Saturday, May 29, 2010

Marty Lennartz

Marty Lennartz has been with WXRT for nearly thirty years, serving in just about every capacity you can imagine. He is currently their "Creative Assistant to Programming."

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?

Marty: Yeah, it’s a pretty cool title. I would say I’m the only person in radio with that on their business card. It’s a position that was created to free me up to be involved in a number of projects and duties. Along with Norm Winer (photo) and MD John Farneda I’m part of the three headed programming department with input into the music we add and play. I’ve learned all the programming software so I can assist John with the day to day tasks and pretty much run the department in his absence. I also bring an on-air perspective into meetings and decisions. Plus, I get many special projects, help write promos, produce the Eclectic Company, cover summer festivals, Host Studio X interview/performances. Coolest thing is I have an office. With a window.

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.

So, when she got the morning show, which was only supposed to a temporary thing, she needed a producer and called and asked if I’d like to get up at 4am for four weeks. Kind of a no brainer, but my four weeks at XRT keep getting extended. Yes you’re right, Terri (photo) has been my mentor for sure. Having the opportunity to be in the studio watching how Terri goes about her business both on the air and outside the station interacting with people and being involved in the community has always been a big influence on me.

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)?

Marty: Everyone at the station is a music person. That’s why we were attracted to XRT in the first place. It’s always been about the music and the fact that, still today, the DJ’s program most of their show in real time makes it the most unique radio station in broadcasting. We couldn’t imagine working at a place with pre-programmed shows and liner cards. It’s pretty amazing when you consider that the station has been able to evolve over the decades and stay current and vital with pretty much the same cast of characters. I think we all feel that we are part of something truly special here both historically and currently. With every new artist the job becomes new again.

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.

What blows me away is the listener loyalty extends through generations. I hear all the time, “Oh yeah my mom and dad turned me onto you guys when they drove me to school”. We’re sort of like extended family members and like with any family you’re not always happy. People have opinions and criticisms of some of the things we do but they don’t totally leave. I’m glad people have beefs with us sometimes. It shows they care.

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?

Marty: I call The Big Beat, “Two hours of indies, imports and music that flies under the radar of the mainstream”. It’s XRT’s underground indie showcase, although today the boundaries of what that means are more obscured than ever. The Big Beat is one of the longest running shows on XRT. Hosted by Bobby Skafish in the 70’s and Johnny Mars in the 80’s and 90’s, the show introduced Chicago listeners to punk, new wave, college and alternative rock. Almost every significant modern artist of the past 30 years has been introduced to Chicago listeners on the show.

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?

Marty: I guess I have worked pretty much every shift. I sometimes feel like Mark DeRosa when he was on the Cubs. But I have to say most of the memorable on air moments have been from festivals and interviews. Over the past few years I’ve had the chance to meet and talk with Tom Yorke from Radiohead, Jack White, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. In December I interviewed Wayne before XRT’s Big Holiday Concert while we were both wearing yeti costumes (photo). That was fun. And warm.

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?

Other than say, “30 years? Are you sure? Check your math” probably not too much. Hemmert has anniversaries copyrighted around here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pat Hughes

Pat Hughes has been the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Cubs on WGN Radio since 1996.

Rick: Doing baseball play by play is one of the most difficult jobs in radio. You have to paint a picture with words—something I think you do incredibly well, by the way, but you have to do it day in and day out, 162 games a year. Plus, baseball is a sport that has a lot of down time that needs to be filled. What do you consider the biggest challenge of the job?

Pat: I think the sheer volume of games—most people have no concept of what it’s like to do 162 games. Unless you’ve actually done it—it’s hard to describe how difficult that is. Add to that, the travel, which can be absolutely exhausting.

Take tonight as an example (we did this interview on Tuesday). The game starts at 7, so even if it’s a quick game, it won’t be over until 10 or so. Then I have to drive to the airport, wait for the team to arrive, and if we’re lucky, we’ll leave Chicago around 12:30. We’re going to Philadelphia, which means we lose an hour, so it’s really going to be 1:30 when we leave. We’ll arrive there at 3:30 or so, wait for our bags, get to the hotel around 4:00, wait for our luggage again, get checked into our rooms, and by the time this 54-year-old head hits the pillow, it will be 5:30 in the morning. The travel is probably the most grueling part of the job.

Rick: This is your fifteenth season with the Cubs, and you’ve obviously had to broadcast your fair share of games when the Cubs are out of the race, or out of the game. I would guess that’s when it really gets really difficult. Do you prepare extra material for games or seasons like that?

Pat: I kind of do. I have a baseball history file as thick as Webster’s Dictionary for each month, and you get a sense when you’re going to need to dip into it more. But you’re right—that’s a very good observation. It’s much more difficult during a losing year.

Rick: You’re obviously a student of the art form. I read your book about Harry Caray, and I know you’ve also narrated a series about other greats like Bob Uecker, Jack Buck, Harry Kalas, and Marty Brennaman. There are some more I’m forgetting...

Pat: Red Barber’s another. There are a few more. You can check them all out at

Rick: It’s obvious you look up to all of them for different reasons, but is there one broadcaster that you consider the very best?

Pat: Personally, my favorite was Bill King (photo). He was the radio voice of the Raiders, the Warriors, and the A’s in the Bay Area. He passed away about five years ago. He was an absolute Bay Area legend. I considered him to be a genius. In my opinion, he was the best radio play by play man in history—no-one else is even close.

There have been three grand masters, in my view. One of them is Vin Scully—he’s tremendous—truly great. The second is Bob Costas, who in a way is in a class by himself, because of all he does in all the different venues and sports, in studio and play by play—just amazing, and the third is Bill King.

Those three are above all the rest, even better than some of the other greats like Al Michaels. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Rick: Your chemistry with Ron Santo is really amazing—it’s like yin and yang. He is pure emotion—and you are the voice of reason. I’m sure that’s part of the secret to your chemistry, but there’s obviously more to it than that. It seems like you also have real affection for each other. Would that be fair to say?

Pat: Yes it would. We have amazing harmony, very few bad vibes. Forget baseball, he’s just an extraordinary human being. I’ve never met anyone like him. Beyond baseball, he’s an icon for diabetics everywhere. What he’s been through! What he’s accomplished! Ron’s an inspiration.

Rick: Have the two of you ever had a fight?

Pat: (laughs) Hell no. Anytime you work together as long as we have, you have a few minor little disagreements, but nothing bad. Never.

Rick: I used to love when you did the attendance game with him and you beat him every day. Even for something like that—his emotions were on his sleeve—he would get so upset. I know that’s what Cub fans love about him. As much as it hurts us to lose, we can hear in his voice that it hurts him even more. Do you ever worry that the strain of that is having a detrimental effect on his health?

Pat: I used to, but not anymore. The man is 70 years old. He’s had diabetes, and cancer. He’s lost his bladder and his legs. He’s gone through everything you can imagine. Why would you worry anymore? He’s like a superman, a man of steel. Plus, I think it’s better for him to get it out of his system, than to let it build up inside him.

Rick: How would you compare working with Ron to working with Bob Uecker?

Pat: It’s a totally different format. In Milwaukee we worked solo really, switching off play by play. In Chicago, other than the inning or so I get off, I do all of the play by play, and Ron does all the color.

In some ways the two of them are similar: They’re among the most popular figures in the history of their respective cities, they’re both ex-players, although granted—a slightly different caliber—Ron was a great player and Uecker was more of a mediocre one. But I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have worked with both of them. In addition, I worked with Harry Caray for two years, and did Marquette basketball with Al McGuire. Those are some larger than life personalities. I’m lucky to have known and worked with all of them.

Rick: Obviously your workday isn’t just the broadcast itself. You’ve already mentioned the travel, but take me through a typical game day, before the game. I understand you have a few rituals.

Pat: I do have a routine, like anyone. I do prep, I read as much as I can, because I like to know what I’m talking about, but I don’t overdo it—you don’t want to just give stats all game, but if you pull out the right ones, that’s the secret to making it compelling. As for my routine, I like to work out every day.

I’m not obsessed with baseball or talking like most broadcasters are. Most of them are natural yakkers, and talking about the game itself is just a natural extension of how they are the rest of the day. I’m not that way. For me, it’s a performance, there’s an element of acting involved. I don’t talk talk talk all day—rehashing what just happened. I couldn’t live that way. When the game is over I move on.

Rick: As you mentioned earlier, in the past few years you’ve gotten to take off an inning or a half inning—and turned over the microphone to Andy Masur, then Cory Provus, and this year it’s Judd Sirott. Was that something you asked for in your contract—to get a little breather during the game?

Pat: Absolutely. I’ll continue to ask for that, because I really do need it. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to do a whole game like that without a break—especially if you make it sound fun and easy. If it sounds easy, it must be easy, right? Not exactly. It’s hard work. Last night I did a three hour game, and I was exhausted after it was over. It’s a tiring job.

Rick: What do you do during your inning off?

Pat: Nothing set every time. I usually walk around a little bit, have a little water, turn my mind off, talk to some people. I’m still paying attention to the game, but it’s a mental break more than anything.

Rick: I know you’re incredibly busy—so thanks for taking time to do this. I only have one more question. How long do you see yourself working as the play by play man for the Cubs?

Pat: I’m not sure. It’s a good way to make a living, but I just don’t know. I’ve done five years in the minors, and 28 in the big leagues, and I’d like to do it as long as I’m healthy enough. I’m 54 years old. This isn’t a cop out, but I can’t really put a number on it. You never know what will happen. Sometimes your life situation dictates something you hadn’t anticipated. I’m in the last year of my contract, and while I’d love to stay –I take nothing for granted. I’ll put it this way—I hope it doesn’t end anytime soon.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Roy Leonard

Roy Leonard was a fixture at WGN Radio for more than 30 years (1967-1998)

Rick: I was surprised to see that it’s already been almost twelve years since you signed off as a full-time host at WGN. Do you miss it?

Roy: In all honesty, no. I had a wonderful time doing it, but in the late 90s I wasn’t really pleased with the way radio was going. I was never controversial, and didn’t enjoy controversy. There were a few times I canceled interviews with authors, because I read the book and thought, oh no, I don’t want to talk about that. I thought the book was terrible.

The business of radio had also changed and was moving in a new direction. I joined AFTRA in 1954, so I called AFTRA headquarters in NY and asked what the pension was, and they told me, and I said to my wife, why am I working? It’s a generous pension. I could actually afford to retire. I didn’t have to do stuff I didn’t want to do anymore. I still fill in occasionally. And still do commercial work. But I don’t miss the drudgery of doing it every day. I like being my own boss.

Rick: I’ll confess that I was a long-time listener of your show, from a very early age. The radio was always on in my house, and it was always tuned to WGN. Of all those classic WGN hosts, I think you managed to change with the times most successfully. You were always tuned in to what was happening, in Chicago, in pop culture, in politics, through the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. How did you do it?

Roy: Two things. First of all, my children. I have six sons. There were at least 4 different radios on in our house, listening to all sorts of different stations. One loved WXRT. Another one was a big Dahl & Meier fan. I heard my kid’s music, and I heard what they were talking about. Although, as an aside, they wanted to hear what I was into too—my music. My youngest son was a Dead fan and enjoyed Steve and Garry, and one day he came up to me and asked if he could listen to my old records—and I said sure. I still remember how excited he was when he discovered Billy Holiday. I guess my house was always liberal in that sense. My kids could listen to or read anything they wanted.

The other thing that kept me current was when I got my first radio producer, Peter Marino. There’s a story at about him. He was much younger than me, young enough to be my son. And one day he came up to me and said it was time to get rid of the Ray Conniff records. He was the one that turned me on to a lot of things I might have otherwise missed. To tell you the truth, I’m not a nostalgia buff. I’d rather enjoy what is going on now than listen to those old boring Andrew Sisters records. I’ll be 80 at my next birthday, but I don’t like to bring that up, because most of my 80-year-old friends are boring as heck. (laughs)

Rick: You also weren’t afraid to talk about your family life on the radio, which made you a three dimensional figure to your listeners. When I mentioned to my mom that I was interviewing you this week, she immediately ticked off the number of children you had, that all of their names started with the same letter, your wife’s name, and that you supported soccer (which was important to her). To her, you were a part of the family. Did that sort of attention ever cause any problems with your actual family?

Roy: Before I came to Chicago I used to have the family on with me at my radio station in Boston around Christmas time. They would come into the studio, and they got a big kick out it. We did the same thing in Chicago after I started at WGN. (Photo: Roy and the family, Christmas 1973) Then one day one of the boys, who was in New Trier at the time, said ‘Do you mind if we don’t do this anymore?’ He was getting kidded about it at school—so we stopped. But every time I talked about them, you’re right, the listeners really liked that I would share my family stories. I was proud of them. Sheila didn’t mind. So we fell into a routine.

Rick: I think the best way to describe your style on the air is “friendly.” For some reason, that’s a rare commodity on the radio these days. Confrontation and controversy have become the norm. Why do you think that is, and are there any shows out there now in your opinion, that carry on in that Roy Leonard tradition?

Roy: I happen to like the new WGN morning guy Greg Jarrett. I get mail from people that don’t like him, but I really do. I think he is an intelligent guy, has a wealth of experience, and I like that he shares some of those stories. Some people think he’s talking about himself too much—I disagree. I also like that he doesn’t always try to be funny. Steve Cochran is very bright and is a really talented host, but sometimes I really think he tries too hard to be funny.

As for the controversy and confrontation, the world of the computer has changed things immensely. Everyone has an outlet, a way of venting their frustrations. I was listening to Dave Kaplan the other night. He was on after the ballgame and the Cub fans were ranting and raving about the team. They just wanted to let off steam. That sort of thing has spread. I don’t know why. It just has. Why did rock and roll radio take over in the 60s? People were looking for change.

In 1967 my station in Boston went rock and roll. They were a WGN-type station before that, #3 in the market, but they wanted to be #1. And that’s what they became. They were #1 in seven months. They asked me to stay on, but I didn’t want to be a rock and roll disc jockey. I liked the music, but I didn’t want to play it on the radio. One of my best friends was Curt Gowdy, he was a neighbor, and I asked him if he knew anyone that would hire me. He called his buddy in New York, and it turned out that he repped WGN.

At the time, WGN had marvelous ratings in the afternoon because of Cubs baseball, but after the season ended, they got no numbers. So, I bought three Chicago newspapers, The Trib, Sun-Times, and The American, went through them, and made a tape of what I thought my show would sound like in Chicago. They liked the tape, and Wally was taking some time off, so they paid me to fill in for him, and that Friday after filling in for a week, they asked me to work for them in the afternoon slot, 1 to 4 PM. I had been getting up at 3 in the morning, so I said, that’s great! But, my family was in Boston, and I have six kids, and I couldn’t just pack up and leave. So they agreed to fly me home to Boston when the Cubs were in town that summer of 1967. That made the move a little easier. We were able to sell our house and move out here before school in the fall.

As for my style of radio, you’re right, nobody is really doing that kind of show right now, but then again they weren’t doing it before I got here either. I listened to Chicago radio as much as I could (Howard Miller, etc.) when I first came to town. I tried to find what nobody was doing, and make that my own. Nobody was talking about theatre or film at the time, and I enjoyed both immensely, so when I first started, that’s what I talked about.

I remember Aaron Gold was representing the Ivanhoe, and he heard me talking about theater, so he asked me to come out and see their latest show. And that’s when I started getting these great guests.

Marcel Marceau (photo) was one of my first guests—and we really hit it off. Ironically, he wouldn’t shut up (laughs). We even had him out to the house. That’s one thing I never really talked about on the air—that I spent a lot of time with some of these people off the air—many of them came out to the house. I remember another time we had Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits over. He ended up in the bedroom upstairs playing guitar with my boys.

Rick: I’ve interviewed quite a few of your former colleagues and many of them mentioned you as a sort of mentor. Max Armstrong called you “a class act.” Spike O’Dell said you were a “consummate pro”. Dean Richards said he developed his sense of broadcast responsibility from you and your contemporaries. All of them modeled themselves after you in a way. Who served that mentor role for you? Who did you pattern yourself after?

Roy: The only one that immediately comes to mind is Arthur Godfrey (photo). I remember listening to his radio show out of Washington, and I thought this man does a commercial that doesn’t sound like a commercial. I emulated that from Godfrey. Edward R. Murrow. He was so classy, so professional, in the way he reported the news. There was one personality in Boston, his name wouldn’t mean anything here, but he had an evening music show—and he would time out the lip of every bit of music he played. I thought that was great. I stole that—tried to do that. But those are only ones that really come to mind. Nobody has ever asked me that before.

Rick: Here’s another one I’m guessing no-one has asked. I see that you were stationed in Nome Alaska in the Air Force, and worked at the radio station up there.

Roy: That’s true. Here’s a story I don’t think I’ve ever told publicly. I never met my father until I was in the service. He deserted our family when I was 2, and to be honest, I was pretty pissed at him. He had written a few times and he was a Marine and ran a construction business. I knew of him and knew what he was, but that’s about it.

I was stationed at Sampson Air Force base in New York, and I heard that they were looking for guys to go to Alaska, because the natives, the Eskimos, were all listening to Radio Moscow—and everyone was afraid they would be too influenced by that. They sent an Army building crew up there to build a radio station—and the Air Force staffed it. I was one of the staffers. I did the all-night show. And I really enjoyed it.

And that’s where I met my Alaska. We got along, but I think he was trying to make up for lost time, and it didn’t really work. We went out to dinner a few times. He was a hunter, and we went moose and bear hunting. I’m glad we didn’t actually find any. I must admit, I was not the greatest GI in the world. I paid this kid to clean my rifle. I couldn’t stand it. We really almost lived the civilian life up there because it was so remote. I don’t think I put a uniform on more than once or twice. I probably shouldn’t admit that—but oh well—I guess the statute of limitations has expired by now.

Rick: I think what you are remembered for the most are your interviews. The Roy Leonard interview is still the gold standard of radio interviews. You did hundreds of them over the years. I found references to a few of them that I’d love to hear more about. Did you really interview John F. Kennedy?

Roy: Yes. Back in Boston, I had a Sunday afternoon television show called The Yankee Camera. We carried the NY Giants football games, so we never knew how long the show was going to be, because it followed the game. There were times it was just a few minutes, and then there were times when we knew we had at least a half hour. Just before the New Hampshire primaries, Kennedy was running for president, and he came on the show. By the way, I don’t have a video or audio of that, we didn’t keep video records in those days. It’s a shame. It was a great interview—he was very warm, very friendly.

To show you how politically savvy that family was, Kennedy shook the hands of everyone there—everyone in the booth, everyone at the station. Then, when I got back to my office, the phone rang. I was told there was a call from Ambassador Joe Kennedy. He said “Roy, I just want to thank you for being so nice to my son.” I met him a year or two later and he remembered me.

Rick: I’m just going to mention a few more names of people you interviewed, and if you don’t mind, please tell me your memories and impressions of them too.

Roy: Sure.

Rick: Ronald Reagan

Roy: He was President of Screen Actors Guild at the time—somewhere in the early to mid-50s. I can’t remember what the interview was about to be totally honest with you. All I remember is that I found him politically savvy. His fellow actors were a little worried at the time, wondering if he was the right man for the job—he wasn’t totally accepted by the other Guild members yet. But he was successful at persuading them—and I do remember that we got into a discussion of politics and I was very impressed with him—I was surprised he was as knowledgeable as he was. I liked him very much. I never voted for him (laughs), but I was impressed by him.

Rick: George Harrison

Roy: He came to Chicago on a tour in the mid-70s and he was just in to plug the new album. I found him to be very warm, friendly, smart, bright, and fun.

Rick: John Belushi

Roy: I was on one of those junkets, I think that Belushi and Ackroyd had just done “Neighbors,” and so I was interviewing both of them. It’s really not that difficult to make a personal connection with someone, if you share an interest, and with John all I had to do was mention I was from Chicago—and he opened right up. And then when I mentioned Second City—and my love for it—that was all he needed to hear. My son, by the way, is now the VP at Second City.

Rick: Jimmy Stewart

Roy: He came in to promote his book of poetry. I have a tape of that somewhere. We’re eventually going to be putting up some of these interviews at my website (—so thanks for bringing that one up. I have to go look for it. I found him to be exactly like I expected him to be. Down to Earth—not overawed by the adulation—nice guy. Genuine guy. Just as you would imagine him. I liked his poetry very much too.

Rick: Mel Brooks

Roy: I can’t remember why he was in town, but he agreed to do two full hours with me. A lot of his stuff was on record at the time, and we did a lot of prep—my producer and I, we had bits from his movies, music from the soundtracks, you name it. Mel was impressed that it was something more than just a conversation. He was also absolutely hilarious. I’ll never forget his last line of the interview. He said: “Roy, do you always do your show in your underwear?”

I got to know him a little bit over the years, spent some time with him, went to his office in Hollywood—kibitzed with him. When The Producers came to Chicago, I ran into him on opening night, and he remembered me, and we spent some time with him.

I don’t know if you remember, but we used to take tours of listeners around the world to various different places, and one time we took a group to Italy. We were in a village in Northern Italy, and we pulled up to the hotel with our coach, and I went to the front door, and Mel was there. He said “ROY!” I said “MEL!” He was just hanging out at the hotel while his wife (Anne Bancroft) was filming a movie. Mel came on the bus and entertained us all.

Rick: That’s incredible.

Roy: If you make personal contact, people remember you. Burt Reynolds was one of those guys too. I met him, and we hit it off, but he had never come to Chicago. Well, one time he finally did come to town, but I was out of town. My producer called me in St. Louis, and said ‘Burt really wants to be on the show. He said he’ll stay over until you come back.’ And he did. These are some of the wonderful friends that you can make if you’re friendly, but don’t get overawed by them.

Rick: Thanks for spending some time with me. I could have asked you a million more questions, but it’s impossible to encapsulate thirty plus years in an interview like this. But while I have you, I did want to ask you one more thing. I read your blog post about the current WGN staff. You were pretty honest in your assessments, and some of those assessments were publicized by Robert Feder in his Vocalo blog. Did you get any heat for that?

Roy: My wife is a little angry at me because she thinks I’m becoming a curmudgeon in my old age—telling people what I really think, and I didn’t always do that—let’s face it. But I’m free to say what I want now, so I do. To tell you the truth, I’ve gotten nothing but positive comments about that, even from WGN people. I sat with the GM Tom Langmyer on the night they honored Wally, and he was very friendly, although we didn’t really discuss the current lineup that night.

But you know, there is some good stuff on WGN now. I think John Williams has really developed—he has become more opinionated—and is doing the kind of show they wanted me to do, I think. You know, express a personal opinion, and then let the listeners either agree or disagree, without yelling at each other. He’s very good at that.

I think Garry Meier has really improved too—he has found a groove. I’ve been listening to him more and more, and enjoying the show. He’s getting better and better.

Rick: Thanks Roy.

Roy: Enjoyed it, man. Tell everyone to go visit

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mel Tovar

Mel Tovar is the co-host of the DreX morning show on Kiss-FM (103.5)

Rick: You've been with DreX now for many years. I don't know if people realize that you even worked with him in San Antonio. Talk about how you met him and became a part of the show.

Mel: Yes! We have been together close to 13 years now! There's been three male figures for a good part of my Father, my Brother and DreX...all of whom have taught me so much.

I met DreX (photo) when I worked overnights as a News Anchor for KTSA News 550AM which was an Infinity/Viacom Cluster in San Antonio, Texas. DreX was doing his show on our sister station 102.7 KTFM and asked me to fill in for his ailing news gal (who luckily just had a cold..but it was my lucky cold!). I happily hung out and when the station flipped formats, I was in. I remember the first day, he was funny to me. We just clicked. Don't get me wrong, we've had our ups and downs but that's what made it worth it to me. It's not worth putting in the leg-work if you're not totally invested in the project. I considered myself very lucky but I was also young and needed the job, ha ha. I was about to take a wild ride and the best part about it was that he was teaching me everything he knew, which was a lot.

DreX is a very methodical personality who leads one of the only listener-driven shows in this market. He is his own entity and rightfully so; he earned it. There are different co-hosts for different shows and formats, but DreX made it very clear to me that when he leads, I'm allowed to dance. Some hosts don't let their co-hosts speak. I'm allowed to do it all, my own way. I even lead with topics and just recently started hosting the show in his absence! That's a huge deal that he trusts me with his work!

After two years in San Antonio, he told me he got the offer to host in Chicago for Clear Channel. Something that no one knows is that I was *never* included in that offer he got. DreX fought for me to come along, and I said yes before I even got offered the job. It was all DreX.

Rick: I've interviewed DreX before, and he really seems like a genuine guy. I know this is going to be difficult to do because he talks about almost everything in his life, but what are some things about him that would surprise his listeners.

Mel: This is a great question, because DreX is an open book even if he thinks he's being sneaky, ha ha.

Things that would surprise listeners? He is very generous, although that's probably not very surprising. He is always bringing in things for us--just today he said he needed fire alarms in his house, so he bought three more for each person on the show. DreX got us all pepper spray, last month!

DreX loves Scientific American. We joke that he uses it as a coaster for drinks but he will read each issue from front to back. "The show is all day, people.." he says, and it's absolutely true. DreX never leaves show-mode. He is constantly working on his show. It's exhausting. DreX is the very definition of a "workaholic".

Now, fun things about DreX?? He does love Celine Dion's Concert DVD, he cooks one whole meal in one pan, he likes board games even though he cheats, he owns close to a 100 pairs of eye glasses and maybe even tennis shoes, and one of his favorite songs is "Sailing" by Christopher Cross.

DreX once told me if he could, he would marry a beef fajita taco. I believe him.

Rick: You really are a crucial part of the show, a full-fledged co-host. There's been a lot of talk in the news lately about the lack of women in Chicago radio. Do you feel any extra responsibility being one of the few to hold such a high profile position? (And why do you think women still have such a hard time breaking through that glass ceiling in our business?)

Mel: First, thank you for that. Radio has taken such a turn in the past few years that doing your best has never been more important. Doesn't matter who you know or how long you have been in it, because there's always someone who is ready and willing to slide into your spot, sometimes for more work and less pay, and some who just deserve it because they are downright better than you.

Tough lessons are learned in radio. I have learned that being multi-faceted gives you a better chance at surviving no matter your sex. My responsibility remains the do a great show.

I have opportunities that I jump on even when I am unsure of the outcome. When DreX was sick, they offered me the chance to lead the show and again, I said yes before I said yes. Will it work? Will listeners accept me as a form of DreX-light? I don't know, but that won't stop me from showing everyone that a female-led show in any market is absolutely possible.

I also wanted to show that a female co-host filling in for a male host is happening right now. That what you see is not always what you get. We have roles on the show, but each individual player has their own depth and talent. This was a chance to show that DreX is no dummy when it comes to picking his team. That Angi Taylor, Tommy Black and myself are on the DreX Morning Show for reasons that don't always come to light on a regular show. That yes, DreX is a great host but he also picks great talent to pad that show. I knew that as long as they would trust me with it, I would run until they told me to stop. They haven't told me stop.

About the lack of Women in Chicago radio, I would be lying if I said it doesn't suck that there aren't more women in radio because it does, but when it comes down to maintaining my position, I will gladly be labeled one of the few women in radio.

I have heard that there are less women in this field because of a desire to marry and have children but that's a bunch of crap. Many women maintain a solid foundation in this field alongside maintaing a family. Angi Taylor, our co-host, has a beautiful little girl and an upcoming wedding! She maintains both and still kicks ass. (Photo: Mel hugging Angi on the day of her engagement)

I do want to say that I have never come into this job feeling bullied by one sex and I think that's because of my own tolerance--the whole 'no one can make you feel something unless you let them' mentality.

I have visited schools where young girls ask me what it's like to work in a man's world..and to that I say when you're focused on doing your best, you don't have time to look around and compare, and if you do, you're not doing your best. You're not here to make friends or be well-liked and you will run into people who you have "work" relationships with and that's it, but the responsibility remains the same: to do your best. Always look out for you because no one else will. I have had the honor of meeting a handful of people that I consider my best critics as well, they know who they are.

I know that sounds like I was polishing my gun collection while I was talking but it's truly the way I feel. I am proud to be one of the few women in Chicago radio. This is an incredible market full of hardcore talent and people who know damn well what they are doing. You gotta keep up if you want to win. It's a great team to be on and if you earn a spot, bring it ladies.

Rick: I've been listening to the show a lot lately and I have to tell you, you're a good egg. It seems like there are no topics that are off-limits for you. Have you ever had a situation where you said to DreX--don't go there?

Mel: Yes. I don't discuss religion. I am a Catholic and I have my own core-values but I never want to inform someone of my beliefs if they don't want to hear it. Religion is a personal deal to me and up for discussion in an open-minded way. I love learning and I love being able to change my mind on the things I don't know much about or may have disagreed with in the past. If you want to share, and I am up for sharing, let's do it. Religion is one of those topics where no one wins, but if it's put in front of me, I proceed with caution.

I am also not of fan of most comedians. For example, I am not a fan of Carlos Mencia and once asked to be excused during an interview with him. I am not a fan of someone who can earn a paycheck off of their culture, in a negative way. That is just my opinion. Others love him which is why I go by the saying "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". I removed myself. It was my deal and my deal, alone.

I have no problem communicating what is real. That's what we are hired to do. My parents always told me to "be yourself and never change". It's my favorite piece of advice they gave me, with a close second to be "if all else fails, you can always come home". I know some people don't like their families, but I dig mine so there is comfort in that.

I am the target audience. I am a 30 year old Hispanic female who's made stupid choices, who's been cheated on by a boyfriend, who's cheated on a test, who's worried if the condom broke, who's lied when I could have told the truth, and I am also one who is excited to be married, needs a new conditioner, wonders if it ever gets better, is happy to hear tips on sex, wonders why my car won't start, and if I got ripped off.

I am both a co-host and a listener. When you are crazy, it's nice to be alongside your peers.

We are all open books on the air, but we suffer from it too. We share our lives with listeners and it's both a gift and a curse. We get loved, unconditionally. We get insulted to no end. We get accepted. We get credited for opening a door for those who can't open it themselves. We get it all. At the end of the day, we are exhausted. At the same time, for four hours out of everyday, it's a party.

DreX always told me, if it's off limits, it's the first thing you talk about.

Rick: I think the secret to the show's success (#3 morning show 18-34 in the March ratings) is the way you make the listeners the star of the show--probably more so than any other show in Chicago. In the nine o'clock hour the listeners aren't just the callers--they even suggest the topics. How did that approach evolve?

Mel: The Lotion Hour was created to make a staple segment that listeners can always rely on no matter what time they tune in. What makes it even more successful is that they can not only participate but suggest the topic and most likely get a kick out of being on the show in some form.

It's a successful way to really connect to the listeners and we are never in need of great topics. Listeners know the drill and every day, the topics get better and better. Just when you think, who the hell wrote that topic, and would anyone even call for it? Boom, there's five people on hold who had bowel accidents at the gym. It's awesome.

We got the name 'Lotion Hour' because when we were brainstorming for names, I was putting on hand lotion...and of course, was being naughty with my suggestions. Wink wink.

Rick: It's obvious that a ton of work goes into the show. Just coming up with that many topics every day is a monumental task. What is your role in show prep (and everyone else's)?

Mel: It's definitely a team effort but DreX does a 24 hour show prep. (laughs) DreX does a great job of nailing down our everyday content and he makes sure that we hit every topic we can, whether it be female or male-oriented, local, national, etc.

Both Angi and I produce individual content on our own time. We research all current events that would appeal to the average listener. We tend to cover topics that DreX can't get to so we spend a great portion of our time staying current and adding to DreX's plate. Both Angi and I cover completely different topics because we are so different but a lot alike, so it works very well when we need variety.

Tommy Black (photo) keeps it tight. He makes sure we are all happy and he juggles every element of the show including participation when needed. Tommy is reliable, very smart and always optimistic. Tommy Black is refreshing. The show is only as good as the producer and Tommy keeps it tight. That's all I'm gonna say about that guy. Tommy's tight. You know it.

Rick: I know how difficult it is to live that morning show lifestyle. It takes a toll on your personal life and your health. How has it affected you over the years?

Mel: It's no fun when that alarm goes off at 3:45 AM. Let me tell you, you can do a lot of soul-searching when more than half of the city is cuddly in their bedsheets but when that on-air light goes off and the clock hits 10 AM, you are Charlie when he realizes he won the Chocolate Factory or a bar patron during daylight saving time when you realize you have one more hour to booze.

Personal life? I am insulted on a daily basis about having to go to bed early. I am mocked and made fun of when I say no to 8 PM birthday dinners or Happy Hour with the girls. My girlfriends crash at my apartment when they drink..and they take nightly bets on which pajamas I am going to wear. I have one white one I love and they use foul names for it. They are jerks..and I love them.

Even more personal, it's sometimes hard to date. Just like with some friends, you don't know who likes you for you. So you keep a close circle of friends. The guy I am dating right now had no clue what I did for a living and to me, that was a green light. I'm a very happy gal with him. He respects my job, he's supportive, he's a fan and he's good at letting me know when I am wrong. He also agreed to go to Fantabuloso so I got that goin' for me.

Health-wise? Oh Lord. Listeners forget that every job has vacation and sick leave. Most people don't harp on an empty cubicle but when one of us takes is trouble. Listeners are relentless about us taking days off, but thank God they are, because that's how we know they are listening.

Rick: It sounds like all of you on the show really get along. After awhile it really does start to feel like a family working on a morning show, doesn't it?

Mel: It does and it is scary! We are open and honest like brothers and sisters. We agree, we disagree and we agree to disagree. We laugh a whole bunch, we team up against eachother, we get annoyed with each other and keep our headphones on, and low and behold we love each other. We all realize that without each other, we have no show. We also realize that there is safety in numbers.

We are lucky to work together and we appreciate it. Most people wanna kick their co-workers in the head. We want to also, but only cause it would be funny.

Rick: Here's a question everybody hates, but I'm going to ask it anyway because I like to hear the answers. Where do you see your career going from here?

Mel: Depending on Ke$ha, I am good for a while. I could stand to branch out more and improve myself so that DreX, Clear Channel, the show and our listeners get to know me and feel comfortable with me filling in when DreX is out. That no matter the players, the value of the show stays the same.

I also hope to lead a show too. After stealing all of DreX's style, I think I can definitely keep it going and I would like to attempt a female-ran show just to see if I can do it.

I also put in a couple semesters at Second City for Improv and would love to finish that off as well. I always hoped to do Improv as a career so that is definitely something I will try to do as well.

For now, I am just gonna roll with The DreX Morning Show. As long as I can! VIVA DREX!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Greg Solk

Greg Solk is the Senior VP of Bonneville International, which owns WDRV, WILV, and WTMX in Chicago, and many other stations nationwide. He is one of Chicago’s all-time most successful programming gurus, who among other things, programmed the Loop AM & FM during their heyday.

Rick: You were just a teenager when you started at the Loop in the 70s. I’ve known you for twenty five years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this before: How did you get your foot in the door?

Greg: I was 15. It was 1977, and I was in the building because my father owned an ad agency in the Hancock, and I was hanging out at his office, and exploring the building—wandering around—and lo and behold, I found the Loop studios. I looked into the window, and Dave Logan saw me in the hallway, invited me in, and gave me a tour of the place. Within a week or so I was working there as an intern.

Rick: And less than two years later you were Steve & Garry’s producer. How did that come about?

Greg: Again, this is the same kind of story. I interned weekends and summers in 77 and 78, and again, purely by chance one weekend morning in early 1979, I just happened to be at the station when a guy knocked on the door carrying a big box of tapes. He said: “I’m Steve Dahl, and I’m going to be the morning guy starting on Monday.” And I helped him carry his stuff in, and get his tapes ready, and during the process Steve asked if I had any interest to work as a producer on his show. I started right away – and got paid!

I was very lucky to work with him. I was still in high school, and here I was working with Steve Dahl. I learned more about radio from him than I learned from anyone, before or since. He taught me the genius of connecting “on an emotional level” with the audience. He’s the smartest radio guy I’ve ever met.

Rick: You mean you produced his show in the morning before high school every day?

Greg: Yeah, I worked out a deal with my high school, Niles North, that I didn’t have to start school until 11 if I took my classes straight through the rest of the day, which is what I did.  I got to the station at 4:30 or so—and helped set up the studio while Garry Lysol-ed the place and swept the floors...

Rick: (laughs) People will think you’re kidding, but he really did do that, didn’t he? He was still doing that when I produced that show seven or eight years later.

Greg: It’s true.  He did.

Rick: I’m still thinking about you doing that job while also going to high school. My son’s going into high school this year. I can’t imagine him waking up at 4:30 in the morning for any reason at all...

Greg: I had to be there at 4:30. I left my house in Skokie at 4. The show started at 5 in those days because it was syndicated in Detroit, and I stayed there until the show ended, and then went to high school.

Rick: That’s a long day.

Greg: Yeah, it was a long day, and to be totally honest, I do remember sleeping through my last class every day—which was Social Studies. I was dead tired by then.

Rick: I was in college radio when I read that you had been promoted to PD at the Loop, and you were something like 21 years old at the time. I was blown away by that. How difficult was transitioning into such a position of authority at such a young age?

Greg: You’re right, I had just turned 21.  It was the winter 1983. At the time, I was so young and so dumb, I really never considered it a problem. You have to remember this was a different time, too, and that the station was unique in the way it was run. Jimmy deCastro (photo) was the GM. He was (and is) the ultimate showman, and he never did anything in the conventional way.

I suppose looking back on it now, when I think about myself handing over the reigns to one of  our stations to a 21-year-old, it doesn’t seem like such a great idea, but back then it honestly didn’t seem that outrageous to me. I lived and breathed that station. I loved it. I had already been working there for six years for a who’s who of program directors including Jay Blackburn, Lee Abrams, Max Floyd, Mitch Michaels, Tim Sabean (Kelly), and I was already the assistant PD by that time—doing a lot of the actual programming work, so it wasn’t such a big deal. You have to remember—I lived there at the station. I didn’t have a social life. I didn’t have a normal life. Working there was all I ever wanted, and all I ever needed – so I thought.

Rick: But handling the talent must have been a big challenge at your age.

Greg: You know, it never really was.  I think they all had known me as the intern and the Assistant PD and knew of my love of that place, which was genuine, and the work ethic. I was there 20 hours a day, and at least they felt there was someone watching over it, someone that really loved the place, and really cared. I believe my hard work outweighed the negatives.

When I became PD the lineup was Matt Bisbee in the morning, then Patty Haze and Bill Evans were on, and then Sky Daniels. I know there were some issues with Sky. I ultimately fired Sky—after idolizing him in my teenage years, but it really was done with his best interest in mind, that’s all I will say about that.

Rick: So Brandmeier (photo) hadn’t started in Chicago yet?

Greg: Right. DeCastro had already hired him, but there was a contract issue that needed to be resolved. He started the following spring. I was his first PD in Chicago.

Rick: I always think of the 1980s as the Loop’s hey-day, and you were there that entire decade. It’s not like those personalities at the Loop during the 80s were an easy to manage bunch, especially during the years when you ran the AM and the FM. It’s hard to believe there was so much talent in one place at one time—but with talent, comes ego. How did you manage their egos and which one of those big Loop stars was the easiest to deal with, and which was the most difficult?

Greg: Steve and Garry were not difficult. They were actually very supportive of me—probably because we were friends, and they knew they had an ally, and probably figured I was their puppet, which I might have been for a little while. Although, as you know, I do have strong opinions. But honestly I never really had any big problems with Steve and Garry. I loved working with them – although Steve has spent decades “killing me” on the air -  I still contend it’s out of love, although that may be just in my head!.

I also never had an argument with Brandmeier, because he refused to argue. Every time I had to convey an issue or directive from ownership, like—hey you can’t put people on the air without telling them first, or when I had issues with songs played or not played, he always did the same thing. He would say: “Oh, man, I’m so sorry. I’m such a dummy. I can’t believe I did that.” He would literally be backing out of my office as he said it.

And then, of course, he just went ahead and did whatever he wanted, and we had the same song and dance the next time. “Oh, man, I’m so sorry. Did I do that again? I’m such a dummy. I can’t believe I did that.” He did that on a daily basis. It was brilliant!

But you have to remember, he could do no wrong in those days. None of them could. The ratings were so huge, and everyone was making so much money, that it really wasn’t an issue. I remember the funniest part of dealing with Johnny is that he only communicated by Fax – he was a trip!

Rick: The thing that is most amazing to me about that time was that the talent wasn’t just confined to drive time, or even on the air—you had the best production talent, the best producers, the best promotion department, sales, marketing, administrative, you name it. Who are some of the unsung heroes from that era in your opinion?

Greg: You’re so right about that. It really was the A-team, across the board. Kevin was brought in to do nights on AM 1000. On the FM, we had great talents like Johnny B, Stroud, Skafish (photo), Patty, John Fisher and Dave Benson. It was 24-hours a day live and local—even late nights on AM 1000 we had Chet Coppock, and a guy named Ed Tyll. And most of those shows had producers, and sidekicks, and newspeople. We’ll probably never see a time like that again—we were very fortunate to be able to run our properties like that at the time.

As for unsung heroes, there are too many to name. We tried to do this a few years ago and came up with literally hundreds of names. Some of the best of the best at everything.  But if I really had to pick a few names out, it would be three people I still work with today.  Matt Bisbee—we’ve never not worked together—and he’s still with us now at Bonneville and does incredible work at several of properties. I could not do what I do without him. My assistant Fina Rodriguez has been with me for thirty years (she’s a saint), and so has Kent Lewin, who is still our chief engineer. Those three I see on a daily basis, and they’re very special to me. We’re all still here together, and that’s great.

But back in the Loop days, I will say our number one unsung hero was Sandy Stahl—she was the marketing director there, but she was so much more than that. She was the heart and soul of the Loop in the glory days. She was the sun, the moon and the stars…She made that place work. A unique human being. A wonderful person. Sandy passed away not too long ago. To all of us that knew her, that was a huge loss. I loved her dearly.

Rick: Me too. You're so right about Sandy. I want to ask you about one more thing from that era. You were also there on the ground floor of WMVP’s launch as an all-sports station.

Greg: I actually came back to Chicago to start that up. I needed a break from the Loop in the early 90s, (and I’m sure they needed a break from me as well) and I went to San Francisco to program a great radio station KFOG for two years, but in those two years, Jimmy DeCastro and Larry Wert kept in touch with me. In 1993, they asked me to come back and launch WMVP—going up against the Score. Jimmy wanted to steal all the sports teams and all the talent at the time. Jimmy’s the ultimate salesman and he convinced me to come back and do it. I was excited about the project—it was new for me because I had done mostly talk and rock, but I was totally into sports. Looking back at where the station is today, and everyone that has worked there over the years, what an unbelievable array of talent. It was loaded.

Rick: There were some difficult times in those early days going head to head against the Score. What did you learn from that experience?

Greg: The big lesson I learned was that the first one in, really wins. They did a great job launching the Score and had a really good product with McNeil and Boers and North and Jiggetts, and we really struggled because we were the second one in. We had a bumpy start. I was still in my temporary condo downtown, unpacking my things, thinking that Howard Stern was lined up to be our morning show, when I found out that because of an FCC infraction, it wasn’t going to happen. Then, Steve and Garry broke up, so Steve was put on the AM as our morning host—teamed with Bruce Wolf (photo). But I always thought we had some great talent on that station, broadcasters and former athletes. There were some tough times, but I really loved it.

Rick: When the Loop was sold to Bonneville a few years later, you and a select few members of the staff remained aboard. What was that transition like—going from the Evergreen Loop to the Bonneville Loop?

Greg; You’re right, that really was a transition. Going from the DeCastro era, and you probably remember the way he described those days, high school with money, to suddenly working for a Mormon Church-owned company. I made the decision to stay at the Loop with Bonneville out of the respect that I had for Drew Horowitz, who was the market leader for the company. Hearing the love and admiration he had for the station, just as a competitor and observer—he recognized what it could be. He wanted to restore the luster to the station, which had fallen on hard times, and I decided that I loved the station so much that I wanted that challenge. I’m very lucky I made that change. Joining Bonneville was the best decision of my professional life.

Rick: During that same era you launched one of the most successful new formats in Chicago radio history—the Drive. I just looked at the ratings, and wow. The Drive is a ratings juggernaut—even more so in the PPM world. It’s the #1 or #2 station in Chicago for men 25-54 in every major daypart. To what do you attribute that success?

Greg: Well actually Rick The Drive is usually top 3 in ADULTS as well, but I digress.. Success at The Drive comes from 3 things. 1) An AMAZINGLY talented staff 2) a real connection to the audience 3) Lots of Luck. Can you believe it’s been nine years since we launched that thing? It’s been joyful. We launched it as the 4th Bonneville music station at the time. When they told me that we were going to get this frequency, they asked me if I had an idea for a format—and I did have this idea of doing a format that was respectful of the music, with a slightly older focus, that didn’t rely on the usual radio hype and tricks to get ratings, and it really did work. It’s been unbelievably exciting. My boss Drew Horowitz was the genius behind naming “THE DRIVE." I can tell from your tone of voice that you were a little surprised by how dominant we are, because we tend to fly a little under the radar, really not often noticed by the world, but I’m very proud of what we’ve done. Look at the who’s who of  Drive jocks – Steve Downes, Bob Stroud, Bobby Skafish, Phil Manicki, Greg Easterling, Steve Seaver & Carla Leonardo. There must be 200 years of Chicago radio experience between them. What a staff.

Rick: There’s something else I’ve wanted to ask you for a few years. About six years ago the Loop switched owners once again, and this time you stayed with Bonneville and left the Loop behind. You’ve already talked about how much you loved that radio station—everything about it, down to that physical space in the Hancock. It had been a big part of your life twenty plus years. How hard was that for you to leave behind?

Greg: At the time I was stunned. I hadn’t been given much notice. I was only given 24 hours to process the whole thing. I was definitely in a mourning period for a little while there. I know it sounds nuts, but I thought about that place as my baby, and that feeling was very real to me. The first few weeks were extremely difficult, but I could see pretty quickly that it was a very wise decision for the company, because of the stations we got in return in Phoenix. You know, it’s been six years, and life went on, I survived, and I’m in a very good place right now. I love these stations I’m working with now, and I’ve been really blessed. I have real kids, which in the big scheme of things is obviously way more important. But I must admit, in my basement I still have a bunch of Loop t-shirts and jackets that I just can’t rid of, and probably never will.

Rick: It certainly doesn’t hurt that you have Chicago’s #1 morning show in your purview these days too. I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I believe that the Eric and Kathy show doesn’t get enough credit. To maintain those ratings, and the numbers are really staggering, for this many years is truly remarkable. If it’s not a record—it has to be close to one. Why do you think that show is such a success?

Greg: Thanks for noticing, and yes, I think you’re right. It’s probably the best run of mega ratings for any entertainment show in Chicago history. Of course, I can't take credit for that show. Barry James is the one that put it together. The secret to them, I’ve always believed, is that they are the perfect match of show and radio station. Sometimes great shows are on the wrong station, and sometimes great radio stations have the wrong show, but in this case, Eric and Kathy just fit hand and glove to the style of the radio station. They’ve also done a great job of tailoring the show to the audience, and changing over the years with the times as the audience has changed. We’ve moved with the times musically too. It’s a well oiled machine. The pieces of the puzzle are all excellent—from Swany in the producer’s booth, to everyone on the air. Eric runs the show unbelievably well. I can’t compliment him enough. I know Eric grew up and listened to some of those Loop shows we’ve already talked about. He’s used some of those lessons he learned, tailored them to a female oriented show, and the results speak for themselves.

Eric and Kathy don’t get as much attention, and haven’t got as much attention over the years as the Mancows and Sterns and Dahls, because they aren’t as outrageous. They don’t get slapped with FCC fines, or lawsuits. Which also means they aren’t as sexy to write about. They do a clean show—a mass appeal show. Therein lies the beauty. That’s why it has ratings, while others have gone away. When you reach the masses you’re probably not doing the things that get attention—because some of those very things also tend to drive people away.

Rick: I know you aren’t necessarily involved in the day to day operations of the Chicago Bonneville properties anymore—your job is more company wide. What exactly do you do these days in your new role?

Greg: Your question isn’t quite right, because I actually do spend quite a bit of time with the day to day operations of the Chicago properties.  I also spend time at our other stations around the country, and that does involve a good deal of travel to our stations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, - where I work closely with the programmers on our tremendous products, but I’d say about half of my job is here. I don’t program the Chicago stations day-to-day—I’ve got some great PDs doing that, Barry James at WILV, Mary Ellen Kachinske at WTMX, and Patty Martin at the Drive, but I work with all of them on a daily basis and do all I can to help all three local stations stay on target and evolve appropriately.

Rick: I know you’re still a young guy (you’re my age—I have to say that)—but you’ve accomplished so much in your career. Looking back on your thirty plus years in Chicago, what are you proudest of?

Greg: I’m proud to still be making a difference in the industry that turns me on... The same love of radio I had when I was 15 still exists in me today. (Photo: The Loop staff, circa 1979) . I’m thrilled to play in this playpen everyday - and I still feel the same excitement every time I turn on the radio. But I’m most thankful for the hundreds of people that I’ve met and got to work with over the years. The list of people is really unbelievable, and I still consider them all friends. I really treasure those friendships. That’s probably the most gratifying thing in my career.