Saturday, April 24, 2010
Jonathan Hood, J-Hood, is a talk show host at ESPN Radio in Chicago, AM 1000.
Rick: First of all, I have to tell you I'm a big fan of your Saturday morning baseball show with Bruce Levine. I listen to it every week as I'm driving my kids to piano lessons. It really is the best baseball show on the radio. I know that Bruce can be a little persnickety--but he really knows his stuff when it comes to baseball, doesn't he?
J-Hood: He certainly does. He's been the host of "Talkin Baseball" show for 19 years and he's been covering sports for over 30, so not only does he know baseball, but he knows the Chicago sports landscape better than most. From a baseball standpoint, nobody is more connected across the nation as Bruce is.
Rick: How would you describe your approach to doing that show? What kind of interaction do you and Bruce have during the week?
Rick: (laughs) I like talking to former producers that have stepped over to the other side of the glass. I don't know if you know this, but I actually cited you as an example of doing that in my book The Radio Producer's Handbook. How did you make that transition, and how have the skills you learned as a producer helped you on the air?
J-Hood: I always had a notebook next to me as a producer and by listening to the show that I produced or talk shows I would listen to, I would write down things that I would do or not do if I had the opportunity to become a talk show host. As a producer, your responsibility is to help show structure, help hosts with meaningful content and book guests that enhance the show- something that doesn't happen as often today as it was years ago in producers.
Doing all those things for various hosts and trying to do that at a high level, helped me prepare for the next level as an on-air host. If any producer complains about how bad his/her show is, they aren't very good at their job as a producer.
I worked with SCR and the One-on-One Sports (now Sporting News Radio) as a producer in mid 90's at the same time.There is nothing like the national radio experience. Working at One-on-One helped me understand the urgency to get things done and completed to better the brand.
Rick: You were at the Score for more than a decade. I know it's hard to isolate one or two highlights, but looking back on your years at the Score what are a few of your favorite memories?
* Born and raised in Calumet Heights, I never traveled to the northside much so I was unfamiliar with a lot of the streets. When I was an intern, I was summoned to get Dan McNeil and Terry Boers producer Mike Greenberg (yes, from Mike and Mike) a beef combo sandwich from Roma's Beef. I had no idea where I was going. I got lost around the infamous six corners area, I was driving and lost for at least an hour before I found it. And not to mention, Greeny's food was cold by the time I returned. Ah, the days of no map quest, Magellan or Internet to help me. How did we ever survive?
* As an intern in 1992, I was part of the promotions team handing out Score 820 flyers to people in front of the Rock n' Roll McDonald's downtown...in the rain. Nothing like giving out wet flyers to try to market the station. (That was a lot of fun.)
* The Score going from 820 to 1160am was great! So many people were hoping that the station would go 24 hours and it happened. That was a great moment.
* But the #1 memory is everyone was pulling for each other to succeed. Everyone was pulling from the same rope. Hosts, producers, management, etc.
Media writers predicted that SCR would last 6 months & they are still doing sportstalk years later.
Rick: And now that you've been at ESPN for awhile too, I think it's safe to say that you've co-hosted a show with nearly every single sports radio host in Chicago. Which one do you feel you had the most chemistry with, and which one was the greatest struggle?
J-Hood: Man, that's a tough one Rick. I have had chemistry with almost everyone I've worked with. Chemistry on the air will always happen with two or three hosts on a show if there is solid content.
I would say the biggest struggle in my career was being a part of the Rick Telander Show. The issue wasn't Rick and Doug as much as it was the mixed messages I received from management on what our roles were on that show.
Rick: They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy. Has there been enough time yet for you laugh at the whole Webio experience?
J-Hood: No. The Chicagosportswebio experience was great for me at the time, because ESPN began cutting back on night time programming. I hosted 54 shows with Tim Doyle and I enjoyed them. I knew at some point that I would work again, but I felt bad for the hard working producers that couldn't find anything right away. Steven Goffman, who produced 2 shows- Fred Huebner/Matt Weber and my show with Doyle, just landed with ESPN 1000, 10 months after that debacle. So, if it seemed humorous from the outside that the majority owner left Chicago without paying over 800 employees, it wasn't internally.
Rick: All of you took a giant leap of faith going to Webio, and you were one of the fortunate ones that managed to land back at the station you left. I guess it's true what they say about never burning bridges. Was that a difficult call to make, and how did that all come about?
Webio, for some odd reason, had people at both sportsradio stations concerned about the content on the station, the sales/sponsorships and the marketing that they got. With the proper backing, Webio could have survived but it didn't.
I'm grateful to ESPN 1000 and Justin Craig for allowing me to return. The ESPN brand is stronger than no other in sports and I love being part of the family.
Rick: You're a native Chicagoan, which is always an advantage in this town. On a sports station it's especially helpful, because you can relate to the pain, agony, and ecstasy of the average Chicago sports fan. You've also had a front row seat, so to speak, to most of the sporting events of the past two decades. What are some of your favorite moments as a fan?
J-Hood: Being at playoff games during the 2005 White Sox season. I'm a huge Sox fan and to see my favorite team climb to the mountain top, it was a joy.
I loved the first Bulls championship because of the struggle they had with getting past the Pistons. To see Michael Jordan and the Bulls finally win a title was great!
The Bears championship in 1985 was so much fun because they had so much personality, not to mention dominant on both sides of the ball. I'm glad my favorite NFL player, Walter Payton had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl.
Rick: Growing up in Chicago were you a fan of radio? If so, who did you listen to?
I listened a lot to: Dave Baum (photo), Ty Wansley, Drew Hayes, Ron Gleason, Eric Brown, J.J. Jackson, Doug Banks and Don Vogel.
I'm still a huge radio/internet/podcast listener to shows across the country.
Rick: You're not just a radio guy anymore. You blog for ESPN.com and you've branched out into television too. How are you liking some of the other media, and do you ever see yourself more aggressively pursuing a career in something other than radio?
J-Hood: I love just about everything about the business. On-air, t.v. or blogging it's in my blood. I told my wife Michelle before we were married that we can get married, but you have to know I have another love in my life and that's the broadcasting business. She was fine with that, thankfully. I have my own website now-jonathanhoodshow.com so that helps me write about hot button issues at my leisure.
You never know in our crazy business. I enjoy doing all forms of media. When I'm not hosting, I work the media ministry for my church editing church programming, which I enjoy very much. So on-air or behind the scenes, I love the business.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Jill Urchak is a long-time traffic reporter in Chicago, most recently heard on WLS AM & FM.
Rick: I read your blog post on Chicago Now, and it sounded like you were shocked when WLS laid you off a few weeks ago. Would that be an accurate assessment?
Jill: Exactly. That is accurate. I wasn’t so surprised by the AM, but the FM was surprising. That was where I started with them, the FM. I stood there like a deer in the headlights when they told me they wanted Christina (Filiaggi) to do both stations on-site, and I was out.
Rick: So you were never there at the WLS studio?
Jill: No. I was never on site there, which was unfortunate. I was back at Clear Channel traffic.
Rick: I know you were only on his show for a few months, but what was that Roe Conn experience like?
Rick: Please forgive my ignorance, but I just don’t quite understand how these things work with the traffic service and the stations. So you weren’t a WLS employee, you worked for Clear Channel Traffic, right? So who makes the calls about the traffic assignments? Does the station have control? Does Clear Channel? I know I’m not the only one that gets confused by this. Could you talk me through that maze?
I can tell you how it worked with WLS. It was their call for Clear Channel to hire me. The timing worked out great because I had just been laid off at Shadow Traffic. I happened to be known by the program director, and WLS had just switched from Shadow to Clear Channel, so it worked out perfectly. Usually the station requests someone, and Clear Channel does the best they can to provide the person the station requests, but sometimes they say, here, try him or her out. That happens more to the smaller stations.
Does that answer your question at all? Let’s just say there isn’t one clear way it happens every time. It depends on the station, and the person, and the situation.
Rick: Traffic reporters in Chicago are like a club. I know that you know virtually every other traffic reporter in Chicago. You share the same info, you edit the raw traffic information, you often share the same studios, the same headphones, the same frustrations.
Jill: Don’t forget the same germs.
Rick: (laughs) Exactly. You’ve been doing it now for more than a decade, and I’m sure you’ve picked up a few things along the way from some of your colleagues. Who do you look up to in the traffic world—who are the ones that are considered the best of the best by the people that do it every day?
Jill: It was supposed to be fun and it was fun, but some people thought it was tacky, which left a sour taste for some people. I always thought it was fun. I sure had fun doing it. We weren’t thinking we were posing for Playboy. We never claimed to be runway models or anything. We just did it for fun for two years, and it was for a good cause.
Rick: I’ve heard you on many stations over the years including BBM, the Loop, and the Score just to name a few. You’ve had a chance to work with some of the legends in the business. Some are more likely to engage you in conversation on the air than others. Who are some of the personalities over the years that have brought you into the show mix and let you do more than the traffic?
Jill: The first person that did that was Red Muldoon, who later became my husband, though we divorced. Red passed away not too long ago. But I was doing traffic with him on the Rabbit, and he incorporated me into the show, and that’s where I got my first taste of it. The smaller stations like WKRS in Waukegan, were always happy to have us do more. Lenny Palmer at WKRS was a huge one for me. Eddie Webb, on the Loop, was another one. We had a chance to do some bantering.
Rick: You’ve also done a little television and DJ work, in addition to your long traffic career. Obviously there are a few different possible directions to go from here. What is the path you’re thinking of following?
Jill: All of them. Any of them. I feel like this is a turning point for me. It’s obviously not a decision I made on my own, but I’m open to many possibilities, and any possibilities. I just know I have to be doing something creative.
Rick: You’re more than just a casual writer too. You’re a published poet, and I understand you’re working on a couple of books. Are you willing to share any information about those projects?
Jill: I’ve written a children’s book called “Larry the Fish,” which is about a Beta fish named Larry that I had for four years. The other one is supposed to be funny—it’s a humor book. It’s called “Women Period,” and it’s written like a Dr. Seuss book. It goes through the 28 days of a woman, and I have fun with the concept. One day we’re on top of the world and one day we want to rip your head off. That’s who we are.
Rick: So all of your stuff is poetry, in a way.
Jill: Yes, that’s true. I went through a bad breakup years ago, and that’s why I started writing poetry. And I wrote the poetry on poetry.com, which led to my poems being published in four different books. It was really written for myself—a chance to vent, to get rid of the passion I had in me. I was just very hurt, and writing helped me. Looking back on it, you’ll probably think I’m some sort of a psycho, but I really was just venting. It was raw emotion. (Laughs)
Rick: I know you’re a Chicago girl, born and bred on the South Side. Were you a radio fan growing up, and if so, who did you listen to?
Rick: It must have been a big thrill that you ended up on that station.
Jill: Oh yeah. It was a big thrill being on WLS the first time. A dream come true.
I was born in 1971, a little fetus listening to the transistor radio; my mom always had it on. So, my love of radio started with the music, but at some point it turned into the presentation. I was that girl with the hairbrush pretending to be on the air. I thought, you know what, I want to do this. I’ve always known I was going to do radio, and people thought I was crazy. I wanted to be the person behind the microphone.
Rick: Thanks again for doing this. I should warn you that I’m a Cubs fan. You’re not going to spit on me are you?
Jill: No, no. As long you don’t say ‘Oh I’m sorry’ when you hear I’m a Sox fan. I can get along with you unless you say that. When those words are spoken, the gloves come off (laughs).
Rick: So, is this the year for the Sox?
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Sherman Kaplan is a news anchor and co-host of the Noon Business Report on WBBM-AM NewsRadio 780
Rick: First of all congratulations on your longevity at WBBM. Last year you celebrated 40 years.
Sherman: Thank you.
Rick: Tell the story of how you first arrived at WBBM.
Sherman: It was by accident really, that I got this job at all. My wife and I were vacationing in Chicago in September 1968 shortly after the Democratic convention, and we were staying at the Holiday Inn (now the W—I believe). At the time I was working at a radio station in Columbus Ohio, and a friend of mine was living in Chicago. He told me that WBBM just went all news and that I should apply. The studio was right down the street from our hotel. I wasn’t really looking for a job at the time, because I was pretty happy in Columbus, and I was pretty secure there--the number two man of a three man staff--but I thought what the heck. Let’s see what the big market guys think of little market me.
So, like all good broadcasters, I had a tape and resume on hand, and I dropped it off at the station. They were very nice and all, but said they didn’t have anything available at the time, which was fine by me. We went back to Columbus and in January they called and asked me if I could start in two weeks. That was probably the hardest decision I’ve made in my life. I decided to give it a try, and came to Chicago.
Five other broadcasters came around the same time, within two or three weeks of me. Len Walter (photo, also still with WBBM) was among them. Dick Helton, who has been the morning co-anchor at KNX for years, was another.
Rick: You were hired as a reporter at first?
Sherman: Yes, general assignment reporter and anchor. My first day was Feb 17, and I had no instruction at all. They never a said a thing to me about anything. Mal Bellairs was my co-anchor. He was a legend in Chicago, but he wasn’t really a news man –he was a leftover from the old format. I believe we hosted from 1-2 pm, and then I covered stories on the street. My first night in Chicago I had to cover an accident on the south side and I had no idea where I was going.
Rick: There was a lot going on in Chicago at that time, wasn’t there?
Rick: Those first few years in Chicago were quite challenging weren’t they?
Sherman: My first year I really hated it. I made an effort to go back to Columbus. I had a very hard adjustment to make here, and I had been expecting to become news director eventually in Columbus, so I really wanted to go back. It’s a good thing I didn’t-- the news director in Columbus stayed another 24 years. (Laughs).
Rick: So no one really helped indoctrinate you into the wonderful world of Chicago—the neighborhoods, the politics, the underbelly?
Rick: You’ve obviously covered every major news story over the past four decades. Are there any that really stand out to you?
Sherman: Oh yes. Most of these stories I covered in the studio, but many of them happened during my show. The crash of the Illinois Central Railroad on the south side. The Nixon resignation. The explosion of the Challenger. I’ll never forget that day. We carried the launch live at 10:30. At that time we had a business report from Len Walter at 20 and 40, and as I threw it to Len, I had my eye on the television monitor and saw something that didn’t look quite right. I mentioned it to my producer in the talkback, and when we came back from Len, I started to describe what I was seeing.
Rick: Before the network knew what happening?
Sherman: Yes, before the network was on it. They cut to it shortly thereafter. There have been so many other memorable days as well. Daley’s death. Harold Washington’s death. Of course, 9-11.
Rick: I was listening to you that morning on my way home from Landecker’s show. We covered it live while it was happening too—everyone did—but switched to network coverage when it became clear how big of a story it was.
Rick: Everyone I know listened to WBBM for part of that day.
Sherman: It’s sad to say, but it’s true. Those are the days that we really shine. That day we didn’t even air commercials. I remember someone told me a few hours after the towers went down that WCBS, the network flagship, was going back to commercials. I said “WHAT?” I couldn’t believe that. We didn’t go back to commercials for a very long time. I want to say it was 24 hours.
Rick: Talk about some of the changes that have occurred with the on-air presentation of WBBM over the years.
Sherman: It's changed quite a bit. When I first began, the staff here was much larger. We had a few dedicated beat reporters, like Bob Crawford, John Madigan, etc, and a handful young reporters. We also had writers and producers and engineers and technicians.
Rick: What about the format itself?
Of course, the downside is that we aren’t often able to explore stories in depth the way we used to do it. When I first started, I scheduled an interview segment from 2:15 until 2:45 or so and nobody stopped me, so I kept on doing it as part of our midday program. Ultimately we got new management in and we changed it more to the way do things now. They wanted us to be more structured, and I can’t say I disagree too much with this approach. It’s obviously been tremendously successful. Our cume is consistently the highest in the city, and every single daypart does well with every demographic.
Rick: A few years ago WBBM physically made the move from its longtime location (at McClurg Ct.) to its current location. Was that a difficult move for you after all those years?
Rick: I know you actually got your start as a disc jockey before switching over to news. What was it that made you switch your career focus?
Rick: I’ve interviewed Ron. He’s quite a character.
Sherman: (laughs) That’s the perfect word to describe him. Dick Purtan, who later became the biggest thing in Detroit, was also there. But I’ll tell you the precise moment I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was November 22, 1963, a Friday, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. When I came in to work that night, and mind you this was just a few hours after the president was killed, there were a bunch of kids hanging out in front of the station as they did every night. They stopped me and asked me to play some inane song for them—just like it was any other night—and I thought, no—I don’t want to do this anymore.
I left radio altogether and went to work for IBM in Pittsburgh, but after 8 months or so, I got the jones to do it again, but this time I wanted to do news. They hired me in Charleston to do news, but they asked me to fill in as a disc jockey in the interim, until they could replace their morning man. After awhile it became obvious that they were in no hurry to find someone, so I walked in and said: “You brought me in here to do news, I want to do the news.” Only then did I finally get to do news. I had no training. I had no experience. I just learned on the job. It was seat of the pants training. I still consider myself a journalist to this day, even though I was never formally schooled to be one. I have a degree in Fine Arts. (laughs) Although I do have the one thing that a good newsperson must have--natural curiosity.
Rick: Over the last several years you’ve really focused on covering the business world. You probably have as good an understanding about this latest financial collapse as anyone. Why didn’t anyone see this coming?
Rick: Could it happen again?
Sherman: Absolutely. The biggest lesson I’m getting is that there has not been any big financial reform. It could happen soon, but as of now, nothing has changed.
Rick: Do you think there is an over-emphasis on the short term at the expense of the long term in business reporting?
Sherman: That’s the problem with business, investors, and the financial system in general. The next quarter has got to show growth over the previous quarter, and on and on and on. It’s basically driven by greed. In terms of what drives the market now, it’s greed too...and that’s not a bad thing, it’s called capitalism. Yes, there are inherent flaws in capitalism, but we’ve never yet devised a better system.
Rick: I can’t let you go without talking about your love of food. You’ve won every possible radio award over the years, but I’ve heard you say that the one gives you the most pride is the nomination you received for Best Radio Food Program from the James Beard Foundation.
To tell you the truth, I’m much prouder of my children. My son is even involved in the restaurant business. His new restaurant is called Benny’s Chop House and it’s opening soon on North Wabash. I’m very proud of him, and I’m very proud of my daughter too. They’ve both grown up to be fine people.