Saturday, January 16, 2010

Matt Spiegel

Matt Spiegel is the co-host of the Danny Mac Show, middays at the Score (670 AM).

Rick: OK, let’s start with the obvious one. Explain the origin of the nickname “Meatpants.”

Matt: Heh. When I was an intern for McNeil and Boers, circa 1994, I was a rock and roll singer, with limited income and limited wardrobe choices. I had a pair of black jeans that I loved, even though they had a rip in the inner left thigh. I convinced myself that the rip wasn’t that big of a deal, and that it was cool in some kind of grunge rock way. Boers said “our intern has a big flank of meat hanging out of his pants.” And there it was. I used to hate it…but it was memorable. Still with me, 16 years later.

I sometimes answer this flippantly, saying it’s a vestige of my career in the porn industry, befitting my prowess in certain capacities. That’s a better, and shorter, story.

Rick: The Danny Mac Show has been a nearly instant ratings hit for the Score, and you’re obviously a big part of that show. But with the responsibility and prestige (and hopefully money) also comes criticism. I think you’ve settled in nicely alongside Danny, but I’m guessing that long-time McNeil fans were pretty critical of you at first. Am I right about that, and if I am, how have you gone about trying to win them over?

Matt: Yes, the criticism was harsh…especially early, and it was omnipresent. Texting, and message boards, and other forms of immediate feedback can be vicious and distracting. I don’t fight back, meanly. I have exchanges…I let the texters know that I hear them, and calmly respond, standing up for myself if it’s warranted. Once people realize you’re actually a person and not a caricature, they think a bit differently.

People are entitled to hate you, and often they listen TO hate you. That’s a huge difference from doing national radio on a day to day basis. It took me a little while, but I stopped paying attention to the feedback, positive or negative, and concentrated on pleasing the guys in the room: myself first, and Mac, and our producers, and our bosses. As long as that core likes the effort and most of the results, then you’ve won. It’s so hilariously cliché in ways I’ve made fun of ballplayers in the past – don’t listen to the critics, whether they like you or not.

This has been a fascinating journey, frankly, and one that’s been psychologically beneficial on a greater level than just the show.

Rick: When I interviewed Mac and asked him about you, he described you this way: “Spiegel is all I thought he'd be and I had high expectations from the lad. He pushes when it's the right time and can 'drive' it from time to time. I've never had that from a partner and it's refreshing.” How would you describe him?

Matt: He’s amazing. First of all, his brain is astounding. Recall for days…like no one I’ve ever worked with. Also, and this I knew, his radio muscles are unparalleled. His skills in resets, in spinning plates between topics or elements, in staying calm amidst chaos; it’s all amazing to watch.

As a partner, he’s been remarkably gracious. Generous. He trusts me to take it somewhere interesting, trusts me to let him roll when he’s rolling, trusts me to let me roll when I’m rolling. We play pretty good ping pong.

As a man, and I’ve said this to him, he’s so much more evolved than I’d realized. He doesn’t let little things bother him, and we resolve conflict beautifully. We joke about being in the blissful “phase A” of our relationship, but I bet it continues for a long time.

Rick: I know you got your start as a producer, and you’ve produced for a lot of the talent at the Score. Sometimes talent gets a little uppity when producers get air time. They tend to always think of you as that kid that used to get coffee for them. Obviously McNeil doesn’t think of you that way or he wouldn’t have asked you to be his sidekick. Do you think it’s because Danny came up as a producer himself?

Matt: I stopped being thought of as a producer in his mind long ago. I was a host on the Score while producing him, then while producing Murph & Fred when Mac was already at ESPN 1000. And, he heard me for years, on and off, working national on Sporting News. I sat in with him, and Barry Rozner, one day on his old show up the dial about 5 years ago. So that transition took place in his mind long ago, but I’m sure you’re right; the fact that he traveled a similar path has benefited me in that way. That path is less and less frequent, and ought not to be. You have to learn good radio somewhere, either because you’re around it, or because you’re around bad radio and learn what you’d do differently.

Rick: I’ve always believed that air talent should experience life as a producer so they can understand what producers go through, but I also think that producers are helped immensely by being on the air—because they get a better feel of how lonely it is behind that mic when things aren’t running smoothly. What have you learned from doing both jobs over the years?

Matt: 100% agree in producers being helped by being on the air. Made me better as a producer, more understanding, more patient. You have a hard time getting a host to get on that side of course, but I see your thought process. Hosts would cut producers some slack if a rejoin isn’t edited perfectly, if a guest doesn’t answer the phone on time, if a call isn’t screened perfectly.

Rick: You were with the national network Sporting News Radio for almost ten years. That must have been a strange experience. For most of those years Sporting News Radio wasn’t even heard here in the town you were broadcasting from—but in some other markets it was the only sports game in town. How difficult was it to do a show for other markets?

Matt: It was a tremendous learning ground, and a very odd place. Being in Northbrook before I moved west to Santa Monica with them, I was often going nuts to not be able to talk Chicago sports to the extent I wanted to…being press at the Sox world series games 1 and 2, but doing just a couple of national shows about it is one memorable experience. I was working at XRT, singing so much here in town, but did not have a local sports voice…truly odd. Meanwhile, I was huge in certain markets. They love me in Portland, Maine. I can talk SEC football in the southeast with the best of them.

I loved certain shifts very much. I did the 5am-9am Central shift on Sunday mornings, which meant I worked the early rising churchgoers in the East, and the late night revelers in the West. I used to take one topic, and spin it two ways at once for each crowd…that was fun. While there, I was on 2 different morning shows, filled in on every shift imaginable, and did college football pre and post, and NFL pre and post. Invaluable experience. I covered the steroids hearings. I went to Super Bowl in Phoenix and did shows from radio row.

Sporting News was a place that was hemorrhaging money from the moment I got there until the moment I left. That environment is extremely tough to produce quality radio in, but it toughens you up for sure. I made some great friends, and worked with a few terrific people too.

Rick: You’re not just a sports fan—you’re also a huge music fan. That must have been especially fun in the old Score/XRT days, because you had the best of both worlds in the same hallway, and you got to work for both of them. Among the many duties you had with WXRT: producing Sound Opinions with Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis—the only rock and roll talk show in the country. What are some of your favorite memories doing that show?

Matt: Jim and Greg are the goods…great guys, true radio talents, in addition to being the smartest music people imaginable. We taught each other a lot about good radio, and did a couple years of TV together as well on channel 11.

The first thing that comes to mind is when Trey Anastasio of Phish came to be on the show, because my mom had taught him music as an 8th grader. The fact that he and I connected in that way is really valuable to me.

Here’s one for you…the week after 9/11, Wilco came to the little XRT studios on Belmont and played songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The version of “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” with Tweedy’s screaming, angsty guitar about 6 feet away from me is one of the great musical experiences of my life. Jeff was really broken up emotionally about 9/11 as we all were, and they did “War on War” after a conversation about it.

So many amazing experiences. Meeting John Paul Jones, Robyn Hitchcock, John Cale, Yoko Ono and more. Roger Ebert coming in for a movie criticism vs. music criticicsm show, when he was such a hero of Jim’s. SXSW as a show, seeing amazing bands in bizarre locales in Austin. Lots of great live 2 hour shows on Belmont, and then making the transition to a smoother, one hour prerecorded version on BEZ. I really feel like I know exactly what a good radio show can be, and a lot of that is due to lessons from SoundOps. Now whether or not I pull it off on my own is another story.

Rick: The demands of doing a daily talk show are immense. Are you still managing to find time to pursue your musical interests?

Matt: I’ve always been a guy doing a million things…the kid going from school to tennis practice to band practice to play rehearsal to a ballgame. The demands of this job have forced me to streamline nicely. I do this, and I do Tributosaurus. I do some gigs with my brother Jon and our band Brother Brother. And that’s it.

Tributosaurus is bliss…founded it 7 years ago, and it’s been far more popular than I’d ever imagined. The core of the band are all great friends, who do amazing work, and the extended family and community are my people. I’m such a lucky man, to get to sing and make music at such a high level. We’re an atypical cover band, learning an entire new set of material every month, playing it once, and letting it go away. Each show is unique, and will never be repeated. There’s an elegance to what we do that elevates it beyond a tribute band experience…no costumes, no makeup, just serving the music; the music is the star. I’m really proud of it.

Rick: What’s the best and worst thing about this gig?

Matt: The worst is that it’s relentless. You can’t fake watching the games, especially in my beloved baseball season. Also, I’m an over-preparer, so I’m always reading, or watching, and taking notes. It’s rare that I watch a game and just take it in. The psychological effect of that, and the intensity of the workday, makes it a bit more taxing than people realize. That said, those complaints are ridiculous, right? I GET TO WATCH GAMES AND TALK ABOUT THEM. I have to, in fact. Gratitude for miles.

The best thing is that I have an outlet for any thoughts I think are interesting. I’m essentially being paid for my ideas, and that has always been my professional goal.

I’ll also say this…and this is more palpable in local radio than in national. The community of people who listen, and interact with us, is a really special, odd place. Peoria Matt, Urblacker, Elmhurst Steve, Johnny Fontane; these listeners feel like friends. That’s awesome.

I’d like only 20 more years or so please.