Sunday, September 30, 2007

Big John Howell

Big John Howell is the morning co-host of "John & Cisco" on WIND AM 560. He previously worked for 17 years as the morning and afternoon personality at US-99

Rick: After all those years doing country radio, you’re now doing a talk show. What have been the biggest surprises and challenges?

John: It’s a challenge every day, which I love first and foremost. There’s a definite learning curve to it. After years of “turning it out,” making the audience the star, it took me a while to allow myself to be the center of attention, to state my honest opinion without couching it. I have to take a stand. You know, when I was at US 99, I always considered myself the right wing nut in the crowd—but now that I’m at WIND, it turns out that I’m more of a radical moderate. In fact, I'm probably the most liberal guy on the radio station.

Rick: Tell us about the morning the lights went out in Arlington Heights (the day a big storm knocked out the power at WIND).

John: This actually happened to me once before when I was in Grand Rapids working with Jennifer Stephens. Her sheepdog inadvertently knocked everything off the air but the microphones, and we did the rest of the show in the dark. But the day you’re talking about was a heck of a challenge. It really took us out of our normal element. We had just enough juice for the microphone—and the commercials were played from a PC with a battery. We didn’t even have a phone amplifier working--meaning that the listeners couldn’t hear us when they were on the air. The phone screener had to say….”When you hear the static, just start talking until your story is over.” But it was great because we were experiencing the same thing our listeners were experiencing, and we were right in the middle of the story. We did an extra hour that morning because we couldn’t get the network from the satellite. They finally got the satellite powered back up at 10am. But I was really proud of that little radio station out there, the little engine that could. Everyone pitched in, and we got up and on the air before any of the big guys could have done it.

Rick: Anyone that listens to your show knows that you’re a conservative, but not everyone realizes that you once co-hosted a morning show with Air America liberal Stephanie Miller. What was that experience like? Do you still keep in touch with her at all?

John: That was a heck of a staff on that show. It only lasted 18 months, from early 1988-to October of 1989, but there was a lot of talent assembled in that room. We had Steve Scott as our newsman, Jim Volkman did sports, Mick Kaylor was our producer. Plus, our PD was Tim Sabean, and Bill Towery was our production guy. It was a great staff and a great radio station. You’re right that my listeners probably don’t know that I worked with Stephanie (photo). The unfortunate thing is that we didn’t have much chemistry. She was from Rochester, and I was from Michigan, and we didn’t really click. But I commend her for making it—she had talent then, and she has talent now. I’ll still click her on to hear how she’s doing. She really was enjoyable to work with, and I'm happy for her success.

Rick: You were at US-99 for so many years it must have gotten into your blood a little bit. What are some of the things you’ve had a hard time shaking from your US-99 experience?

John: At US-99 we were conditioned to make the music and the listener the star. As I mentioned already, it was a big challenge for me to get past that. What do I miss? I miss the music, I miss the listeners, and I miss the fun. I had so much fun in that format—I could have stayed there forever. But I really wanted to try something else. I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to exercise muscles that I hadn’t used since Grand Rapids.

Rick: In addition to being a radio personality, you’re a musician. Your band has been a staple of the summer fair concert circuit for years. Are you still doing shows and what is it about being in a band that you love so much?

John: We did about 8 shows last year. In our heyday we did about 60 shows a year; every Thursday, Friday, double Saturday, and double Sunday during the summer. It was nice having a safety deposit box full of cash, not that I didn’t declare every cent, Mr. IRS man. I really did love it though. It was my night out bowling with the guys without having to bowl. It was a chance to play with my childhood buddies, be a big man on campus for 90 minutes, and pretend like I was a rock star. Reality was always waiting for me on Monday.

Rick: Your current co-host is former WLS newsman Cisco Cotto. How is working with him different than your previous co-hosts?

John: Both Ray (Stevens, pictured left) & Cisco (Cotto, pictured right) are talented and really fun to work with. I’m privileged to have worked with Ray at US-99, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if I wound up working with him again someday. As for Cisco, I’ve learned a great deal from him. I find him a true compass for the news talk format. He really has a great feel for it after all those years at WLS. I would have hated going into this job without him.

Rick: On Chicago’s radio dial you can find virtually every major talk radio voice in America. Who do you listen to?

John: After I started working here at WIND, I stumbled across Michael Savage (photo), and I found him to be a maniac, but very compelling. He hasn't been as influential to me as say Larry Lujack or Steve Dahl or John Landecker or Milt Rosenberg, or Dick Buckley were, but I like to punch him in to see what he’s frothing at the mouth about. I don’t agree with him on everything, but it’s like sitting at that first turn of a NASCAR race, waiting for the crash. I also listen to Roe, Steve Dahl, Garry Meier, Mike North, Boers and Bernstein, Waddle and Silvie, and I love Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. I really tune in all over the dial. The only show I don’t get is Kathy & Judy, and that’s because I don’t have a menstrual cycle...although I have experienced some spotting lately...but that’s probably caused by the Jack Daniels.

Rick: You are one of the many Chicago radio personalities who hail from Michigan. Names like Landecker, Matthews, Stroud, Haze, and many more. What’s in the water up there?

You’re right. Half of the newspeople and traffic people in Chicago are from Michigan originally too. I think it’s because we grew up close to Chicago, and lots of us listened to Chicago radio. I remember the first time I heard Steve and Garry on WLS, with that big reverb, and said “now that’s a radio show.” I tried to do that show in Grand Rapids, and my program director pointed out to me that I was doing it without having the fun they had. It was probably the best advice I ever got. Steve and Garry laughed all the time, and really let it fly.

Rick: And turning off that filter, as it turns out, was the same problem you had when you started at WIND.

John: True. It goes against everything you've been taught, and that's why it's so hard to do. But if you don’t do it, you will come off as wishy washy. I no longer try to couch what I say. Consequently, I’ve been called more bad things in one year at WIND than I was in 17 years at US-99.

Rick: Ouch.

John: It's OK. It's part of the job. I think the nuts on both sides of the political aisle need to be called out occasionally. Here’s my take on the two parties. Democrats want to be Santa, and Republicans want to be God, and neither can be either.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Freak is currently the program director at WRXQ 100.7FM in Joliet, but has been a part of the Chicago radio landscape for fifteen years, including nine years as a sidekick to Mancow Muller.


Here's a sketchy rundown...
*My first "big-league" station was WTMX - The Mix (101.9FM) back in the early 90's, I was doing weekend work as well as helping out the morning show under my real world nickname Cap.
*While working at WTMX, I weasled my way into 103.5 - The Blaze (WWBZ) via Jimmy Novak. There I did more weekend stuff as well as fill-in's under the name Tommy Hunter (Hunter S. Thompson backwards).
*"Major" Tom Johnson got me hooked up with Metro Traffic so I could fill in for him in the chopper during the Holidays and I was soon doing traffic reports for WGN (720-AM) as Scott Billy with Steve & Johnny as well as WMAQ (670-AM) as Tom Hunter.
*This lasted a few years during which the Blaze got sold and became Rock 103.5. I was working every shift I could as the jocks abandoned ship doing everything from production to showing Lou Brutus how to use the studio when he came to town. (Took like 10 minutes)
*Mancow started in July and by November had fired his traffic person so I volunteered to cover until they found a replacement. That ran until Cow went to Q-101. The whole staff went with but since I worked for WRCX and not Cow, they hung on to me and I worked there until Eddie Webb pushed the button killing the station. Since WRCX was now WKSC, my contract was voided and I rejoined Mancow's Morning Madhouse over at Q-101.
*I stayed there until the Zone (94.7-FM) popped up and immediately reached out to them for a gig. It took like six months but we finally came to an agreement (I am my own agent) and off I went. Then one day as I rode the Rock Island Metra train into downtown my phone rang, a lady said "please hold for Mr. (Jim) Pastor" and since guys like him don't usually call guys like me I knew it wasn't going to be good. "How's it going" he asked to which I replied "ask me again in 5 minutes". He said "well, it won't take that long actually, as of Noon today, the Zone will be known as Chicago's True Oldies 94-7... as a result, your services are no longer needed". He said other stuff after that but I really wasn't listening.
*I retired after that but it only lasted 3 months. WRXQ called and hired me for the 7p-mid shift which became afternoon drive a few weeks later and Program Director within 6 months from me walking thru the doors. I think that's it.

Rick: You grew up in the Chicago area. Who were some of your radio heroes and why?

Freak: There's only 1. . . . Larry f*****g Lujack. Don't know why but as a kid listening to him on WLS I knew I wanted to be on the radio and, oddly enough, he's one of the few radio legends I've never met.

Rick: Looking over your radio history, I can see that you were one of those guys that lived by the motto "I'll do anything at any radio station" when you were starting out. At several points in your career your hours were completely crazy. Looking back, tell us your craziest schedule, and how you managed to survive.

Freak: I still have that attitude. I have a rather morbid rule that I live by... attack like cancer. I get a job somewhere and I slowly creep into every little corner and learn what every single button does until I know everything about it and can do anything in the building. It adds to your value as an employee. When the Blaze became Rock 103.5, I was the only person full or part time to make the transition and I believe it was because I was willing/able to keep the place running while they hired their airstaff. That was when my day was the most stressed. Rock 103.5 Noon-8pm, dinner, WMAQ-AM (traffic on the 1's) 10p-6a, go home, repeat. It was just plain fun.

Rick: You probably had one of the most interesting board operating stints of all time. Talk about the day that is now enshrined in the Museum of Broadcasting.

Freak: It was strange indeed. The whole station (WTMX) was going nuts all morning but nobody really knew why because it was still a secret. I was in the production studio listening to WJMK as Ron Britain quit on the air and played a Beatles song. He then left WJMK and headed out to Skokie where the WTMX studios were. He was in a limo on one of those bag-phones while me and another guy Johnny Molson ran the board. It was really cool to be a part of something so guerilla but it was nerve-racking as hell since all the big-shots were running around. I've listened to that tape in the museum and you hear me cheering and laughing but that's about it.

Rick: I'm sure you get asked this question all the time, and I think I know the answer, but for the record, tell us the definitive story of how you came to be called "Freak."

Freak: It's kind of boring actually... I showed up to the old Shadow studios in the Hancock skydeck the first day I was supposed to do the Mancow show. I was taken to a studio where "Psycho" Steve Grad was getting ready and settled in. Like 30 seconds before the show started the phone rang, Steve answered, looked at me, said "whatever", and hung up. He turned to me and said "your name is Freak" and that was that. Seeing as I was working with a Luv Cheeze, a Turd, a Prison Bitch, etc... I figured I got off light.

Rick: What do your friends and relatives call you?

Freak: My nickname growing up was Cap since I always have a hat or bandanna on my head. Most of my older friends and relatives call me that but since I've been Freak for some 13 years now, a lot of people call me that too.

Rick: You were with Mancow's Morning Madhouse for nine years. That's an awful long time on a show that churns through show members. How did you manage to last for so long, and did it take a toll on you?

Freak: It was 9-years, 1-week, 4-days of some really brutal living but I have no regrets. You have to learn to leave everything at your desk or it will devour your soul. I saw more than a few people leave the building in tears and you feel bad but it wasn't a place for the meek. You focus on the cool things that happened that day not the fact that you got bitched out for something completely out of your control. . . . think "I got yelled at today but before that Lenny Kravitz was sitting next to me playing guitar" See, all better.

Rick: What about fond memories from those years? Are there any moments that really stand out during your Mancow run?

Freak: The best part of the job for me was everything off the air. Going to all the concerts, parties, etc... I was never home. I would leave work around Noon, sleep until 5-6pm and then go out. Movie screenings, fashion shows, anything... I turned up in the strangest of places but always knew what was going on and had the latest gossip for the show. It worked out good because the lights would come on in the bar at 4am giving me an hour to get some grease in my stomach and get to work.

Rick: I'm sure you were told quite often what a mistake you were making to leave such a successful show to go to a fledgling rock station (The Zone). Talk about your decision to leave, and what it was like to work at the Zone.

Freak: I love rock & roll. Sounds corny I know but that's it. I left the Mix for the Blaze because I liked AC/DC better than Wilson Phillips so I'd made a similar jump for the same reason in the past. Once Rock 103.5 went down, there were no rock stations in Chicago but as soon as The Zone reared it's head, I reached out to James Van Osdol to get me a gig there. I took a 25% pay cut to leave Mancow's show but I was infinitely happier.

By the way, despite what you may have heard, I did leave... wasn't fired. That Thursday I finished the show as I always did with the traffic but I ended it saying "see you on the other side". Prison Bitch caught it but didn't pay attention to it. I walked over to the Renaissance Hotel where I met Bill Gamble in the restaurant and signed on the dotted line. Then I walked over to Shamrock's on Kinzie street where Turd and the rest of us used to go after work and broke the news to them first, had a beer and a few shots, then went up to Q-101 and turned in my keys. I had been working without a contract for 11 months so there was nothing they could do but watch me leave. I do regret not being able to tell Cow myself... he found out through the grapevine before I had the chance to get in touch with him. It's just not the way I do things. The next morning the Zone was broadcasting live from the House of Blues and I just wandered on stage and sat between Brook Hunter and Brian the Whipping Boy. Their faces were priceless.

Rick: You're still working in radio today. Talk about what you're up to now, and what your plans are for the future.

Freak: I finally got my own radio station to play with WRXQ 100.7FM. It's a classic rock station that tears things up in the Joliet area. I yanked out all the slow stuff and added a bunch of rockin songs and things are going good. I'll do this until they show me the door and then I'll probably retire. I plan on opening a Roadhouse out this way and that's where I'll hang all the crap I've collected over the years and live out my life. I'm also the track announcer at the "Dirty O" of Rt. 66 calling the demo derbys and the trailer races. Go ahead, you can snicker if you want to but it's good clean fun.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Jennifer Keiper

UPDATED 5/31/08


Jennifer was the News Director at WLS when I interviewed her last year, but was part of the recent cutbacks there. She landed on her feet quickly, and is now working at Fox News Radio.

Rick: Were you a little surprised that WLS made such severe cuts to their news department?

Jennifer: Yes, I was surprised that the WLS newsroom was cut in half. Before the decision was announced, there were indications that news was supported by the higher-ups. Bill, Jim, John, Ryan, David and I were making great progress in covering more news; we started a fantastic public affairs show and had just secured media space in the state capitol.

Jim, John, and Ryan have been in a difficult spot and are doing a great job.

Rick: Tell us about your new job and where we can hear you now.

Jennifer: I have been hired by Fox News Radio as their midwest correspondent. It is a great opportunity to cover big stories across the midwest while maintaining my ties to Chicago. I can be heard on WIND-AM in Chicago and hundreds of other stations across the country. My family in Pennsylvania jokes that, after 18 years in the business, they'll finally be able to hear me.


Now here's the original interview...

Jennifer Keiper is the news director of WLS-AM 890.


I thought that I was going to go the TV route but realized, in college, that radio was for me. I worked at Northern Illinois University's student station as a DJ in 1988. I was the Operations Manager of WCRX at Columbia College 1989 to 1992. I also worked at B96 as the morning news producer and eventually became the morning anchor fill-in. I left B96 in 1992 to work as an anchor/reporter on WXLC-FM /WKRS-AM in Waukegan. A year later I came back to Chicago to get my Masters Degree and was offered my old News Producer job at B96. I went on to became the B96 Community Relations Director and also did some production work at WBBM-AM. In 1994, I worked as a traffic reporter on WBBM-AM and moved up to reporting and anchoring duties in 1997. In 2003, my friend Susan Carlson suggested that I apply to WLS-AM because she was heading to TV. I did and have had a fantastic time working at WLS.

Rick: You have been a reporter in Chicago for a long time now. Over those years, you have won just about every reporting award there is. Are there any stories you've covered that really stand out to you, and do you have stories about covering those stories?

Jennifer: A story that really stands out that I DIDN'T cover on the day it happened was 9-11. I was off and although I offered to come in, they were covered. I spent the entire day (and night) glued to the TV. As a reporter, you wonder what YOU would do standing in the middle of such a catastrophic event. When I went back to work everyone was busy but it wasn't the same place. The atmosphere was different.

Any story that involves children who have been hurt bothers me. Years ago, I was on the police beat and walked by a man who was in police custody. A short time later I was shown some autopsy photos of a child and told that the man who just walked by me was the person believed to have committed the murder.

The 2005 Elmwood Park train crash was just amazing. I was one of the first reporters on the scene and couldn't believe the wreckage before my eyes. More than a dozen cars were trashed and one was still on the tracks about 2 blocks away from the initial point of impact. What was truly amazing to me was that no one died.

On the lighter side, one of the most pleasant interviews I did was with actor, director, producer Lord Richard Attenborough. He was in town and I weaseled my way into a sit-down with him. I plopped down a microphone and we had a great conversation.

Rick: After that long reporting career, you were recently named the news director at WLS. Has it gone about the way you thought it would, or have there been some surprises or challenges that you hadn't expected?

Jennifer: The biggest surprise, to me, is that I even applied for the position. I had just come back to work after suffering a brain hemorrhage. A few weeks later, Steve Scott who was the News Director told me that he was leaving and my jaw dropped. A minute later, when our reporter Cisco Cotto told me that he was leaving, my eyes bulged. We lost a big chunk of our news staff in less than five minutes! My immediate thought was how we'd make it through until we found replacements. I applied for the position only after receiving the encouragement of my family and co-workers. I enjoy coming to work everyday because I have that support. The biggest challenge was hiring the morning anchor and morning reporter. I'm happy to say that those hires: John Dempsey and Ryan Hermes are just great!

Rick: WLS, of course, has a lineup of conservative talk show hosts and pundits. Do you try to keep in mind that your audience is predominantly conservative when you choose which stories will be covered and how they are covered, or is the newsroom at WLS essentially run the same way as your previous employer WBBM?

Jennifer: Any anchor or reporter knows that when considering a story you always ask yourself, "does my audience care about this story?" When it comes to how we cover it the answer is simple: regardless of what happens on the other side of the glass we, in the newsroom, remain objective.

Rick: In this age of media consolidation, the five or six conglomerates that own most of the radio and television outlets have famously downsized their employee rolls. Unfortunately, this has really been felt in radio news departments across the country. How do you feel about the current state of radio journalism?

Jennifer: I worked at WBBM when all-news WMAQ went away. You might think that I'd be happy to see the competitor shutdown. However, that's not the case. Competition is fun and it makes for creative ideas and perseverance. I'm fortunate to work at a station that is very supportive of the news department. I know there are other News Directors, anchors and reporters who can't say the same thing.

Rick: You're going to hate this one. You've been teaching a Writing for Radio course at Columbia College. I know that writing for radio requires you to be concise, so let's put that to the test. The top story tonight is Jennifer Keiper's general philosophy of news writing. Write that story.

Jennifer: Here's a twist:...

WLS News Director Jennifer Keiper has found herself struggling to finish a questionnaire by master blogger, Rick Kaempfer.

The reason: he has asked her to do a homework assignment, something she swore she'd never do again when she received her college diploma.

In other news...


-- Do Rick Kaempfer's readers care? Yes, because they have to get through this answer in order to read the other.

-- Did I KISS (keep it short and simple)? Yes, 13-seconds.

-- Is it written in the present or present perfect tense? Yes.

Uh, I'd like that grade as a pass/fail, please.

Rick: I read that you took part in the Radio Television News Director Foundation's German/American Journalist Exchange Program. That's a mouthful. What does that entail?

Jennifer: Twice a year the Radio Television News Director Foundation co-sponsors a program that sends a group of 10 American journalists to Germany and vice versa. It gives journalists the opportunity to learn about each nation's culture, politics and journalism.

I met with a radio journalist who travels with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (think White House correspondent) and another journalist who writes for a German news magazine that is similar to TIME or Newsweek magazines. I toured radio and television stations, had daily meetings with members of the German Parliament, local politicians and the head of the labor union. We then traveled to Brussels where we spent a day in meetings at the EU and NATO. I made some great contacts and it was a fantastic learning experience! I also plan to use some of the material in my writing class.

Rick: You didn't grow up in Chicago, but you've been living here now for 25 years. Over that 25 years, who are some of the journalists in town that you have the most admiration for, and why?

Jennifer: I attended high school in Oak Park (go Huskies!) and have been watching/listening/reading great work, in this area, for quite some time.

Bill Cameron has great knowledge of politics.

Jim Johnson knows a good story and would kill me if I didn't put his name on this list (just joking - about the killing me thing, that is).

John Cody can make a story out of just about anything.

Paul Meinke can explain even the most difficult story like no other.

Carol Marin is smooth and asks great questions.

Pam Zeckman never gives up.

And a special mention: Karen Hand because she taught me (almost everything) that she knows and made sure that I never made the same mistake twice.

Rick: There have to be times when you get sick of the news. When you've just seen or heard one too many hard news stories, what are some of your guilty pleasure entertainment outlets (radio, television, film, books, magazines, etc.)?

Jennifer: Sick of the news? Are you kidding. I live it, I breathe it, I love it. There's nothing like it. I always need my news fix. (Think the bosses have stopped reading this yet?) I loved underwater basket weaving but found that it wasn't very challenging. So, instead, I am trying to create the perfect MySpace page. So far I have a background color but my BFF keeps IM'ing me, which, OMG, is such a distraction. LOL. :-)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Laura Witek

Laura Witek was a newscaster in Chicago during the 80s and 90s, most famously at WMAQ during the beginning of it's all-news format, and later at the Loop on the Kevin Matthews and Steve & Garry shows. She now lives and works in California.


As near as I can remember:

WCFL 1980-1984…started as a desk assistant ended up as mid-day anchor

WLS TV 1984-1986…news writer

WMAQ Talk Radio 1986-1988….news on the Morton Downey Jr. show

WMAQ ALL NEWS 67 1988-1990. Anchor.

WMAQ TV 1989 Weekend “hourly update” anchor.

WLUP/AM 1000 1990-1996. News with Kev and Steve and Garry…and all that came later

WCKG 1996. News with Steve.

Rick: Complete this sentence, and tell me what it reminds you of from your radio career. "Give us 22 minutes, and we'll give you..."

The WORLD! Okay, that was easy. What do I win????? “WMAQ ALL NEWS 67.” Those call letters are always CAPITAL in my mind. Or maybe it was just the way Jim Frank voiced them.

Rick: You worked with some Chicago radio icons in those WMAQ days (the recently deceased Jim Frank, Pat Cassidy, et al). Can you talk about your WMAQ experiences and any fond (or not so fond) memories from those days.

Laura: I was so sorry to hear about Jim. I worked with him at WCFL, when I first started in the business, and then I was lucky enough to work with him again at WMAQ. He was such a special man. And wait a minute; are you calling Pat Cassidy (photo) an icon? Wow, a LOT has changed since I left!!! (I’m kidding!!!)

I did work with some great people at WMAQ. It was an interesting experience and certainly taught me how to multi-task. It was the first time we were on computers (how old does THAT make me sound?!) and we ran our own boards…again for the first time. When it was a “good” news day, nothing was more exciting. We’d go “wall to wall” with coverage with live shots all over the place. The format was thrown out the window and we were just concerned about getting the story straight and on the air quickly. I felt like an air traffic controller. It was a pretty heady feeling getting through all that. Of course, on a “slow” news day we’d all be praying for floods, plagues and pestilence!

Rick: I remember the day you started working for the Loop. Now correct if I'm wrong, but isn't there a good story about how you were hired for that job involving sharing a cab ride with Larry Wert?

Laura: I was working morning drive at WMAQ at what was the “new” NBC Tower at the time. I was dressed well because I had a commercial audition after work. (Trust me, when you get up at 3:15, you tend to come in very casual!) As I got off the elevator I saw it was pouring. Of course my umbrella is at home so I’m forced to buy one at the NBC Store for about 500 dollars! Running late and freshly extorted, I see there’s a very long line for cabs. I am not in a good mood. There are these two guys in front of me….both young and attractive. They’re talking between themselves, not to me at first, but I couldn’t help but be drawn in. They were fun and funny and soon had me smiling. As we got closer to the front of the line, we all started to talk and we exchanged first names. They suggested we share a cab. They were heading north, I was heading south, but they told me to hop in anyway. In that ten minute cab ride, they had me laughing until I cried. Banter back and forth, quick wit, and some stabs at the oblivious cab driver.

The guy named Larry (photo) asked me what I did and when I told him radio news, he didn’t believe me until I flashed my Police I.D. card. I’m sure he told me he worked for the LOOP, but I just assumed sales. They dropped me off, paid for my ride and improved my mood. All in all a very good day. The next day, right after I get off the air, I get a phone call. The guy on the phone says: “This is Larry Wert, we shared a cab ride yesterday?” I said: “Yes?” A bit tentatively since I was trying to figure out where he was going with this. Then he told me he was the General Manager at the LOOP. I’m thinking yeah, right. This guy was way too young and way too much fun to be a General Manager of anything! Then he offered me a job. I thought: time to get off the phone…he’s delusional. I told him I’d think about it, give him a call tomorrow and I hung up quickly. Then, I sat there for a few minutes – doubt creeping in. Could this guy be for real? I called the LOOP and asked who their general manager was. They told me. Larry Wert. Crap. Then, I called my husband who told me I was completely crazy and to call Larry back immediately….which I did.

I had to actually “interview” with Steve and Garry before getting the final go-ahead. We all had lunch at the Drake Hotel. Obviously, I was nervous but all I can remember about that lunch is laughing. It was a precursor to my life at the LOOP. The rest is history….

Rick: After working at WMAQ, working at the Loop must have been quite a dramatic change. How hard was it to adapt?

Laura: I will never forget my very first newscast on the LOOP….Kevin’s show. I hadn’t really listened to him before, (too busy watching/listening to the news!) but I did my homework in the few days I had before I started. Of course, as I listened to his show I thought he had to have some guests…SOME help. He couldn’t really be all those characters, right? When I got to the studio that first day, I was surprised to find only Kevin (photo). So, I start to read the news and proceed to get interrupted by Jimmy, Devon, Bill Cartwright and Raymond Burr. I remember thinking: I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Actually, my job as a “journalist” was a lot more difficult at the LOOP than WMAQ….as crazy as that may sound. Because I had to know the stories…not just read them. Steve, especially, used to pepper me with questions all the time and he’d catch me more than once. Because he was smart and extremely well read, he forced me to be better.

Funny, there were some people at WMAQ – management included – who thought I was making a huge mistake to leave WMAQ for the LOOP. They told me it was silly and beneath me. I think it’s the best move I ever made.

Rick: Working at the Loop during those incredibly high profile years you must have some memories that immediately come to you. What were some of your favorite moments during those years?

Laura: Oh my Lord, got a few days? My favorite times were at the very beginning…when everybody was there and everybody got along. I knew even then it was a moment in time….a very special and good “perfect storm.” Larry used to call it “high school with money.” My favorite road trip was Las Vegas with Kevin and Steve and Garry. Johnny B met us there. There was one broadcast that they all did together that was amazing. I never heard anything funnier….before or since.

Other magical moments? Every single show in Hawaii, but especially the time when Steve was diving beneath me in the pool and blowing up bubbles from his regulator. We were broadcasting live at the time and it was hard for me to concentrate. Boy, did that tickle! And yes, that’s code! (Photo: Bubbling in progress)

When Kev got me a stripper for my birthday. A female stripper. (Who’s birthday was it?!!) The low fat versus regular Twinkie/Cupcake test when I was blindfolded and Garry fed me. I found it strangely erotic and yes, I could tell the difference! Sports Phone Sex. Aloha Fridays. Going to Sox games with Steve. On stage with Kev at his live shows. Monday Night Football with Steve and Garry. Singing backup for Steve at his concert at Navy Pier. Larry getting a limo and all of us….Johnny, Kev, Steve and Garry…..going bar hopping. I loved the fact that we enjoyed hanging with each other outside of work. I loved that we were friends. I loved that we were a family. Those were such special times. I was just so lucky to be a part of them.

Rick: You were a big part of the Kevin Matthews show in the early 90s. I don't know if you've seen the Wikipedia entry about Kevin's show, but according to Wikipedia, you left Kevin's show because some of his characters, particularly "out of synch man" drove you to leave. Is that a true story?

Laura: It was a programming decision. Steve and Garry were moving to mornings and I was going with them. Though the Wikipedia story is a heck of a lot more interesting! I have to admit there were times in that studio with Kev that I had to close my eyes. All those characters coming out of that one man made me dizzy! But I loved them and love them still. You may not know this but Jimmy (photo) and I get together every time he comes out to California. We surf together. (Did you know he surfs? Do you know how ridiculous he looks WET?!!)

Rick: You were also there for the dramatic break-up of the Steve & Garry show. What was it like to be a part of that show during the tense days before and after the breakup? And by the way, have you heard that they're both working at the same station again and getting along?

Laura: Wow. That was a difficult time. This is only my opinion and it comes with the benefit of hindsight, but I think we crossed the line. And I’m sorry for my role in that. But in our defense, the lines had changed. I don’t believe there was any intention to be mean at the start…..but then it snowballed. Feelings got hurt, pride set it, sides were taken. It became a runaway train and there was no way to stop it. I remember wanting so badly to stop it.

I did know Steve and Garry (photo) are working at the same station and they’re getting along and I’m very glad for that. But I still wonder, as I’m sure many listeners do, what if?

Rick: When Steve left AM 1000 to move on to WCKG, you and Leslie Keiling went along with him, only to leave the show a few months later. What happened at WCKG?

Laura: We were fired. I don’t know exactly why except that Steve wanted a change…he wanted to move in a different direction. Two things bothered me about that then, (well, three if you count actually being fired!) and Steve and I have talked about this since. After we left AM 1000 but before everything was signed at WCKG, I had a chance to take a job in public relations. It wasn’t radio but still it was a great opportunity. I asked Steve if he was absolutely sure he wanted me with him and he said yes. A month later, I’m out the door. Then, the night I was fired we sat in his office and talked and cried, (me – not him) I asked him one favor. If listeners asked what happened the next day, I wanted him to tell the truth. That it was his decision for his own reasons. In the days that followed and in the fallout, there were a number of spins on why. None of which was true. Some of which were hurtful to me. It was easy to get over being fired. It was much harder to get over how it was handled on the air.

Rick: Now that you're not in radio anymore, what are your feelings about the business, and in particular about radio news?

Laura: I do miss radio, but I think I miss what I had for that brief period of time. I don’t know that it could ever be recreated. I knew the business was changing….even then. And since I was always a support player never a headliner, it was even more tenuous for me. I had some pretty good job offers in radio after WCKG, but I think I was just tired.

I don’t much listen to radio out here. Is that weird?

Rick: What have you been up to since you left Chicago?

Laura: We moved to Telluride, Colorado in the Spring of ‘97 and stayed for nearly four years. I actually wrote two suspense novels but couldn’t get them published. (I DID, however, become a pretty good skier!) After living there awhile, we discovered we loved the summers a lot more than the winters….hot and sunny in the day…cool nights. We used to get a lot of tourists from Orange County and they told us if we loved Telluride summers it was like that all year round in the OC. So, we packed it up and moved to Newport Beach. No jobs, no home…just desire. That’s what you can do when you’re young (relatively), crazy (definitely), and have no children! We’ve been living here since 2001 and we love it. We joined a tennis club and play a lot. We bike the hills, walk the beach and share many Duffy boat cocktail cruises in the harbor with friends!

I’ve been selling real estate for five years. I didn’t want to work for anybody – wanted my own business – and figured with real estate, I could get manicures and play tennis all day long. HA! I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but it has its rewards. I’m exercising a completely different part of my brain, I’m meeting clients who become friends, and given the fact real estate here is NUTS, it can be lucrative. Life is good. I’m happy.

Thanks for asking!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Chicago Radio Spotlight Update

A brand new Chicago Radio Spotlight will appear in this space next Sunday.

In the meantime, I wanted to update what has happened to some of my previous interview subjects since their interviews...

On January 28th, I spotlighted former WXRT and WLUP daddy-o Bobby Skafish about his internet venture Handcrafted Radio. Rob S. has since discontinued his excellent internet offering, but he is back on the radio dial in Chicago, doing the afternoon show every weekday! Check out Bobby on WDRV 97.1 FM,The Drive. Phil Manicki, also profiled on April 1st, is now doing the evening shift right after Bobby.

On February 11th, I spotlighted the host of WBEZ's "848" show, Steve Edwards. Since we conducted that interview Steve was awarded a prestigious University of Michigan Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow. He is taking a leave of absence for a few months as he pursues his further education in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately for Steve, he slummed with a little known author named Rick Kaempfer before leaving on his sabbatical.

On February 25th, I spotlighted WTMX personality Cara Carriveau. In her interview she talked briefly about a new podcast venture she was starting up called "Cara's Basement." That has really taken off, and in the past few months she has interviewed Survivor and Ides of March leader Jim Peterik, Styx guitarist James JY Young, Foreigner 's Mike Jones, Ratt's Stephen Pearcy, and a little known author named Rick Kaempfer.

On March 11th, I spotlighted radio legend Fred Winston. He has since turned in a stunning performance during a WLS Radio Memorial Day Rewind broadcast. A video of that entire day, which also featured John Landecker, Larry Lujack, Tommy Edwards, Catherine Johns and more, is available for purchase via Jeff Davis, spotlighted on May 6th, was also a part of that one-day radio event.

On April 8th, I spotlighted Wendy Snyder. At the time Wendy was trying out to become part of Don & Roma's show on WLS as a traffic reporter, and didn't want to discuss the possibility for fear of jinxing her chances. She has since been named to the position, via Metro Traffic, and can now be heard every morning on WLS 890 AM. She has also been co-hosting a Saturday night show 6-8PM on WLS, called "Women of Mass Discussion."
Check out her MySpace page.

On April 22nd I spotlighted Chicago Ed Schwartz. Since then Ed has written several pieces for the Daily Southtown, including this editorial about Chicago's beaches, and this column about former Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline.

On May 13th, I was interviewed on Chicago Radio Spotlight by John Records Landecker about my book $everance. Since that interview, "$everance" has been getting great reviews from people in the media, including WLS afternoon host Roe Conn, legendary broadcaster Clark Weber, WGN afternoon host Steve Cochran, Channel 7's Andy Shaw, Chicago Sun Times columnists Robert Feder & Paige Wiser, Channel 9's Larry Potash, and many more. Read what all of them had to say here: Praise for Severance

Have you bought the book yet? You can get it right here:

On June 24th, I highlighted ESPN Radio's Harry Teinowitz. Shortly after that interview, his co-host Dan McNeil was suspended from the show for comments he made about a producer at Comcast. He has since returned to the airwaves, and the trio of Mac, Jurko and Harry are sounding as good as ever. (By the way, I have written about Danny Mac a few times over the past few decades in Lake Magazine and Chicago Advertising & Media. These are fun articles to read with the benefit of hindsight.)

I've gotten a lot of e-mails and comments regarding my post about my Steve & Garry days: Steve & Garry notebook. Obviously since I posted that, Garry Meier has returned to the airwaves at WCKG, and has appeared on Steve's show a few times. (I think he sounds great, by the way). Here are a few videos I've come across on YouTube about Steve & Garry. I think you'll enjoy these as much as I did.
VIDEO: Keith Olbermann interviews Steve on the anniversary of Disco Demolition (Steve is very funny in this clip)
VIDEO: Steve & Garry commercial from 1987
(P.S. That commercial came out right after I started working for them...which I didn't realize was 20 years ago until I posted this. Yikes.)