Artie Kennedy has been a producer, technical producer, production director, and creative image director in Chicago for twenty years.
Rick: This summer ESPN Radio made some cutbacks behind the scenes and one of the victims was one of my favorite blade men in the city--Artie Kennedy. Am I still allowed to use that title "blade man" or does that make me sound a thousand years old?
Artie: Um, yeah kind of old Rick...since I haven't used a razor blade and grease pencil for about 10 years. (Now, many radio people will laugh at my statement of 10 years since most radio editing folks have been digital since like 1990ish.)
My favorite blade man, to steal your terminology Rick, is The Wizard...Matt Bisbee. I learned so much from Matt over the years, whether he knew it or not. Biz is with Bonneville now but many might recognize Matt Bisbee from The Old Loop...he's awesome and the voice is unmistakable...."On The Loop".
By the way, my partner and friend Ernie Scatton was also a victim of those cutbacks so if someone needs a good voice over man, he’s a good guy to know.
Rick: You had been at the station for 11 years in various different capacities, including the last several years as the Creative Image Director. ESPN listeners might not know your name, but they've certainly heard your voice and your work. For those people that don't follow the business too closely, could you explain what that position entails?
Artie: Basically my job was to make fun of myself and everyone else that held a microphone. I wrote scripts, voiced some myself and used a voice over guy/friend, Jim Cutler and his wife Dawn for promos, bumpers, liners, and many other things on the air or on the ESPN website. I produced all of it and had a lot of fun doing it over the years.
Rick: You also did your share of producing/technical producing for many of the shows at the station, including several that are no longer there (like The HUGE show, Harry & Spike, and the beginning of Mac, Jurko & Harry). I don't think there are many people that witnessed more happenings at that station than you. Tell us a few of your favorite stories from your years at ESPN.
Artie: I think one of the most memorable moments...and I apologize ahead of time to Danny Mac and Harry Teinowitz for this little ditty, but one story that absolutely stands out is when Mac and Harry got in a bit of a scrap in the studio while Mac, Jurko and Harry were live on air...(Mac always made fun of that phrase by the way, of course we're live, what are we dead?) Mitch Rosen, Program Director at the time, came running down after my call to him saying "you'd better get down here...cuz someone just hit the floor from a shove."
The other story that stands out was during The Huge show with Bill Simonson (photo) and Chicago's very own Lou Canellis. We were all at the Sox/Cubs game on a Friday night back in about 99 or maybe 2000 that went 14 innings (the Sox won). Bill asked my wife and I if we wanted to head over to Jimbo's for another beer...but we decided that Bill might have already had toooooo much and we took a pass.
That's the night he got that broken nose from fending off like 15 or 20, or maybe it was a 100 teenagers, that attacked him while walking through Armor Park in Bridgeport. The next few weeks on the air were an absolute circus. Now you can believe what you want about the validity of that story but I have my own sources that contradict the events of that night...but what do I know? I wasn't there.
Some of my other favorite moments are when I would appear on air as John "Jurko" Jurkovic's alter ego "Blocko" on the Mac, Jurko and Harry show (in Jurko speak "sweet momma seata, Artie's making fun of me doll.") Jurko is one of the coolest and naturally funny people on the air or off.
Rick: We met almost twenty years ago when we both worked at the Loop . You replaced John "Swany" Swanson as the technical producer of the Jonathon Brandmeier show on a Monday--and I just happened to be the jock on the overnight show. In those days it took almost two hours to set up the studio for Johnny, and it was done around the overnight jock--stacks of carts all over the place. I can still see your face setting up the studio that morning. I can only imagine how terrifying that must have been. It was your first radio job. Do you remember that morning at all? I've never seen anyone sweat that much in my life.
Artie: Well nervous would be an understatement...I do remember Rick Kaempfer, Wendy Snyder or Terry Gibson jocking overnights at The Loop. Wendy was always so much help because she knew everything that happened on Johnny B.'s show. Not that you weren't Rick. Your readers may not realize how calm you were/are, but nothing seems to phase you, dude...(oops, I used DUDE right there, how Buzz Kilman of me. Buzz loved the word dude. He once told me that after I asked him, 'Buzz do you know that guy?' He said 'Nope, but thank God for the word DUDE, Artie.')
Anyway, yes, I remember that 1st day. I was just out of college and here I was working for one of the biggest names in the radio business, not just in Chicago but in all of radio. Everyone in the business knew Johnny B., Steve and Garry, Kevin Matthews and Danny Bonaduce; at that point I was just hoping to not F things up for the fast moving train of the Hyper Rooster that was/is The Johnny B. Radio Showgram. Johnny (photo) taught me sooo much about this thing we call radio.
To answer the question you really asked me Rick...yes I was sweating a whole bunch and I still do! I sweat blinking, I leave salt rings sometimes on the pillow, most of my baseball caps have sweat stains but surprisingly I don't have that big person stank to me. My wife doesn't understand how a larger individual like myself with all the sweating I do, is somehow active as well. Go figure!
Rick: Long time Brandmeier listeners will remember you because you really did become a big part of the show. What are some of your favorite moments from those Johnny B years?
Artie: I always loved Christmas time on the Johnny B. Showgram because Johnny played the over-served Santa to my clean and happy Artie the Elf, which was as high pitched as a 275lb man could be. Johnny thought I must have tied something around my junk to get my voice that high, but no. We had so much fun messing around with the kids on the phones and everyone was happy because the holidays were right around the corner. (Photo: Artie from the Johnny B days)
I will always remember my time as Mike Tyson on J.B.'s show...he loved that stuff...just to make fun of me. But some people actually thought it was Mike Tyson in-studio or on the phone. The one time that really stands out is the time Johnny had Mike Tyson (me) in-studio and Jimmy Page of Zeppelin showed up too (not really--it was a great impersonator, Jimmy McInerny, the other audio wizard on Johnny's show...wow, what an egomaniac I am...the OTHER audio wizard!) Listeners kept calling in thinking they were speaking with Tyson and Page, but not fully sold, they kept quizzing Jimmy Mac (photo) on Zeppelin trivia...there is no stumping that guy on Zeppelin history.
The last memory on J.B.'s show I'll speak of is when Mickey Rooney was in-studio and Carol Harmon (great executive producer with Johnny and still with him in another capacity) and I were laughing at a funny Mickey story about one of his like 8 wives when he suddenly switched into this sentence: "Of course you know my 5th wife Barbara was murdered." Well Carol and I were still laughing about his other wife story and he looks in and sees us laughing and says, "That's not funny...someone was murdered!!" I mean, I got yelled at by Mickey Rooney…a living legend! When Johnny and I e-mail each other these days, one of us has to mention MY 5th Wife Barbara!
Rick: After you left Johnny's show, you switched to the Danny Bonaduce show. You ran the board for him, and worked as his technical producer, so you really saw how Danny operated close and personal. He always appeared to just be going with the flow, but he was crazy like a fox, wasn't he?
Artie: Danny would do anything for the entertainment value....ANYTHING! He once had the staff, including Danny himself, Haji (Neil Sant...Kevin Matthews gave him that name), Shemp (Kevin gave HIM his name too), and a listener or two eat some of the most vile things, like a ducks eye, a goat's junk…yes that junk, a birds heart and some other things all in the name of entertainment.
He use to play “CarEokee”...which was Danny driving a listener as fast as he could down the John Hancock Building's spiral parking garage ramp while the listener sang a song without stopping until the bottom. If the listener would stop singing....no prize, buddy. The problem was Danny would drive like 25 MPH down it. Most drivers could do like 5 or 10 MPH because the spiral was purposely made tight.
Danny was slightly nuts, but he was fun, and a great entertainer. I'm sure he still is at his radio station in, I think, Philadelphia.
Rick: I didn't even realize until I researched for this interview, but you were also a producer for Richard Roeper and Steve Cochran during their brief AM 1000 days. Tell the story about the day Richard Roeper more or less quit on the air.
Artie: Oh thanks Rick, you didn't even know I was on those shows...I guess you wouldn't be considered a P1 to those shows (P1 basically means you listen all the time to a certain show because you set your 1st radio preset button on your radio to that station...i.e. P1).
Richard was always on...on the air, in the breaks, in the bathroom...that’s a joke right there. Yeah, Richard got wind that they were bringing in Steve Cochran and said to Jen Weigel (photo) and myself that he "wasn't keeping that seat warm until they brought someone else in." So he left...we thought he was kidding but an intern confirmed that he got on the elevator and left the building. I liked working with Richard because he is funny, but that one kind of left us in a trick bag. Jen and I took calls, talked about Richard leaving and calmed down the Program Director, who was slightly upset. I don't even know if Richard remembers it at all but that’s how I remember it. I don't see him much anymore but he is a good guy.
Rick: If I'm not mistaken, a very personal moment in your life took place live on the air on Steve Cochran's show.
Artie: Steve Cochran (photo) was doing mornings on AM 1000 and I was his technical producer, Dorothy Humphreys was doing our traffic for the show, and another guy Jeff was doing the sports. Steve knew that he was not going to be invited to stay at AM 1000 when the all sports ESPN took over in October of 1998 and so did I, so I came up with a plan.
On September 11, 1998 I called in sick, for like the first time ever calling in sick. The other producers, Steve Grunwald and Ron Lange, had no idea that I was faking it. I headed over to my then girlfriends townhouse and broke into her place. (I originally met her at the Kevin Matthews Toga Party in April of 1997 at the Willowbrook Ballroom.) I told her the night before to set her radio alarm for 6:45AM because we were going to make an announcement about the fate of the AM 1000 station.
So as I was about to break into her place I called back to the station exactly at 6:44AM and asked the producer to put Cochran on the phone, he said, "he's on the air"...I said "I know, just put him on!" Steve picked up the phone on the air because he was the only one that knew what I was doing. I broke in and walked upstairs at my girlfriend's place, her radio alarm went off and I took a knee and asked her to marry me live on the Steve Cochran Show. She was confused because she was just woken up on a 50,000 watt radio station by her idiot boyfriend of a year and a half...but she said ABSOLUTELY...never yes.
We just had our 10 year anniversary in July and have two little girls who are cute and funny. I have no idea where they get that sense of humor.
(PHOTO: Artie and his daughters)
Rick: And they said it wouldn't last. Congratulations. And congratulations on your radio career too. You've been working in Chicago radio for the better part of twenty years now. Can you believe it?
Artie: I cannot believe it at all. I've worked with some really great talent over the years like: Johnny B, Bonaduce, Steve Cochran, Mac, Jurko, and Harry. Producers like Jimmy McInerney, Adam Delevitt, Jeff Hoover, Brendan Sullivan, Ben Finfer, Danny Zederman, Vince Argento, Tommy Seritella, Carol Harmon, of course the great Rick Kaempfer and many others. General Managers who believed in me like Larry Wert, Bob Synder, Jim Pastor and John Cravens. Program Directors like Mitch Rosen, Len Weiner, Jeff Schwartz (ok, Spaceball) and many more. Creative Image Directors like Matt Bisbee, Ernie Scatton, and Mikey Bratton.
Rick: I know it's a rough time for radio, and it's a rough time to be looking for work in general, but I imagine there must be a station out there that can use the services of an Artie Kennedy. Are you available if someone's looking?
Artie: Oh yeah. I’d love the opportunity to stick with radio here in Chicago and if you have something for me, drop me an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much Rick for this opportunity to talk about my 20 plus years around radio.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Robin Baumgarten is the co-anchor of the WGN Morning News on Channel 9.
Rick: Your colleague, resident nutball/producer Jeff Hoover, once described you to me this way: "She likes to knock back a few beers and smoke a heater. She's not afraid to speak her mind. She kinda reminds me of my Dad when I'd have my friends over to the house and he'd be in the garage working on the car and his ass crack would be showing, and I'd ask him to pull up his pants and he'd say 'if you don't like it, don't look at it.'" Would you say that's a pretty good description, and would you like to retaliate and describe Hoover?
Robin: I would love to rebut all of Jeff Hoover’s comments, but my mom always told me: “Don’t talk about people in public. Be polite, and do it behind their backs.”
So behind his back, I'll say Jeff is the funniest, most talented segment producer in Chicago. But he's also a compulsive liar!
Rick: Of course, you and Hoover have something in common. You are both graduates of the Johnny B school of broadcasting. You were Johnny's traffic reporter for several years during your days at Shadow Traffic. Do you have any favorite memories from your years on the show?
Robin: I have such fond memories of that show – Johnny is the best.
I was new to the business, and Johnny, Buzz Kilman, and Bruce Wolf were all so accommodating about making me part of the team. It was a blast going to work every day.
One of my favorite memories is of the Donny Osmond/Danny Bonaduce fight that Johnny organized at the old China Club. He brought in the late, great Jack Brickhouse as an analyst. As Jack was waiting to go onstage, and I was waiting a few feet behind him, he turned his head and “hocked a lugey” over his shoulder and it landed right on my shoe. No matter what else I do in this business, I'll forever be known as the girl that got “lugeyed” by Jack Brickhouse (photo). A true honor.
My favorite memory of Buzz is the time he went nuts when he found out the Subway Tuna Sandwich had more fat grams than a burger. Hysterical. He is truly one of the funniest people I've ever met.
Rick: Is there anything that the Brandmeier experience taught you about broadcasting that still helps you today?
Robin: The biggest lesson I’ve taken with me is how to think on my feet and how to laugh at myself. I hope at least a little bit of Johnny and Buzz’s impeccable comic timing might have rubbed off.
Rick: In 1996 you became a part of the WGN-TV morning news team, as an airborne traffic reporter at first. I've interviewed a few other reporters that have done the traffic copter thing, and they all claim that it's not scary at all. Do you concur, or were there mornings it got a little hairy up there?
Robin: I can’t believe I actually spent close to 8 years in that helicopter! It’s amazing what you are willing to do when you’re young, and have no fear. Now that I have kids, I get scared watching Scooby Doo.
But, it was very safe, and still is. I’m very grateful to WGN pilot Mike Boyle, who is the best in the business.
Plus, I wouldn't have my current job if I hadn't been willing to fly. So, I'm glad I did.
Rick: I've always considered you an absolute natural on the air. Your personality really shines through on both radio and television. For some reason, most broadcasters have a very difficult time accomplishing that. How have you managed to avoid the "jive" pitfall?
Robin: (laughs) “Jive Pitfall?”
Rick: Now don't go using that phrase. I own the copyright.
Robin: Paul Konrad says that was his nickname in college.
Thank you for the compliment. I give full credit to my co-workers on the show who make it easy. Larry, Paul & I have been working together for 15 years now, and they're like a couple of old shoes - in a good way.
The best training for a show like this, though, was trying to keep up with Johnny and Buzz.
Rick: The WGN Morning News is, in many ways, a morning radio show that happens to be on television. You do bits and get crazy, but then you still cover real news stories. Is it difficult to go from one to the other? You know, there's wacky Robin dancing with a Neil Diamond impersonator before the break, and then there's serious Robin telling us about a school killing after the break. Do you ever get broadcasting whiplash?
Robin: It took me a while to find that rhythm. Believe me, I’m no pro.
Maybe you’re familiar with one of my greatest hits bloopers? Mispronouncing Thailand (“THY-LAND”)? Not one of my better moments, but hopefully I’ve made some progress.
You just have to remember that despite the fun, 90% of the people are watching to find out the news.
Rick: The cast of characters on your show is pretty impressive: Larry Potash, Paul Konrad, Pat Tomasulo, Dean Richards, Jeff Hoover, Mike Toomey, and many more. Who runs the show, calls the shots, and has the final say on show content?
Robin: Me, me, and me.
Or, the other folks would say that lovely girl named Sandy Pudar, our executive producer. But, we all have some input.
Rick: There have been some incredible moments in broadcasting on that show over the past few years. Do you have any favorites?
Robin: Gosh, it’s been 15 years. I remember Larry’s hair being taller than Kid n’ Play when we first started, and my southside accent being so thick that the only word I could pronounce correctly was “Pulaski.”
My favorites include covering the live plane jump of a giant tortilla chip into a bowl of salsa, and Tracy Morgan laying on our news desk pretending to be pregnant.
Currently, my favorite running joke is when Paul tells all the viewers that any of us who is taking a day off is out with “diarrhea." I know it’s juvenile, but still makes me laugh.
Rick: There was recently a rather awkward moment on the show too. You had Chet Coppock as a guest, and he had just written a book in which he called Pat Tomasulo one of the worst sportscasters in Chicago history. When Pat and Chet shared the stage it was tremendously awkward...reminded me of my Steve & Garry days. Those guys used to say that really awkward was almost as good as really funny, because people will always remember it. While I know they're right about that, it doesn't diminish the discomfort of the moment for those involved. You were sitting between them when it happened. What was going through your mind?
Robin: I'll have to give props to Steve & Garry - truer words were never spoken. It’s painful to be out there during an awkward moment, but at home, I know viewers are glued to the set wondering what's going to happen next.
I hated being in the middle because I love Chet (doing traffic on his show was my first radio job on the Loop!), and I love Pat. I think Chet was trying to sell his book and Pat was rightfully standing up for himself.
Awkward, painful, and good TV, all at the same time.
Rick: When you were a broadcast journalism major at the University of Illinois (you didn't think I'd do a whole interview with an alum and not mention it, did you?) and working at WPGU in Champaign, did you ever imagine that you'd reach this level of the business?
Robin: No clue. I was just hoping to star in a public-access commercial for my Dad’s tile store. I did...and look where it got me.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Greg Jarrett is the morning man at WGN Radio (720 AM). He came to WGN this summer (2009) after a long stint at KGO in San Francisco.
Rick: A lot of radio guys grow up in one place and then live all over America moving from job to job after they get into the business. You actually moved all over the country before you went into the business.
Greg: And after. I started broadcasting in high school in New Iberia, Louisiana, then continued in college in Lafayette, Louisiana, then on to New Mexico, then Green Bay, Wisconsin...
Rick: But you were in San Francisco for a long time...
Greg: Yes, that's true. Off and on for a very long time. I arrived in San Francisco in 1977 when I was 25 years old. I was the news director at KYA and then I went back in 1986 to KGO, and then stayed there for many years.
Rick: Was it hard to leave San Francisco after finally establishing your roots somewhere?
Greg: My roots were sort of everywhere. When I left ABC News--I was based in Los Angeles covering the OJ Simpson trial and all sorts of other things--I moved my family to Portland Oregon. I had covered floods there in 1996 and just fell in love with the place. So I purchased some property outside of town and moved the family there. I was starting up a new spoken word radio station--actually with Randy Michaels (photo), and that lasted until 2000, when the Clear Channel deal was finalized.
After that I went back to KGO in San Francisco, but my family stayed in Portland. We were doing the whole commute thing, flying back and forth. My wife is an attorney and her client is Nike, so being in Portland was a good thing for her, plus our youngest son was still in high school at the time.
So, anyway, we still own our house in Portland--and that's where my wife is right now--trying to sell it. In the meantime we have a condo here, and we're spending our weekends in the air, going back and forth. Two of my kids have actually come to visit me in Chicago already. My middle one said I need to get a more comfortable couch, because he really likes it here. (laughs)
Rick: Chicago has a reputation of being a provincial town--not too accepting of outsiders. Have you found that to be true in your case?
Greg: Well I've sort of had to cut through that. I have relatives down in Beverly. I'm half-Hispanic and that's where the Hispanic side of the family lives. My wife also has cousins here--from Wheaton to Evanston to all around--so I've been able to experience the real thing, to come hang out in the backyard and barbecue, to watch the kids play soccer games. That's been a big help.
I'd say about 98% of the e-mails and 98% of the greetings on the street have been hugely welcoming, but there's 2% that feel like I'm some sort of an outsider. But then you look at the census report, and you see that 30% of the people in Chicago are from another country.
Rick: It's funny you say that, because my family is from Germany, and they're very protective of Chicago too. I always say to my mom, hey--don't forget--you're not from here either.
Greg: (laughs) Well, I'm getting along just fine.
Rick: Coming into WGN must have been tough too, particularly taking over the morning show, which has been hosted by only four other men in the past fifty years. Did you realize the gravity of that when you came into town?
Greg: Oh yeah, definitely. I've been in radio for 39 years next month, and who in radio doesn't understand the power of WGN? At my first radio job deep in the heart of Louisiana we would turn on the emergency broadcast receivers late at night, and those Chicago stations were booming in our direction. We would listen to guys like John Landecker (photo) at night on WLS, and we'd even get to hear the morning guys when it was still dark outside in the winter. That's how we learned to do radio in the late 60s and early 70s; listening to those guys.
To me it was an amazing opportunity to come in and do this job, but it was also a bit of a stunner. I had been talking to the company about a number of other potential jobs because I had done a lot of different things--I've been a GM, a news director, a newsman, a host, etc--and one day I got a call asking me if I would be willing to do mornings. I said, "Look, I'm in a plumbing supply store right now looking at toilets, can I call you back in a second?" After I hung up, I was a little stunned. The guy in the store came up to me and said 'So, you want the 17-inch' and I interrupted him--'Hold on a second here.' I went back out to the truck, called them back and said "Sure, let's do it."
How many major stations in Chicago hire someone to do mornings that has never even done a shift on their station before? I knew it was a great opportunity, but I also knew I had a mountain to climb.
Rick: I know you're not just a radio host, you're a reporter. I read that you have wanted to be a reporter since you were in fourth grade.
Greg: That's true. We were in Beaumont California at the time. My dad was working for Lockhead--he was in the aviation industry, and I had gotten used to spending my time at this little library. I really got into reading Ernie Pyle, and the Hemingway (photo) stories, and all those other war correspondent stories, and one night I was so into it that I didn't even notice that they had closed the library and shut the doors. They had to come in and get me out of there.
Rick: And then you actually became a war correspondent.
Greg: Yes I did. When I was covering the Gulf War, my dad was still alive, and I got a note from him that said, "I don't know many men that got to do what they wanted to do when they were in fourth grade." That meant a lot to me.
Rick: You were also in Somalia...
Greg: Yes, Somalia twice. Bosnia three times. I covered Central America in the 80s. And Iraq, of course.
Rick: What are the memories that come to mind right away from those days?
Greg: People always ask me what I thought of those wars, but that wasn't my focus when I was there. In 2003 and 2005 I was embedded in Iraq, and my focus was to look at the people, to take a picture, and tell that story. I like to think that I'm a raconteur, that I can relate what I'm seeing, and that's what I tried to do with these young people who were dying.
We had a reporter at the Pentagon, and we had a reporter covering the protests on the streets of San Francisco, so that political part of the story wasn't my beat. I was the reporter with these young guys. It was my duty to tell their stories.
The unit I was with, the Purple Foxes, was a brave group of men. They would fly right into the middle of battle and rescue badly wounded people; immediately applying tourniquets and IVs, treating people through a hail of bullets. Then they'd treat them on the flight all the way to the trauma center. That's why the survival rates have increased so much in this war compared to earlier wars. They're being treated by these brave corpsman.
It was horrible seeing some of it. The first two men we picked up were these two Marines that had their legs blown off because they were looking for a place to go to the bathroom. They walked right into a mine-field. After that people starting going to the bathroom within a few steps of where they were slept because there were mines everywhere.
I've had combat first aid training, and after a few missions I realized that I couldn't really report live on the scene, because nobody would have been able to hear me over the helicopters and the machine guns, so I got my hands into it, and started helping out--which immediately changed the whole nature of my presence. Pretty soon it was, "We're going out on another mission, Mr. Jarrett, would you like to come along?" So I got more access. I wasn't shooting anyone, but I was helping to drag stuff onto the aircraft, and fixing bandages, and things like that. You can't not do that.
Rick: With all this experience as a newsman, as a news reporter, coming into a station like WGN with a full news staff like this, must have been a little strange. You have more experience than anyone else working in the news department. How has that relationship been--have they come to you looking for advice, have you taken it upon yourself to give advice, or do you keep those two departments strictly separated?
Greg: We didn't have a news director when I first arrived. Wes (Bleed) had left, and Charlie Meyerson (photo) hadn't arrived yet, so I did have conversations about the stories being covered. I was an aviation correspondent among other things for ABC, and whatever expertise I was able to bring to the table I would share with everyone, but I really have backed off since Charlie got here. Now, as far as keeping people abreast of new technology or new applications that have become available to gather news, I really keep up with that sort of thing, so I will share that information. But I don't try to push it on them. I may have done that a little before Charlie got here, but I don't do it anymore because that's not really my purview.
Rick: Your hobbies are not exactly of the every day variety...skydiving, seaplane pilot, scuba diver...would you consider yourself to be an adrenaline junkie?
Greg: I don't know if it's an adrenaline junkie thing or not. My dad and I were really close, and we would go fishing and hiking, and he was a pilot so we would go flying, and he'd say, "Son, you can eat well. You can avoid drinking too much, and not smoke, but your life is still only going to last so long. You have the ability to make it a whole lot fatter--make it as wide as you want it. Go to a lot of places, experience a lot of things, do as many things as you can, because you have control over that. You can sit in front of the TV all day and watch Star Trek, or you can go out and learn how to fly an airplane. One way makes it wide, one keeps you in a narrow box." He taught me that, and I firmly believe he was right.
I don't want to quit learning. I want to keep learning new stuff, experiencing new things. The day I quit learning is the day they close the lid on me.
Rick: You kind of parachuted into this show on WGN too. The show itself was already intact. All the parts were already there--traffic person (Leslie Keiling), newscaster (Andrea Darlas), producer (Jim Wiser), etc. Have you ever been in a situation before where you were the final part, where you were the one that came into an already functioning show to lead it?
Greg: Most of the stories I've covered have been like that. People enjoy doing things they're good at doing. The reason I enjoy covering disasters and wars is that you can literally drop me into Bosnia with no electricity and no food, and within a few days I'm cooking chicken gumbo, I've got the lights on, and I'm transmitting a signal back. I love being dropped into a completely foreign and unusual situation and making it my home. That to me is what I'm good at, and that to me is why this situation is feeling so good. I'm not part of it yet. I'm not part of Chicago yet, but I'm working as hard as I've worked on anything in my entire life to integrate myself in this society.
Since I started in the business this has been my goal. To come to a major station in Chicago and make it work. Who knew that it would actually happen? When I was a 17 year old kid dreaming of doing a morning show in Chicago, who knew that it would actually come to pass?
Rick: Where do you see the show going in the future?
Greg: Radio is not radio anymore, and that's what's so cool about it. It's a cross platform thing. We're much more informational than this show has ever been, at least that's what I've been told. I haven't listened to Bob Collins (photo) except for a few airchecks, but prior to Bob, it was always a more genial, friendly show. There's a show like that in every market, and they do very well. I'm a little bit of that, but I'm more about giving the listener some information that they didn't have when they woke up that morning.
When we start getting people to listen on something like this (holds up his iPhone), and it's coming, we'll need to have the ability to show what's happening too. Imus is already doing that, and has been for years. Just put a couple of cameras in the studio, and listeners can watch the show too. Then you can add speech to text, which can be like a headline version of what we're doing on the show. That's already happening with Breaking news. If I interview the Governor and he says something newsworthy it's on the breaking news website thirty seconds later, and somebody's getting a text about it because they've signed up for that.
So that's where I see this going. A friendly informative voice that can tell you what's going on right then, and then tell you what's going to happen. For awhile radio was just following newspapers--information that was already twelve hours old. Now your getting it on more than one platform, and you're getting it while it's happening. That's where I see the show going, being on the cutting edge of audio, video, and spoken and written word, all at once. Ambitious, but that's where I think it's going.
Rick: Well, welcome to Chicago. How does it feel so far?
Greg: There are two words that best describe how I feel: excited and tired. (laughs)
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Connie Szerszen was a pioneer female disc jockey in Chicago, and has just written a book called "Top Rock Girly Jock"
Rick: What made you decide to write the book?
Connie: I thought I should document some of the “firsts” of women in the radio world. In March of 1974, Westinghouse Broadcasting sent out a press release stating they had the “first female personality on AM radio to have her own prime time radio show.” The station told me that no major market -- Chicago, New York, nor L.A. -- had ever done this. Women had only held positions in “news” or on the graveyard shift, or as sidekick to a man. When Al Mitchell became the new program director at WIND, he switched me from week-ends to my own 6-10 PM full-time shift.
Of course, this “first” followed the other “first” – when WIND Program Director, Bob Moomey, hired me as a week-end DJ. Phil Nolan was General Manager during this entire period.
I also wrote the book because it was another art form I hadn’t yet explored. Besides broadcasting, I also paint oils, pastels, and watercolor, fine art portraits. I love both radio and art for different reasons – radio allows such creative immediacy and is such fun; whereas portraits have longevity – hanging in hospitals, corporations, and homes for a lifetime. Books have this same permanence and, just like in radio, friendship is shared through communication. Through the years, so many have asked how I got started – was I originally from Chicago – and so on. Much of the book is stuff I would have said on the air, if I had had time before the vocal started – Hah!
Rick: You really were the first female rock jock on AM radio in Chicago. I've gone back and read some of the articles written about you then, and it's just hilarious what you had to deal with in those days. Norman Mark wrote this in the Daily News in 1972: "AM Program directors conceded that she had a good voice, but they added that women were sometimes unsuitable for AM air work because of their unstable employment record (they sometimes get pregnant)." Later in the article he wrote "Another prospective employer told Connie that a woman's voice doesn't have the authority needed for AM radio. It is obvious he has never argued with a woman over a checkbook imbalance." Whoo boy. To say that was a different time is an understatement, isn't it?
Connie: Yes, it was a shocker. And if you think Norman Mark’s article was hilarious – you should’ve been there on my very first day at WIND. Talk about “a woman’s voice not having the authority for AM radio” – it seemed no one could hear my voice on that very first show. Someone had turned the mic around so I was speaking into the back of it; and since it had a foam cover, not even the engineer could figure it out quickly. The book tells that story – and hints at who I thought the prankster might have been.
Norman was so right about the authority issue – how COULD women have authority to report the news (like the war in Vietnam) while only men had the authority to introduce “Be Bop a Lula?”
My story made all the papers – Besides Norman Mark of the Chicago Daily News, Ron Powers of the Chicago Sun-Times (who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize) also covered it. It was written into the U.S. Congressional Record, and I was invited to appear on many TV shows and host events all over town.
Rick: When you first started on the air you didn't go by your real name. At WSDM-FM, "the station with the girls and all that jazz", which I believe is now the Loop, you went by "Dawn, the world's most sensuous disc jockey." Talk about how that name came to be, and how important do you think that sort of sex appeal was to your early success?
Connie: At WSDM, the Den Pals were sort of a take-off on the Playboy Club’s “Bunnies.” (Photo: the Den Pals, Connie is standing, second from left). The girls were asked to pick an “air name” and since I started so early on Saturday morning, I chose “Dawn.” (Maybe it should’ve been “Yawn.”)
As for “the world’s most sensuous disc jockey” tag, I meant it to be a parody. Everyone on the station sounded so sexy (I guess that was part of the plan), that I didn’t really feel like I fit that mold. So I played with it. If you’ll look at my pics in the book – especially the teen years – “sexy” wasn’t an adjective that could easily be applied to me. I made every attempt to bring humor into my show rather than sex appeal; I had features on the show like “The Bachelor Boy Household Hint of the Day,” and even read the funnies on the air. (Later I heard that Mayor LaGuardia also read the funnies on his radio show in New York – and now, look, he has an airport named after him! Hah!)
When I started working at WIND, I was glad to just be myself and not have to “bring sexy back.” But somewhere down the line, I remember being told to try and sound sexier, because I had more women listeners than men. It may well have been that women were finally able to hear someone they could relate to. When I hear some of my “sexy” attempts on old air-checks, it makes me laugh. I mean, don’t even men want more than just a pretty voice?
In fact, it was “humor” that made WIND finally decide to hire me. Bob Moomey, the program director, said that when they listened to my air-check from WSDM, and heard my kicker to a news story – he said everyone laughed. It made me feel so good to hear that – because I love to make people laugh.
Rick: Probably the pinnacle of your career was your stint on WIND-AM, during it's Top 40 days. You were there for most of the 70s, which was an exciting time for Top-40 radio in Chicago. People tend to remember the great lineups at WLS and WCFL, but WIND is often overlooked despite having people like yourself, Clark Weber, Eddie Schwartz, Dave Baum, sportscaster Jim Durham, and many others. To people who weren't there at the time, how would you describe what that station was trying to accomplish, and compare it to the other AM radio stations of that era.
Connie: When I first came to WIND, Ron Britain was the morning man. In fact, I later heard that he had put in a good word for me to management when they asked if I was reliable. I had been the Talent Coordinator at WCFL and had been booking the DJ’s for several years, while also working at WSDM as a DJ, and therefore, was “in the loop” in the radio world. When WCFL started to slide, many changes came with that. The jocks that had big Chicago names were hot properties. As the WCFL and WLS battles eventually wore off, the hot jocks found work elsewhere.
WIND offered Chicago a brand new sound. No one played the current hits AND OLDIES. The slogan at WIND was “’50s, ’60s, and NOW!” The station was not only a whole new sound – but also played to the Chicago community. As with WCFL and WLS, the jocks did “personality radio” – but hometown Chicago events were also a big part of WIND’s picture. The annual kite-fly in Grant Park – the Zoo Day at Lincoln Park Zoo – the Lambs Farm event where we auctioned off box lunches to raise money for the Lambs.
Our format was more family oriented. We played the Top 40 – but not the real hard rock. Nothing trashy – we left that to “Captain Whammo” at some FM station. My evening show from 6-10 PM allowed me to play one hard rock song per hour. Those songs were tagged on our roll-a-dex with a red dot. All the jocks would program their shows from the roll-a-dex stack of songs. I found that to be so organized -- but not the best music mix. So I always took the stack that was scheduled for my show and rearranged them to flow better – certain fade ends just sounded better next to certain cold opens – stuff like that. Listeners used to say that I played different music on my show than the other jocks did. Except for that one hard rock song per hour, the rest were the same songs everyone else played – but I cheated a bit (with permission) -- by rearranging, the same old songs could have a whole new sound.
With all the promotions and full page ads in the Chicago Sun-Times, WIND was a major player in town. They ran ads with my picture – and called me “The Evening Star.” My week-end shows pulled a “10” in the Arbitron ratings. By appealing to “family,” we became a part of many Chicago families. Our ethnic names were admired by station management – I was asked to use my real name since I was of Polish descent and since there are more Poles in Chicago than Warsaw. I was encouraged to say, at the end of my very first show at WIND – “Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginela!” It’s the first line of the Polish National Anthem. I had said it off the air near the end of my show, and the assistant P.D. suggested I use it to close the show. Good idea – I’ve used it ever since. “Poland is not yet lost” is the literal translation.
Rick: Lets talk about some of the perks of being in the public eye. Explain the picture (in the book) of Elton John, Hef, Barbie Benton, John Landecker, Elton John, and you standing around a Foosball table.
Connie: As an air personality at a hot station, you got invited to many press parties. Some were held at the Chicago Playboy mansion. That’s where many of us DJ’s met celebs, like Elton John. I had no idea we were being photographed around the foosball table, but later, Sharon Fox, a local reporter, sent me the front page of FACES magazine, and there we were – legendary DJ John Landecker standing right next to me, and upfront were Elton John, Hef, and his playmate at the time, Barbie Benton. I remember the swimming pool in the basement with the paper bathing suits they handed out – the fireman’s pole that I really wanted to slide down, but didn’t – but I don’t remember the foosball moment – hmmmm, why is that?
The parties were always a surprise – so thrilling to be one of the special guests! Of course, I had my camera with me, as always, and snapped many good pics of my own (one very unusual shot of Elton is in the book -- that I doubt you’ll see anywhere else – Hah!) Fleetwood Mac was there at one party – Stevie Nicks was very sweet and posed for pictures.
Even before I was a DJ, when I worked at WCFL, we also got invited everywhere. I had the opportunity to meet Henry Mancini, Andy Williams, Paul Revere and the Raiders, John Denver, Carly Simon, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Evil Knievel, and so many more.
As a WIND jock, I emceed many big oldie acts that came to town, like Bobby Vinton, and Danny & the Juniors. PR guy, Jim Feeley, booked me to emcee Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. Then, of course, there were the celebs who came to the station for radio interviews, like the Carpenters, and Steve Allen.
These were historical figures in the pop culture/entertainment world – but also just normal folks like us – making a living at what they did best – and most were always very nice and friendly (and some, even a little too friendly.) I always thought – what am I doing here with them – what a kick!
Rick: OK, two more stories must be told. Give us the Reader's Digest version of the day you met Elvis and your date with Neil Diamond.
Connie: Oh noooooooo, you want to know about Elvis and Neil Diamond? Well, the Elvis story is safe enough. I used to do a bit on my show – called “The Radio-Gram” – kinda like a telegram. I asked listeners to call the show, and my engineer taped their voice messages to the celeb who was appearing in town. I did this for Tom Jones and for Elvis.
When I heard Elvis was performing in town – BINGO – this was my chance to meet Elvis! It just so happened that my cousin-in-law was working at the hotel he was staying at – and arranged the entire “ambush.” SO EXCITING! And YES, I met him. Stood there – a little wobbly in the legs – right in front of him as I handed him the tapes of Chicagoans who had love-messages for him. He was beautiful. More than your everyday celebrity entertainer. He seemed kind – gentle – humble – quiet – and bigger than life. He was ELVIS -- and you could see that he did all he could to be all you wanted him to be. I think, if you read his favorite book, “The Impersonal Life,” the way he felt about his celebrity would become very clear.
As for Neil Diamond – hmmm – how much does this guy love soup? Totally unexpected, he had asked the record promoter (Earl Glickman) to fix him up with me – to show him around town in Chicago. I was the Talent Coordinator at WCFL at the time – and met him as Joel Sebastian was interviewing him on the air at WCFL – talking about his latest hit. What went on (or didn’t) at the Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive, later that day, is in the book. He’s a great performer – so I hear.
Rick: You were out of radio for quite awhile before being approached by WJMK program director Jim Smith back in the early part of this decade. What was that phone call like, how surprised were you, and how did you like being back in the saddle again after all those years away?
Connie: JIM SMITH!!! OMG! I was halfway out the door when the phone rang. Jim Smith (photo), Program Director of WJMK – asking me if I would like to come out of “radio retirement” as he put it. I was stunned. I thought, YESSSSSS!!!! and then NOOOOOO!!!! and then didn’t know what to think. Coming back after 17 years was kinda like a cicada. Hey, well, if an insect could do it, then so could I. It wasn’t an easy decision, but now I thank Jim Smith for completing my “radio-me.” I was coming very close to that at WIND, but was nipped in the bud. The other stations I worked at after that, balked at “personality radio.”
This was my denouement! This became my pinnacle! Eventually, I had the #1 show in Chicago on Saturday nights (excluding urban stations) -- “’70’s Saturday Night” – rated #1 by Arbitron in the 25-54 demographics. It was here that I became “The first woman in America to broadcast ‘live’ on an all-digital radio station” – WJMK HD2 – All Access Net News.
It wasn’t easy at first. When I left radio to pursue an art career, the jocks were playing cartridges. (Sort of like an 8-track, but there was one song on each cartridge.) When I returned, it was all on computer – Audiovault – and an occasional CD. But Jim Smith knew enough about my past to allow me a chance to acclimate and he also allowed me great creative freedom – such as choosing music for the Elvis special. I remember adding the Elvis song, “Paralyzed” – (one of my faves). A listener called with unbelief – because it was also her favorite song by Elvis and no other stations ever played it. Of course not, they only played the so-called, overplayed, “hits.” (Photo of Connie by Michael G. Bush)
Besides his knowledge of Chicago radio, Jim Smith had this experienced instinct. He knew that what had worked before would work again. Though it’s a different era now, creativity doesn’t lessen – it just changes and adapts. “Creativity” continually creates. Unfortunately, the heads in New York were too far removed to be aware of what Chicago radio was all about. They don’t get it. It’s so different here. New York and L.A. are very transient. There’s no “hometown” as there is in Chicago. Our listeners are so very much more loyal – so much more “family.” Chicago is different – Chicago is very special. Of all three major markets, Chicago radio will always be “First!”
Rick: If these stories are any indication of the kind of stories in the book, I can't wait to read it. Where can we get a copy? Is it going to be in bookstores or is it available only on-line, or both?
Connie: Oh, Rick – You’re gonna love the book. It’s a lot about radio – but even more so, it’s about life – how does a not-media-connected-Chicago-girl get such a fabulous chance to live a dream that she never even dreamed? How does life lead one on to do God’s work in the world – when one never even imagined that? How does a phone call come from out of the blue, from someone like Den Pal Penny Lane, who led a “secretary” to entertain the public, or from Program Director, Jim Smith, who brought someone back to Chicago radio?
It’s a life lesson – beyond radio – it extends to everyone’s life. And that’s the main point of my book. Yes, it’s an autobiography – all about my life – yadayadayada – but the main point is that everyone has a gift that they are meant to share with the world –
“There’s a bit of Stardust in everyone – so we may sparkle for each other!”
I hope you’ll enjoy the book – At this site – www.TopRockGirlyJock.com, you’ll receive a first edition, autographed copy -- $19.95 plus IL tax, and no S&H (Cheaper than Sham-Wow! And lasts even longer!) Also available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.
Hope you’ll tune in to Steve & Johnnie, Tuesday, October 27, for the radio interview on WGN, 720 AM.
Oh, and pass this on to all the Chicago P.D.s – I’m looking for a new radio home --- money’s not the issue – love of the art form is! Thanks, Rick! Your blog is a Chicago treasure!