Thursday, February 04, 2010

Vince Argento

Vince Argento was recently named the Production Director of the Loop FM 97.9. Before taking that job he had worked as a technical producer for Steve & Garry, John Records Landecker, and most recently, Jonathon Brandmeier.

Rick: First of all, congratulations on the new job. This must be exciting for you—this is the same job that was once held by your radio hero Matt Bisbee.

Vince: This is true. I talked to Matt (photo) two weeks ago and we were talking about how people all over the dial were getting fired left and right and he jokingly asked “why DID we get into this business?” I said “I got into the business to be like Matt Bisbee”—and I think he thought I was joking, but I really mean it. I would come home from high school and listen to Steve and Garry every day. When I heard those great Bisbee promos, I realized that was what I wanted to do. That’s what inspired me to get into this business in the first place.

Rick: So I suppose this new job means that when Johnny B resurfaces you won’t be a part of the new show. I’m sure that you have some mixed feelings about that. Have you talked to Johnny about this since the news of your promotion came out last week?

Vince: To tell you the truth, the way that radio stations are tightening their budgets these days, I wasn’t even sure that the next station would be in a position to hire me anyway. That’s just a fact of life in the business—it’s a very difficult time economically. But when I told Johnny, he was very encouraging about this opportunity for me...for now.

Johnny (photo) is a family oriented guy, and he understands that family comes first—he’s always been that way. The whole time I worked for him if something came up at home—like one of my kids got sick, had a first day of kindergarten, or I needed to take care of something at home, he always believed that was more important than the job. He knows this new job is good for me and my family.

Rick: You and I have worked together on two big radio shows (Steve & Garry and John Landecker), but our time together on the Steve & Garry show lasted literally thirty seconds. Tell the story about the day we met, because it’s a good one. I still tell that story twenty years later.

Vince: My first entry point into the business was when I heard that Steve and Garry’s cabin boy (Jim) was going to college, and that they needed a new sandwich boy. I called the request line and you answered. I believe you said; “Are you sure you want to get into this?”

Anyway, you gave me all the information to get in, tips for what to say, who to talk to, and all that stuff, including the address to Steve Dahl and company. I wrote a letter to Garry. In the letter I said I would call in three days to get their answer. When I called they said ‘Sure, come on down for an interview.” I came downtown and met their manager Swifty, and he said: “You got the job, kid. It pays $4.25 an hour.”

By the time I started, though, you had quit as their producer, so I didn’t meet you face to face for about three weeks. I got sandwiches every day, Matza Ball soup and corn beef sandwiches, no mayo for Steve, and coffee with three creams for Garry, and then I was running late one day.

When I got into the producer’s booth, the producer, Phil Inzinga, had just been fired. You were there instead.

Rick: They had asked me to come back and fill in while they looked for someone new.

Vince: Right, but I didn’t know anything about it. When Steve saw me through the glass, he said ‘Hey, what’s he doing here? I thought I fired him too.” And you kind of looked at me like, boy this is really uncomfortable. Then the hotline rang. It was Swifty saying come downstairs, I have something to talk to you about. And that was it. I was gone. Steve was doing a housecleaning, and I was swept out too.

So I took the train home and was all sad. I was still in college--I was studying art for about a year, and I started listening to the show again, and by that time you had left again.

I heard them say they needed an intern—so I thought, hey I can do that. So I changed my major to communications and immediately called Swifty (photo). I said “Hey I’m a broadcasting student now, can I be an intern?” He said: “Sure, come on in. We can’t pay you, but you’re hired.”

And that was a really weird time on the show. They had gone through so many producers after you left, and none of them worked out. They were using an AV cart, and calling it “the producer,” so I became the person that prepped the producer, and before you knew it, I had producer duties, even though they weren’t calling me that.

Rick: There must have been some memorable moments during those Steve & Garry years.

Vince: Lots of em. I’ll never forget one morning when Steve came in really hung over, so I laid down couch cushions in the corner of the air studio and got a mike stand, and aimed the microphone at his face. He did the show lying down.

Rick: (laughs) I never thought of using the couch cushions. I always put down newspapers for him.

Vince: But the best part of that day for me was that I got to run the board! I couldn’t believe it. Here I was running the board for Steve and Garry! This was the show I listened to every day. I can still remember how exciting it was.

The best part of those Loop years, though, was meeting all the Loop kids. That’s what we called all the behind the scenes people—people who were really just the grunts, the young 20-somethings that worked on all the different shows—people like Artie Kennedy (photo, with his wife Mary), who was with Brandmeier’s show at the time, and Tony "Stony" Frothingham, who was my best pal at the station. We all hung out together, spent our free time together drinking beer at Flapjaws Bar.

Rick: By the time Steve and Garry broke up in 1993 you were the de-facto technical producer of the show. I know that was obviously a very weird and tense time. Looking back on that now with the benefit of nearly seventeen years of hindsight, what are the things you remember most from those tense days?

Vince: After Garry’s (photo) wedding he was gone for two weeks and we all assumed he was going to be back that next Monday. That morning Steve called me on the producer’s line, and I told him “Garry must be late. He’s not even here yet,” and Steve said “I don’t think he’s coming Vinnie.” I’ll be honest with you; I don’t really remember what we did on the show that day. We were in all in a fog.

At some point, they pulled Steve off the air, because they were worried that he was going to say something that would mess up the chances of getting them back together—so Stony and I hosted the Best of Steve & Garry while they negotiated behind the scenes. Every single local news outlet was reporting that they broke up—there were reporters in the lobby, in the hallway, and here’s me and Stony on the air...we had no idea what to do.

When they finally decided what to do, Garry got his own show mid-days on the Loop FM, and Steve was put on mornings on the AM along with Leslie (Keiling), Laura Witek (photo), and I believe Les Grobstein. I stayed with Steve.

Rick: So it wasn’t like a child of divorce—no fighting over the kids.

Vince: Not at all. Garry was totally cool about it. He and I remain friends to this day.

Rick: I’m trying to remember the time-line. Were you still there when it became the Steve & Bruce show on AM 1000?

Vince: Just at the very beginning. That’s when you guys hired me at WJMK.

Rick: We were excited to get you to come aboard the John Records Landecker show. That took our show to another level, in my opinion. John really allowed us the freedom to create, and this was really your first chance to flex your creative muscles on a daily basis. What did you discover about yourself during those nine years?

Vince: I learned that I had denied my love of production to be a producer—I hated the producing stuff like booking guests and things like that, and I didn’t even realize it until I was doing production only, and running the board for Landecker. That was amazing. Following John’s lead—and then adding stuff of my own, was so much fun. He really gave me “cart” blanche to play whatever I wanted. Ahem. We played carts in those days. (Photo: WJMK morning show--Rick Kaempfer, John Records Landecker, Leslie Keiling, Richard Cantu, and Vince Argento)

He let me do voices, which was something I always wanted to do. Mel Blanc was one of my heroes. One time he made me do improv cartoon voices with June Foray (the voice of Rocky from Rocky & Bullwinkle among many other cartoon voices) live on the air. I didn’t want to do it, but I’m glad he forced me to.

He even let me sing some parody songs and put a few of them on his CDs, which was a big thrill.

Rick: I remember the day we discovered how well you could sing. We had Ron Magers on the show just after the Jerry Springer controversy at Channel 5. I had written this parody song about that whole situation, but John didn’t have time to sing it before the show, so you went in the studio and came back with this four part harmony thing that blew us away. (AUDIO: "Magers" featuring Vince on all vocals)

Vince: I just remember Ron Magers' reaction to finally having a Landecker parody song about him. (AUDIO: Ron's reaction)

Rick: One of the many things that was great about working with Landecker was that he really made all of us part of the show. Some of the biggest moments of our personal lives took place on the air. You were even wired for sound when you asked your lovely wife Liz to marry you. Tell that story (and how radio brought you two together), if you don’t mind.

Vince: After I left Dahl's solo show, Dave Logan (photo), the PD at the Loop, put me on the air with Stony to do entertainment reports on the Loop FM. We went out on our bikes with our cell-phones and reported from street fairs and art festivals and interviewed whoever we found. We did that all summer and near the end of the summer they did a promotion called “Win a trip to Woodstock with Vince and Stony.” (The 1994 version).

(Listen to Matt Bisbee's promo for the Woodstock contest)

So, listeners were invited to send a postcard or fax to the radio station. When it was time to pick a winner, Stoney reached into the box, and pulled out a fax, that said: “From Liz O’Malley” and it was on O’Malley Brothers stationery (her father’s company). I still remember what Stoney said— ‘Look, it’s a chick that owns her own business with great handwriting.” That chick was using a “Hand writing font” on her entry and has now been my wife for eleven years.

Not too long after I joined Landecker’s show, I told John I was going to propose to Liz, and he said ‘You gotta get that on tape.” So I wore a wire hooked up to a portable DAT machine and wore a lavaliere microphone, and recorded the whole thing. We played it on the air the next day, and then over the years we played it any time there was a story about romance in the news. We also played it every year on Valentine’s Day. (Listen to it here)

Brandmeier played that tape on his show when I worked for him too.

Rick: When the rest of the Landecker show was fired, you were the only one the station retained. The same thing happened when the Brandmeier show was let go. How did you manage to pull that off?

They call me the radio cockroach. (laughs) I’m not sure what it is exactly. I think it’s because most people want to be on the air, and there aren’t that many people that just love doing production. That’s me. That’s the only thing I can think of. That, and I’m versatile. I can do a lot of different things. I know that’s why they kept me after the Landecker show. I could run the board, I could produce a show, I did production and I could solder. That’s probably the only reason they kept me.

Rick: For the past four years you were the technical producer for Brandmeier. I know you had to hustle in your previous jobs, but Brandmeier’s show took it to whole different level, didn’t it?

Vince: It sure did. Johnny just moves at a pace like no other and commands the most from his staff. He pushes you to produce the best that you can, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. He’s like a quarterback calling out the plays. He motivated without demoralizing us—he was constructive, not destructive.

With all of his successes you forget that he ultimately is a regular guy from Wisconsin. He’s a family man, totally grounded and fun.

Rick: What will you remember most about your years with him?

Vince: When he reacted to a something I produced. When a compliment came over the intercom from Johnny during the show, with the bullets flying all around—in the middle of the battle—and it blasted my ears out—that’s the sort of thing that will stay with me for a long time. I have so much respect for him that when he returned the respect it meant more to me than I could ever say.

Rick: Do you think you’ll miss doing the personality-show stuff?

Vince: Being part of a show is like being a part of a family. I don’t know how else to put it. Working with you and the gang at WJMK for all those years, we were more than colleagues. We were a family on that show. That’s why we’re all still friends. (Photo: The Kaempfers and the Argentos on a double date, circa 1995)

And the same is true of Brandmeier’s gang. I’m sure I’ll be friends with Guy and the guys forever. That’s probably what I’ll miss more than the day to day grind of doing a show. (Photo: Vince on the left, Guy on the right, and Loop superfan Jan Engle in between)

I’m really excited about this new opportunity though. In many ways, being the production director at the Loop is my dream job.