Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bobby Skafish

Bobby Skafish has been a fixture on the Chicago radio dial for more than thirty years.

That's him (above) during a live St. Patrick's Day broadcast for WXRT a few years ago.


WFLM, Crown Point, Indiana, April-October, 1976.
(One man operation. DJ, PD, sales, production.)

WXRT Nov. 76-August 1983.
(Started the Big Beat in 79. Worked 6-10 pm)

WLUP August of 83 until August 93
(Almost exclusively pm drive. Hosted national interview show w/Robert Plant in 83, a national Pretenders b'cast in 87 and sub-hosted Rockline w/Styx in 90.)

Q-101 Oct. 93 to Sept. 94.
(Arrived after Loop format change. 1/2 of time there did weekends, the other 1/2 I did morning drive)

Back to XRT Nov. 94 to Nov. 06
(Stayed until contract ran out)

Handcrafted Radio Jan 07-June 07

WDRV, The Drive, June 07-Present
(Worked part time until August 07, afternoons 3-8 pm since then)

UPDATED 3/18/08

Rick's note: About six months after Bobby Skafish did a Chicago Radio Spotlight interview with me he got a call from his old boss Greg Solk, who asked him to do a weekend shift on the Drive. It didn't take long before Bobby was back in the saddle again, doing the afternoon show there. He can now be heard every afternoon between 3-8 pm.

I caught up with Bobby again recently and asked him how he liked the new gig...

Bobby: Working at The Drive has been a great source of joy for me. The people are friendly and keep it real-no evidence of ego trippin'. When I get direction on my presentation from Patty Martin or Greg Solk it's done clearly and unambiguously, with the only goal being a better sounding station. The result is that this ol' dog has learned new tricks, for which I'm grateful. They are also quick to compliment, too.

Drive music is so much fun to play. It feels age-appropriate and just plain right. The true test for me is that I instinctively turn The Drive on at home or in the car when I want to listen to music radio. It's a feel good.

Having worked in the Hancock for ten years during my Loop tenure, it's great to be back on a cool stretch of Michigan Avenue. My goal is to not inadvertently plow into pedestrian traffic when I pass the huge Victoria's Secret window display-I'm getting there! Finally, its so boss seeing Bob Stroud again on a daily basis, with the two of us on back to back. Ralph Lauren would be wise to install a webcam in the air studio to give Stroud's Polo wardrobe worldwide exposure on a daily basis.

* * * * * * *

And now here is the interview from 2007 in it's original form. When Bobby got the gig at the Drive he reluctantly said goodbye to Handcrafted Radio, but I left the information here in case anyone was interested...

Rick: Tell us about your new internet radio venture.

Bobby: Handcrafted Radio is an internet-only radio station I launched 1/3/07. My broadcast partner is Live365 out of San Francisco, the number one provider for net radio. They, among other things, make sure the music publishing companies (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) get paid, keeping it all legit. When it comes to computers I'm certainly not the coldest beer in the fridge, but this experience has forced me to learn--not unlike the way buying a fixer upper of a home forced me to acquire at least a few skills. It's time-consuming but truly a labor of love. I pick and sequence music which I then upload to their server along with my spoken word segments. Going live is an option, but I prerecord for now, which allows what I provide to replay upon its completion, which right now is about 5 hours in length. I do a fresh show daily and am experimenting with weekend concept- oriented programming. One weekend was the "Handcrafted Radio Chunks o' Rock weekend," blocks of tuned by our kind of artists, be they Johnny Cash, Coldplay, U2, or Clapton. I'm extremely impressed by the sound of the music with this 96k bandwidth, as if I know what that really means. I do know it leaves the sound of FM in the dust and approximates CD quality. It sounds awesome. The higher the bitrate, the better the sound, and the more it costs me. I'm already convincing my 3 1/2 year old daughter that a college education is both expensive and overrated, as are properly fitting shoes and clothing. Seriously, I've so far put the show ahead of the business, but in time monetizing this thing will be properly addressed.

Rick: You've had some incredible highlights in your career. Tell us about a few that make you smile when you think back on them.

Bobby: Career highlights include interviewing Bob Geldof at the Loop the day the Band Aid record, Do They Know It's Christmas was released in 1984. That transcends the usual artist- working- his- record conversation. Also, I got the from the horses mouth interview w/Dave Matthews regarding the dumping of waste from their tour bus into the Chicago River. You could hear the adrenalin and sincerity in his voice, and it made the papers and the TV news.

Rick: You're known as a music guy--someone who truly loves the music he plays. Of the rock and roll artists still working and touring today, who do you have the most respect for, and why?

Bobby: A performer I particularly admire is Chris Isaak. He puts on a fabulous show every time out. Great songs, the band rocks, he looks great, dresses with flair, and is exceptionally funny. He truly entertains. Barenaked Ladies never failed to entertain me the 4 times, or so, I saw them live. Great guys who drew wholesome, sweet fans. I hosted two remotes and an in-studio visit of theirs and they always killed, or at least maimed.

Rick: What is the worst advice radio management ever gave you?

Bobby: One PD and GM duo pleaded w/ me not to leave their station to go work for another, working the fear angle on me with much gusto. They told me how the downtown stations are all impersonal, corrupt, plastic, hotbeds of rampant egomania, and dictated to from out of town owners. Their "stay in our cozy womb" nonsense was purely agenda driven.

Rick: Bobby Knight said that "My Way" was his favorite song because his regrets were too few to mention. Do you feel the same way, or is there a tinge of regret--a performer you never met, a record you never got to play, something you wish you had said or never said on the air?

Bobby: No deep regrets for me and few missed opportunities; I have drunk deeply from the crazy cup called radio.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Richard Cantu

UPDATED 9/10/10


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!

The original interview follows...

Richard Cantu is part of a dying breed--a radio journalist. Throughout the 90s and the first half of this decade, Cantu was a Chicago radio fixture. He looks like journalist, talks like a journalist, and writes like a journalist.

Although he now plys his trade for ABC network news in New York, his heart will always be in his hometown of Chicago.

Rick: Can you give us a capsule rundown of your "radio-ography"?

Cantu: It's a long one. I've worked at nine different places.
1. I started at KDTH, Dubuque, Iowa. 1978. Platteville/Grant County, Wisconsin Stringer/Bureau Chief.
2. WDBQ, Dubuque, Iowa. 1979. Platteville/Grant County, Wisconsin Stringer/Bureau Chief and part-time/fill-in disc jockey.
3. WROK/WZOK, Rockford, Illinois. 1980-'81. News reporter/anchor at the once-legendary stations that, at the time, boasted of having the biggest radio news staff in Illinois--OUTSIDE of Chicago.
4. WBCS/WMKE, Milwaukee. 1981-'82. First long-term exposure to country music. I've loved Hank Williams, Jr. ever since.
5. WOKY/WMIL, Milwaukee, 1982-'87. Really honed my act here. Became a news director for the first time. The guy who hired me now runs the broadcasting holdings of the Milwaukee Journal.
6. WTMJ, Milwaukee. 1987-'92. Worked with some real pros. Some days, I wish I'd never left.
7. WJMK, Chicago. 1992-2001. Good Times, Great Oldies. A truly good time. Working with the likes of Landecker and the "cast of thousands" ALMOST made it worth getting up at 1:30 a.m. for 9-years. ALMOST. The show should STILL be on the air!
8. WBBM, Chicago. 2001-2004. Looking back at my career, I guess the "all news" thing was the last "experience component" I wanted before going network.
9. ABC News Radio. 2004-present. Easily the best job I've ever had. Working with people I've heard on the radio and admired for years is a real tickle. Just wish this job was in Chicago.

Rick: I know you were a radio geek growing up. Who were your radio idols?

Cantu: Larry Lujack/John Landecker. Put these guys #1 and 1A. They're both a major reason why I went into radio. Both are, for better or worse, major influences on why I am the way I am today. Paul Harvey. Never mind his longevity and popularity; anybody who scales the fence at Argonne National Laboratory to demonstrate lax security in pursuit of a story is a hero in my book. Steve Stevens. In 1975(I think that's the year it came out), this guy played "Fight the Power" by the Isley Brothers on WZMF, Menomonee Falls/Milwaukee--an AOR station!!! Well, he did play the unedited album version.

Rick: You've been in New York now for more than two years. What do you miss about Chicago?

Cantu: The architecture; I don't think you can beat our skyline. The food--from pizza to hot dogs, they've got really funny ideas here in New York. Ask for an Italian Beef--and they'll look at you like you're crazy. And, lest we forget, da Bearsssss!

Rick: Anyone who has ever been in radio has what I call "recurring radio nightmares." Do you have one of those?

Cantu: Yes I do, and I continue to have it to this day. I read somewhere that they're "stress dreams". Anyhoo, I'm sitting in a studio, it's "airtime"--and, it varies from dream-to-dream, I either don't have my newscast copy and am stumbling all over the air, or I have no sound bites/actualities loaded--I'm pushing the "start" button for the actuality--and nothing happens! I always laugh when I wake up.

Rick: Finish this sentence: "If I were put in charge of the radio business today, I would..."

Cantu: I would run far fewer commercials.

Rick: Thanks, Richard.

Cantu: Hi to Chicago.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kathy Voltmer

Kathy has been a member of the Chicago radio community for twenty years now. She is currently the news and traffic anchor of the morning show at WDRV. For those of you, who aren't familiar with her, I asked for her complete radio-ography.

Kathy: I started my career in 1984 doing news at the University of Illinois’ commercial rock station WPGU. I got a summer internship at B96 in 1986, where I was offered a job when I graduated in 1987. I was at B96 as a Reporter & Public Affairs host until March of 1988, when I took a gig as Afternoon News Anchor/Reporter at Q101. Emmis soon bought the station, though, and decided Afternoon News wasn’t necessary, so I left in May of 1989 to take a job with WBBM-AM as Traffic Reporter and News Writer. I was thrilled to get back to doing news in 1992, when I landed a job at Shadow Broadcast Services. Under Shadow’s umbrella, I worked at WLUP-AM as a News Anchor for The Eddie Schwartz Show for just over a year, then the Kevin Matthews Morning Show for about a year and a half. My tenure with Kevin Matthews was nothing if not interesting, challenging and occasionally rewarding, but when WXRT beckoned in 1995, it was time to move on. I was ‘XRT’s Morning News Anchor/Sidekick with Lin Brehmer until Spring of 1998, when WMVP-AM approached me about hosting a talk show with Richard Roeper of the Sun Times and the Tribune’s Rick Kogan. “Media Creatures” was a critical success, but fell victim to a format change, and I ended up taking a job as Midday Co-Host on Chicago’s oldest radio station, WMAQ-AM in early 1999. The legendary WMAQ signed off for good on August 1, 2000. I dabbled in television as a Contributing Correspondent for “Chicago Tonight” on WTTW until I was offered the Morning News Anchor/Public Affairs Director job at my current station, WDRV in Spring of 2001! It’s been tremendously exciting to be part of this pioneering Baby Boom rocker since its beginning.

Rick: I know you're a Chicago-area native. Who were your radio heroes?

Kathy: In high school, I always loved listening to Chicago’s female news anchors like Maggie Brock, Catherine Johns and Karen Hand. I always thought they had such fun jobs. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that I grew up to do the same thing for a living. Karen Hand has since become a great friend and a tremendous mentor of mine. I approached her at a radio convention in the mid-80s…she offered me an internship at B96, then a job there, influencing the direction of my life from that day forward!

Rick: Is there any one thing about living and working in Chicago that you love the most? What's your favorite thing?

Kathy: I can’t name just one thing – I love it all. First of all, it’s visually and architecturally spectacular…it takes my breath away almost every morning I drive down Lake Shore Drive to work. I love the lake…and try to use it as much as possible in summer to take my dog to the beach. I love the neighborhoods…the city is an amazingly diverse melting pot which we’re lucky to have at our fingertips. I love the food – everything from Indian, to Thai, to fine dining like Alinea, to joints like Mr. Beef. I love the sports teams – even though the Cubs always disappoint, there’s nothing better than a summer afternoon at Wrigley. And how about our live theater scene, music scene, or Millennium Park? I feel lucky to live here each and every day.

Rick: In your job you've met just about everyone. Who would you say was your most memorable brush with greatness?

Kathy: This profession has enabled me to meet a lot of famous people, but I was most impressed by meeting a music business hero of mine – legendary rock singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. She’s famous for not loving the spotlight, but I approached her at a party while I was covering the first Farm Aid in Champaign and she and I had a lovely conversation for about 40 minutes –covering things like childhood, growing up in Canada versus growing up in the Midwest, spirituality, the music/radio business, etc. Her music’s always made a major impression on me and it was so rewarding to have a “real” conversation with a music business legend, instead of the typical “meet and greet” that we often experience in this business.

Rick: What is the most rewarding thing about working in radio?

Kathy: At the risk of sounding like I’m sucking up….it’s been amazing to work at a station like The Drive where I feel as if everything is being done right & the airstaff gets respect from management each and every day. They recognize we’re all pros and they let us do our jobs accordingly. I feel as if this is my karmic reward for all of the professional volatility I’ve been through since I started in this wonderful, often frustrating, and crazy business.

Rick: That's the good side of this business. Let's talk about the bad side. What is the worst advice given to you by radio management?

Years ago (long before I worked at the Drive), I was asked to lie about the weather forecast because the station was sponsoring a big outdoor promotion and rain was expected!!!! When I didn’t do it I was screamed at and accused of trying to single handedly bring down the entire promotion! By telling the truth about the weather. It’s hilarious in retrospect.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

John Fisher

John Fisher was a Chicago radio fixture in the 1980s and early '90s. He was known as "The Fishman" during his successful stints at WMET, WCKG, and the Loop. In 1992 he left Chicago for Seattle, where he still mans the afternoon shift every day at The Mountain KMTT 103.7 FM

1992-now KMTT Seattle (mornings, afternoons, mornings , then
afternoons again!)
1990-1992 WLUP Chicago (nights)
1988-1990 WLVQ Columbus (mornings) / WLUP Chicago weekends
1985-1988 WCKG Chicago (mornings and other dayparts)
1981-1985 WMET Chicago (mornings etc.)
1978-1981 WLVQ Columbus (mornings)
1976-1978 WMHE Toledo (mornings and PD)
1976 WIOT Toledo (weekends/fill-in)

Rick: Who were your radio heroes?

John: The top-40 jocks at CKLW in Detroit and the progressive jocks at WABX in Detroit, where I grew up. From Chicago, it was John Landecker beaming across the lake to northern Michigan during summer vacations and Steve Dahl.

Rick: What is your most memorable brush with (celebrity or newsmaker) greatness of your radio career?

John: Ever since I was 18, I've been a hardcore Steely Dan fan (I know, it's a small club.) Over the years I've interviewed them and met them on tour, and that alone was thrilling. But when Walter Becker of the band came up to me backstage in San Francisco and said, "Hey, John from Seattle, good to see you," the fact that a musical idol of mine actually knew who I was kind of blew my mind unlike any other celebrity encounter. Also, there was the time Don Rickles called me a hockey puck.

Rick: What is your favorite thing about Chicago?

John: People say what they think -- they aren't obsessed with political correctness and being polite to a fault like we are in the Pacific Northwest. And I really miss that accent.

What is the worst advice you ever got from radio management?

John: "If you can't say something in seven seconds or less, it's not worth saying." Even THAT took less than seven seconds to say. At least the guy followed his own advice.

Rick:Do you have one of those recurring radio nightmares?

John: Oh yeah. The usual stuff. As soon as I start a song it's like 15 seconds from ending, I don't know what any of the buttons do, sound won't come out of my mouth, I can't reach the microphone, an Amber Alert keeps flashing on the screen -- and the kid that's missing is me.

Rick: Finish this sentence: "If I were put in charge of the radio business today, I would..."

John: Act like all my stations are locally owned, and let local people run them the way they want to.