Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cindy Gatziolis

Cindy Gatziolis is the Director of PR/Marketing for the City of Chicago, Mayor’s Office of Special Events, but before she started there, she worked in Chicago radio for more than twenty years.


Summer Internship 1978 WLS-AM 89

Research Assistant/Programming Assistant/Producer Larry Lujack Show May 1979-May 1984 WLS-AM 89

Freelance writer (included writing comic health minute for Fred Winston) May 1984-May 1985

Creative Services (wrote approximately 1500 live read commercials and 50 promos) May 1985-June 1989 WGN-AM 720

Promotion Coordinator/Director of Promotion and Marketing June 1989 – June 1996 WLUP AM/The LOOP FM/ WMVP-AM 1000

Promotion and Marketing Director March 1997-January 2000 WMAQ 670

Rick: People who follow the business know you primarily from your days as a promotional guru, but you also started out as a producer for the Larry Lujack show at WLS. Talk about those days with Larry, and tell us a few things about him that we might not know.

Cindy: It’s no secret that I love and adore the charming and delightful Larry Lujack. I had listened to him as a kid and my mother was from Idaho so my siblings remember him from his gig there. Then when I was 16,my parents and I, along with my same age cousin and his family, were visiting a lovely Idaho resort area, McCall. Suddenly I see my radio idol and even held the door open for him and Jude, but I was dumbstruck. I couldn’t speak.

Flash forward: It’s my first day as an intern and they put me in the jock lounge where, shortly after 10am, comes the man himself. I think I was calling him Mr. Lujack until he told me that if I did that one more time, he’d break my face. I love him.

He’s extremely thrifty…like buying several pairs of Levi’s at the Bon Marche in Boise because of the great price…only he gained weight and couldn’t fit into them. But he’s also generous. When the producing thing didn’t really work out for me and I chose to leave (Hard to go to bed at 11 or 12 and get up at 3:45am) he insisted on paying me for 2 months more and telling everyone (including Steve & Garry on the air) that I was working from home now because I had other projects.

Rick: You also had a stint at WGN during the Wally Phillips era. People of a certain age don't understand just how huge he was in Chicago. How would you describe Wally's impact on Chicago radio?

Cindy: I grew up in a Wally household. My mother was addicted to him. I do believe my father may have been jealous of Wally (photo). I was reminded as I heard tributes (by Steve Dahl of all people) that Wally was a prankster and bad boy.

Just look at the numbers. One-half of all people listening to the radio were listening to him. That’s a pre-cable, pre-internet, pre-video games (even Pong) world, and some of it before we had UHF channels, so radio was big entertainment.

In my early radio days, when the book would come in, you just wouldn’t pay attention to Wally’s number because it was a given you wouldn’t get anywhere near it. My first June at WLS as an employee was 1979 and we had a big celebration because the 12+ rating was 7.9. Wally’s number alone was twice that.

As much as Chicago listeners felt he was their best friend, he was terribly subdued off the air. In four years at WGN, I barely had more than a handful of interactions.

Rick: We got to know each other at the Loop, during that heady time of the late 80s and early 90s. You were the promotion director of that station at a time when just about every big name was there--Brandmeier, Matthews, Dahl & Meier, Danny Bonaduce, Chet Coppock, and all those great FM jocks like Skafish, Stroud, et all. How did you manage to juggle all of those shows, all of which demanded promotion and attention, at the same time?

Cindy: It was a challenge to say the least to please all the people all the time. YES! Luckily I didn’t have to work alone. Between Larry Wert, a myriad of program directors, my excellent staff and the hard-working, seldom-appreciated producers, we managed to make things work. I do recall one day that was nearly 24 hours, waking up at 3am to be at Dahl & Meier remote, working on all sorts of details for the Brandmeier 10 year anniversary show during the day, resting a couple hours and going to a Danny Bonaduce event that went until about 2am. (Photo: Cindy with Buzz Kilman)

What made it possible for me to do the job without going insane, is that I believed in those shows, and that goes for all of them…the FM jocks like Skafish and Stroud, and Wendy Snyder who maybe didn’t have the light shining on them as often. There will never be a more perfect job for me than that one and I truly loved all those people. I still try to follow, listen, read etc about all of them. I was a very lucky radio person.

Rick: OK, the most unfair question of all-time. Who was your favorite one to deal with and why?

Cindy: You’re killing me here. Would you ask Scorsese his favorite film? My father used to say no matter what finger you cut they all bleed the same. (This was in response to his daughters saying he favored his son – which he did.)

I will say this…Brandmeier (photo) and Dahl & Meier probably made things the hardest to do, however they had such clear visions of what they wanted for their shows, that I learned a lot from them and it made meeting their demands feel extremely satisfying.

For example: JB created the idea of Danny and Donny Osmond having a boxing match somewhere in mid-December (you know the month that has Christmas and New Year’s?) That event went off without a hitch in mid-January. I don’t think there’s a drug around that could give me the high I felt that day.

Rick: Some of the promotions that the Loop did in those days are still legendary. Which specific promotions do you look back on today with the most pride?

Well I guess my previous answer covers one of them. David Letterman made a joke about the boxing match. I don’t think it gets much better than that.

Another event of which I’m most proud is that I was part of the first live radio broadcast in New Comiskey Park. I presume I’ll be long gone when that place is torn down but when they do the special on-line section of whatever passes for a newspaper then, I want the Steve & Garry Show to be part of the trivia about that ballpark. (Photo: Cindy with Ozzie Guillen and Les Grobstein)

Of course I couldn’t leave out the broadcast of the next year when I was able to secure Carlton Fisk for an interview. Not only am I in love with him, but Steve is too.

Rick: After leaving the Loop, you worked with WMAQ during its final years as a news/talk station. Describe what that was like when you knew the format's days were numbered.

Cindy: I feel bad because I got out before those dark final days. I think we all were seeing the handwriting on the wall. I’ll never forgive Mel Karmizan for that one. He treated that station poorly because I think he was planning to use us for spare parts. That’s what you get when you have carpetbaggers for owners. He never saw the value of two news stations in town. Plus he could never see how different our format was than WBBM.

(Photo: NBC Tower, home to WMAQ during the final years)

There were a lot of great people associated with that station. Columbine is a very dark day in our history, but I was able to watch a newsroom really cook that day. We Must Ask Questions. They couldn’t even hang on to the damn call letters.

WMAQ surprised me. I have a journalism degree, but my radio experience up until then had been mostly entertainment so I thought I’d feel kind of odd….but I really miss everybody, and my office that used to be the smoking room and my giant promotion staff that was comprised of me.

Rick: Of course now you're working with Mayor's Office of Special Events--which means that you're heading into your busy season. I'll give you a free shot here...what are some of the big events we can expect to hit Chicago this summer?

Cindy: As always Taste of Chicago, June 27-July 6 is the big mack daddy. We’ve got some great acts that we’ve already announced…Stevie Wonder, Plain White Ts, Chaka Kahn.

We have big milestones too – 25th Annual Blues Festival, 50th Air & Water, 20th Viva Latin Music Festival and 30th Chicago Jazz Festival so there’s lots planned there including B.B. King for the final night of Blues, June 8.

And we’ve moved the Chicago Country Music Festival to its own date and location – October 11 & 12 /Soldier Field Parkland.

Each major event has a URL that includes its name and .us but you can get to them all from

Rick: You're also a die-hard White Sox fan. What was that like for you--working for the city and helping to plan the parade--for your favorite team after they won the World Series?

Cindy: Going from the private sector to City Hall has been an adjustment for me that even after seven years, I believe I’m still making. That being said, I believe I was brought to that job by some other power to be part of that celebration. I like to think that my voice was an active one in planning because I begged that it be a parade and not like the Bulls rallies.

(Photo: White Sox celebration at Chicago River)

Needless to say I was thrilled when the Sox won that last World Series game, but I knew I had a lot of work to do so my real celebration would be on hold. We had put a few plans in place, but an awful lot changed last minute. Personal note to Jim Wiser (producer of WGN’s Spike O’Dell Show) I apologize for giving the wrong info out on the air; when I left the Hall the night of the last game, that was the plan.

The one day of planning that we had saw me leave City Hall shortly before midnight and I was back by 7am on the day of the parade. Media was everywhere and a few of them just wouldn’t stay away from the areas from where they were restricted. Crowds were massive. But every ounce of being tired, irritated, nervous that it wouldn’t go right, went away as the motorcade turned on to LaSalle and the confetti started to fall. I nearly lost it. It was exactly as I always imagined it would be and thought for sure I’d never see.

I do wish it for you Cubs fans; just not while I’m at City Hall.

The best came months later as I would hear countless interviews with the players where they would mention telling people about the great parade. You know, if we made them giddy, that’s something.

Rick: Where will the Sox finish in the standings this year?

Cindy: I never like to predict things like that. I’d rather make fun of those who are wrong. I do kind of admire the faith Cubs fans have that they are always going to go the World Series. Sox fans try to prepare for the worst and then are pleasantly surprised (although I didn’t prepare for last season.)

I always had a vision in 2005 – I saw the locker celebration all season. Weird, huh? SO for this year, let’s just leave it at I’ve had a vibe, but all I’ll predict is that I think we’re better than all the pre-season prognosticators have said.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Steve Downes

Steve Downes is the morning man at WDRV-Chicago, and the voice of Master Chief in the X-box video game series "Halo"


Started in Dayton Ohio in 1969.
First big gig: PD/Afternoons at WYDD Pittsburgh in `74
K-WEST, L.A. in 78
Eve. drive at KLOS, L.A. from 81-91,
PD/ afternoons at K-ROCK in Fort Meyers in '92
PD at 95-YNF in Tampa 93-'95.
Afternoons at KLSX, L.A., and host of Rockline.
2 years doing mornings at KTYD in Santa Barbara
Mornings at The LOOP starting in '97
Mornings at The DRIVE since '01

Rick: I think you came to the attention of Chicagoans through your work with national specials like "The Superstar Concert Series," and of course Rockline. When you were hosting Rockline in the 90s nearly all the rock and roll greats did that show. What are some of the highlights from your perspective?

Steve: So Many. Probably the biggest thrills we're hosting the first national radio interviews of the reunited Eagles, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Rick: Everyone likes to hear about the highlights, but as a former radio producer, I also like to hear the nightmare stories. Who were some of the guests you had on Rockline that either a) were a pain in the butt b) were like talking to a brick wall, or c) made no sense at all?

Steve: The biggest fear was being skewered by Howard Stern live and nationwide, when we had him on ROCKLINE after the publication of his first book. (Didn't happen. He was very cool, and very entertaining). The vast majority of artists were very cool. The ones that weren't were usually too buzzed to know what was going on. Scott Wieland was barely conscious for 85 of the 90 minutes we were on the air, until at the very end, he spontaneously broke in to a killer version of "Give Peace a Chance" .

The one I'll never forget is the night Slash (photo) was in the studio. During one of the breaks, my producer informed me that our first call out of the break would be from Paul Stanley of KISS, to plug his appearance on the show, the following week. Off mic (supposedly) Slash proceeded to tell me how much he disliked Paul, questioned his sexual orientation, and various other derogatory comments. What we did not know, was that the producer had accidently put Paul's call in to the studio, and he was listening to our entire conversation! Stanley made mention of that when we put him on the air live and nationwide!!. Slash, who by now was pretty stoned, literally fell off his chair! I was watching my career flash before my eyes (complete with THE END credits). To his credit, Paul could not have been cooler about the episode and laughed the whole thing off. Very classy guy.

Rick: You've been with the Drive since it signed on the air. Did you feel like you were taking a risk when you signed on to this unknown format?

Steve: I was doing mornings at The LOOP at the time, and I was concerned about coming over to a brand new station and an untried format. It had taken me 3 years to get a toe hold in this market and I was hesitant to leave The LOOP which was doing well at the time. But after lengthy conversations with Greg Solk, it began to make sense that this was where my future was in Chicago radio. I had (and have) a strong belief in Greg's vision, and it really seemed like a logical move to make. And at the end of the day, I liked the format!

Rick: Anyone who listens to your show knows that you have an incredible reservoir of musical knowledge--and that obviously comes from so many years in the rock radio business. But there is also a passion for the music that comes through when you talk about it. What artist or artists were are THE ones for you...the ones that got you into this in the first place?

Steve: Obviously Elvis, The Beatles and Stones were the artists who changed my life. I think when the progressive scene started to rev up in the late 60's, and I began to hear artists like The Doors, The Airplane, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin being played on stations like WCOL-FM in Columbus, and WEBN in Cincinnati was when I really started to see a career in this. And if I couldn't make a living playing this music (I played guitar and drums in bands, through high school and college), then playing this music on the radio was the next best thing. And the laid back style of free form radio was something I could definitely see myself doing.

Rick: In addition to hosting the morning show on the Drive, you also have a couple of syndicated shows, including "The Classics," which airs on Sunday nights here in Chicago. But I wanted to ask you about your other syndicated feature..."The Wine Experience." How did that feature come about?

Steve: The Wine Experience is a daily one minute feature on wine "without the snooty attitude." It runs on most major markets throughout the country although sadly, not in Chicago. It's written and produced by Ken Ohr, a very dear friend of mine, and wine aficionado. You can hear the shows and find out all kinds of great things about wine at Next to music and golf, wine is my favorite hobby!

Rick: I bet this is the first interview you've done in a long time that didn't start with a question about the voice you do for the Halo video game series for X-box. For people who don't know, you're the voice of Master Chief Petty Officer John 117. It must be odd; there are obviously thousands of radio fans who listen to you every day, but there are millions of fans of the video game. What has that experience been like for you?

Steve: This is probably the first interview I've done in the last five years that did not start with questions regarding HALO. It is a bit of a double life between Master Chief (photo) and the morning show, because the two don't really intersect. Being the voice of Master Chief has been and continues to be a blast. The fan base is enormous, and I hear from people all over the world.

Rick: You've been a voice actor for many years now. What are some of the major advertising campaigns that people may have heard here in Chicago?

Steve: Things are kind of quiet now, but I just finished a 3 year run as the voice of Carnival Cruise Lines. I've had major campaigns with Quizno's, Maytag, Chesapeake Energy, Yamaha motorcycles and The IL lottery, among others. I also narrate a number of shows that air on The Discovery Ch. during "Shark Week"

Rick: So, of all these jobs you've had, which is your favorite?

Steve: The one I'm doing right now!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Barry Keefe

Barry Keefe had been a news anchor at WTMX (and the other call letters that have used that frequency) since 1978. His last day on the air is today (Friday, April 11).

Rick: I think 30 years with one FM station has got to be a record of some kind. What was the station like when you started there in 1978?

Barry: Well...the place was certainly doing well. (Photo: It was WCLR at the time) They’d just had a strong spring book the day I arrived. Jack Kelly was the PD who melded elevator music with pop currents to make what was perhaps the first AC station in America. And with FCC things still in place…there were 4 people on staff doing both news and public affairs. The presentation of news at that time wasn’t much different from what you’d find on AM radio. I was not at all the conversational chum I try and sound like these days. On staff back then were several Mormons, per ownership (Bonneville is owned by the Mormon Church). They were great workers…but that presence in the Midwest has changed a lot over the years.

Here’s a fun-fact. All the GMs in Bonneville were given a Pontiac Bonneville to drive. And they had to drive the Pontiac that happened to have the name of their company on the rear quarter panels.

Rick: As you mentioned, WCLR had an actual fully staffed news department. Do you think that those days are officially over for FM radio?

Barry: Over…Forever (except public radio). Ain’t gonna’ happen. Station management have figured out a way to corral newsies at someone else’s place and let THEIR bosses worry about getting the news out each day.

Rick: Your newscasts have also had to change over the years. Talk about the different approaches throughout some of the different regimes. Your career is almost the perfect example of the evolution of FM news, isn't it?

Barry: I hope they’ve changed. Because I was one of the lemmings back when. Everybody’s news, content-wise, sounded the same. There was no molding to the sound of the station you’re working for. My content for women is now so finely targeted there are lots of days when I run a slew of stories no one else even thought of.

Rick: You've also worked with a multitude of different air personalities, including Eric and Kathy for the last decade or more. When they first started did you sense this show was going to be the juggernaut it eventually became or were you as surprised as some of their critics?

Barry: I told our then-PD Barry James on the Friday of Eric’s first week that this thing was going to blast off. I still remember walking into the traffic office and seeing him and making sure he knew that. When Eric arrived, he and Kathy ignited the phones. And the targeting of women over and above what people had ever imagined before! What the hell did your average radio programmer out there THINK women talked about everyday? Purses, lipstick, cosmetic surgery, celebs and goofy domestic stuff. That’s especially true pre-parenting.

Rick: Do you think that has been the secret to the show's success?

Barry: That, and Eric (photo) comes off as the ‘guy’ he is, too. He can talk pocketbook or sports with anyone, anytime. He’s an exceptional golfer…loves to play cards…and he probably reads that famous ‘baseball abstract’ tome too.

Rick: What have been a few highlights for you during these Eric & Kathy years?

Barry: Well, I once had a lot of attractive nurses dine on my belly ala some famous French cafĂ©. Yes – the guy serves food on his massive torso to women willing to pay for it. We completed the stunt, live on the air…with me doing the news on my back. 60 minutes later, in walks Bruce Reese, the Bonneville CEO. I had no idea he was even in town. He touched me on the shoulder and said ‘Barry…THAT was ‘taking one for the team!’ I also enjoyed Melissa giving me a spray tan. Everyone should be spray-tanned by Melissa.

Rick: Throughout your time at the Mix you've also been a teacher at Columbia College. Between the many colleagues you've worked with at your station and the many students you've taught who have gone into the business, I don't think you even realize how many lives you've touched. When Robert Feder reported you were leaving, I literally received dozens of e-mails asking me to interview you before you left. Have you been besieged with well wishers?

Barry: I cannot lie. I have nearly 100 e-mails right now (we conducted this interview on Tuesday), all from Rob’s column. And not a word has been said on the air about this yet!

Rick: The way your departure was described in Robert Feder's column ("the curtain came down unexpectedly") makes it sound like you weren't quite ready to go. How did they approach you with the news, and were you already planning to step down in the near future?

Barry: They approached me with an HR person present…but I guess that beats approaching me with some little guy in a court jester’s outfit. The HR stuff is law and regs. It was an uplifting meeting, thanks to the care Jerry Schnacke (Vice President/Market Manager of Bonneville Chicago) and Greg Solk (President of Programming/Bonneville) took with a few things. I got a good deal…and having never been one for contracts – I can go and work anywhere ASAP. Our family’s departure for Michigan isn’t as imminent as some may have made it seem.

Rick: Is there anything you'd like to say to your former colleagues, students or listeners that may be reading this interview?

Barry: Don’t be frivolous with money. I hit the age of 55 in a couple of weeks at the tail end of the era of severance and pension. It’s going to be an unfriendly world out there. Young adults just entering the work world would do good to enjoy Burger King’s Tuesday 59 cent burger specials once in awhile. And I’m not kidding. Hey…for only a dime extra you get cheese with that!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bob Hale

UPDATED 9/4/10


I got wind of an honor that is being bestowed upon Bob the other day. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He also sent me this picture from more than fifty years ago...

Bob: It's true. The Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of fame in inducting me Labor Day weekend. That a 1.50 gets me on the CTA! (It is still 1.50 isn't it? As a Senior I ride free...a really stupid idea!) So, for what it's worth, I guess my Buddy Holly death connection is about to rocket me into international fame!!!! Again, that and 1.50.....

The pic is from 1959 when KRIB's rock and roll format was one year old. It was taken at my weekly record hop at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

The original interview follows...

Bob Hale is a legendary radio and television broadcaster who spent most of his career gracing the airwaves of Chicago.


Began at WHA-AM/FM/TV Madison Wisconsin while at the University of Wisconsin in Madison – 1952-1957

1958-KRIB Mason City , Iowa as RnR DJ. In February of 1959 was emcee of the Winter Dance Party of ’59 after which Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper and pilot Roger Peterson were killed in the plane crash that shocked the world!

From there, I joined WMAY, Springfield in Fall of 1959…and 4 months later joined WIRL, Peoria .

In April of 1960 I joined WLS –Chicago as the host of East of Midnight; one of the original Swinging Seven who changed the sound of Chicago radio.

In Spring of 1964 I went to WMAQ Radio and stayed with them until 1966 when I joined WFLD-TV, as their first announcer. Also did weekday sports, and weekend news anchoring.

April 1967 I was offered a contract from WMAQ-TV as host of Today in Chicago, remaining there for 16 years.

I went to WLEX-TV In Lexington, KY as Principal News Anchor for 6 years, returning to Chicago to join WJJD in 1989. I retired in 1996 when WJJD changed to satellite talk and then switched formats to become The Score!

Since then I have been doing freelance writing and photography. Travel is a pastime – USA , South America, Europe primarily.

Rick: I know you've had to answer this question a million times, but please indulge us by answering it one more time. You were the Master of Ceremonies on February 2, 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa--the last concert by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Describe the scene backstage for us, and explain your part in that ill-fated coin-flip.

Bob: The bus with Valens, Holly, Richardson, Dion, and Frankie Sardo arrived in the late afternoon…actually around 6PM . We hurriedly got them something to eat, and then all pitched in to set up for the performance. Those days were pre-high-fi days, so we had to deal with only one microphone. The tour manager was Sam Geller of the GAC Corporation (which would go on to purchase Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus). As the set-up was taking place, Buddy was playing the piano. Sam and I were listening and he said to me, “This guy is going to be one of the greatest popular music composers of our time. He’s so talented – he can play so many instruments, and he creates such interesting music.”

Buddy’s talents were put to use during the concert as he played the drums during the Dion set. The regular drummer, Charlie Bunch was in the hosp[ital in Green Bay , Wisconsin , having suffered frostbite on the broken down bus! Buddy would play the drums for Dion’s set, which began the second half of the show. The first half was Frankie Sardo, and Big Bopper.

The second half, Dion and the Belmonts, followed by Buddy.

When Dion’s set was over, I sat down with him on the riser in front of the drum set and asked him to introduce his musicians. (Photo: Dion & The Belmonts 1959) When it came time for the drummer Dion said something like: “This fellow is taking the place of Charlie Bunch, our regular drummer who is in the hospital in Green Bay suffering from frost bite. Um...let’s see…the drummer’s name…is…ah, oh yeah! BUDDY HOLLY!”

Buddy jumped up, grabbed his guitar and began singing “Gotta Travel On.” The backup men quickly changed places and joined Buddy before he was half way through the first stanza.

There was some drama taking place off-stage, even before we got started, actually. At one point Bopper (photo) was sitting with my wife, Kathy, and me in a booth. Kathy was expecting our first child, and Bopper said something like, “That’s what I miss most…being around my wife when the baby moves. Kathy, may I feel your baby moving?” Kathy took Bopper’s hand and placed it on her stomach as the baby moved. Bopper smiled: “I can’t wait to get home to do that.”

Interestingly, no such conversation took place involving Buddy. We didn’t even know at that point that Maria was expecting.

During intermission the back-and-forth conversation between Bopper and Waylon Jennings took place, resulting in Waylon giving up his seat to Bopper. At that point Waylon uttered a phrase that would haunt him all his life – “Well, OKAY, but I hope your plane crashes!”

Years later, at a social gathering in Kentucky, Waylon (photo) and I recalled that night. He said: “Man, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t wish I could take back that comment. The next day when I got the news in Fargo, I went nuts. I cried, I yelled. And I began to drink. Drugs helped along the way. Of course, I realized years down the road I was killing myself, so I quit. I don’t know, maybe deep inside I was so damned guilty, I was trying to kill myself!” He admitted that no matter how long he'd live, he’d always be haunted by Feb 3rd 1959.

After the show was over that night, Tommy Allsup, pressured by Ritchie Valens, said, “Let’s flip a coin.” It’s at this point that two versions of the coin flip emerge. Tommy maintains he flipped the coin; I maintain that as soon as he suggested it, he reached into his pocket and realized he had no money – he was still in his stage clothes. He asked me if I had a coin. I took out a 50 cent piece, said to Ritchie, “OKAY, Ritchie, you want to go, you call it.”


“Heads it is, Ritchie, you’re flying.”

Tommy said, “OKAY,” and went out to the car to retrieve his bags which he’d already put in Carroll Anderson’s car. Regardless which version of the coin toss you hear or accept neither Tommy nor I demand “ownership.” We’ve talked about this, and have no emotional investment in either version. What we agree on is that night was a tragedy and an extremely emotional one for us all.

Rick: What was that next day like?

Bob: February 3rd would be a painful day for family, friends, fellow-musicians, and for those who attended the Winter Dance Party. Within minutes of my announcing the plane crash – I was pulling the 9 to noon shift on the 3rd, teens began arriving at the station (KRIB) just to talk. It became a day-long wake, Pepsi and Coke distributors brought extra cases to our studios – we had so many people just “hanging around.” Parents came, too. Many had been at the Surf the night before. It was the custom of Carroll Anderson to invite parents to the weekly record hops free of charge. Many teens and parents were in tears.

Some students from Waldorf College had been at the Surf the night before. Some came to the studios. I interviewed college as well as high school students. What I didn’t know at the time was that Waldorf, a two-year Lutheran college, did not condone dancing! The school had a rigid Danish-Lutheran background which was extremely conservative in social activities – “Sad Danes,” they were called in Lutheran circles. When the school heard about the students who’d been to the Surf, they immediately suspended the dozen or so students for a couple of weeks. No comments on the deaths – just on “school policy.” Fortunately time has given Waldorf a more enlightened school administration, as well as transforming the college into a four-year, well respected liberal arts college.

On the way home in the afternoon, after conducting about two-dozen telephone interviews with radio stations across the country, I drove by the crash site. The bodies had still not been removed, as the ambulances were still in the corn field. I could not bring myself to walk the hundred yards to the site – and to this day, I’ve not been able to make that walk!

Rick: One of your former colleagues from WJJD, Bob Dearborn, also became known for a connection to the Buddy Holly story in a way. His analysis of Don McClean's "American Pie" (a song inspired by the Buddy Holly plane crash) is considered by many to be the best and most thoughtful one out there. I'm sure the two of you discussed the subject a time or two. What is your feeling about that song?

Bob: Bob Dearborn (photo) and I have talked about his analysis of "American Pie." While I take McLean at his word when I asked him about the several theories out there - " Oh, heck, I took words that rhymed, and some thoughts I had, and tied them together. If they sounded good I kept them in."

I think Don has begun to see the value in all the "deciphering" going on - it's good for sales, even today! - that he's backed off that open and honest statement these days. But, As far for which one strikes home the most - Dearborn's, as far as I am concerned. Of course, I have to be up-front here; I am hoping to get Bob to the Surf next year for his interpretation presentation.

Rick: You were one of the original rock jocks at WLS in 1960. Talk about those early days and the way the city embraced the WLS personalities. Do you still run into people who connect you with that time?

Bob: Oh boy...this could a long bio-piece, but I'll cut to the chase, as the cliché goes. In early 1960 I had moved to WIRL in Peoria. At KRIB and WMAY I was sending a tape every two weeks to Sam Holman the to-be-program director of WLS. One afternoon, home in bed with a fever, and a couple of shots of Dr. Jack Daniels with honey and lemon - the late winter cold had struck - I received a call.

"Bob, it's Sam Holman at WLS, in Chicago."

Instant sobriety! INSTANT!

"Yes, Sam, how are you?" Actually, I didn't care how he was; I wanted to know why he called!!!

"Bobby, (right then I knew I was in! - 'Bobby') I'd like to come on to be my all-night man starting May 2nd. Interested?" Oh yeah...was I interested! "Besides, Bobby, you keep sending me all those tapes---I've got no room for more."

Dick Biondi and I were brought in early so that the three of us could make the rounds of newspaper people, record promoters and writers. Within 20 hours of that call two record promoters drove from Chicago to "meet me, and say hello." I had arrived!

When I came to WLS that first day at the old Prairie Farmer Building on West Washington Blvd, Sam and Dick and I were taken to lunch at Fritzel's--THE place to be seen! We weren't there more than 10 minutes, guests of Archie Levinson, well-known record promoter and husband of Fran Allison, of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame, when we were joined by Milton Berle! I leaned over to Sam and said, "I wonder who they'll fly in tomorrow to impress us?"

(Photos: Steve Allen with Bob Hale in WLS Studios)

That night Sam, Dick and I hung around WLS after midnight sign-off and the new chief engineer, Fred Zellner, fired up the transmitter out in a south-west suburb (Tinley Park) to see how far we were reaching. We'd take collect calls from anywhere in the US. Oh boy, did we run up a bill, fast. Calls from, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and a couple of ships-at-sea. And, I, as the in-coming midnight man, and Biondi as the incoming 9 to midnight man, knew we had a tiger of a radio station to play with! Damn, that was fun!

Biondi is the only one of the "old crowd" I see on rare occasions. Other than Dick, Jim Dunbar and me, the rest have died: Sam Holman, Mort Crawley, Ed Grennen, and Gene Taylor...all gone.
(Photo: Gene Taylor, Bob Hale, and Sam Holman at 1985 WLS Reunion)

Rick: What was that like working there in those days?

Bob: The midnight shift at WLS was incredible – we reached 42 of the 50 states. Signals just roar in the nighttime, especially when you have 50,000 watts on a clear channel, as we did back in 1960. I had a fan club at a secret Air Force base near the Arctic Circle . The guys called sometimes via a link up with an air base in Indiana . I had to promise to NOT dedicate anything to a name. I’d couch it by playing a tune for some of my “nightly listeners north of Chicago, who I know are listening to me with one ear, and other conversations with the other ear.” They were monitoring the Russian airwaves!

Two extras came my way. First, the record hops. It wasn’t long before promoters were calling to hire the WLS DJs for outside activities. The station approved them, knowing it was great promotion. Because I was working nights, Friday and Saturday night hops were out for me…unless I could make short appearances. I did many Sunday hops…sometime three on a Sunday. Some weeks we could match out salary. Biondi (photo) could match all our salaries put together!! (even today, he’s a hot commodity! Seventy-five going on 23!)

Secondly, the Lutheran youth association, called the Walther League, asked me to write a monthly column in the youth magazines. From that I was invited to local youth rallies, and our International Walther League conventions in such places as Fargo , Squaw Valley , and Washington D. C. On Sundays I’d drive or even train to Midwest youth gatherings. I wasn’t there to play records, but rather to speak, sometimes as a keynoter. My interest in theology helped me make sufficient cogent points. I found that to be the most satisfying addendum to the radio on-air work.

Rick: How did you make that transition from radio to television?

Bob: In 1964 I made a switch to WMAQ radio, the NBC station in Chicago. They were trying to regain lost listeners from their very low-key and bland format. I remained with them a year and a half, and while I was there, in January of 1966 I joined WFLD-TV, which was owned by the Sun-Times and Daily News.

WFLD was a UHF station – Ch 32 – in a heavily VHF market. That's where I made the switch to news. I did street reporting, weekend anchoring, and weekday staff announcing and on-camera sports reports. I also did many interviews. At the same time I joined WFLD, WMAQ-TV asked if I could do a once a week youth interview program. I was given permission by WFLD to do it, and that slot was the entry-point for a full time WMAQ-TV spot a year later. I filled in for the host of Today in Chicago, 6:30 AM to 7AM weekdays.

I was told on my first fill-in day that it was actually an audition, and that if I handled it well, I’d be offered the job full-time. After that first broadcast I made a comment that I liked the format, and that I was hoping to shape something similar at WFLD in the near future. The next day – my second fill-in day - I was met by the program director who never showed up at 7AM before! He called me into his office and made an offer I could not refuse.

That same day I went back to WFLD and submitted my resignation (three weeks hence). Coincidently our General Manager, Red Quinlan, also submitted his resignation that day, for reasons I never did learn. The conversations centered around “WFLD is now a sinking ship when two of the officers jump ship.”

I remained at WMAQ-TV for 15 years, adding a Sunday two-hour version of that program, and serving for a year as the Midwest Editor for the network’s TODAY Show with Frank McGee and Barbara Walters (photo: Today Show set in New York). Eventually new management came in to replace retiring “good guys.” The new GM dropped my three contracts I had with Ch 5, and I was out of work.

For a year or so I was traveling host of the Illinois State Lottery drawings, which had weekly jackpot drawings in various locations around the state.

Rick: This was the early 80s?

Bob: Yes. In 1981 (I believe) I accepted a position as Principal Anchor at WLEX-TV in Lexington , Kentucky . They’d hired an expanded staff to get them out of the 4th place in a three-station market that they’d sat in for a few years. Six new people were hired, and after three years we got to number 1. Two years later, they decided they could make just as much money as #2 or #3 and let four of us go.

Rick: Is that when you came back to Chicago?

Bob: Actually, Kathy was offered a job that we’d been looking at for many months. In Chicago the new Lutheran Church in America was shaping itself after the merger of three Lutheran bodies. Kathy, as a CPA became the head controller for the Lutheran Foundation – which supported many universities and institutions around the world. As I was being let go at WLEX, she was being asked to come to Chicago . So, after all the previous moves based on my employment, we “came home” because of her career. She remained in that spot for 13 years.

Rick: And you ended up back on the radio...

Bob: Yes. Thanks to some help from Dick Biondi and Clark Weber (photo) – former WLS teammates – at WJJD-WJMK. They pitched me to do vacation news for both stations, and that resulted in an offer to be the drive time DJ at WJJD at the end of the summer replacement period. I held on there for six years, even through a format change that saw WJJD drop all music and import talk shows from the two coasts. But when the union contract ran out in 1999, we accepted a nice buy-out offer.

Rick: Even though you're out of radio now, you're certainly not retired, are you?

Bob: No, I hit the free lance trail. I immediately hooked up with a firm that was looking for freelance photographers for their work on high school year books. I am in my 8th year with them. I also write a travel column for Midwest Today magazine (located in Iowa ) and I do a once a month travel radio piece for the radio edition of the magazine.

Rick: Thanks, Bob. This has been a pleasure.

Bob: If all this information results in a movie offer, I’d be happy to play myself!