Saturday, February 12, 2011

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris is the evening personality at 95.9 FM, "The River"


US99 '82-'86
WCKG '86-'88
WLS-AM '88-'89
WFYR '89-'91
The Blaze '91-'93
Y108 '93
Rock 103-5 '94-'97
CD 94.7 '98
The River '07-present

Rick: For those that aren't in the western burbs, or haven't tuned it in yet, how would you describe the format of The River?

Leslie: We have two main focuses. The first is that we are hyper-local. We're in the western suburbs, and we focus on this area. We're very community oriented, and we are out in the community, usually at least once or twice a week. No other station serves the western suburbs the way we do. As far as the music goes, the last couple of years we've been a classic-hits station, with an emphasis on 'hits.' With recent changes, we've added a lot more music, as well as some deeper cuts.

Rick: You've been at the River now for a few years, but there have been a few significant changes in the past month or two; you got a new PD and a new time-slot. How are you adjusting to the new time slot?

Leslie: When I was on middays, I knew that there were a lot of moms and kids listening, so I felt I had to be 'nice.' I like that I can now let a different side of my personality show through. (some might say the smart-alecky side) I also like to rock, and we rock a little harder at night. And I've always been a night-owl. I'm still getting up to get my daughter off to school, but now I can go back to bed for a couple of hours, so I'm actually getting more sleep!

Rick: I worked with (new River PD) Zander briefly at the Loop, and you've also worked at several stations he worked at in the past. Have your paths crossed before this?

Leslie: Yeah, Zander (photo) and I worked together at Rock 103-5. We were both part-timers, so it was kinda weird when he became my new boss. Fortunately, we've always gotten along well.

Rick: You were a Chicago radio mainstay for most of the 80s and 90s, but you took a nearly ten year sabbatical to be a mom. Did you miss the business during that time?

Leslie: Initially, it was a relief to be able to just focus on the job of raising my kids. After awhile though, I definitely had those pangs of longing to be back on the air, but I also thought I had hung up my headphones for the last time. I figured I'd have to go back to weekends at least to start with, and I had no desire to give up that time with my family. It never even dawned on me to pursue something in suburban radio, until Scott Childers, who was at The River at the time, asked me if I'd be interested in coming to do some work there. (Scott now works for our sister station, Star 96.7 in Joliet)

Rick: Just looking over your radio resume, I can tell right away that you've witnessed a few pretty historic moments first hand. You were there for the final chapter of WLS-AM as a music station (in 1989). Describe what that was like.

Leslie: I sent them my resume on a lark. I couldn't believe I actually got hired to work at WLS. It was pretty amazing to work with so many legends - Fred Winston, John Landecker (photo), Catherine Johns, Jim Johnson, Jeff Hendrix, Les Grobstein - I could go on and on. And it was a trip to have regular listeners who would check in from Texas, Minnesota and Canada. But it was also a sad time. The music mix was awful. We played everything from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to Motown to Gloria Estefan and Madonna. We all knew the end was near.

Rick: After WLS, you were also at the frequency 103.5. I'm not sure, but I think this must be a record. It was three different stations during your time there (WFYR, The Blaze, Rock 103.5). Which one was your favorite and why?

Leslie: That's an easy one - Rock 103-5. I loved the music. There had never been anything like it before. If it rocked, we played it. It was a great mix of classic rock artists, hair bands and alternative rock artists. We played the older stuff, as well as the new releases from established artists. We broke new artists. And we had attitude. It was really the first Active Rock station, and many other stations across the country modeled themselves after it. It was a fun and exciting place to work. It's also where I met Steven Tyler!

Rick: I remember listening to the Blaze the first day they were on the air. You were part of that original air staff. For a listener it was like radio whiplash going from FYR to the Blaze. What was it like from your side of the microphone?

Leslie: It was exciting and unnerving. I had a great PD at WFYR (Kurt Johnson) but I was so bored playing 'Love songs on 'FYR.' I would get really sleepy about an hour before going on the air! I was so happy that we were changing to a rock format, but a lot of people lost their jobs, including all of the full-timers from WFYR, except Brian Kelly who was let go as soon as his contract ran out. There was such a buzz on the street about it. People were hungry for that music, which hadn't had any other radio outlet. (I think people were getting their only 'fix' from MTV) When we changed formats, we played Rock! Rock! (til you drop) by Def Leppard for days on end. It was so absurd it became funny. I think I worked 3 shifts, so I listened to that song over and over for about 15 hours that weekend. Working at The Blaze was also a learning experience for me, as I'd never played a lot of that music before. I'm still playing a lot of it at The River.

Rick: You grew up in this area. Who were some of the radio personalities you listened to in your youth?

Leslie: I LOVED BOOGIE CHECK (ooh ah!) Really, everything Landecker did was great. Of course Larry Lujack and Fred Winston. I also loved Patti Haze (photo), who was one of the first great women rock jocks. And I've always admired Terri Hemmert's friendly, conversational style, and her enthusiasm for the music.

Rick: You've also worked with some radio legends (some of which you've already mentioned). Which ones were you most impressed with, and which ones influenced your own sound the most?

Leslie: I worked a lot of overnights at WLS, so I got to do a lot of cross-talk with Fred Winston who was doing mornings. I learned a lot about being myself on the air, but having fun while doing it, which of course makes it fun for the listeners. I also worked with Don Wade, both at US99 and at WLS. He had his show so carefully planned, yet made it sound completely conversational.

Rick: Finally, I know you're happy in the burbs, but is there any chance you'll ever make the move back to a downtown station in the future?

Leslie: I am happy at The River, but who knows? I absolutely love the city, and I may pursue something downtown someday. I hope there are still downtown radio jobs to pursue. As I mentioned earlier, one of the great things about The River and NextMedia's other stations is that we have a local focus. I hope the downtown stations get back to that, because I think that's what will save radio.