Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pugs Moran

Pugs Moran worked in Chicago at WLUP, Q-101 and WCKG, and has been down in Dallas for the last ten plus years, working as the co-host of the Pugs & Kelly show.

Rick: You and I crossed paths many years ago when you were part of the Kevin Matthews show at the Loop in the early 90s. How did you get that first gig with Kevin, and how would you describe your role on his show?

Pugs: I was working at Shadow traffic and Kathy Voltmer (photo) got the ball rolling when she brought me down to the Loop newsroom to assist on the legendary Eddie Schwartz show. I will never forget my first overnight at the Loop. It was quiet but oddly active at the same time. I compare it to the first time my grandfather took me to a Sox game…My first sight of that green outfield and the light towers and hearing Nancy Faust. It was one of the most important nights of my life; and then I met Mitch Rosen.

I either drank or was held down and forced to drink his Kool-ade. Mitch was kicking ass and taking names at a clip I had never seen. He offered me a ride on his coat tails, told me I would go through hell and promised nothing. I took the offer and have pledged eternal loyalty. All hail Chunga! Mitch took over the Kevin Matthews morning show and I often wonder if people remember how funny Mitch is. Chunga, Herb Katzenberg and many others were staples of that show and they were 100% Mitch Rosen creations. I know because I was right there watching him create them. I think the reason Mitch is great with Talent as PD is because he is himself very talented.

I was kept sequestered from Kevin for the first month or so. Then one day while working in the green room, the one with the great window view on 37, Kev walks in eating a homemade sandwich from a brown paper bag.

He just stood over me staring for what felt like hours but was probably as long as it took him to chew. I was frozen at the idea that the most creatively gifted guy I had ever heard was looming over me. I expected his first words to be something hysterical, something that would come from way out in left field. He finally said, “Hey bud, you want half of my sandwich”? That was first contact, then the next morning while listening from the office I remember hearing Jim say “hey Kev, who is that fat kid that’s always hanging around?” I became the fat kid that would do “anything for the show”. I was pure slapstick and I don’t know if any of it was funny but I know one thing, I made Kevin laugh and to me that was the golden wonka ticket. If we all have a radio family we spring from then mine is, Kev, Mitch, Geli, Peggy, Swanny, Dorothy and my big brother always the late and loved Doc.

Rick: I look back now at that stable of young pups that worked at the Loop, guys like Wiser, Swany, Shemp, Artie Kennedy, Jimmy Mac, Vince Argento, Neil Sant, Danny McNeil, Tom Serritella, the list goes on and on. There were a lot of us that learned at the feet of the masters, and we've all gone on to success in various different arenas. What did you learn during those days that you've taken with you everywhere else you've gone?

Pugs: WOW, what an Amazing list of studs. I would see your list and add Geli Silkowski, Steve Sauer, Doc Simpson and really nothing got done without Clarkson and Super Sue. The point is, there was a whole lot of talent there, but there were classes. I always considered my class was Artie, Neil and Jimmy Mac (photo). We were all the same age and went out to shows and drank too much. The guys like Wiser and Shemp were upper class-men they had semi management positions and families at home. I always felt slightly intimidated around those guys and learned a lot observing them.

I have taken everything I learned at the Loop with me everywhere I have gone. “Free FM” was a BS cookie cutter format and that post Stern CBS “fm talk” circus was a disaster just about everywhere, but not for Kelly and me. The station we were on in Dallas was one of the earliest CBS fm talkers and the Last I believe to fold. The success of that station way down there was entirely because of the “Loop influence”.

The Great Reid Reker created that station immediately following his involvement in the creation of CKG’s “The Package”; and we all know CKG’s talk format was very Loop influenced. That station in Dallas had gone through four midday shows in two years before we took over. We were the only show that could carry over the Stern audience while doing something totally different. They appreciated that and we built a good relationship with his show’s audience.

The fact is we did a “Loop style” show, a bad rookie imitation of a 1983 Steve and Garry show, funneled through Wendy and Bill and repackaged as “Pugs and Kelly”. A third generation knock off in anyone’s book but the novelty of it in Texas allowed us the time to develop our own voices and the show became what it is.

But I don’t believe you could have spent any time around those people at that station and not been influenced by each and every one of them. They were a dream team, a radio production street gang that drank and did other things a lot! The air talent was the best and the best tend to have the best working for them.

Rick: After leaving the Loop, you worked with Bill (Leff) and Wendy (Snyder) at Q-101 as one of their producers there. I always thought they pulled the plug on that show just before it was ready to take off. You were there at the time. What are your thoughts about it?

Pugs: The biggest mistake in Chicago radio history! I was there and I couldn’t believe what I was watching.

I believe the reason Eric and Kathy are the massive successes they are is due in large part to the demise of Wendy and Bill. I think it is very easy to imagine that Wendy and Bill could have seen the same level of success.

Q101 had no idea what they had. Bill Gamble did but he left. Nobody understood how talented and I don’t mean to over state this but in my opinion, “The Wendy and Bill show” is the greatest show that never was and my second favorite show of all time. They should be the two nicest filthy rich radio people Chicago has ever known, but they aren’t and that sucks. Wendy and Bill were the single greatest influence on the Pugs and Kelly show. They showed us how to do “Steve and Garry” with a man and a woman and make it all gender neutral. Kelly and I are a flipped script of Wendy and Bill. I equate Kelly to Bill Leff in that she always has the first and funniest remark. I cannot compare myself to Wendy (photo) in any way. I’m not in her league but I would like to be the master broadcaster she is.

Rick: I have to ask you about this, because it was a big news story when it happened. You were also part of a big controversy at WCKG--when you and Kelly were recorded having a private conversation without your permission. There were lawsuits and settlements and months of high drama. Looking back on that now, all these years later, what are your thoughts about that incident?

Pugs: It was the most impactful experience of my career.

I was in my 20s and after years and years of grunt work Kelly and I were being given our shot. Kelly was married to Shemp at the time and she was also acting as Steve’s assistant. Reed Reeker agreed to give Kelly and me a show. I left my job at AM 1000 doing afternoon sports updates with Kevin Matthews and Kelly left her Job as Steve’s assistant. We are massive Steve and Garry fans and cite them as our primary influences, the chance to do a show on a station with Steve was a career goal and we couldn’t help but think all our aspirations were going to come true…and then they didn’t.

For me it was just terrible. I had lost my job and more than likely my career and my marriage was crumbling. Kelly was out of work, Shemp was out of work, Kelly was 6 months pregnant and they were half way through building a new house. It was just a nasty regrettable ugly time, but from it all came Reid Reker being promoted to GM in Dallas and he hired the “Pugs and Kelly show”.

Today I still see Steve Dahl (photo) as my favorite all time broadcaster. The greatest compliment I receive down here in Dallas is from listeners who are former Chicagoans who say “You remind me of Steve Dahl”, I better, I’ve been trying to channel him for 15 years.

Rick: How did you adapt to Texas, and how did Texas accept you?

Pugs: Oh man they hated us and many still do. We were progressive talking blue collar Chicagoans. “Carpet bagging Yankees” in the local vernacular, and we changed nothing about our style or accents. We didn’t say “Y’all” we said “you guys”. I wasn’t shy about my hatred for the Cowboys or complaining about my disgust with what Texans consider pizza. We did a fish out of water act, 100% honestly discussing our life the way Steve and Garry would. At the time we felt exiled from our true radio homes of Chicago and were just going to use this time in Dallas to hone our show before returning. Getting back to Chicago remains the top goal of our show.

One thing did happen that sped our bonding along and that was 9/11. If the Pugs and Kelly show were never to air again I would be ok with those shows being our legacy. Talk radio was just amazing and we were all so kind to one another and supportive. Dallas was maybe a little more “Target sensitive” in those days because of it being the Presidents home town and all, but that’s when I really came to understand that amazing breed that we call Texans. I will take a Texan in an emergency situation any day of the week..well most Texans…lol

Rick: How would you describe the Pugs and Kelly show to someone who has never heard it?

Pugs: F***ing awesome! But I am a bit biased. Some of the descriptions I like. “A brother and sister trapped in a hot back seat during a family road trip”, “George and Elaine doing radio” and this one from the Dallas morning news, “The greatest live read artists ever to don headphones”. I like that one because it’s something we work very hard on. Conversational chemistry is our thing and if it’s effective selling product our show gets to stay on the air. We are at our heart a full service lifestyle talk show for the reality generation.

Our show is talking about whatever the world is and when we aren’t doing that we are talking about our girlfriends or ex wives or mothers or kids. Sometimes I think that if Bravo produced a radio show we would be it. We exploit our lives in the hopes that the listener will relate. Our most popular bits are our advice segments. We act as life coaches whose own bad choices can’t help but influence the advice we give. The problem is, there aren’t any formats that want “real people” in the way WGN has always done. Everyone must have an act these days, you either hate Obama or are obsessed with Sports. Those are all the opportunities for radio talkers and that’s why all the talent is running to podcasting.

Rick: I know the road has been a little bumpy the last few years down there in Dallas. Describe a few of the ups and downs you've experienced down there.

Pugs: The ups would have to be the ratings successes and the legendary station we helped build here.

The downs are a seemingly endless string of poor decisions coupled with bad breaks and a tragic economy. A few years back we jumped at the chance to do mornings at a competing station here in Dallas. During the negotiation the economy collapsed and talk in the morning drive became talk in the afternoons and 3 weeks later it was 7 metal songs and hour. A few months later our station flipped to some kind of Latino hip hop and Kelly and I were given a two year paid vacation, which we negotiated away a month later in order to pursue our next mistake. (Photo: Pugs & Kelly with show producers Sybil Summers and Eric Mark)

We were still a bit of a “commodity” so we decided to do something risky but potentially very rewarding. We raised a bunch of money and went in with an independent group who had purchased their own AM station here in Dallas. We did a full service and progressive leaning talk format in President Bush’s back yard during a major economic recession. What could possibly go wrong? Well everyone went broke.

Rick: What are you up to now?

Pugs: The Pugs and Kelly show has been on a break recently as Kelly just had a baby boy. The previous year we had been doing a pretty successful daily subscription pod cast that was also simulcast locally in DFW on 1190am in the noon hour. It is our hope that something will one day open up In Chicago, so we could end our exile, but if that never happens, we can continue our new media and podcast shows in our adoptive land of Texas. I am currently working with a marketing and live event promotions group on creating a DFW podcast network. There are millions of opportunities out there right now and corporate radio just doesn’t seem to be recognizing it…and that is a good thing for us.

Rick: Have you ever pitched the show to any stations here in Chicago? Someone is always looking for a new personality show, and what would be better than native Chicagoans with a history in this town?

Pugs: I agree Rick, sounds win win to me, but not really. We have been wined and dined in New York city and given the Hollywood treatment in LA. There was a feeding frenzy a few years back when Howard was leaving CBS. There were jobs opening up everywhere and Kelly and I scammed our way into the “FM Talkers” line of succession. We had grown very close with Opie and Anthony and they helped us a lot with meeting the right people. Despite all of the flattery and outside interest, we would have taken the first offer from Chicago, but it never came. The exile continued.

I have reached out and introduced myself to the programmers I admire just to try and stay on the radar, Drew Hayes and recently Bill White at WGN, but I have never been up for or gone after anything in Chicago. I think it is for the same reason I buy lottery tickets but never check the numbers. If I check the numbers and lose, the dream dies. I believe that “the Pugs and Kelly show” could be dominant in Chicago for the next 20 years. I believe we could go up against Eric and Kathy and take their listeners.

I am really interested in WGN and what they are doing. Anybody that has Bill Leff and Garry Meier has a preset on my dial. I am also eternally interested in “the Loop” for obvious reasons and Q101 or whatever the hell it’s called now. I am a great believer in talk on the FM band for a younger more active audience. Kelly and I could go do well there, but they must decide what they are first. They must add some “chat shows”, find some unique personalities to help create an image for the format. The podcast world is filled with amazing and unknown talent. Feature some! I have been glaring at that station since its birth and I’m lost but I confidently believe I could fix it. Our show did very well on a male 25/54 station but the real numbers were in 18/34 and women.

We had the Bubba’s listening but unlike other shows we also had the soccer moms and the drag queens. There is a big talk audience outside of 25/54 male, and it’s just sitting there; somebody will go after it and we know how to get them. She’s north side and I’m south side, we met at the Loop in the early 90s and created a Chicago style talk show and killed with it…In Texas! Imagine how good we might do in our hometown surrounded by people from high school we are trying to impress? Hey, I think I may have just pitched “the Pugs and Kelly show” there. Wish us Luck.