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.