Saturday, February 05, 2011

Mitch Rosen

Mitch Rosen is the program director of WSCR, The Score (670 AM)

Rick: You got your start in radio at WGN producing the overnight show by Eddie Schwartz. What did you learn about broadcasting from Eddie, and what did he mean to you personally?

Mitch: Eddie (photo) was flat out the best teacher I ever had in radio. He taught me how to chase a story, to be on top of the news of the day, how to track down guests, and the urgency radio is. No doubt he had his quirkiness, but he taught me radio in Chicago. He was an aggressive personality and at one time had a 20 share in overnight radio. I think the secret was that Eddie treated overnight like a prime time day part. I wrote him a note as a high school senior, then ended up interning at WGN, and then became a full-time producer. In a weird way, it was a radio dream come true.

Rick: You came to the Loop along with Eddie in the early 90s, and that was a strange marriage from the beginning. Now with the benefit of nearly twenty years of hindsight, do you think that move was a good one for Ed? When I interviewed Ed shortly before his death he still thought it was. He said: "It gave me a chance to re-energize myself in a new environment and to work with some great people." Do you agree with him?

Mitch: The Eddie move to the Loop was like the nerd in school that always got picked on by the cool kids suddenly being asked to join their group. At WGN, Eddie and I were kind of on an island. Don't get me wrong, it was a great station, but it was overnights, and we kind of got lost in the shuffle.

At that time the Loop was the coolest station in America, and I was thrilled that Eddie asked me to go along for the ride. The truth is I didn't know it was the Loop until the day before he announced he was going there. I really thought we were going to WLS. I never imagined for a second that The Loop was the next stop on The Eddie Tour. I can still remember his call to me when it was close to being official. (Now try to imagine this in Eddie's high pitched voice). He said: “Kid, were going to the LOOP!!” I said "Really?" He said it was going to be fun and all the big boy personalities were on board.

Larry Wert (photo) did something that I will never forget. He sent Eddie a box of hats; one for Brandmeier, Dahl and Meier, and Kevin Matthews, and a note that said throw your hat in the ring. Eddie never forgot that. We went in open minded about the personalities and their treatment of Eddie over the years, but the guys really treated him great. He felt cool. One of the funniest nights was the night that Kevin and Dahl sent a stripper to the studio to surprise big Ed. Ed quickly put on one of his 15 minutes jazz instrumentals.

The bottom line is that the other on-air stars welcomed us with open arms.

Rick: After producing Ed's show, you had another high-profile producing job--producing the morning show for Kevin Matthews--a man that lampooned Eddie more than anyone. I know Kevin pretty well, and I like him a lot, but I can't even imagine what it would be like producing his show. A producer needs to get inside the host's head, and with all those voices inside there, that would be extremely difficult. How did you do it?

Mitch: Most people say that Kevin is one of the most talented people in radio, and after working closely with him I totally agree. He was smart and always thought about the radio show. It was a 24 hour job for him. Kevin would call me at all times of the day and night. The phone would ring and I'd hear: “Hey bud, I have an idea..Lets send Pugsley to Nashville to try and get kicked out of Graceland on Elvis’s birthday." Sure enough, the next week Pugs was in Nashville. Kevin was a thinker and a radio geek at the same time.

Rick: After working on Kevin's show, you transitioned into management. Describe how that came about.

Mitch: It was always my goal, so I worked toward that. I learned from two of the best, Larry Wert and Jimmy de Castro. They taught me how to work with talent, and more importantly, how you work talent. They also taught me you have to take care of talent. That’s an important part of the job. Over the years, I think I've accomplished that.

Rick: How would you describe your management style?

Mitch: Pretty simple, really. Honesty, integrity, smart radio sense, and try to keep all employees happy. Also, it's important to remember that you can always be fair, but sometimes you can’t always be even. By that I mean that what works for some employees might not work for others.

Rick: You're the program director at the Score right now, but you've also programmed the other sports station in town. Describe the differences between the two stations from your perspective.

Mitch: The best news is that the sports radio format in Chicago is huge. Between both sports stations in town there are well over 1.5 million listeners per week. That's really incredible if you think about it. Five years ago that was unheard of. Men especially love sports talk on the radio.

Chicago is a passionate town for their teams and that translate to the airwaves. Chicago also is a town that loves to talk Chicago sports, and that’s what gives the Score a huge advantage. Starting with Les Grobstein overnights, Mully and Hanley in AM drive, Dan McNeil and Matt Spiegel, Boers and Bernstein, and Laurence Holmes, plus a great bunch of guys like Jason Goff, Matt Abbatacola, Mark Grote, and Ben Finfer amongst others, I feel great about our line-up. The ratings show the audience does too.

As for who built this sports talk franchise, guys like Jeff Schwartz who along with Seth Mason, Ron Gleason, and Danny Lee were guys who helped pave the way for sports talk in Chicago and nationwide.

Rick:  The ratings have swung back and forth between the two sports stations over the years, but currently the Score has got a pretty commanding overall lead. What do you think is the secret to the Score's recent success?

Mitch: Again, we keep it local. We focus on Chicago sports talk, and we present it with intelligent hosts doing smart topics. We brand the station as Chicago’s Sports Radio, because that’s truly what we are.

Rick:  The White Sox seem to follow you from station to station--I know you were instrumental in bringing them aboard at the Score. How have you managed to establish such a close relationship with them, and what's the key to keeping the Sox happy?

Mitch: I do not know if they follow me, but I have had a nice business relationship with Jerry Reinsdorf going back 20 years. I think there is a trust and always a feel of a partnership between us. The Sox are a great asset to this station. (Photo: Mitch, Jerry Reinsdorf, and Paul Agasse).

Rick:  Do your air personalities have to be careful about what they say about the Sox, or does anything go?

Mitch: We only have one rule. You can give your opinion, give your thoughts, give your passion, but do not get personal. So far so good.

Rick:  A manager has got to be able to handle the talent, and you've had some real challenges over the years in sports talk. Which of the sports talkers you've worked with were the easiest to deal with, and which were the most difficult?

Mitch: All personalities are different in their individual ways. All have great talent and passion or they would not be on the air in Chicago. One of the shows I’m most of proud of is how Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley have made the transition from writers to radio personalities. The ratings in AM Drive have never been higher here at the Score. The competition in AM drive is fierce and these guys along with a great EP, Dustin Rhoades have been tremendous.

Next, I feel Danny Mac (photo) has grown professionally and personally since he was here last, and he and Matt have been outstanding in mid-days. Boers and Bernstein the longest running sports talk show in Chicago continue to blow the ratings up in a huge way, and Laurence Holmes is one of the smartest people on the air in Chicago.

I could not be more proud of our starting line-up.