Saturday, May 29, 2010
Rick: I am a big fan of "The Regular Guy." It seems he has been a part of WXRT forever. What is the origin of that character?
Marty: I was producing Terri Hemmert’s morning show in 1984. At that time XRT was running a daily one minute Roger Ebert movie review/news feature. It had been on for a maybe a couple years when one day it ended without any explanation. I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if on that first morning without Roger, in his place would be just some guy reviewing a movie. So, I reviewed Mel Gibson’s remake of “Mutiny On The Bounty”. I did it in the same format as Roger’s except instead of “At The Movies”, I called it “Goin’ To The Show and I’m Just A Regular Guy” and did a little minute and a half thing. It went over well and I was told to do it again and I said, “do what again? That was it”. Who knew?
Rick: You really are a jack of all trades there at XRT--but I see your title is "Creative Assistant to Programming." What are some of your duties in that role?
Rick: I watched your video interviews of Terri Hemmert, and it's obvious that you consider her to be your mentor. You actually quit a full-time job to become her producer in 1981--something you call "your most irrational act." How did that come about?
Marty: I was managing a location for a local car rental and limousine company and I realized it wasn’t what I really should be doing long term, so I enrolled at Columbia College while still working the car job full time. One of my classes was Terri’s Rock and Soul Programming class and even though it was taught by a radio personality, it wasn’t a blow off course. Terri made you work. I wrote a paper and gave a presentation on soul music dancing. The Mashed Potato, The Swim, The Jerk etc. I even drew the dance steps. She really liked the paper and thought I was cool.
Rick: What are some of your favorite moments from those days?
Marty: Walking into the studio for the first time and seeing all the albums (vinyl!) on all four walls and realizing, wow, they actually play records here. That four weeks I was talking about really did keep getting extended, but I’ll never forget that first summer at Chicagofest when the frenzy around the XRT booth made it obvious Terri was connecting with the morning show audience. Right after that, she was officially named Morning Show Host making her one of the first women to host a morning drive show anywhere. It was truly a great moment in broadcasting. Also having afternoons free to sit in the near empty bleachers at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs finish 25 games under .500 in a strike shortened season.
Rick: WXRT has one of the most stable air-staff lineups of all time. It really is amazing. People have been on the air there for over thirty years. What is it about the XRT culture that creates such loyalty (both station to employee and employee to station)?
Rick: WXRT listeners are just as loyal. I remember when I first started at the Loop nearly twenty five years ago, I told one of my buddies to check out my show. He had been one of my best friends since childhood--and he said--"No man. I can't. I listen to XRT." He considered it cheating on his favorite radio station. XRT listeners really are that loyal, aren't they?
Marty: I know. That’s how I was before I started working here. Being an XRT listener sort of gave you a personal identity. I remember when I was at the car rental place and a customer would return a car with the radio set to XRT, I’d think, hey, that customer is pretty cool. The loyalty comes from the music first and our personal low key approach to presenting. We go out a lot too and are all pretty approachable and we’ve been around so long that listeners feel they know us.
Rick: One of the perks of being a rock jock is getting tickets to see just about every important rock and roll act that ever made it through Chicago. What are a few of your favorites over the years?
Marty: That’s a very good question. I’ve been fortunate to see some of the best performances in Chicago rock history. One that comes instantly to mind is Patti Smith’s Riviera Show at an XRT Holiday Concert For The Kids where the excitement of the audience made Patti kick it into fifth gear and deliver a moving, emotional and totally rockin’show. The shows you really remember are when bands play Chicago at small venues early in their careers. U2, Talking Heads, The Police and Prince at Park West, Pearl Jam and Pumpkins at Metro and more recently MGMT at Schubas and The Arcade Fire at The Empty Bottle. It’s great to be there at the beginning.
I’ve also been able to see some great festival performances at Bonnaroo, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza and I’ll never forget Radiohead at Hutchinson Field in 2001. Also, Neil Young and Crazy Horse as a driving rain storm knocked all the power out in Tinley Park at The Horde Fest. They never stopped playing.
Rick: You're the host of The Big Beat. How would you describe that show to the uninitiated?
I was fortunate to start my tenure at the time of the indie rock explosion of the past 10 years. There is so much music in so many different genres with more ways to hear this music than ever before. I try to round up the best and present it in an informative and entertaining way. Hosting the show and trying to stay current is almost a full time job in itself.
Rick: You've also been a full time jock on the air, and filled in on virtually every shift, in every daypart. What are a few of your favorite on air moments?
Also being the producer of The Eclectic Company has given me the opportunity to meet and hang out with artists in ways I never would too. Just sitting around playing and talking about records with the likes of John Doe, Robyn Hitchcock, Beck, Graham Parker and hundreds of others while also becoming good friends with hosts Jon Langford and Nick Tremulis has been really great and rewarding.
Rick: Next year marks your 30th anniversary at XRT. Any anniversary plans?
Marty: Other than say, “30 years? Are you sure? Check your math” probably not too much. Hemmert has anniversaries copyrighted around here.