icon, Paul Harvey, who we lost this past weekend at the age of 90. I dipped back into the archives to highlight a few of those memories...

Jack Landreth was one of his producers in the early 90s...

Jack: Every day, I would get to the Harvey offices and listen to Paul’s 7:30 broadcast. When he was finished, he would always stop by my office, take half a step in, and in his booming delivery, exclaim “Good Morning, Jackson!”. I will never forget those days. It was THE Paul Harvey, but I always saw him as the news guy. If I put him on any other pedestal, I would never have gotten my job done! Mr. Harvey will always be a news guy no matter what, but first and foremost, he was a family guy. The love he had for his wife Angel, and the pride he had for Paul Jr. was so prevalent during the short time I worked for him. Mr. Harvey is a legend in real man’s clothes. I love him!

Rick: What was your role when you worked with him, and can you give us an insight into how he puts his newscast together?

Jack: I would go through every newspaper from every town in the country. Again, this was before internet, so all of the “For What it’s Worth” stories came from the small town print papers. Besides working on those stories, I would help out where I could from mail to phones. In Paul Harvey’s office, no one had titles, no one was better than anyone else. Most of the time, Paul changed the ribbons on the news wire machines, simply because he was the first one in.

He would get in early, 4am or so, and put on his blue smock. It was one of those smocks that doctors wear, complete with an ABC logo patch, and the name “Paul” stitched on the right pocket. All of the wire machines had spit out stories all night, and he would scour each and every fiber of those paper rolls. He would then go into his office with the stack of stories, and start typing his scripts, large type and double spaced. He would then take the daily stories, add his famous live reads (Page two!), stack the stories and include whatever we had for him. Then off to the studio where he did Paul Harvey News for the world to hear. After that newscast, it was off to Rest of the Story land, and whatever else needed to be done. When the morning was over, he would walk down to the garage and drive off in his Buick. Yes, he drove a Buick every day. And yes, it took his assistant June Westgaard years and years to convince him NOT to park on Lower Wacker!

A few years ago I asked Bob Sirott which air personalities he most admired, and he answered...

Bob: Paul Harvey continues to entertain me endlessly. Many of his stories are quite interesting, but the way he writes them, the way he delivers them, the way he slides in his own "take" on them--well, let me just say you better listen to him every day because when he stops broadcasting that will be the end of an era that will be gone forever.

I agree with Bob. The passing of Paul Harvey isn't just the end of a broadcasting idol, it's the end of an era. He will be missed.

And finally, Bruce Dumont, interviewed here a few weeks ago, just released the following statement at the Museum of Broadcast Communications...

"Paul Harvey was the greatest of American broadcasters -- a master of words and speech who brought intellect, dignity and humor to each broadcast and demonstrated an ability to connect to his audience for over six decades. Paul Harvey was a proud salesman of products and ideals who had the good fortune to share his life with a personal and professional partner of unlimited grace and class.

In memory of Paul and his late wife Angel, the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago will name its special events venue the Paul and Angel Harvey Center. It will be the site of future Radio Hall of Fame inductions. Fans and industry leaders are invited to share their respect with a memorial donation to complete the Center at www.Museum.TV"