Sunday, March 25, 2007

Leslie Keiling

UPDATED: 3/7/09

When I interviewed Leslie Keiling in 2007, she was the afternoon traffic anchor at WGN. When Spike O'Dell retired, John Williams got the morning slot and brought Leslie along with him....

Leslie: I've been on this shift since December, and I still worry constantly about sleeping through the alarm. 3:15 is just an unnatural time to wake up. That said, I'm setting three alarms, but getting up as soon as the first one goes off. I promised myself early on that I would not succumb to the urge to hit the snooze alarm.

Besides, I honestly look forward to heading to work. John Williams is really committed to making this morning show something special. His attitude's downright infectious, and I can't help but want to be part of it.

The original interview follows...

Leslie Keiling is a traffic reporter on WGN Radio. Her reports are heard every weekday on the Steve Cochran show, and the John Williams show.


Because Leslie has been an employee of Shadow Traffic for much of her Chicago radio career, we can't feature a typical radio-ography.

Instead, we offer this section of her WGN bio...

By the time she graduated college, Leslie was reporting traffic on radio powerhouse WLS. In the morning, she flew in a helicopter reporting traffic for the Larry Lujack Show. Afternoons she’d be back on the ground reporting traffic for radio bad boys, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier.

In the following years she was also lucky enough to work with any number of other radio legends, including Jonathon Brandmeier, Buzz Killman, Bruce Wolf, Eddie Schwartz, Clark Webber, Herb Kent, and Morton Downey Jr., just to name a few. In 2001, she paired up with another Chicago icon, John Landecker on his WJMK morning show.

Rick: Your name is known to almost everyone who listens to the radio in
Chicago because you've literally been on almost every station in town,
and worked with just about every major personality.

Leslie: It's more like "names." I was Lane Closure for so many years. I think a lot of people are more comfortable thinking of me as Lane, as opposed to Leslie. Like a well-trained pup, I happily answer to both.

Rick: Are there any major stations you've never appeared on? Any major personalities you've always wanted to work with, but didn't get the chance?

Leslie: Because of the nature of Traffic, I have, at one point or another, had my voice aired on just about every dial position in the market. The stations come and go but the airwaves live on. The only part of Chicago Radio I've missed out on are stations like WOJO and La Ley. I'm just not ready yet. Es verdad? Now that I'm at WGN, I can't help but wish I had had a chance to meet Bob Collins. I pass a big smiling photo of him every day. He's a huge part of the station to this day, that you can't help but be intrigued and inspired. And now I find out that we have the same birthday. Spooky cool, eh?

Rick: So you've worked on the air with Steve & Garry, Brandmeier, John Landecker, Larry Lujack, and now Steve Cochran and John Williams. I don't think anyone else can say that. What can you tell us about each of those guys?

Leslie: Soft hands. Very clean. I want what he's having. Loves dogs (a very good sign in a man). Didn't care if I lived or died...yet very nice. And the last two are great kissers.

Rick: (laughs) Any way I can get a little more detail?

Leslie: I don't really know where to begin on this one because each one needs a string of superlatives to start defining them. Each has also played a part at pivotal times in my life. I was on with Steve and Garry around the time I was getting married. They told everybody I was would be wearing red. They also taught me exactly what an on-air team should sound like.

Johnny B. = fun. If he was a dog, he'd be a Jack Russell terrier. I'd get within 5 feet of him, and get scared that he'd steal my life force to keep it all going.

John Landecker is sweet and funny and wonderful. I wouldn't trade the time we spent together on the morning show at WJMK for anything in the world. Sure, Rick, you were there. And so was Vince Argento and Richard Cantu. Come to think of it, I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. John was Scarecrow. You were the Tin Man. Vince was the Lion, and Richard was the Wizard. On a serious note, being with you guys on the morning of 9/11/2001 is etched in my head and heart. I now have a glimmer of understanding about sharing a foxhole.

I really did almost die on Larry Lujack's show when the helicopter I was traveling in lost power and made a hard landing. When I brought the incident up to him at his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, he looked me straight in the eye, and said something to the effect that he wasn't really paying attention at the time.

And here I am now getting to spend time every day with Steve Cochran and John Williams who are both complete pleasures to work with. I am one lucky woman.

Rick: For most of your years in radio, you've actually worked at Shadow Traffic, which means you weren't in the studio with most of these guys. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that arrangement?

Leslie: Eye contact is huge in everyday conversation. Without visual cues, your timing can suffer. However, not seeing someone rolling their eyes at you lets you take a little extra self-esteem home with you every day. One of the cool things about Shadow was its location on the 94th floor of the Hancock. It was fun being up in the clouds with a bunch of other reporters doing traffic for about 30 other stations. I remember one morning riding one of the other reporter's bicycle around the perimeter of the Observatory Deck as fast as I could. It was a silly perk, but a perk nonetheless.

Rick: For many of those shows, especially Steve & Garry and Landecker, you had to share many details of your personal life. The plus side of that is that listeners really feel like they know you. The downside is that listeners really feel that they know you. Has anything you said or did on the air ever spilled into your personal life and caused problems?

Leslie: When we were doing the morning show at WJMK, a discussion about my underwear somehow led to a funny little bit we did called "Thong of the Day." People still bring that up...right around the time they also note my lack of a visible panty line. I've never seen it as a problem, but it really creeps my daughter out. Still more often than not, being honest on the air has only brought me closer to listeners.

Rick: What is the worst advice you've ever gotten from radio management?

Leslie: One program director told me, with furrowed brow and a kind nod of the head, "you don't really have a voice for radio" and that I should consider doing something like sales. I also had a very successful broadcaster tell me that staying in Chicago was a terrible mistake, and that I should head to Boise or Omaha or someplace and maybe make my way back from there. Then there was a man named Harvey who reveled in browbeating his employees. After putting in weeks of 18 hour days, no overtime pay, and no hope of any let-up, I walked into his office and told him that things had to change or I would be forced to quit. He said, "get used to it." I said, "Then I quit." He then told me that if I walked out of his office he would see to it that I never worked in Radio again. He is gone. I'm still here.

Rick: You hear people say that working at WGN is different than working anywhere else in Chicago. You are uniquely qualified to say if that is true or not. Is it? If so, how?

Leslie: WGN oozes history. The walls are lined with photos dating back to the 20's. That certainly puts the station's staying power into a unique perspective. There are more than a few people here who've been at the station long enough to receive gold watches...and yes, they do get gold watches. It's heartening to work in a place that doesn't scream "staff turnover." And then there's the fact that people are genuinely nice. On my first day of work, Orion Samuelson came to my booth just to say howdy and welcome aboard. I was awed. He could have chosen to ignore me for months, and I still would have counted myself lucky to share the same air. Yet here he was; the warm, wonderful human I hoped he would be.

Meanwhile, I'm also lucky enough to work on both Steve Cochran and John Williams' shows. They are both smart and thoughtful and sincere...and yet, so completely different from each other. Getting to work with both of them really does make the job that much more fun and interesting. They're both open to whatever I bring to the table, so I end up trying to bring something different to each without ever feeling like I have to be something I'm not.

Last year, Leslie wrote a very funny story about caring for her aging mother for one of my other blogs. If you are taking care of aging parent, you'll love it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

John "Swany" Swanson

John Swanson has been the executive producer of the Eric and Kathy show on WTMX since their first day on the air together, eleven years ago. He is the co-author of "The Radio Producer's Handbook."

*Technical Producer-- WLUP AM/FM -- The Jonathon Brandmeier Show
*Executive Producer-- WPNT-FM (100.3 FM) -- for three shows. Hosts: Phil Duncan, Danger Dan Walker, and Steve Cochran
*Executive Producer-- WLUP-FM (97.9 FM) -- The Kevin Matthews Show
*Executive Producer-- WTMX-FM (101.9 FM) -- The Eric and Kathy Show

Rick: It must be weird to produce a show that goes up against a show you used to help produce (Brandmeier). What is that like?

Swany: I actually love it. It inspires me to work harder because I know how hard Brandmeier works and how good he is. I will never underestimate him. I consider it the ultimate challenge. Johnny has taught me alot about this crazy biz and I'm grateful for that.

Rick: Looking at the shows you have produced, you've worked with some of the very best. If you could combine the best characteristics of the people you've worked with into the perfect radio personality, how would you do it?

Swany: If you could combine the way Brandmeier puts his show together, with Kevin's character voices, Steve Cochran's knowledge of the what's happening--and his prep, with Eric and Kathy's incredible chemistry and interviewing skills, you'd have the perfect show.

Rick: 11 years on one show is an awfully long time. What do you do to keep the show fresh?

Swany: It's a combination of everyone submitting ideas, really. In one way, technology has helped because everything is at your fingertips immediately. On the other hand, the listeners also have access to everything at their fingertips immediately. That forces us to work harder and longer to find new and intertesting things to talk about. If you don't do that--stay fresh and on top of things--you'll sound old and dated instantly. That constant pressure is great motivation.

Rick: What are some of your fondest memories from each of the shows you produced?

Swany: When I worked for Johnny, I once swam in the Chicago River to win a bet with him. While the Michigan Avenue Bridge was under construction, there was a story in the Sun-Times about a guy who sat in a boat all day to retrieve anything that fell into the river. The only way to get him on the air was to swim out to him. Johnny bet me I couldn't get to him. I didn't quite get there, but it was great radio, even though I almost drowned. About a week or two later, a cab crashed onto the sidewalk and knocked somebody into the river. That same guy in the boat had to retrieve him--so Johnny sent me back out there again. The cab was up on the sidewalk against the rail. Johnny told me he would give me $5000 if I got in the cab and drove it off the bridge. I did get in the cab, which could be heard clearly on the air, but I didn't drive it off. I'm crazy, but I'm not stupid. People still talk to me about that bit, though.

Working for Cochran was totally different. Steve wouldn't care who I booked. He always made it entertaining. He would conduct a great interview whether it was musican Brian Setzer, Astronaut Alan Shepard, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore or Richard Simmons. We had alot of fun even though we didn't have great ratings.

As for Kevin, I always enjoyed giving him ideas that he could use with his various character voices. Especially if it involved two different character voices. Watching him go from Kevin to Jim Shorts to Devon back to Kevin was truly amazing. I don't know how he could be so schizo. What a minute, maybe I do.

And with Eric & Kathy, there have been so many it's hard to say. I love all of our shows in front of live audiences. We've had some incredible ones. I totally dig meeting the people that listen to the show. That's the best. Probably the most memorable moment for me, though, was the time we appeared on the Today Show. They were doing a segment about "work spouses"--people who are together so much at work that they actually spend more time together than they do with their spouses. It was great exposure--Matt Lauer interviewed Eric and Kathy live on the air. Overall though, I have to say that building a morning show from the ground up, bringing it to the top, and keeping it there has been the greatest highlight of my career. Now, I just hope I can keep doing it so Eric & Kathy can make enough money in this business to retire.

Rick: Has becoming an author changed anything?

Swany: I'm really glad we did it, because the whole idea was to pass the torch to a younger generation. I think we are slowly accomplishing that. It's also sort of established me as an expert on the subject, and I get a lot of calls and e-mails to speak at schools or talk to other producers. It was a great learning experience too, but it hasn't really changed the way I produce the show. I'm still the same producer I always was--I'm just looked at a little differently by others.

More Eric & Kathy news...

Eric and Kathy were in the news again this week.

More Swany questions and answers...

When The Radio Producer's Handbook came out a few years ago, Swany & I were both interviewed by Channel 7's Andy Shaw.

Bill Zwecker also interviewed us in the Chicago Sun Times.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fred Winston


It's a long one. I arrived in Chicago in 1971.

WLS-AM 890, (1971-1976) I did afternoon drive at first, then they moved me to 9-Noon, then Noon-3, then 10-2, and then morning drive my last three years.

WMAQ-AM 670 (1976-1977) This was during the country days.."WMAQ's gonna make you rich! Not me."

WFYR-FM 103.5 (1977-1981) Adult contemporary format.
(Photo by John Kelly)
WCFL-AM 1000 (1981-1982) I did morning drive there.

WLS-AM 890 (1982-1989) I stayed there until the station changed formats. They asked me to stay on to do angry confrontational talk, but I just didn't want to do it.

WJMK-FM 104.3 (1989-1991) I did mornings on the Oldies station. That stint was enough to make me leave the business for a few years and become a talent coach/agent. I did that until 1994.

WLUP-FM 97.9 (1994) I did the overnight show to help out a buddy for a little while.

WPNT-FM 100.3 (1994-1998). Morning drive on an adult contemporary station. I really enjoyed that. Stayed aboard until an ownership change forced me out.

WXXY-FM 103.1 (1998-2000). Afternoon drive on the 80's channel.

WMVP-AM 1000 (2000). Middays for a few months, until they changed formats to sports talk. After that I left the business again for a little while, until I started filling in at WJMK again.

WJMK-FM 104.3 (2002-2006). Did afternoons there, and stayed with it through the transition to HD Radio.

Now I fill in occasionally at Real Oldies (94.7), and hang out at my farm in Southwestern Michigan.

(Photo: That's Fred on WLS-TV a few years ago, the day he changed jobs with the traffic reporter)

Rick: Every radio vet has a story about the early days, and the dues you had to pay. What is your story?

Fred: To be honest with you, the dues paying never ends. It gets worse. I'm not saying that bitterly, it's just a fact. Plus, when you're 15 or 20, it's not a big deal. You can work 24 hours a day if you need to, and you barely even notice. When you're 50 or 60, it's a little different. The longer you're around, the more you run into myopic programmers. They put you in a box and can't see outside the box. So, each time you start somewhere new, and look at my resume here--I know what I'm talking about--you have to pay your dues all over again every time. There is no such thing as resting on your laurels.

Rick: I think that's true, but why do you think that your generation of personalities has such legendary longevity. Why isn't there another generation of great personalities to take your place?

Fred: That's an easy answer. I really think it's the fragmentation of FM radio formats. When my generation grew up, the big AM stations had personalities on the air all day long. Each of us emulated those guys, created a mixture of their personalities, adapted it to fit our own personalities, and created new ones. The FM-radio generation didn't have those examples to emulate. Plus, consultants came in and program directors stopped being talent coaches. They became businessmen and politicians instead. When it was time to develop new talent, there was no one to teach them. Ownership, consultants, and programmers homogenized the biz because it was easier, less trouble, and less expensive. And now they are paying the price for it.

Rick: If you were to put together your all-star station, who would be on the air--other than yourself.

Fred: My night-time guy would be my good buddy Dick Biondi. He is such a great people person. He has more energy than two people 1/3 his age. He's the ultimate survivor. I'd also have Dan Sorkin. You may not remember him, but he was on WCFL in the '60s and was way ahead of his time. Very funny--a true personality. I'd also have the great Ken Nordine doing an overnight jazz show. Can you imagine how cool that would be? Plus, you have to include Larry Lujack and Steve Dahl. Larry is a great performer, and I love how dark he is, and Steve has his own distinctive style. No one can copy his style--he's a true original. All of those guys have one thing in common. They are all really intelligent. That's key. My program director would have to be Dave Martin. He's the very best.

Rick: What about your favorite and least favorite radio guests?

Fred: Least favorite is easy--Robert Conrad. He came into my studio like a boa constrictor after partying all night. He was hostile, rude, and aggressive. As for favorites, I have so many it's hard to pick a few. I'd say Robert Wagner is about the kindest, most decent guy I've had on my show. There are a lot of people like that in the business, but he really stands out. Also, I loved talking to author Anne Rice. She really opened up--told me all about her inner demons. As for musicians, Leo Kotke is one of my favs.

Rick: Do you have any regrets? Things you wish you hadn't done? Things you wish you had done?

Fred: Yes I do. I really wish I had my feet more on the ground in my heyday in the 1970s. I wish I was more responsible and less of a crazy artist. There are so many things I would have done differently. What I really needed was an agent or advisor to guide me.

Rick: What was the worst advice someone ever gave you?

Fred: A PD in Cincinnati named Charlie Murdoch once told me to consider another industry. He told me I should sell insurance because I had no talent. I used that to motivate myself.

Rick: And finally, do you have any advice for the youngsters, the next Fred Winstons?

Fred: Save your money. Marry a good woman.

A special thanks to Robert Feder for mentioning the blog in his Chicago Sun Times column on Friday.

I found this on YouTube. A very classy video tribute to Fred

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spike Manton


Harry & Spike (with Harry Teinowitz)

Harry & Spike

Harry & Spike

(these three moves were four different shifts, in the space of 12 months, all different formats – don’t ever say Radio people don’t have a plan)

WCKG FM 105.9
Sidekick on the Steve Dahl Show

Harry & Spike

WCKG FM 105.9
Sidekick on the Steve Dahl Show
Host of the Spike Manton show

WLUP FM 97.9
Morning host of the Morning Loop Guys (Spike, Dobie & Max)

Rick: Since you left radio a few months ago, you've become a theatrical producer and writer. For people who haven't seen it, tell us about your play Leaving Iowa.

Spike: At it’s core, it is a comedy about family vacations. Although it is certainly more than a little tribute to that Greatest Generation Dad, that man who worked 50 weeks a year, got up early, got home late and then piled everyone in a station wagon for as much fun as he could pack in two weeks a year. Of course, fun was a relative term, but the memories are legendary. It really is a great show, and it closes at the Royal George on April 8.

Rick: Do you miss radio at all? If so, why? If not, why not?

Spike: I do miss the fun of creating on the air, but I don’t miss one bit the business of radio. It is the worst part of Corporate America with most of it’s least talented parts in charge.

Rick: In your many years in the business you've met just about every major Chicago personality, and scores and scores of nationally known celebrities. Which local celebrity, and which national celebrity made the best impression on you and why?

Spike: Kenny Mayne from ESPN was one of my favorites. He encouraged and enjoyed being called anytime, anywhere, live on the air. It was impossible to surprise him or find him unwilling to play along. If I called him in the middle of writing and organizing his Sportscenter show, he would take advice on what story to put where, etc. I once called when he was negotiating his way onto a last minute flight and we just listened in, offering completely unhelpful advice along the way. He’s just a great guy.

Locally, it’s hard to choose, but I’d have to group together a bunch of Chicago White Sox players from the 2000 team that shocked the league with a division title and playoff appearance. I was on the air with Harry Teinowitz at the time and Brook Fordyce, Kelly Wunsch, Keith Foulke and Paul Konerko were the primary influences that gathered 9 or 10 players together for a special event at a local comedy club in September of that season. Jose Valentin and Sean Lowe did standup comedy, Kelly Wunsch sang parody songs, they did comedy sketches and it was just a really fun, memorable night that I can’t ever see happening again. Those Sox fans that attended really had a once in a lifetime experience.

Rick: In your radio career you are probably most associated with ESPN's Harry Teinowitz (shown here with current co-host Dan McNeil) and WCKG's Steve Dahl. Tell us something we don't know about these guys who share everything with their listeners.

Spike: On air personas are sometimes exaggerated, but I’ll tell you that off air, one guy is even nicer, and one guy is even meaner.

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

Spike: “You have to trust me.” It’s simple and straightforward, but my favorite part about this lie was that it was told to me by EVERY MANAGER I HAD. I’ll tell just one story to illustrate. It was 1996, Harry and Spike were the Midday show on Sports Radio 1000. Management came to us and disclosed their secret plan. Keith Olbermann was coming to town on Friday. He was going to be the new afternoon show on the station. Sports Radio 1000 was going to get Dan Patrick for the mornings, Keith in the afternoon and us in between. They wanted us to show him the town over the weekend and get to know each other, talk about the glorious future. On Friday, they met with Keith and were to meet Monday to sign contracts. We hung out all weekend. Sunday he flew back to Bristol, Connecticut abruptly. On Monday, everybody at Sports Radio 1000 was fired following their shifts, one by one. Harry and Spike became the overnight show on the new simulcast WMVP/WLUP music talk station. TRUST ME.