Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mitch Michaels update

I'm in Washington this week on a writing assignment, but I do have this Chicago Radio Spotlight update for you. I've previously interviewed Mitch Michaels, but his situation has changed recently with his involvement in a few internet ventures...

Mitch: Rick had ask me to update my activities of late so here goes....I've moved from C Block to D block. The guards are much nicer over here...just kidding, but I guess it's a good thing they can't put you behind bars for things you've thought about doing (can they?) or I'd have heard the loud clank of the cell door slamming and the sound of the key being thrown away, long ago! For most of this year, of 2010, I've been the voice/host of an unique internet channel called Classic Rock Chicago. It's one of several channels available on

This all falls under the umbrella. Stay with me, I'm gonna name names. AccuRadio has over 400 channels and is a Kurt Hanson endeavor. Kurt a fellow I've know for way too many years; very bright and very forward thinking. Kurt has a vision, but you'll have to talk to him about that! There are a variety of musical treats and formats on "our" website with great Chicago personalities to match like Tommy Edwards, Doug Dalhgren, Fred Winston, Clark Weber, Danae Alexander, Connie Szerszen and many more. John Gehron, the man who ran WLS for years, and is radio wizard, is also very involved. It's a very fun and exiting project and we hope people will tune in and enjoy!

In just the past few weeks I have launched a new website called Yeah Baby Tunes ( It features my take on particular tunes with a little twist of personal outlook. We're just trying to have some fun and put out some interesting outlooks on the music "we" all love and grew up with. You can find us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter. My master web spinner/executive producer/chef Karen Greenstein has done a masterful job on the site (all the way from New Mexico...she's good) and I hope folks will go check it out and enjoy. It's a work in progress and we continue to add new content daily. Yeah Baby Tunes has already been a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to much more fun, as we grow! Yeah Baby.....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Eddie Webb

Eddie Webb is the host of the nationally syndicated VH1 Classic Rock Nights, but is known to Chicago listeners for his two stints with WLUP-FM (97.9).

Rick: How are you liking it in New York?

Eddie: I miss Chicago, I tell you that. As somebody that has moved around a lot, there are some places you absolutely love, and for me, Chicago was one of those places. And there are some that are not as great. New York would be great if I was 22 years old, or making 22 million dollars.

Rick: Tell me about your VH1 Classic “Rock Nights” show. Sadly, it’s not airing here in Chicago.

Eddie: No, that’s true, it’s not on in Chicago yet, but it is nationwide. We’re certainly not reinventing the wheel, but I’m having a great time. It’s not a talk show. It’s just great classic rock played by a guy that really knows and loves the music. And because of the VH1 brand, and the fact that we’re in New York, we also have some great guests on the show. Robbie Krieger from the Doors is coming on tonight (we spoke on Thursday).

Rick: Can your Chicago fans listen on-line?

Eddie: The website is, and once you pull up that page you can go to one of the affiliates that stream the show. We have 30 stations now and we should be up to 40 by the end of the year.

Rick: How did this all come about?

Eddie: When I was at the Loop, somebody I knew reached out and said there was a big hush hush opportunity to do a national show on the horizon, but they couldn’t give me any details yet. And even though I love Chicago and the Loop, I figured I owed it to myself to investigate. It never hurts to listen. Well, I finally got some details, and it sounded intriguing. They had done a radio show for CMT. They hired this guy from Salt Lake and put him on the air and syndicated it, and discovered that the television ratings were waaay up in every market the radio show aired. So, they said: “We’d like to do a classic rock show to support VH1 Classic, and we’d like you to be the host.” They said they wanted to launch in May, and the timing worked—and it really sounded like a great opportunity—so I agreed. I moved to New York in April.

Rick: You mentioned your time at The Loop, which is where you were right before this job opportunity—and it was your second go-round there. I’m guessing this second time was a little more stressful than the first. For one thing, you were doing two jobs for awhile there. Then there was the whole financial turmoil within the company, and the programming started coming from St. Louis. Did any of that figure into your decision making process.

Eddie: Absolutely. It definitely figured in. I really don’t like to drag people through the mud, but when they started programming the Loop out of St. Louis, and consolidating jobs, and cutting back, that wasn’t a good time. Chicago is not some small market in Iowa somewhere. Chicago deserves 24-hour live disc jockeys. Chicago radio stations deserve their own programmers. These people out of St. Louis meddled and left, and we had to try to explain to our listeners why the musical accountants didn’t think we should playing this band or that band, when we knew darn well the listeners were right. Music is obviously all subjective. There are people that like Rush or Pink Floyd or whatever, but I’ve always believed that people voted with their wallets. If they’re buying it, they’d definitely want to hear it on the radio.

On top of that, the station wasn’t making any money; they were having serious financial problems. I’ll be honest with you, it was depressing to see the station become a shell of it’s former self. I was really proud to be at the Loop, I loved that station so much, that if this offer had come a few years earlier, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. By the time it did come, it was a no-brainer.

Rick: What are some of your favorite memories from your Loop days?

Eddie: Oh man, there’s a lot of them. Obviously working with a legend like Jonathon Brandmeier—what an honor that was. Doing the Loop Rock Girl...

Rick: Be careful how you say that.

Eddie: (laughs) Right. Doing the Loop Rock girl promotion. (photo) That was a ton of fun. But you know, this is going to sound corny, but my favorite memories are the times I went out to these concert events, where we were broadcasting live, and just meeting the Loop listeners. These great Loop fans treated me like I was one of their buddies—they didn’t ask for autographs, they talked to me like they knew me. They just wanted to have a beer with me and talk about rock and roll. You know, real people. I loved that. These guys really are just like me. I know this format. I live the format. This is who I really am. That’s why I could never do some of those other formats, like a Mix format or one of these AC formats.

Rick: I run into Byrd at a lot of the concerts I go to, and he’s the same way.

Eddie: Absolutely. Byrd (photo) totally is. He lives the format too. It’s a bummer that the decisions are being made now by guys that aren’t really in the audience, and don’t really understand them.

Rick: One of the things that no one ever questioned about you was your rock and roll authenticity. It just takes one second of looking at you to notice that. But not everyone realizes that you actually worked with some of the biggest bands. Talk about that time.

Eddie: I was living in Phoenix and a buddy was a tour manager for Skid Row and asked me to come out to the show—and when I came out, he asked me if I wanted to stay with the tour. I said “You mean right now?” He said yeah, and I said “What the hell?” I did that for a couple of months. When I got home, a buddy of mine had moved to LA and he was working with Madonna at the time, and said you gotta come out to LA, man. So I did, and one of my friends was working for Guns and Roses, and he heard that the guys Duff (photo) had hired were ripping him off, and taking advantage of him. So, I went over there to clean out the place. I went from feeding his dogs, to before I knew it, making appointments with contractors, and occasionally going on the road with them. I was sort of like part assistant/part security—not that I’m a badass or anything.

Rick: You must have seen some things.

Eddie: (laughs) I’ll take a few of those stories to the grave. It was the usual rock and roll stuff.

Rick: What about Ozzy? You worked with him too, didn’t you?

Eddie: That was a few years later. I got an e-mail from a buddy, asking if I’d like to do this MVP program for Ozzie. This would have been 2004, and I did that three and half years and toured the country with the band in a bus, and ran this VIP program. In select cities, Sharon Osbourne also did a platinum project. We’d bring in these ten people, and we’d take care of them, and make them feel special. I’m a small town Iowa boy, born and raised—a town of 8000, and if you told me when I was a kid, that I would end up working for Ozzy, I never would have believed it. It was a great time. After that, I got back into radio in Vegas, and then back to Chicago.

Rick: You’ve been in the rock and roll business now for a long time, and met just about everyone. Who are some of your favorites and least favorites, just as people to talk to?

Eddie: Most of them are great guys. I just recently interviewed Jason Bohnam. He was awesome. Kevin Cronin. Awesome. Skid Row was cool. Believe it or not, Donny Osmond was one of my all-time favs. He gets it, he understands who he is, and he goes with it. He was just a fun interview and a great guy. Of course, Duff and Slash are two of my all time favorites.

Rick: I met Slash once, and was really surprised that he’s such a gentle dude.

Eddie: No doubt. But compared to Duff, Slash is a dick (laughs). That’s how nice Duff is.

Rick: What about guys that you were excited to meet? Any rock and roll heroes?

Eddie: I got a chance to meet Robert Plant once, and while they were laying out all these ground rules, I almost bumped right into him. He looked at me and said: “Who do I have to fuck around here to get a cup of tea?” I said, “Dude, I hope it’s not me.”

Rick: What about least favorite?

Eddie: There are two guys I talk about on the radio—my listeners know how I feel about them. Chris Robinson (photo) was the biggest dick ever. Every time in the last ten or eleven years that I’ve played the Black Crowes, every time, I play a tape of this caller saying “That guy is a dick”

I will not interview him again or go anywhere near him.

Rick: What did he do?

Eddie: He is just one of those guys that is too cool for the room. I said, “You guys are like the ultimate garage band,” which I intended as a compliment, because I really do like their music. He said: ‘We ain’t no fuckin’ garage band!” Real pleasant.

The first time around at the Loop, I was down in Atlanta for the “By Your Side” album release show, live on the radio on the SFX network. I was the host of the show. There were people from radio stations all over the country, and we were squeezed into this little rehearsal studio in Atlanta. I was crushed against the stage, and had my notes on a music stand.

I don’t know if you’ve done a show like this before, but we were on about 200 stations—this was a live network show, and we had planned out the show very meticulously with the SFX people—I wasn’t exactly ad-libbing up there. One of the questions someone asked compared Robinson’s raspy sound to Rod Stewart, which to me, again, is totally a compliment. He said “I’m going to go down there and kick you in the teeth.”

Rick: Whoa.

Eddie: The other guy I couldn’t stand was Stephen Pearcy from Ratt—but he’s a combination of dick and stupid. So I’ll cut him a little slack. But those are really the only two bad experiences.

Rick: What about rock and roll radio? Do you have any radio heroes?

Eddie: You bet. John Records Landecker (photo). I will say this to anyone that will listen; he is the guy that inspired me to go into radio. I don’t know whether to thank him or blame him for that. I still remember this like it was yesterday. It was in January, and I was like 15 years old, living in Iowa, and WGN-TV aired this special show following John around the studio, asking him questions about the job—why he did it—what he loved about it. I was watching him in the WLS studio, doing his bit, doing his thing, and I was just MEZMERIZED. (Here’s a portion of that show)

My father owned a hardware store, and that summer his store was doing a promotion with a local radio station, and he asked me if I wanted to come to the station with him, and I did—and I see this guy talking into that same nerf ball microphone, and I thought –man this is great, this is what I want to do. And they said they needed help on the weekend, and would I be interested? Are you kidding me?

It was a beautiful music station, and I would change these tapes, and then I got to read the weather. I thought I was big time—I had visions of grandeur.

Since those days I’ve tried to listen to whatever Landecker stuff I could get my hands on; tapes, MP3s, you name it. He was tremendous. I mean he would become a part of that music—whatever he did made the music even better. I know he did a good morning show and a talk show, but for my money, if I had a radio station, I’d put him on at night, and say, here’s a million dollars play whatever, and do whatever you want. He was the greatest disc jockey ever.

I ended up having lunch with John a few years ago, and I was really nervous, more nervous than I was meeting any of the rock stars I’ve met. Meeting him was like meeting Wolfman Jack.

Rick: It seems like you’ve seen it and done it all in the business. Are there any unfulfilled career goals?

Eddie: I just want to be on a farm in the middle of nowhere and not see anyone—especially PDs. Just kidding. In all seriousness, I’m really very happy where I am now, and I’d love to grow with this show—get it on 100 or 150 stations across America. And maybe somewhere out there, another 15-year-old kid will be listening, and be inspired to do this too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ben Finfer

Ben Finfer is the technical producer of the Danny Mac Show on the Score, WSCR-AM 670. He recently joined the show after leaving ESPN AM 1000.

Rick: I know Dan McNeil has always been a big supporter of your work. When I interviewed him at ESPN six years ago, he referred to you as the unsung hero of the show (Mac, Jurko & Harry). Is he the one that lured you to join him on the Score?

Ben: First of all it was nice of Mac to say that six years ago. (Photo: Ben at work at ESPN/6 years ago.) But I think a baboon could have produced that show and it still would have been good. Although I'm not sure a baboon would have been able to stand the smell. Anyway, Mac was obviously a big part of my move. As was Mitch Rosen, our program director. But it wasn't just them. I was ready for a change of scenery after almost nine years at ESPN. Luckily I had an opportunity to make the move because I had fooled Mac into thinking I was good at my job. But I might have left even if the Score didn't come calling. In fact before they called I had checked job postings and there was a weekend host position available in Billings, Montana. I'm always looking for ways to show off my knowledge of the Northern Pacific Hockey League. For instance, did you know there is a Northern Pacific Hockey League?

Rick: How has the reunion gone?

Ben: It's gone well I think. It's not like Mac (photo) and I hadn't talked since he left ESPN. It also helped that there was already an established show in place with quality producers. Jay Zawaski and Nick Shepkowski make up the best crew I've worked with and all I had to do was not screw anything up. In fact, everyone at the Score has made it easy for me. I felt pretty useless early on as I adjusted. There was a ton of stuff I needed to learn that I took for granted at ESPN. I didn't even know where the vending machine was. By the way, in case you're wondering the vending machines at the Score are way better than ESPN's.

Rick: You bring a lot to the table as a producer. I see you in the tradition of the great personality show technical producers like John Swanson (Eric & Kathy) and Vince Argento (Landecker & Brandmeier). You're not just a blade man, you take it to the next level; voicing, singing, conceptualizing audio packages and themes. Will you be performing similar duties at the Score?

Ben: Thanks for the compliment. It's flattering to be put in the same category as those guys. In fact I've had Swanson in a few of my personality show technical producer fantasy leagues. Yeah, my duties at the Score are pretty much the same as they were at ESPN. And while I'd love to take sole credit for "taking it to the next level", a lot of my work is a result of collaboration among show members. I often rely on co-workers to help me with an idea. Then subsequently use Inception to make them think it was my idea in the first place. That's how we do it in radio.

Rick: I don't think people appreciate the amount of work that goes into putting a show together behind the scenes. Take me through a typical work day, and explain how the various different people on the show divide the labor.

Ben: A typical work day starts with me waking up at about 4:30 a.m. and hating my life. That lasts until about 5:30. Once I get into the studios I begin production on the day's library of audio. That includes a show open, game highlights, player and coach sound bytes, etc. Both hosts give a lot of suggestions about what they'd like to hear. We get emails full of weird stuff they heard on t.v. or ridiculous comments made by Lovie Smith or whatever. Zawaski is busier than I am. He's the executive producer and books all the guests for the show, plus helps with audio production. He mostly has to lock down guests the day prior because what sane person is awake that early in the morning otherwise? Shepkowski does a lot of editing and production as well. Plus he's our show researcher. If you hear Mac doing a list of the Atlanta Falcons who have made a Pro Bowl, it's because Shep looked it up. He could probably find Jimmy Hoffa's body using Google.

At around 7:30 Spiegs and Mac roll in. We do a show meeting to plan out the day's hilarity and high quality sports conversation. These meetings usually include the all-important task of sending our intern out for coffee. Once the show starts things actually slow down a bit. Mac and Spiegel work their magic, Zawaski screens callers and guides the show, I run the board, and Shep is our runner to catch anything that falls through the cracks. Somehow we make it through four hours. We wrap around 1:15, followed by a post show meeting to talk about how great we were. And then by 2:00 I'm back to hating my life.

Rick: It must have been a little difficult leaving ESPN after all this time. You still obviously have a lot of friends there. How did they take it when you told them you were leaving?

Ben: I actually haven't told them yet. They think I'm just on a long vacation. The people there were the only difficult part of leaving. But I'll maintain friendships with a lot of them no matter where I work. And everyone seemed genuinely happy for me. Believe it or not it was something I worried about. Harry Teinowitz (photo) is one of my favorite people in the business and a friend outside of it. So I was glad that he was supportive. The same with Carmen, Jurko and Danny Zederman, who I produced the show with. I received a lot of congratulatory calls and emails from people there. The generosity coming from ESPN was really nice. And that included my former bosses...John Cravens, Justin Craig and Adam Delevitt. Some real good people work at that place. By the way I also got a text from Brett Favre, let's just say he appeared to be very excited for me.

Rick: What are some of your favorite memories from your years at ESPN?

Ben: Winning the Golden Tee tournament was a personal high for me. People are still talking about my hook shot around the mountain on the 14th hole at Alpine Run. After that my favorite memories are of just hanging out in the office and laughing. There's real good camaraderie there. I mean if you put that many guys together for an extended period a lot of FCC-unfriendly stuff is seen, heard and forwarded. It's the kind of stuff that would have made us all executives with the Tribune Company. Kidding of course. It wasn't close to being that bad.

Rick: You were part of the afternoon saloon when Danny was there, and for quite awhile after Danny left. How were each of those experiences different? What was it like in the weeks and months after Carmen DeFalco replaced him?

Ben: Honestly it was a pretty seamless transition from Mac to Carm. We weren't going to just stop doing radio because he was gone. There were still plenty of crappy Chicago sports teams to be discussed. They have different styles obviously. Several people told me Mac was better, several thought Carmen (photo) was better. But that was for everyone else to decide for themselves. Things around the office didn't change all that much. That probably sounds a little cold considering Mac had been there more than seven years. I just think it's the reality of the business. On Friday he was there, the following Monday he wasn't. It was all made a lot easier by the fact that Carmen wasn't new. He had been at the station a long time and had filled in for Mac quite a bit. Which was nice because I didn't feel like kissing up to someone new. And in the end it's all about me, right?

Rick: There's no question there were some tense times at ESPN. There must have been a half dozen suspensions of various different colleagues when you were there. Then again, the Score has had it's share of tension too. Is there just something innately stressful about sportstalk that brings that out?

Ben: It's definitely not the stress. There are several jobs out there that create a lot more stress than sports radio. We're not putting our lives on the line. We're just breaking down the Bears offensive line. I think the tense times came from the fact that these are guys paid to have opinions and to express them to others. There's no switch to flip. Mac doesn't turn off a microphone and all of sudden go into a shell. He likes to say what's on his mind. As do Harry and Jurko. And I'm sure that's the case with a lot of talk show hosts. But anybody who tells you they're stressed out by talk radio is a drama queen. Passover seders with the family are more stressful. I know there's always a ratings battle staring us in the face and jobs are always on the line. But the worst case scenario is you get fired. I'm sure finding another job isn't that hard. Just ask Mike North.

Rick: You got an opportunity to host or co-host shows at ESPN, particularly on the weekend. Is the Score giving you the same opportunity?

Ben: Yes, I believe that's part of the plan. At the very least I can always call into Les Grobstein's show. That's almost like co-hosting. For now it'll be some weekend stuff at varied times. There are a lot of really good shows on our station so I appreciate wherever they can squeeze me in. That's the beauty of the Score as opposed to ESPN. We're local and live at almost all points of the week. It's tough getting air time at ESPN in between national broadcasts of the John Kincade Show and the replay of the John Kincade Show.

Rick: I know you're still relatively young, and you've got your whole career ahead of you, but what direction do you hope to take it?

Ben: Relatively young, huh? My irritable bowel syndrome says differently. Either way, I'd like to be on the air full time. I want to be the next Dan McNeil or Dan Bernstein or Marc Silverman. Or even Steve Dahl. Actually I want to be better than all of them. But I have a long way to go to get to that point in both talent and accomplishments. Plus there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other guys who want the same thing and have as much a shot at it as I do. But I really don't have any other skills. So I'm willing to be patient.

Rick: Last question. I know you're a fellow Illini as well as a fellow long suffering Cubs fan. Which happens first? An Illinois national championship or a Cubs World Series Championship, or will we die waiting for both?

Ben: Are you including all sports? Because perhaps you weren't aware that the Illini men's tennis team won a national title a few years back. If you're talking major sports I'd say an Illini basketball national championship is the most likely of the bunch. I don't think our football team will ever win one. Ever. Since the BCS began in the 90s the champions have been Tennessee, Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Florida and Alabama. That's a group of elite programs much further along on the college football timeline of evolution than Illinois. And the Cubs? After the debacle of the 2008 playoffs I, for the first time, began to think they'll never win again. But that was before the Mike Quade era began. So who knows?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Danny Bonaduce

Danny Bonaduce is the morning man at WYSP in Philadelphia, but during the 1990s he entertained Chicago radio audiences on the Loop.

Rick: You’re known for all sorts of different things (including obviously, "The Partridge Family"), but it’s been more than twenty years now since you started in radio. Do you consider yourself a radio guy now first and foremost?

Danny: Well, I’ve been doing it every single day for twenty years, so I guess the answer to that has to be yes. In life I guess you either have to follow the money or your spiritual beliefs, and since I have no spiritual beliefs of any kind, I follow the money. And for me, the money is in radio.

Rick: You and I worked together very briefly when you first started on the Loop. I was doing overnights on the FM while you were doing overnights on the AM, and I remember that as a very wild time. The hallways were completely crazy every night--it was a radio free for all, and Chicago seemed to embrace you almost instantly. Did you feel the same way about Chicago?

Danny: Absolutely. If you read my book, and I’m not saying this to sell the book because it’s out of print now, but there is more than one chapter dedicated to Chicago, and not just to radio, but to the city, and the people I met there. As far as I’m concerned, my radio career didn’t start the first time I cracked the mic and said “This is Danny Bonaduce.” My real radio career started when I did talk radio—entertainment talk—which is what I do—and that happened for the first time in Chicago. That was real radio, not playing some Debbie Gibson records.

The reason you remember the craziness in the hallway is because back then, just as now, I did absolutely no preparation. I still never write anything down. I don’t even carry a pen. I just introduce the show, and I sidekick for the telephone.

I wait for the inspiration of one moment that will start the show. Let’s say I get into a huge fight with my girlfriend, just to take an obvious example of something that everyone can relate to. I tell the story on the air, and then before I even get to the phone calls of people saying I was right or I was wrong, I get the calls from other people who got into fights with their girlfriends, and that leads to a discussion about resolving the fights because divorce is too expensive, and then calls about cheating, and before you know it, you’ve got a show. I usually have one story to start, and aside from that, I don’t prepare a thing.

Rick: The bit I remember most vividly from your early time at the Loop was the bit when you drove down the parking garage ramp in the Hancock as fast as you could.

Danny: (excited) Carioke! That was my all-time favorite bit. I loved that! That was the very best thing I’ve ever done in entertainment talk radio, and the best I ever will do.

The Hancock had this eight story spiral ramp going up to the parking garage (photo), and the bit was that you had to come into the car with me and sing a song all the way down while I drove as fast as I could, and if you could do it without screaming, you’d win. No one could ever do it, because I knew something they didn’t. That garage ramp was engineered in such a way that a car couldn’t flip over. And I didn’t care if I scraped it up or dinged it, so I would hit the sides, and sparks would go flying and everybody, and I mean everybody, screamed. Nobody made it down that ramp without screaming.

One day Johnny B told me that he thought he could do it, and so I took him down the ramp too. And I went fast, but not real fast, not as fast as I could have gone, and he was singing Happy Birthday or something like that and was doing great until we got to the bottom of the ramp. When we reached the bottom, he saw a woman standing there with a baby carriage, and it was right in our way. Well, I slammed into that baby carriage at full speed, and it went flying through the air, and Johnny B FLIPPED OUT. I mean flipped out!

And then the woman, my ex-wife, got the baby carriage and showed Johnny there was a doll in there.

Rick: (laughing) Oh my God.

Danny: I’ve tried recreating that in other places, but I can’t. It was just that spiral, and the engineering of it that made it work. On flat surfaces or other garages it wouldn’t work, because it would be too dangerous.

Rick: To a lot of people, the big highlight of your time here, the thing that everybody remembers is your fight against Donny Osmond. You’ve since fought a bunch of other people, and everybody knows that you’re a tough guy now, but nobody really knew what to expect for that fight. What are your memories of that night?

Danny: I didn’t know what to expect either. I came close to losing that fight. For one thing, I was drunk. Somebody asked me on my way into the ring what I thought was going to happen, and I said, "I’m going to kick his ass then get drunker."

I mean, c’mon, this is Donny Osmond we’re talking about here. I had a girl to hold my cigarette, because you know, I was smoking three packs a day. But that’s how unconcerned I was. And I started off by pounding away at this guy for like seventy five seconds, and then I stepped away, figuring he would just collapse onto the ground. But he didn’t. He had protected himself. And I thought, “Holy shit, if Donny Osmond kicks my ass, I’m going to have to leave the country!”

Rick: But you did win that fight. And you’ve fought a few more since then.

Danny: After that Donny fight, I took training more seriously. I recently fought Jose Canseco. And that guy was HUGE. I mean the measurements were hilarious. On weigh-in day he was 6’6, 265. I was 5’6, 165. He hit me once, and I’ve never been hit that hard before. I went flying halfway cross the ring, but I happened to land on my feet. I opened my eyes expecting to see him coming in for the kill, but he hadn’t moved. I had to walk back over to him. I think the only reason I didn't lose that fight was because he was tired of being hated.

Rick: Do you still have a tattoo of the Loop logo and Larry Wert’s name on your butt? (Photo: Life Magazine)

Danny: Sure, of course. You don’t think I would have that taken off do you? It’s a hell of an ice breaker in Chicago.

Rick: And Larry really is the godfather of your child.

Danny: I know people thought I was kissing the boss’s ass when I made him the godfather, but I didn’t do that because he was the boss. We really were best friends. And plus, I was already #1 by then. You don’t kiss the boss’s ass when you’re #1. You do it when your ratings suck.

Rick: I don’t know if people remember this, but Johnny B was also critical in the beginning of your radio career. I talked to Johnny the other day and mentioned that I would be talking to you, and he told me to say hi.

Danny: I love Johnny (photo). The reason I give Johnny the credit for my radio career is because even though he never actually hired me anywhere, even at the Loop, he gave me my start with a bit he did.

An article came out in the National Enquirer that Danny Bonaduce was homeless and hungry, so he did a mock food drive for me. I got a call from Chicago saying: "We’ve got 7000 pounds of canned food, and about 12 grand in cash, and would you come to Chicago?" So I did, and you have to remember I was living in LA where everyone is apathetic. If a DJ told someone to do something there, maybe five people would show up. When I got to Chicago though, there were hundreds of people in the airport with signs and billboards. I remember one very well. It had a picture of a red-headed skeleton, and it said “Stop hunger before it stops Danny Partridge.”

I couldn’t believe it—that’s when I discovered the power a DJ could have.

And Johnny had me come up on stage with him and sing “I think I love you” and I wrote funny new lyrics to it, but while I was up there, I felt like I was being pelted with ice. I thought, "man these people in Chicago turn on you fast," but then I noticed it wasn’t ice. It was coins. It was money, and I was running around that stage picking it up. Sure, it was a funny bit, but I really was homeless. I needed that money.

So, DJs being the scum that they are, started stealing the bit. And it became so popular, I went around the country one station at a time, repeating the bit. And one station in Philly even hired me to come on their lame show and be a sidekick and play Debbie Gibson records.

And then Larry Wert saw me do stand up. He called his boss Jimmy de Castro (photo) and said “I’ve seen Danny’s show four nights in a row, and it’s completely different every night. I think he’d be great for the Loop.” So, when my contract ran out in Philly, I went to Chicago, and I got the overnight shift. One night I was on the air on a Saturday, because I worked six days a week back then, and Jimmy called Larry Wert, and said, “Is this what this fucker does? He just screams into the microphone all day?” Just as he was saying that to Larry, I guess I actually said, “What I lack in talent, I make up for in volume.”

I had a contract offer to do overnights, but before I even had a chance to sign it, they moved me to nights, and then to middays, and I never actually signed it. Jimmy finally said to me, “Is it OK if we just shake on it?” And we did. We just shook hands. They gave me a raise and gave me a great deal of money, and I worked for their company and the company it became, which is Clear Channel, for 16 years—all without a contract. The only time I actually signed a contract is the time I was fired.

Rick: And where was that?

Danny: That was in LA.

Rick: Right. That was the Adam Carolla show in LA. What is the real story about what happened there?

Danny: I liked Adam Carolla (photo) a lot, I thought he was a genius, but I heard his show, and knew that he just didn’t know how to do radio. I figured if someone ever taught him, it could be an incredible show. So I really fought hard for that job. I fought like crazy to get it. And I became his sidekick, and I was very happy to be the sidekick. I went out of my way to say, 'Hey, the sign on the wall says the Adam Carolla show.' I was very careful not to step on any toes.

We went from #18 to like #4. But Adam said he didn’t like my comedy. I said:“Why? Because it’s funny?”

He said “Yeah, it’s not my brand of comedy.”

I will say this for him, he’s not a coward. He said that he didn’t want me on his show anymore right in front of me . But CBS wouldn’t let me go. So they gave me morning show money to do a one hour show. Then they hired me to do mornings in Philly.

Rick: Which is where you are now. How is it going in Philadelphia?

Danny: Great. There were something like five different morning shows in the four years before I started here, and I just started my third year, so it’s going well.

Rick: Can people in Chicago hear your show on the internet?

Danny: Sure can. Just go to and check it out. We’ve actually got a pretty big following in Chicago already.

Rick: In addition to doing the radio, you’re also a reality television mogul these days, aren’t you? I’ve seen you in several reality shows over the years, but you’re more than just a star in them.

Danny: Every reality show you’ve ever seen me in, except the one with Hulk Hogan, I either wrote, hosted, or produced.

Rick: Do you have your own company?

Danny: Yes. It’s called Graveltone Productions.

Rick: And people probably pitch you all the time.

Danny: They do, and I would take the offers if they would fit around my schedule, but that’s getting harder to do. I’m in Philadelphia now, so it would have to take place here, because I’m not giving up the radio gig. Anyone that gives up radio for TV is out of their mind, unless you’re Ryan Seacrest or something. I’ve done a ton of reality shows, but the problem is that they are years and years apart sometimes. On the radio, I’m on the air every single day, collecting a very healthy regular paycheck.

Rick: Do you ever make it back to Chicago?

Danny: Not as often as I’d like. I come to Zanies every few years, and I suppose it’s about time for that again. If you have any ideas that will bring me back to town, believe me, I’m all ears. Let’s hear ‘em.

Rick: Are you working on anything else these days?

Danny: Yes, on October 23rd I’m playing a 1500 person shed with David Cassidy. I had him on the show recently, which is something I really don’t like to do. My biggest fear is that someone will tune in to my show for the first time at that one moment he’s on and say, “OK, so he talks about the Partridge Family all the time. Is that all he can do?”

But I did The Today Show with him and he seemed to be in a better place about the Partridge Family, so I invited him on the show. And on the air he dared me to learn to play one song on the bass, and join him on stage for the first and only time for real.

So, even though I have a million jobs now for CBS, I’ve got a bass lesson in about a half an hour.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Pat Cassidy

Pat Cassidy is the morning co-anchor at WBBM-AM, Newsradio 78.

Rick: By the dawn’s early light. That’s how I know that I’m listening to Pat Cassidy. What is the origin of your use of that phrase?

Pat: It’s from the national anthem of course, and I’m on when the dawn is just lighting. I was looking for some kind of signature line, and I’m a patriotic guy on top of it all, and just tried it, and it stuck around all these years. I do get ribbed by my co-workers occasionally when I say it when it’s still pitch black outside, like in the winter, but I’ve been saying it now for 35 years. Once in awhile I space out, and forget to say it, and people notice. We get calls about it.

Rick: You’ve been back at WBBM for a few months now. Does your time at WLS seem like the old Dallas episode, where everybody just dreamed that Bobby Ewing was dead for two years? Did you emerge from the shower as if nothing had ever happened?

Pat: (Laughs) Something like that.

Rick: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a radio station hold a slot open for someone like that, hoping they would return. Is it any different the second time around?

Pat: It really is just like it used to be. I fell right back into the pace of things, and the stride of things. Most of the same people are here, and these are people I worked with for years and years. Some I’ve known since the WMAQ days, like my head writer Barb Hillebrand. For the most part, people accepted me. A lot of people said it was good to have me back. There have been a few little comments implying that this is where I belong, not doing that talk thing.

Rick: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about that talk thing for a moment. There were a couple of notable shows when you were co-hosting the show with Mancow on WLS. The one that probably got the most attention was the waterboarding show. What was going through your mind while you were narrating that show in progress? Was that authentic? It looks like it on the video.

Pat: It was authentic. Now, Mancow was not stuck in a cell and not fearing for his life, so that part wasn’t legitimate in those terms. But it was performed by a Marine, and Mancow’s feet really were bound, and there were many elements that were real, including the fact that he caught him off guard by doing it on the count of three instead of five. That really threw Mancow off. He really felt it was torture after it happened. Looking into his eyes, you could see it. He did look very upset.

Rick: Yes, he did, but with Mancow you never know. Are people wrong to doubt his authenticity? Is he just misunderstood?

Pat: No, I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t use that word. He’s not misunderstood. He does what he does quite deliberately. He says deliberately outrageous things just to get a rise out of people sometimes. But I will say that having worked with him, and having it seen from the inside, he really does have devoted fans. And yes, he also has his detractors. Seems like there is no inbetween with Mancow. But he is a hardworking, talented, fun-loving guy. I’ve never seen anyone work harder than that guy. He’s doing pretty well with it, but he might consider fine-tuning it a bit to make it more commercial.

Rick: You’ve been anchoring a morning newscast for many years now (at WMAQ and WBBM). I listened to Karl Klockars interview with you about 9/11, which was really interesting by the way. You mentioned something in that interview that hadn’t really occurred to me before. The morning time slot rarely has breaking news. It has the highest listenership, but it rarely has breaking news. 9/11 was an exception to the rule. Were there others?

Pat: The discovery of the bodies at Gacy’s house happened in morning drive. I had a source at the time in law enforcement that called me a few times during the process. At first we only knew it was a body or two, but he called to say “Pat, it ain’t one or two. It’s more like 22. There’s a lot of bodies down here."

That was a breaking news story in the morning. But for the most part, there aren’t too many, because frankly, people are fast asleep. Most of the breaking stories in morning drive are crimes, or fires, or sometimes something happening in Europe, or very rarely, the East Coast—say if the newspapers have a big expose that is getting lots of attention.

I suppose it is a bit ironic that we have the most listeners, but the fewest breaking news stories.

Rick: My wife has your show on every morning as she gets ready for work, and I can name the whole cast of characters with very little difficulty, but I don’t really know much about them because the all news format doesn’t really allow for a great deal of personality to shine through. Tell us a little more about your show mates Felicia Middlebrooks, Bart Shore, and Josh Liss.

Pat: Felicia is a very conscientious and organized individual who is serious about presenting news, but she’s also very compassionate and has tremendous empathy. My attitude is more like a cop’s. I’m slightly jaded. Yes, it’s sad, but we’ve got to move on. Felicia really feels deeply for some of the victims.

Bart Shore (photo) is a rocker, but he’s so conscientious about the traffic, probably more so than anyone I’ve ever seen. He works like a newsman, makes phone calls, and sometimes even breaks news stories. In his heart, though, I think he’s a frustrated DJ that loves his rock and roll.

Josh is a tremendous writer, and knows way more about sports than he’s putting on the air. He’s often very insightful, but for me what sets him apart from the rest is his writing, the turn of a phrase, the way he says so much with a few words.

And the guy who really runs our show is Jim Benes. Jim is a tremendous journalist, with great instincts. He gets in there many hours before we do, and thanks to him, we never miss a story. Never. Not with Jim at the helm, overseeing everything. He’s also my golfing buddy. We live near each other.

Rick: I have real fond memories of the old WMAQ. You were there for so many years, through so many different formats, until the very last moment they signed off the air. What are some of your favorite memories from those years?

Pat: Oh gosh, I have many. I thought of WMAQ as two different stations. It was owned by NBC when I first started there. It was a country music station at the time. This was late 1975. Actually I was hired by NBC to work at WNIS (All news on FM), but that didn’t really work out. It was ahead of it’s time; FM radio wasn't as prevalent as it is now. I was moved over to WMAQ after that. Lee Sherwood was the DJ on that show, Jerry Taft was the weather man, and our sportscaster was Tim Weigel.

I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think that was Tim’s first broadcasting job. He was a sportswriter for the Daily News when we hired him. We were looking for a way to present the sports in a more fun way and somebody heard Weigel clowning around in the press box one night, and thought, whoa—this guy is smart, and glib, and entertaining. So they offered him a job. That show was a hit. Our ratings in the mid to late 1970s were killer. Country music worked real well on AM Radio.

Rick: WMAQ’s gonna make me rich!

Pat: Exactly. WMAQ is going to make me rich. That is one of the most memorable catch phrases or slogans in radio history. I think they made a big mistake by getting rid of it. They dropped it because the lottery came along, and I remember sitting in a meeting, and somebody said that the lottery was going to own the phrase now. So we dropped it. But people still remember it today.

One time we had a contest winner that won $25,000. That was a lot of money in those days. WMAQ made him rich, but only for a few seconds. He got so excited, he went out on the front lawn to tell the neighbors and dropped dead.

Rick: (laughs) Sorry, I guess I shouldn't be laughing.  I never heard that story.

Pat: I believe he lived just over the border, I want to say it was Racine.

Rick: So after the country format, it became a talk station.

Pat: Yes, that’s true. For a brief period of time it did. That’s where I met Drew Hayes for the first time.

Rick: He was on the air in those days, right?

Pat: That’s right. We also had Mort Downey Jr. (photo) and Chet Coppock. I’ll never forget a stunt I saw Mort Downey pull. It was one of the riskiest things I’ve ever seen. He was a right wing screamer and was debating a feminist, and there was no doubt about it, she was getting the best of him.

But Mort had control over the dump button (the delay system). So, to throw her off her game, he unleashed one of the most intense three or four seconds of profanity you’ve ever heard, and then hit the dump button so it wouldn’t go on the air. But the feminist heard it, and it completely froze her. After that he had the best of her and the audience perceived him to be the winner of the debate. It was risky as heck to do, though. If he hadn’t timed hitting the dump button perfectly, if even one of those words made it over the air, he would have been fired on the spot.

Rick: Were you surprised when NBC sold WMAQ?

Pat: Yes. We never would have believed that NBC would sell that station. It was one of the first radio stations in Chicago, and it had always been run by NBC. But Westinghouse bought it, and they had had tremendous success across the country doing the all-news format. So they came in here gung ho to kick BBM’s butt, and they put a lot of money into it. I was the morning news anchor, and the asst. news director, but we never overcame WBBM. I did find out later, when I was at WBBM myself, that we did have an impact on them. They certainly took us seriously. They told me that WMAQ made WBBM work harder.

The last few years at WMAQ we started tweaking and tinkering the format a bit. We were still news based, but what we were doing then is sort of what Greg Jarrett is doing now. Funny thing is, and this happens all the time in this business, it started to catch fire just before they pulled the plug.

Rick: I know you had a new destination already ticketed when WMAQ signed off, but you must have had some mixed feelings about the end of the line there.

Pat: It was bittersweet. I had a lot of memories and friends there. Bill Cameron, for example. I finally got a chance to work with him again at WLS. But I was sad for all the people that lost their jobs, and I was sad that the call letters were being dumped too. It was a legacy radio station, a part of Chicago for decades and decades.

At the same time, I was excited to be joining WBBM. Management wanted me to go to WBBM the very next day and wanted me to say on the air where I was going. They were hyping it up pretty good. I wasn’t actually on when the station signed off for good—that was later in the day—but I was on WBBM the next morning. I’m proud to say that I didn’t screw up the call letters once. I did screw up later in the week, but not on the first day.

Rick: You’re a native of the area, and I trust that you listened to a little radio growing up. What did you listen to, and who are some of your greatest radio influences?

Pat: I listened to rock and roll, WLS and WCFL, some of the early FM stations.

I actually started out as a DJ and as a part of my shift, I had to read some headlines. The boss at the time, a man named Charles Manson of all things, called me in and said, "You know when you read the headlines, you sound like a newsman and you do things to the news, don’t you?" I said, "Yes, I rewrite it a little bit." He said, "You sound great, how would you like to be my morning newsman?" I was just an average disc jockey, and I was always interested in news, so I said yes.

The station later became WBMX, which was an urban station (It’s now WVAZ). They asked me to stay aboard and become the news director, and I remember talking to the new boss on the phone, and said—"I’m flattered, but I’m not, you know...urban myself." He said, "That’s OK, we’d like to have an integrated staff." So I became their news director, the white guy on the urban station. I worked with all of the big names of that era. I remember the first time I met Jesse Jackson (photo). He showed up wearing a light-green suede suit with a matching briefcase.

But as for guys I admired, Lyle Dean and Jeff Hendrix, those were the guys I liked. When Jeff retired, they actually called and asked me to come over there, but the timing wasn’t right.

Rick: Do you have any advice for the radio newsmen of tomorrow that may be growing up listening to Pat Cassidy?

Pat: There’s always going to be a need for broadcasters that can do the news. Keep the faith. Be as well rounded as you possibly can be. The one-trick pony just isn’t going to make it anymore. You’ve got to be able to anchor, report, and do talk. If you can, do sports too. Make yourself as well rounded as possible. The jack of all trades is the man or woman that will be most employable.