Saturday, September 25, 2010

Alex Quigley

Alex Quigley is the co-host of ChicagoNow Radio and Preps Plus Chicago on WGN Radio. He was also recently named the interim assistant program director.

Rick: WGN has been getting a lot of criticism lately, but I think your show (ChicagoNow Radio) is a nice addition to the Saturday lineup. For those that haven't tuned in yet, how would you describe the show?

Alex: It's a revolving door of ChicagoNow bloggers, with a new topic and new vibe every half hour. Amy and I push and pull the bloggers to get them comfortable and talking about their areas of expertise. Then we take a one-way trip to Tangentville. As long as we're talking about something that our listeners in Chicagoland find useful or entertaining, we don't mind where the conversation goes. It starts at 9am and ends at noon, save for Cubs/Blackhawks/Wildcats games that may cut us short

Rick: When I heard that you were going to host the show, I figured, OK--that makes sense. You're a writer for ChicagoNow, you've got the radio background, and you did a lot of interviews at Q-101. But this is a whole different ballgame, isn't it? How do you like the challenge of doing a full-fledged talk show?

Alex: Man, you ain't kidding. There's no rollin' in ten minutes before showtime and winging it. (Well, I guess you could, but it's glaringly obvious if you did. And bad.) I love it. I also appreciate the freedom that Dan and Kevin have given us, formatically. The challenge also is eased when you have a solid producer. Matt Mattucci and Kristin Decker both do great work for us. The show wouldn't be anything without their work.

Rick: WGN is a Chicago institution, obviously. What does it mean to you to be broadcasting from those iconic studios on Michigan Avenue?

Alex: On day number one, it was intimidating. Also, day number one happened to be the day Chicago dyed the river green for St. Patrick's the extra ten thousand people didn't help the nerves. But honestly, if I start getting wrapped up in the history of the hallowed halls...I forget about why I've got a microphone in my face. It's to relate to the millions of people who aren't here, or who may never even visit the Tower. It's about relating to them here and now in their cars, workplaces, garages, and kitchens. And in the case of one of our semi-regular callers, their bathrooms.

Rick: I met your co-host Amy Guth at one of her Reading Under the Influence events at Sheffield's (when I read--under the influence--from one of my books). She's a natural on the air. Has she done radio before this?

Alex: Jimmy Greenfield. It's all about his intuition. He knew Amy (photo) well from working together upstairs and suggested that she get a tryout alongside me. He was right. (He grows a mean playoff beard, too.) Amy's never done radio, but she's hosted some red-carpet literary events and gone on her own book tour, so she doesn't shy away from talking. We fit together very well on-air by filling each other's knowledge voids in a very complementary way. Between the two of us, we might have a trivia night dynasty in the making. I'm very impressed with the progress she's made in a mere twenty shows. Threatened, even. No seriously, she physically threatens me.

Rick: Now I see you've also added a Friday night football show to your list of duties. Tell me more about that show.

Alex: Preps Plus Chicago is our way of leveraging our excellent resources within the Tribune's Preps Plus section. They've got a fleet of reporters out across Chicagoland every Friday night; we put 'em on the air live to give their first-hand accounts of the best games on the slate. It's fast-paced, rapid-fire, instant results and analysis. (Executive producer Justin Weiner has some of the fastest dialing fingers in the radio biz.) It starts at 10:30pm every Friday night, barring any Cubs/Blackhawks/Wildcats preemption. And if the first show is any example...we'll be out of breath by 11:00:01 every Friday night this season.

Rick: You and I actually have a lot in common. For one thing, we share an alma mater (University of Illinois). For another thing, we both got our radio start there (although mine, sadly, was about fifteen years earlier). My mom hates when I say this, but I learned more valuable information from my stint at WPGU (I was the PD too--like you) than I did in my journalism classes. How did your stint at that radio station help you in your career?

Alex: You are sooooo right about WPGU. Everything I learned about radio in college I learned there, and well before the JOURN curriculum got to it in my classes. But I don't fault the University for that; I was just really, really involved in the Planet's workings from the moment I walked in the door as a 17-year-old freshman. I know you had the "old" studios in the Six-Pack, but now our location on Green Street is "old". The kids there today have it really good with their all-in-one Daily Illini / PGU combo building. Plus, it's next to Legends Bar & Grill. Whippersnappers.

On a more serious note, joining the unofficial fraternity of WPGU alums has been a lifelong comfort. Most of my best friends today are people I met there and fought alongside in the radio trenches.

Rick: You were at Q-101 off and on for most of the 00s (have we come up with a name for that decade yet)? What are some of your favorite moments from those years?

Alex: Weezerama is still my #1 memory. Sludge gave geographic clues to a secret spot in the metro where I had 500 wristbands, first 500 get in to a secret show with newly-resurgent Weezer. We were just north of where the Sears Centre is now in a dog park just off of Higgins Road. A couple minutes after the final clue was given, a small trickle of ten or so cars found us. Then...the tidal wave hit. Some five thousand listeners flooded the area. People abandoned their cars on Higgins and took off through the forest to get to us. It was a rare time when the direct impact radio has was very visible. Visible and sweaty.

More recently, I got to host Corey Taylor's station takeover (photo) and interview Kirk Hammett. Easily two of the best rock stars I ever met through the job. I'm very grateful to Marc Young for giving me the call on those.

Rick: I know you grew up in Belvidere. Who did you listen to when you were growing up? And who are your biggest radio influences?

Alex: Sports-wise, I slept with the radio under the pillow for many Bulls and Cubs games. I also remember turning down the TV for Bears games and turning up Larrivee and Arkush because they were just better than the national crew. On the FM side, the two I distinctly remember are Jeff Wicker at WZOK and Pete McMurray on WXRX. First time I met Pete in the lunchroom at Emmis, I said something to the effect of "Pete, I used to listen to you all the time when I was growing up!" He looked at me sideways...I later realized that it may have come off like I was calling him "old". Pete is not old. In fact, he's in ten times better shape than I am and could probably lift a tour bus if needed.

Rick: You're also a writer/blogger for the Tribune (ChicagoNow and the Red Eye). What do you prefer--radio or writing--and why? And which direction do you see your career heading in the future?

Alex: It looks like my "radio" plate will be getting a whole lot more full in the near future with the interim APD title, so I'm going to roll with that. But I fully plan on continuing to write for the RedEye and ChicagoNow. Can't hurt to expand that umbrella. As a minimum goal, I hope to not be unemployed. As a maximum goal, I want to be in the Chicago Radio Hall of Fame. I will be happy to finish somewhere in the middle ground.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Orion Samuelson

September 26th, 2010 will mark Orion Samuelson's 50th anniversary with WGN Radio.

Rick: First of all, congratulations on 50 years at WGN radio. That’s an amazing accomplishment. Has it seemed like fifty years to you?

Orion: No, no, it certainly hasn’t, but I am proud of it because no one has ever done it before, and the way the business is these days, I suspect no one will do it again for a very long time. I’m very appreciative that WGN has given me this opportunity.

Rick: Where did you work before WGN?

Orion: Well, I’m a Wisconsin farmboy; my family owned a farm in La Crosse. I got my start in radio in 1952 as a polka disc jockey on WKLG. It later became WCOW, which certainly makes sense in that region, but now I believe it’s WKLG again. In 1954, I moved to Appleton to become a teenage telephone DJ, taking requests and playing the records for kids. The owner of that station also owned a television and radio station in Green Bay Wisconsin, and knew I was a farm kid, so when one of the farm broadcasters left, they brought me aboard.

I really enjoyed Green Bay. I was a big fish in a little pond, and had just built a new home there. WGN called me because their farm director, Norm Kraft, had resigned on the air and walked out of the studio—announcing that he had joined the campaign of Senator Kennedy. I suspect that he thought he would be named Secretary of Agriculture if Sen. Kennedy won. Kennedy did win, but Norm didn’t get the Secretary job.

As for me, I loaded up my 1949 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe with 80,000 miles on it, and drove to Chicago. Remember, there weren't any expressways in those days. It was a long drive on highway 41, but I figured it would be a fun trip to the big city. I knew there were far more qualified people than me, so I didn’t think anything would come of it. I met the GM,Ward Quaal (photo), and Wally Phillips-who was doing evenings at the time, and Eddie Hubbard—the morning man, and Jack Brickhouse, and was very impressed. I was shocked when they offered me the job. I really thought long and hard about it. It took me ten days to make the decision. I look back at that now, and shudder to think how close I came to saying no.

Rick: When you started at WGN in 1960, Chicago was the center of the media universe. The first Kennedy-Nixon debate took place at the old Channel 2 studios at McClurg Ct. the same week you started. I’m guessing it didn’t take long to realize that you had hit the big-time.

Orion: (laughs) No, no, it didn’t. It was a little intimidating. I went from big fish in little pond, to little fish in big pond. And I feared any little mistake would send me packing. WGN was very impressive thanks to Ward Quaal. He was an icon in the industry. He turned WGN around when he took over in 1956. He took paid religion off the air, and he put traffic copters in the air to get better traffic reports. He was an outstanding broadcaster.

Rick: You’ve covered an incredibly broad range of stories in those fifty years. There must be a handful of them that are most memorable to you. What are they?

Orion: Well, I’ve also done a television show for many years too, and with my crew we’ve gone to forty three countries. That’s one thing.

I’ve been asked about this a lot in the last few weeks, and I suppose the one that comes to mind is the day that Senator Kennedy came to Green Bay in May of 1960. He held a press conference in the Northland Hotel, and I asked him several questions about farm and dairy issues. After the press conference was over, a gentleman in a suit came over to me and said, “Senator Kennedy would like to speak to you privately.” He wanted to learn more about farm issues. So we sat in the bar of the Northland Hotel and discussed farm issues for about twenty minutes.

Then, on November 22, 1963, I happened to be on the air when the news came over the wire. I was in the middle of a weather forecast, and I remember it was a warm and rainy day in Chicago, when the yellow teletype was handed to me. I thought it was a joke at first, because of course, that’s the sort of gag we liked to pull on each other, but when I saw the faces in the control room I knew it was for real.

You have to remember, this was before we had the internet, and before we had computers—we were totally reliant upon UPI and AP to give us the news. That was all we had. At 12:33, all I had was this one or two sentence bulletin stating that the President had been shot. I didn’t know what to do. The program director was at lunch, so we couldn’t ask him. The record turner was at lunch, so we couldn’t go to music. So I just went back to reading my forecast, then read the bulletin again, then went back to the forecast. Finally, someone found the record turner, and we went back to music. Walter Cronkite announced that Kennedy was dead around 1:00. I’ll certainly never forget that day.

On the other end of the spectrum, another highlight for me was being the announcer on the WGN Barn Dance. I grew up listening to WLS, the Prairie Farmer Station, and the Barn Dance was a regular Saturday night feature, and had been since the 1920s. They held it at the old 8th Street Theatre. Well, on April 30, 1960, WLS signed off as a farm station, and the next day they became a rock and roll station. This infuriated every single farmer in the Midwest. I said to Ward Quaal, that it would be a shame to let the Barn Dance die, and he agreed. We brought it to WGN, and from 1960-1969, I got to meet some of the greats of the business, including Johnny Cash, and boy you name it, they were all on the show.

I still talk to 4-H clubs with some regularity, and I always tell young people, if you don’t remember anything else I’ve said, remember this: You can’t dream big enough. As a kid sitting on a three-legged milking stool in Wisconsin, I never would have believed the life I had in front of me. Thanks to the power and influence of WGN, I’ve met seven presidents. I even went to a dinner at the White House once when Richard Nixon was president. I never would have believed that could happen to me.

Rick: One of the things I enjoyed about working in radio was the chance to meet so many talented people. You’ve seen some of the greatest come and go—who would you rate as the best of the best—and who have been some of your personal favorites?

Orion: Wally Phillips (photo) had the fastest mind of anyone I’ve ever known. It used to absolutely amaze me—listening to him on the phone calls, his quick comebacks were incredible. Just sitting there and watching the system work was an education. In those days all of these voice cuts he played were put on a disc. There were tons of discs, and his record turner did a tremendous job.

When Bob Collins arrived, I honestly thought it was the end of WGN. He was so unlike Wally, so unlike Roy Leonard. He had that raucous cackle and laugh. He wasn’t smooth. He didn’t have a good radio voice. I didn’t like him for a good six months. But we got involved in a cow milking contest once, and we hit it off. On the day he died he was my closest friend at WGN. His talent was that he could go from something very silly or stupid, to talking about an important issue like abortion or gun control, in the blink of an eye, without missing a beat, and without losing his credibility. That’s a rare talent.

Spike O’Dell was great too. He was put in one of the most difficult situations any broadcaster had ever faced—he had to replace Bobby, and talk about it, and report it, on the air. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t able to discuss it without breaking down. I’m still amazed that Spike handled that so well. He was a great guy too. What you see is what you get from Spike.

And Roy Leonard, in my book, is the best celebrity interviewer of all time. He did the research, he prepared, he read their books, and it showed. I’ll always appreciate Roy for the gracious way he introduced me to these big stars when I came into the studio to deliver my reports. He didn’t have to do that, but he always went out of his way to introduce me to people like Gregory Peck, and one time, I even got to shake hands with Sophia Loren. That’s a moment I’ll never forget. (laughs) That was definitely a highlight.

Rick: We’ve already touched on this briefly, but I want to ask you a little more about agricultural reporting. It used to be a mainstay of big AM radio stations throughout the Midwest. Is radio making a mistake by eliminating or downplaying agricultural news?

Orion: Yes, they are, but you have to realize that most of the managers of the big city radio stations have no knowledge of the food industry’s importance to our daily lives. Their upbringing was probably in the city, and they don’t really understand what happens west of the Tri-State Tollway. I can understand that, I really do. But I try to educate our sales people that rural people are just like them, they buy refrigerators and cars just like city folks do.

Another thing that has emerged to diminish the power of the Big AM stations to deliver the farm news is that local stations have emerged to fill that void. Before they came around, at night time you really didn’t have any other contact with the world besides us. We would cover the nation and a good part of Canada. We were a natural resource because we could get information to everybody in the country. Now there are other ways to do that. And now WGN isn’t even a clear channel station anymore. Now there’s a 720 in Las Vegas and Connecticut.

We had an interesting moment during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. President Kennedy wanted to send a message to the Cuban people that our dispute was not with them, but with their government. He came to several of the big 50,000 watt clear channel radios stations, including WGN, and asked us to deliver a message at midnight every night in their native tongue. And we did. And they could hear us all the way in Cuba. But, the Cubans took action to block us. Within six months they started a 200,000 watt station on the same frequency, and that really blasted us out of the air at nighttime. In the south all you could hear on 720 was Cuban radio. It took us twelve to fourteen years of intensive negotiating through the Swiss Embassy (because we didn’t have direct relations with Cuba) to finally reclaim the frequency in that direction. When I met Mr. Castro in 2000, I was really tempted to bring it up, but I didn’t.

Rick: The radio business itself has obviously changed dramatically during your time on the air. In what ways do you think it’s better or worse than it once was?

Orion: Well, with the instant access we have today, we’re able to do a better job covering stories. If we had all this information at our fingertips in 1963, I wouldn’t have been forced to read weather forecasts the day the president was assassinated.

But there have also been a few changes for the worse, and I fully realize my take on this is probably partly due to generational differences. I’m bothered by the language. I’ve always believed that if you can’t make your point without using four letter words, you’re obviously not able to make your point. I also don’t think we’ve improved the world with some of the formerly taboo topics that are now covered.

Obviously, consolidation is another thing that hasn’t been good for radio. Local radio was really battered by that, but I do think we’re slowly recovering from that. I’ve done local radio and I know how important it is to the community—we did birth announcements, and funeral announcements—the sort of community involvement that all but disappeared in places like Minot, North Dakota, where one company owns eight radio stations.

Rick: And the changes at WGN?

Orion: Look, every kind of change is difficult for all of us. The changes here—I don’t like them all, but I’ve always believed that if you don’t own the radio station, it really is out of your hands. You only have two choices. Go away or stay. I’ve obviously stayed.

Rick: You’ve been rumored to be running for office many times over the years. I know you’ve been active in Republican politics. Has that ship sailed or is there still a chance we could see Orion for Governor signs in our front yards someday?

Orion: No, I’m 76—nobody will vote for someone my age now. But I’ve always been intrigued by politics. When Reagan was elected I was on the list of potential Secretary of Agriculture nominees. I think I would have been a good one, but many people pointed out to me that I could make an even bigger impact on the agricultural community where I was. Once you become the secretary, half the people hate you—the people from the other party.

I did have an interesting five days of almost going into politics when President Obama was running for the Senate. Jack Ryan had won the primary, but had to back out after a scandal emerged.

I got a call from Channel 7 saying that they wanted to interview me about possibly becoming the Republican candidate, because they were hearing rumblings that I was being mentioned as a possible replacement. I told them there was no story there, I hadn’t been contacted. Then Channel 2 called and told me that I was being mentioned downstate in the newspapers there.

The next five days were fascinating. Suddenly I was hearing from people all over the state, offering to hold fundraisers or contribute to my campaign. Denny Hastert’s office called me and set up a meeting at his house. Dennis (photo) was there, along with his campaign treasurer, and the head of the party, and Denny’s wife too—so Gloria had someone to talk to.

Suddenly this was becoming very serious. They asked me about my positions, and I admitted that I had some views that wouldn’t be popular with the base, including my stance on gun control and abortion. I’m all for hunting, but I honestly don’t believe hunters need automatic weapons. Denny admitted that a few would take issue with that stance, but that he could live with it. Then I told him that I really thought a woman should have the right to choose what happens with her own body, but I also said that I have two children, and they’re both adopted, and I wouldn’t have been so blessed if their mothers had chosen abortion. He seemed to think that was a reasonable position to take.

We even talked about what it would take from a financial perspective to run for office. He told me that most candidates need to spend $4 million just to become known, but that I wouldn’t need that because I was already known. He said I’d need about $10 million altogether, and that he could get me the first million. Well, that left $9 million more, which seemed daunting. But he pointed out that I wouldn’t have to run in a primary, and that was another plus.

I left his house thinking I was ready. My wife was ready. Denny Hastert was ready. But since I had a serious health condition (involving my throat), I said that the final decision would have to be made by my doctor. When I got him on the phone, he said: “Samuelson, what the hell are you thinking? Are you crazy?” (laughs). I took that as a no.

That ended my never political career.

Rick: But your radio career is still going strong, so let me ask the question I’m sure you don’t want to answer—are you planning on retiring soon?

Orion: No, not at all. Randy Michaels and I have had a few conversations about this. We went to lunch a couple of times and chatted. He has a love of radio history—give him a call letter and he can tell you where it is. He asked me if I was planning on retiring, and I said no. Randy said to me: “As long as I’m president of this company, I want you on the air.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

CRS Update: Richard Cantu, Rick O'Dell, and Alan Cox

I have more updates this week. A spotlight will shine on a brand new interview subject next week.


Richard Cantu was one of the first interview subjects at Chicago Radio Spotlight nearly four years ago. He had recently started working at ABC Network News in New York after a long and successful career in Chicago at WJMK and WBBM-AM. I checked back in with him recently because I know there have been some dramatic changes at the network, and wondered how those changes affected him...

Richard: They say the only constant in life is “change”—and that has certainly been my case in recent years here at ABC News Radio. When I arrived in late summer, 2004, I was assigned to anchor evening newscasts on one of three networks servicing ABC Radio affiliates. As everybody in this business knows, the economy has taken a terrible toll on radio stations, groups and networks. ABC is no exception and, consequently, there’s been a bit of change in Yours Truly’s career.

Where we once had three anchors working each 6-hour shift, we now have two—with one of the anchors covering newscasts on two networks. It was a bit nerve-wracking to start, but everybody seems to have settled-in to a workable routine. Due to some personnel cuts in October, 2009, I am now heard, at various times, on all three networks.

On Saturdays and Sundays, I’m on what we call the “I-Net”—it’s the premiere network ABC offers—and I can be heard on WLS hourly from 11am-4pm. Monday-Wednesday, I’m working the evening shift on the “E-Net” and “News Now” networks. Additionally, since the sportscasters were eliminated due to budgetary requirements, I am tasked to write and record two sportscasts that are distributed to affiliates across the country. That’s a lot of fun—especially since, when the opportunity arises, I can talk about Chicago sports instead of the usual East Coast-oriented issues you tend to hear in the national sports media.

Most recently, we’ve been committing a lot of time and effort providing content to Slacker Radio; an Internet venture that allows users to “select” the news content they want to hear(the ultimate in narrowcasting?). Time will tell if all this effort translates into paying customers. That said, I’m still having a blast working in radio; it’s a great job and I work with a lot of pros. I’m still missing Chicago—and if anyone needs a broke-down old newscaster, send ‘em my digits! LOL!


When I interviewed Rick O'Dell last year he had just been let go by WNUA. I caught up with him last week and asked him to tell me more about his new(ish) gig at WLFM...

Rick: I've been at WLFM-LP, 87.7 Chicago's Smooth Jazz, since last December. I'm PD, MD and midday host. It's a unique environment, to say the least, and a major departure from the culture of Clear Channel. We're the only radio station among the media properties of the Venture Technologies group based in Los Angeles. I'm one of a staff of about a dozen people (mainly part-timers), led by GM Pat Kelley, rebuilding a format and building a radio station from scratch. Fortunately, we've gotten help in the programming department from some heritage WNUA talent: Bill Cochran, Loni Taylor and Scott Adams, along with Brian Culbertson and Dave Koz from the Broadcast Architecture Smooth Jazz Network.

We're up against some interesting challenges here (namely a weaker signal than we had at 95.5 and the proclivities of the Smooth Jazz format in the world of PPM), but the outlook is bright. June was our best ratings month, and July was our best revenue month so far. And our listeners' passion for the music we play has never been more apparent. It's all good.


When I last spoke to Alan Cox about two years ago, he had just been let go as the morning man at Q-101. He is back on the air again, although now he's in Cleveland. When I spoke to him the other day, I asked if he could get me caught up on what's happened since our last conversation.

Alan: After we spoke in Sept of 2008, I took a sales job with WNUA, in order to keep my ear to the ground in Chicago, hoping that something on-air would surface. Ironically, I was only there for 11 weeks, as Clear Channel fired 1,200 employees on Inauguration Day 2009. As a newbie, I knew I'd be among the axed; sadly, stalwarts like Rick O'Dell (see above) found themselves in the same boat. As everyone knows, it was shortly thereafter that WNUA's jazz format was no more.

I continued to do stand-up in clubs around Chicago, as well as commercial voiceover work for clients like AutoZone, Verizon, and Northwestern University, narrating a few documentaries that aired on the Big Ten Network. In December of 2009, famine became feast when my agent called me with two on-air offers, neither of which was in Chicago.

As much as I hated being off the air, I hadn't contemplated having to leave Chicago again after only two years, and economic circumstances being what they were, I had to go where the action was. In truth, despite being bummed about loading the UHaul again, it's really been a great development. I'm hosting a talk show (which I had wanted to do all along) at the legendary WMMS in Cleveland, my third go-round as a Clear Channel employee. (One thing I'll say about CC: unlike other radio companies, getting booted from one position never keeps you out of contention for another with them.)

In some ways, WMMS feels like a throwback to my formative years working with Johnny B at The Loop. WMMS is a rock station that has had great success with talk in drive-time, a rare bit of foresight that a market like Chicago would do well to emulate. I've definitely brought a different vibe to the station, with my mix of comedy, politics, and raw, unvarnished commentary. (9 months in, my show is #1 18-34 and #4 25-54)

In April of this year, I was also brought on to host middays at WSDD in St. Louis. It's a more music-intensive show, targeted at Gen-X women, but the management there were fans of my irreverence and the OM is an old friend of mine, so it all came together. I record the St. Louis show in the morning from my Cleveland studio, then go live on WMMS from 3-7p.

Fortunes in this biz turn on a dime, and I'm very happy to be back on the air. Now my goal is to get back to Chicago in a few years and inject some much-needed new blood into the talk radio landscape in my hometown. Also, a final shout-out to Jonathon Brandmeier and Robert Murphy. Both have been invaluable mentors to me, and both deserve to be back on the air at home, ASAP. In the meantime, until I return, anyone can hit me up and stream my show at

Saturday, September 04, 2010

CRS Updates: Roe Conn, Cisco Cotto, Jerry Agar and Bob Hale

I got a chance over the last week or so to reconnect with a few of my previous Chicago Radio Spotlight interview subjects. All have undergone some big changes since we last spoke...


Since we last spoke, Bill Leff is gone from the show, Cisco Cotto has come and gone, Jill Urchak has come and gone, and Christina has come and gone and come back again. Now on the show: Richard Roeper, Jim Johnson (who never left) and Christina Filliagi. I asked Roe how he likes the changes that have been made to his show...

Roe: What a difference a year makes. In 2009, our company (Citadel) was going bankrupt, management panicked and adopted a "try anything" approach that relied more on stunts and controversy than content. The audience was left whip-sawed and confused.

With Michael Damsky and Drew Hayes at the helm (and Citadel successfully emerging from bankruptcy) the environment changed. Damsky had an actual business plan that put WLS back on offense, the centerpiece of which was repairing afternoons.

He brought in Drew, brought back fan-favorite Christina Filiaggi and let us rebuild a show around current events that uses entertainment instead of anger to make a point.

It's easy to piss people off. Outrage is cheap to produce and hard to sell. Entertainment is harder to produce but much easier to sell.

Mike and Drew understand that and were very supportive in allowing me and Jock Hedblade our Executive Producer to do whatever we needed to do.

Our first job was to get Richard Roeper on board. He was close to signing with WGN, but was hesitant about their direction. They have fallen into the trap we nearly did. Build cheap controversial programming and hope for the best. That has never worked in Chicago.

Richard, Jock and I have crafted a show that plays to all of our strengths. It's packed with information, but fun. It doesn't rely on the tactic of pitting people politically. It has an edge without being predictable.

And apparently it's working. We are up 110% 25-54. We are back in the top 10 with adults 25-54 and the top rated show on AM with women 25-54. But most importantly, we're having fun again.


When I last spoke with Cisco he was the co-host of John Howell's morning show on WIND-AM 560. Since then, he has come back to WLS to co-host the afternoon show with Roe Conn, and then was given the 9-11 AM slot when Mancow and Pat Cassidy were let go. I asked him how he liked his new shift, and if he felt any pressure having to fill the gap between Don & Roma and Rush Limbaugh...

Cisco: Being back at WLS is literally like a homecoming. I was there for 6 years as a news reporter before deciding to try moving into the talk studio. Many of the behind the scenes people are still at WLS so there were lots of hugs when I returned. It may sound silly in an age when radio jobs come and go, but WLS really does have a family feel. Drew Hayes and Michael Damsky are helping to foster this. They see their roles as coaches rather than bosses. They are always asking how they can help us as opposed to issuing edicts. Sometimes I have to pinch myself a bit to make sure this is real. A friendly environment and supportive bosses isn’t what radio is “supposed” to be like. I’m truly having a blast and enjoy going to work every day.

One of the best parts about being back is being able to see Don and Roma everyday. They are two of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met in radio. So now, between the end of their show and the start of mine, we get to joke around off the air. Often we’re laughing so hard my producer has to call into the studio, “Cisco, your show started 2 minutes ago. Would you like to talk or should I replay your opening music?”

Why do you think there would be pressure as the show between two local radio legends and the man who single handedly established the conservative talk radio format? Pressure? No pressure! Seriously, it certainly is a responsibility. Both Don & Roma and Rush have big audiences and if I don’t deliver then there’s obviously something wrong with me and not them. But my history with the station made the start of the show easier because listeners were welcoming back a voice from the past. Also, I’ve tried to learn a lot from watching and listening to both Don & Roma and Rush over the years. Every day I remember that I have to be entertaining and/or informative. People aren’t going to tune in just because I have a show. I have to offer them something. I have to talk about things that affect their lives. Sometimes that’s politics and sometimes it’s not.

Though I’m obviously conservative, I think people listening to the show would find that thoughtful, respectful liberals have a fair hearing on the show. That doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with them and I’m going to try to show them the error of their ways, but I’m also not necessarily going to bite their head off. If they’re jerks then I probably will. There’s a lot of politics on the show because what’s going on in Washington, Springfield, and City Hall affects each of us every day. But I go beyond that. Some of the questions I’ve addressed in just the last couple of weeks: Why should a swimmer performing a rescue because the lifeguard didn’t get there in time have to pay his own medical bills? While we don’t sanction domestic violence, wouldn’t everyone understand if Elin took a 9-iron to Tiger? And why in the world is the new Sun Chips bag so darn loud???


Last time I interviewed Jerry Agar a few years ago he was the one in that time-slot between Don & Roma and Rush on WLS. Since then he moved over to WGN as a fill-in host for awhile, before landing another full-time gig in his native Canada a few months ago. I asked him how the new job is going, and if it was more difficult to do conservative talk in a more liberal country...

Jerry: I am currently doing the 9 am to 1 pm show on Canada's heritage, and largest talk station News Talk 1010, formerly known as CFRB in Toronto.

Canada has gone even further to the left since the days when I grew up here and it seems I got back just in time to fight the socialism.

The people at the station are great. Like WGN it is live and local all day and evening, with a full news room.

I am still proudly associated with WGN as I get to do some Saturday evenings for them.

One of my sons has just started his senior year in high school so my family is still in the Chicago area as we want to let him finish it out with his friends and sports teams.


I got wind of an honor that is being bestowed upon Bob the other day. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He also sent me this picture from more than fifty years ago...

Bob: It's true. The Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of fame in inducting me Labor Day weekend. That a 1.50 gets me on the CTA! (It is still 1.50 isn't it? As a Senior I ride free...a really stupid idea!) So, for what it's worth, I guess my Buddy Holly death connection is about to rocket me into international fame!!!! Again, that and 1.50.....

The pic is from 1959 when KRIB's rock and roll format was one year old. It was taken at my weekly record hop at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

Next week I'll be back with a few more updates...