Saturday, October 25, 2008

Robert Murphy

UPDATED January 2012


Rick: It was great hearing you back on Q-101 last summer...obviously I wasn't the only one that thought so. Rewind 100 snatched you up.

Robert: After my brief (but totally rockin') stint last summer at the transitioning Q101 (thanks to John Gehron & Joann Genette), the Commandants of Hubbard Broadcasting decided I would be a great fit for 100.3's 80s and 90s format. I had to agree.

Rick: Any trouble climbing back into the saddle?

Robert: Since I had been professionally hibernating for several years, there were some new "teachable moments" but I quickly remembered how much I enjoyed having a daily interaction with Chicago via radio. It's all I have ever done and I was thrilled to get "back in the saddle". I've been provided with a clear set of goals and a great and supportive staff. The only drawback: When I first started getting out of bed at 3:30am to do a morning show, I was in my teens. Now that I am just slightly older, it is just a bit harder. Okay, I'm a lot older and it's a lot harder.

The original interview follows...

Robert Murphy is a legendary Chicago radio personality, most famous for his stint as "Murphy in the Morning" at Q-101.

Rick: The straight jacket. You must be sick and tired of answering this question, but for an entire generation of Chicagoans, when they hear the name Robert Murphy, they think of the straight jacket commercials. Looking back on those commercials now with the benefit of hindsight, have you embraced the straight jacket or are you still (metaphorically) stuck in it?

Robert: Well, "embrace" may be too strong a word, but I am very aware of the commercials positive influence on my career. My initial objection was that it seemed kind of a lowbrow concept ("That Murphy's Cray-zee!) but most of the commercials were exceptionally well executed (such as the original "Bambulance" spot, now popping up on YouTube.)

Though it is inarguable that the straitjacket helped to bring me recognition and thereby bolster my ratings when I first started, I wanted to move on after a while. But No! If there was a smidgen of a drop in the ratings, management whipped that bad boy out again, and I was back on TV, running through Chicago with my arms restrained and my feet bare.

Rick: In the 1980s and early 90s, your show on Q-101 was one of the top rated and most influential radio shows in town. You assembled an incredibly talented team there. I think a lot of people in Chicago radio aren't even aware of how many people in the business worked on your show. Talk a little bit about the contributions of the other cast members, including those behind the scenes.

Robert: One of the earliest and best remembered incarnations of the Murphy in the Morning Show featured Beth Kaye as co-host. Beth and I had a strange and wonderful professional relationship (she strange, me wonderful) and I think we came across on the air as adversaries with an affinity for each other, much like on the show Moonlighting which was big at the time.

Also on the show was Chicago voice-over potentate Pete Stacker whose character voices really brought out the best in the scripts that I wrote. The very knowledgeable Pat Benkowski handled the sports aspect, and all was topped off by our venerable newsman, the intelligent and eloquent Dave McBride.

Later on Joy Masada joined us as producer, followed by Carol McWilliams and Mick Kayler (former producer for Lujack). Later co-hosts were Susan Anderson and Eleanor Mondale. Danger Dan Walker became one of the most popular cast members, using the newly invented cell phone to go out and jack with people. He is one humorous dude! We worked under a gazillion different PDs who passed through (not all of them great, some of them downright damaging to the show) but occasionally some good ones like Randy Lane, Chuck Morgan, and Bill Gamble actually helped out the show

Rick: In one way, I think your show blazed the trail for a show like Eric and Kathy's, in that you were so successful in attracting female listeners. I realize part of that was the format (adult contemporary), but part of that was also your show. When you were on the air did you think of female listeners, or were you just doing your thing, trying to appeal to a mass audience?

Robert: Interesting question. There is no doubt that it was the female ratings that pushed the show to the top, and I would like to think it was my irrepressible charm, brutal good looks, and sexual magnetism that drew them like a moth to a flame, but since I possess none of those attributes, I speculate that the subject matter, along with the style and presentation, were to the female audiences liking (along with the music, of course.)

When I first started in radio, not as much attention was being paid to the demographics of gender, and my goal was a mass appeal morning show. Later, when gender breakdowns became more of an issue, I didn't change the focus too much because what we were doing was working - and though there was a fair amount of sexual humor on the show, it was never presented in a puerile fashion. I know that today, women are targeted with a slew of soccer/hockey mom references and heaps of celebrity gossip. Were I on the air now, I would probably have to make concessions to that end, but the women I know are so much more than that.

Rick: What are a few of your favorite moments from those years?

Robert: As far as just plain fun, I think back to the Q101 switch parties. Every Tuesday night, the whole Q101 air staff would descend upon a club, rewarding those who had "switched" to Q101 (get it?) with free beer while the morning show did a kind of adult club act. It was a great chance to mingle with the audience and learn more about them, plus over the years, it allowed me to visit every neighborhood and suburb in the Chicago area. (Wait a minute, I think we missed Stickney)

Doing the show also allowed me to hobnob with all manner of movie stars, rock musicians, members of royalty, presidents, but the coolest was getting to hang out with Captain Kangaroo. (note to those under 40: The precursor to Mister Rogers and Sesame Street)

Rick: You famously wore a suit when you did your show. First of all, is that true, and if so, why did you do it?

Robert: Okay, you got me! I confess. I frequently wore a suit to work. And if I live to be a bazillion years old, I will never understand the consternation it caused among so many people. (after the strait jacket queries, it is next in line.) So here we have,

The Top Five Reasons I Wore a Suit To Work

Number five: Because I never bought into the fallacious reasoning that because the audience couldn't see you on the radio that you should show up for work looking like some Dickensian street urchin. I still worked in an office.

Number Four: Because I grew up in the Woodstock generation, and had spent enough time in worn out denim, tie dyed shirts and sandals. I wanted to move on

Number Three: Because it made it convenient for someone such as I who had to get dressed at 4am in the dark. Throw on a T-shirt, Toss a suit over it, and voila! You're done!

Number Two: Because ZZ Top is right!

Number One: 'Cause I am one stylin' dude

Rick: After your stint at Q-101, you did two other morning shows in Chicago--including a stint at the 80s channel, WXXY. I've previously spoken to Fred Winston (who also worked there) about those days, and he felt it was a little frustrating because the quality of the radio station's signal didn't quite match the quality of the programming. Do you agree, and what are your thoughts about your time at that station?

Robert: Fred and I get together and commiserate every once in a while over the frustration of working at a station that no one could hear. We had been led to believe that the stations dual tower setup would cover the city, but you could barely pick it up in Morris. It was like talking to Gramps when he had his Miracle Ear turned off. And if I do say so myself, when WXXY unveiled the all 80s format with their great talent lineup, that station was bangin'! But, the two years I spent there were great fun. It got me back to Chicago from Florida, I could walk to work, and we had beautiful brand new studios in the Neiman Marcus building, overlooking Michigan Avenue. I had two great producers there, Scott Straus (now at KISS) and Tony K Kwiecinski (who had produced my show at WLS-FM) who helped me put out what I think were some of my best shows. Too bad you couldn't hear them. I would have stayed but my Spanish is rusty.

Rick: You also anchored the lineup at WLS-FM during the time they tried out the young-talk format. They pulled the plug on that format pretty quickly, despite the all-star lineup (including yourself, Richard Roeper, Turi Ryder, and more). Do you think they gave up on it too soon, or was it just the wrong time or wrong station for that approach?

Robert: Ah, another format squashed by 94.7, The Frequency of Doom. When I took this job I was looking to evolve a little professionally, and thought that we were going to establish a new free form talk format. Jay Marvin was really the only one on board with any conventional talk radio experience, but he was (as Sarah Palin would say, "all mavericky and everything") But once we got started, it seemed management just wanted a spinoff of the AM talk format. I do appreciate my time there because I did learn a few new tricks that helped me out later. Too hard to speculate on whether the station would have ever pulled in the big numbers, but it was never given the opportunity to grow before they pulled the plug. I would have stayed but I look stupid in a cowboy hat.

Rick: Since your last stint on the air in Chicago, you've maintained a residence here. That means you've had a chance to listen to just about everyone who has come and gone on the Chicago radio dial over the past 30 years or so. Who are some of the people that have really stood out to you, past and present?

Robert: Woefully, I didn't get much of a chance to listen to most of the other morning shows, 'cause I was busy doing my own. But to me, Chicago radio is still spelled L-U-J-A-C-K (photo). He is an exemplary talent who knows how to entertain an audience without compromising his own personality. Enjoy Fred Winston also, and I'm glad I got a chance to hear Wally Phillips in his last years on the air. Much could be learned from him. I have always admired Brandmeier's talent though his approach to radio and mine could not have been more disparate. There are a few personality morning shows still on (Eric & Kathy, Drex) but I am really disappointed in the state of radio these days- out of market syndicated shows, voice tracking, and managements who replace personalities with banalities.

Rick: What kind of situation would it take to coerce you back onto the airwaves here?

Robert: Basically, a mutual decision between me and management that my particular talents and the stations mission could forge into a great ratings success, and overcome the obstacles that radio faces in today's climate, obstacles that are legion and formidable. I would also need a guarantee that enough time would be allotted to give us all a fighting chance, and of course a claus that specifies a strict "No Straitjacket" rule. Oh, and I'll need a little bit of money so I can buy some new suits.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shelli Harmon

I recently conducted this mini-interview of Shelli Harmon for SHORE Magazine...

Shelli Harmon // Sunny 101.5 FM, South Bend

Shelli Harmon is 1/3 of the Jack, Shelli & Bruce show at Sunny 101.5 in South Bend. The threesome with the playful camaraderie can be heard every morning from 5:30-9a.m.

Radio Philosophy

I go with the 3 Bs: Be prepared. Be yourself. Be fun!

Favorite Brush with Greatness

I would have to go with Don Henley. I was working in New York and lucky enough to go back-stage after a show. It was when he was touring for his monster album, Building the Perfect Beast. Don Henley was the kindest, most down-to-earth celebrity I’ve met. We sat and gabbed for about a half-hour. He wasn’t rushed or hurried and had the softest hint of a good ol’ boy Texas accent. He was just a lovely person. The framed picture commemorating that occasion still proudly sits on my desk.

Radio Influences

I grew up listening to WLS out of Chicago. I listened religiously to Larry Lujack and Little Snot Nose Tommy Edwards. Also, Yvonne Daniels was amazing. She broke ground for women in broadcasting in so many ways. However, I decided radio was my calling after I went to Marriott’s Great America and had a visor signed by John Records Landecker. I thought that was sooo cool. I later told that story to Mr. Landecker when I met him at a radio conference. I was in awe, he just chuckled.

Something Listeners Don’t Know about You

I grew up near Lake Michigan, and I still don’t know how to swim. I love being on the beach, wading in a bit, and hearing the waves. I didn’t want my son, Lucas, to have the same phobia, so I insisted he take swim lessons. He loves to swim and tries to get me to learn. It’s one of my goals along with remembering where I put my car keys. Although I swear my husband, Karl, hides them from me . . . exactly where I left them.

Best Thing about Doing Radio Here

The best thing about being in radio here? It’s home! I grew up in Southwest Michigan. I was born in Benton Harbor, raised in Coloma. I still have tons of relatives and friends here. I feel connected to the beaches, orchards, festivals and everything in between. After working in places like New York, Charlotte and too many other cities to mention, I missed the Midwest feeling you can’t get anywhere but here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Marc Silverman

Marc Silverman is the co-host of "Waddle & Silvy" every weekday morning from 9 to noon on ESPN Radio, AM 1000

Rick: You're a local Chicago boy. Who did you listen to on the radio when you were growing up?

Marc: Easy. Chet Coppock. Every single night. I would sit at home not doing my homework, and sneak the phone into my room and try to call the Coppock show. It was considered a toll call in those days and my parents would ask me what all these calls to this 591 number were.

I loved Coppock. We had Bulls season tickets, and I would shush my grandparents on the way home from the game so I could listen to what Chet had to say about the game. He did the only really sports show in town those days, before Sports talk started as a format. The Score started just as I was going to Southern, and it was a big thrill for me to have guys from the Score on my show in Carbondale. I had Dangerous Dan McNeil as a guest, who I idolized from his days with the Coppock show. I also had George Offman on the show. I used any excuse to talk to these guys.

Rick: That was at WIDB, right? There are quite a few Chicago radio people who got their start at that radio station.

Marc: Yup. Lots of 'em. I don't know them all, but I know David Schuster did, and so Peggy Kusinski and George Offman. I think Mike Murphy worked there too, although I'm not sure. I know he went to SIU.

Rick: Your Chicago career started at WGN, as a sports reporter. That must have been quite a thrill to be working at the number one station in Chicago as a youngster.

Marc: Oh yeah. I was in Northwest Iowa before that, in a little town paying my dues. I was sports director at KILR Radio, but that just meant that I directed myself, because I was a one-man sports department. When you're at a small market station like that you do everything. I DJed an oldies show, went to the state fair, all of those stereotypical things, but I really wanted to get into radio in Chicago. Dan Falato was at WGN at the time, and I bugged him every other week, asking for ways to break in there. At the time they had this paid internship program, and I finally scored one of those. This was in the days after Chuck Swirsky left but before David Kaplan was there, and they didn't really have anyone who was willing to go to the locker rooms and do all the legwork.

The first story they sent me out to cover was the day it was rumored Jordan was coming back. It was the first time I had ever been to the Berto Center, and there I was, amongst this crowd of reporters—-all these guys that I had seen and heard, all looking for the same story. Jordan didn't show up, but guys like BJ Armstrong and Bill Wennington were interviewed. I made a bit out of it when I got back to the radio station. I used the mission impossible theme, and I knew how to splice reel-to-reel tape, so I created this bit about the intern out to get the impossible story. I played it for Joe Bartosch (photo) who was Punnett's producer, and he loved it. They played it on the air, and after that they trusted me to cover these stories more often. When my internship ended, Tisa Lasorte, who was the program director at the time, offered me a job. It really was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Rick: The years you were there (95-98) happened to have coincided with the last three Chicago Bulls championships. Do you have any favorite stories from those years?

Marc: I was a huge Bulls fan growing up. My family had season tickets. Honestly, the chance to cover Jordan on a day to day basis was definitely the biggest thrill. I was there 3 ½ years, asking him questions in the pack of reporters every day. Well, one day, when the Bulls were down in a series, I asked a question that he didn't like—it ticked him off, and it was like he was seeing me for the first time. He asked "Hey, who is this guy?" I wanted to say, "Hey, it's the same guy who has been asking you questions every single day for the past 3 ½ years."

Rick: You moved to ESPN (WMVP) in 1998 and have been there ever since, in various different roles. You've been in this midday time slot now with three different co-hosts; Jay Mariotti, Carmen DeFalco and now, Tom Waddle. Compare and contrast the experience of working with each of those guys.

Marc: My experience with Mariotti was totally positive. I know a lot of people who have worked with him or against him have had bad things to say, but I never felt that way about him. We only had one minor disagreement on the air. I still consider him a friend of mine and I thought he was very good at what he did. I was bummed when the situation with the station didn't work out (during the renegotiation of the White Sox/Bulls contract), and I still miss reading his column every day.

But when you're working with Jay, you always know you're going to be #2, and the show is going to be hardcore sports. With Carmen, it was totally different. I will always believe that we had a big following and we would have had a bigger following if we had been allowed to continue together. We were both young and raw, but we had a great time doing that show and it was really developing. I still consider Carmen to be one of my best friends in the world. And he still sounds great when he's filling in for Mac. He's more opinionated than ever and he knows how to have a good time on the air.

That's actually something I've always tried to keep in mind too. Danny Mac taught me that. The most important thing is to entertain the audience. At the end of the day they care about that more than they care if you were right about some sports story. The best e-mails I get are the ones that say "you guys crack me up."

That's what Waddle and I try to do. He's great to work with too. He always shows up prepared and he's thoroughly professional in everything he does, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. That makes it fun every single day. We like to poke fun at each other, and I think that makes it fun for the listeners too. He says I nag him like a wife—which I suppose is true. We're true partners. We're also lucky that we have one of the best producers in the business, Randy Merkin. Without him the show wouldn't be nearly as good as it is. If anyone would know how important it is to have a great producer it's you...and we've got one.

Rick: There have obviously been some highs and lows during your ten years at ESPN. What was your highest high, and what was your lowest low?

Marc: The highest high was probably this most recent spring book. We were #3 men 25-54, with a 4.6, which is something we were really proud of. The show has really come a long way. Waddle and I had a 3.0 in our first book together.

The lowest low was probably the day Jeff Schwartz (ESPN Radio PD at the time) told us that Carmen and I were moving to nights. I was really down. Really pissed. But again, it could have been much worse. We could have lost our jobs completely. The other lowest low was probably at the beginning of my time here. We never knew if this station was going to make it in those first two years and that was pretty stressful, just wondering if was going to work out.

Rick: I listen to your show quite often and I've heard a few awkward moments. I mean that in a good way. When I worked with Steve and Garry they always used to say, if it can't be funny, let it be awkward. Sometimes those are the most memorable moments from a listener's point of view. Do you have any favorite examples of that?

Marc: Yes, but it doesn't exactly make me look good. One time I had just gotten back from a Police concert and had been drinking for about six hours. Waddle called me up and said "Hey, I'm town. Let's go out." Well, that doesn't happen often. When Waddle's in town, you go. I was pretty gone already by then, but I went. We were having a great time and I was talking to this 23 year old girl. Obviously there was a big age difference there, I'm 36, she's 23, so I said, "I may be 36 years old, but I have the body of an Adonis." Waddle told that story on the air, and it made me look like a loser and an idiot. People still mention that story to me. I guess it's funny to everyone else, but it was pretty embarrassing for me.

Rick: I really look forward to the Mark Giangreco segments on your show (every Tuesday). I've done a few shows with him over the years, and he is an absolute natural behind the mic. You've known him for a long time—all the way back to the days you served as his intern.

Marc: Actually, I knew him before then. When I was in 7th grade, in Junior High, they had us call people up to ask if we could shadow them for a day. I called all these sports guys in town, Jack Brickhouse, Johnny Morris, you name it. They all said no way. So I called the new guy at Channel 5, Mark Giangreco, and he said "Sure, no problem."

Rick: Anyone who listens to your show knows what a big Cubs fan you are. I'm a big fan too, obviously. I recently wrote about my second thoughts about bringing up my children to be Cubs fans. I know you don't have any kids yet, but if you do, will you bring them up to be Cubs fans too, or will you end this cycle of abuse with the next generation of Silvermans?

Marc: You mean "when" I do have kids, not "if". Let's make that clear. If my mom reads this and it says "if" instead of "when" there will be trouble. The answer is yes, absolutely, yes. I will raise them to be Cubs fans. In fact, I can't wait to do it. Some of my fondest memories are my childhood Cubs memories. I was 13 years old in 1984 and taking the Skokie swift to the games, and I loved every second of it. As much as I'm a pessimistic Cubs fan, I'll still make my kids Cubs fans, and I really look forward to that day. Granted, by then it will be 120 years since their last World Series championship...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Steve Zana & Laura Waluszko

I recently conducted this mini-interview of Steve & Laura for SHORE Magazine...

Steve Zana and Laura Waluszko // Indiana 105, Valparaiso

Steve is the host of the Dawn Patrol show every weekday morning on country station Indiana 105, and Laura is the cohost/newscaster. They have been doing the show together for nearly twelve years on Northwest Indiana’s highest-rated station. Laura is a local girl, originally from Hobart, Indiana.

Radio Philosophy

Steve: Talk about the community and what is going on. And have fun. People remember you had a good time this morning.

Laura: Entertain, inform and be yourself

Radio Influences

Steve: Wolfman Jack. “Oh my baby, I’m always on vacation!” Bigger than life. Great energy. Up-tempo. He is the very reason I do this.

Laura: My family and the people I work with every day, on the air and off.

Best Perks

Steve: I play music and talk for a living. The whole job is a perk. I have a mobile DJ service that I run, too. I do weddings and parties. The perk to that is people know me from the Dawn Patrol and will hire me to bring that fun to them . . . again, playing music and talking and making money. What’s not to like?

Laura: Being able to work in the early morning—really!

Something listeners don’t know about you

Steve: I am very self-conscious. I worry more than I should.

Laura: That I was on a game show several years ago (Sale of the Century) . . . wait, maybe they do know!

Best thing about doing radio here

Steve: The best part is I feel at home. I could never go to New York or Los Angeles. Just don’t see me fitting in there at all. And for what? Most of the people who get those big-time gigs are out of work in a year or two. Laura and I are going on our twelfth year. I have set my retirement date at January 20, 2027. That will be our thirtieth year. As long as they will have me till then.

Laura: One of the best things about doing radio in this town is . . . that we’re doing a radio show for so many cities and towns around Northwest Indiana—it’s great to be able to do a show for the region known as the Region.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Geoff Pinkus

UPDATED: 3/7/09

When I interviewed Geoff Pinkus late last year he was doing a Sunday night show on WIND. He is now the full-time overnight host at the station (Mid-4AM). His producer is former Stan & Terry producer Bonnie Sporn.

Geoff: Chicago Overnight has really been a great experience. We're getting calls from true third shifters, we hear from people on their way to work, on their way home. Because we're on a political station, we do talk the talk, but we're not restricted to one perspective and that's what our listeners seem to like.

Our listeners include the voices of true Chicagoans; policemen who want to vent, insomniacs that have found a friend, and truck drivers that need the companionship and more. Our guests are lively and informative; we had Vic Guistino, aka The Professor, give us the history of Chicago with all the nitty gritty stories, we had James Laski explain his personal sabotage with the dirty games of Chicago politics, and then we've also had bar owners telling us their 3am drink specials.

The discovery of this new sub-culture of late nighters has been exciting and beneficial for both the host and we thing the audience as well.

The original interview follows...

Geoff Pinkus is the host of "Living Large," heard every Sunday evening 5-7 PM on WIND-AM 560

Rick: How would you describe your show to people who have never heard it before?

Geoff: It's a man show. It's from a male perspective. We talk about what men like: women, cars, cigars, motorcycles, hunting, fishing, sports, and we take the male perspective because men have become emasculated in our society today. They've lost their way, always asking for permission instead of forgiveness. Women want men to lead. They want us to take charge. And that's what the show is about. In a good way, not in a chauvinistic way. We're there to help guide other men, and remind them what it means to be a man.

Rick: When I first heard your show my first thought was: "Hey, this guy is pretty good." How is it that I hadn't heard of you before?

Geoff: Well it's just one of those things. I have always wanted to do a radio show. It was my passion. I followed the business closely, but for many reasons, never pursued it. I was in the real estate business. Well about 2 ½ years ago a friend of mine says 'want to do some PSAs' and he thought it was so funny how excited I got just putting on the headphones. I really was excited too. I always wanted to be in radio. I practiced in the car, in the shower, you name it. So he told me if I really wanted to do radio, I should check out WRMN in Elgin. They were doing pretty good business doing a QVC kind of thing, but they also sold some brokered time. It was like $200, and I thought—what the heck. That sounds like fun.

So I hit the streets and got a sponsor to sponsor the whole thing. It was a real estate show, and it was so much fun—taking calls, being a wise guy, trying to do the whole Steve Dahl thing.

Anyway, one day a listener calls me up and says he thinks I need to go to a bigger station. He was a former sales guy at the Loop and knew people in the business, and he made some calls for me, and that's how I ended up here—doing Condo Talk. Unfortunately, my co-host at the time was this woman suggested by the sponsor, and she was terrible—always saying things like "Don't go there" when I would make a joke.

After a few months, the sponsor wanted to leave, so I had lunch with the GM. He asked me to take over selling brokered weekend programming, because I was doing a show already, and I could talk to these people—and I thought, yeah, what the heck. It was a good opportunity to get in the door and learn as much as I could about the business. Anyway, John Howell (photo) did a show with me on December 1st, I'll always remember that date, and when the show was over, he says, "Pinker, you should do a guy show. There's a guy who does a nationally syndicated cigar show, and you're better than him."

I knew right away that was a good idea. I could be myself, do my thing, and the demo was absolutely perfect. I called it "Living Large" and I've been doing it ever since.

Rick: I think it's safe to say that your show is not very much like the other shows on WIND—not exactly typical "Salem Broadcasting" fare. Has the content of your show ever caused problems with your bosses at the station?

Geoff: We do a pretty edgy show, but we've only run into a problem once. The company won't allow advertisers like casinos, gentleman's clubs, Viagra, and that sort of stuff. One time we talked about gentleman's clubs, and we got one hate e-mail. But other than that, we haven't had any problems.

Rick: In a lot of ways, you remind me a lot of Mike North. I think both of your shows are a testament to what can be accomplished if the talent takes a strong interest in selling or helping to sell his own program. Do you agree?

Geoff: 110%! I couldn’t agree more. I think if you have sales talent plus you have talent on the air, you can be a real plus to any radio station. If you're bringing in the money, they're not going to get rid of you. With the way radio is these days, there's a huge opportunity for people like me.

Mike North (photo) and I actually did the show together once, and he was really encouraging to me. He said it was nice to finally be talking to someone who gets it—someone who approaches it from the business side—someone who has a business brain.

Rick: Do you consider yourself a salesman who happens to do a radio show, or radio host who happens to be doing sales, or a combination of the two?

It's a combination. I'm a radio host that happens to have 30 years of sales experience. It's like it was meant to be to wait this long to do it, because now I can do it right. I sell my own time, and I can tell you that advertisers love it, LOVE it, when I go to a sales call myself. They say "You're the talent AND you're selling it?" That's not something they run into every day.

Rick: What are some of the traits from your sales background that help your on-air performance?

Geoff: I try to focus on the listeners first, by making the show entertaining and fun. I treat them like a client—if they're happy, I'm happy. Plus, I also understand how important the advertiser is. That's the business side. Like it or not, every single thing you hear or see in the media is driven by the sponsors and advertisers. So I get that. They are the lifeline.

Rick: On the other side of the coin, is there anything you've learned from doing a show that has helped you in your sales job?

Geoff: Yeah, if they listen to the show and they like you on the air, they're gonna buy from you. It's not even selling when you run into that. People buy from people they like. I get the biggest kick out of it when I run into people that like the show. It doesn't inflate my ego, it inflates my heart. Someone recognized my voice at Binny's the other day. That's just the greatest. I really appreciated that. It made my whole day. Who doesn't like the applause?

Rick: Your co-hostess is former Channel 5 television reporter Amy Jacobson. How did you meet Amy and how did she become a part of your show?

Geoff: I met her through my friend George. He runs a Greek media club, and they meet somewhere every month or so, and he invited me to stop by. Amy (photo) was there, and we hit off, and I had her on the show. Amy asked George if I might be up for having a regular female on the show, and I said I would, and we've been doing the show together now for a good month or so. She and Frank (Mahony, producer/co-host) and me have a great time.

Rick: Where do you see your show going from here?

Geoff: I'd like to get it to as many markets as possible, to get it into syndication. That's my ultimate goal. Then I'll really be "Living Large."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Len O'Kelly (2)

I have previously interviewed Len O'Kelly (2) for Chicago Radio Spotlight, but I also recently conducted this mini-interview of him for SHORE Magazine...

Len O’Kelly // WFGR Radio, Grand Rapids

Len O’Kelly grew up in Tinley Park, Illinois, before embarking on a long and successful radio career. After working in Chicago radio for many years, he recently made the move to oldies station WFGR (98.7 FM) in Grand Rapids. He is the program director, and the host of the morning show every weekday.

Radio Philosophy

My first rule for putting a radio show together is simple: no matter what happens in my life, the listener is here to have a good time. Put them first. Talk about things that they are interested in, rather than sticking to things that I am interested in. If there is overlap, great: it’s easier to be relatable. Which leads to my second rule: be real. I’m a real guy. I mow my own lawn. I wait in the line at the checkout. Everyday things happen to me, and I talk about that stuff. I don’t put on any airs of celebrity at all. I’m a guy with a job and a boss, just like my listener. I just happen to have a job I may like more than they do, and I am lucky to get paid for what I do. I bring my private life into the show to a point. My listeners know the names of my wife and some of my nieces and nephews.

Radio Influences

I was very lucky to grow up in Chicago listening to some of the greatest disk jockeys ever to take a hold of the mike. I was one of the stereotypical “radio under the pillow” kids in the ’70s, listening to John Records Landecker, Larry Lujack, Tommy Edwards, Fred Winston, Bob Sirott, etc. A lot of that rubbed off on me in that it made me want to do radio. I have been very fortunate to work with many of the names I heard as a kid. I have learned much from each of them. My hope is that some of the younger jocks in the building—we have five stations in my cluster, and the youngest was born the year I started in the business!—may be able to learn something from me.

Favorite Brush with Greatness

Most of my time in radio I’ve been on Oldies stations, so those are the acts that I have met. Guys like Freddy Cannon, Peter Noone and Bobby Vee are among the nicest guys you’d ever meet—it’s as if they actually appreciate still having the ability to play after all this time. Frankie Avalon and Dick Clark were very nice, as well. The Monkees were nice if you kept them separate.

Worst Advice

The suggestions to smoke and drink more cheap whiskey to “roughen” my voice may have been the worst. Glad I didn’t follow through on them!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Jack Landreth

Jack Landreth spent nearly a decade behind the scenes of high-profile Chicago radio shows like Don & Roma, Kevin Matthews, and Paul Harvey. He is now the program director of KXNT and KSFN in Las Vegas.


1985 WLS Chicago (Producer, Don Wade & Roma)
1992 Paul Harvey News Chicago (Producer)
1992 WLUP Chicago (Producer)
1994 KFMB San Diego (Executive Producer)
1996 WWTN-FM Nashville (PD)
1998 KNST Tucson (PD)
2001 KTSA San Antonio (PD)
2003 KXNT/KSFN/CBS Net Las Vegas (PD)

Rick: As a Chicago boy, it must have been a big thrill to begin your career working for the legendary Big 89. Was that the station you listened to growing up?

Jack: I remember as a kid listening to all of my favorite jocks. Lujack, Landecker,Winston, all of ‘em. I could not get enough of their banter. I loved the interaction, not only with callers, but with each other. I craved anything and everything that would happen on the radio station. I remember a charity basketball game that WLS put together when I was in 4th or 5th grade. Out in the parking lot, during half time, I approached my hero as he was smoking a cigarette (yes it was). Lujack (photo) actually said to me, and I’ll never forget it, “hi kid.” That was it, but that was enough. I loved that station and those personalities from then on.

But as with all teenagers, my tastes changed and I listened to more and more radio. While my parents listened to the great Wally Phillips, and Bob Collins, I absorbed everything that was being done by Brandmeier, Murphy, as well as the not so knowns as Chuck Britton and Jeff Davis. After school, I went in to advertising, but didn’t like it all that much.

In the mid 80’s I met Chuck at an event, and we became friends. One day after hanging out at the WLS studio, Chuck introduced me to some guy in a tie whom he referred to as the Program Director. I didn’t realize it, but John Gehron (photo) asked if I wanted to help out at a remote they did every week at Ed Debevics. I said yes, and for I think it was $30 a week, my start in radio became reality. From there, I became a board-op, sometimes fill in jock, and general do anything kid. A few years later, when Larry Lujack originally retired from radio, I knew it came full circle. While we were all helping Uncle ‘Lar clean out his office, I had a plant that he took from me, put in the back seat of his car, and slammed the door. In only the way my radio hero could, he turned to me, ready to leave radio forever, put out his hand, and said to me those words that any wet-behind-the-ears radio kid wanted to here. In his booming voice with the engine running, he looked at me and said “Good luck in whatever the f*** it is you want to do with your life”. Quite a long way from “hi kid”!

Rick: You got your start working for Don & Roma. If I'm not mistaken, you were their producer when the station switched formats and became a talk-radio station. What was that like in those early days of the talk radio format; the growing pains, the listener reactions, and the transition of the Don & Roma show from the music format to the talk format?

Jack: Actually, I wasn’t D&R’s producer until shortly after the switch to talk. If I recall, there were only a few of us that were at WLS in the old days that transitioned to talk. In the latter days of music, I called it the “Glen” station, because I think we played Glen Campbell, Glenn Miller and Glen Frey, and probably all within an hour! John Gehron had long ago left and we had been rudderless for sometime.

When Drew Hayes and Tom Tradup came in, it was a refreshing change that had everyone excited. I felt horrible for some, including one of the great talents that I had admired since I was a teenager. For many years, I was board-op-ing Tom Snyder and Sally Jesse Rafael’s show, which came off the sat at 7pm. John Landecker (photo) was doing afternoons, and I would come in the station and sit in my studio, the famous “Studio A”, with a sandwich and listen to John everyday. He would be in “Studio E” (High atop the downtown Burger King), and as I would wait for board control, I’d listen to all the great bits I had loved! The last days before the switch to talk were tough, as I knew John would not be a part of the new format.

As for D&R, the change to talk was nothing to them, as I always though that the music got in the way of their mid-day show, so the switch to mornings was easy. What was different, was show prep. I know this sounds like one of those “when I was a child” moments, but we did NOT have internet back in those morning show days. I would be up around 1am, go through video from the night before, get in the car around 2:45am and head down LSD. I would pull around Belmont to see if Don & Roma were at the bus stop, and if they were, they would climb in and we would head to the Tribune building to pick up a bunch of newspapers. We would all meet up in the conference room, chopping articles, highlighting headlines, running through video tape, and put a show together. It was tedious, but it was the most thourough show prep I had ever seen. To this day, if I fill in a morning show, I still do it the same way. I chop the paper, and rip through what I can. Screw the internet!! There’s nothing like the smell of news ink on your fingers in the morning!

There were days that we may not frame a question correctly, or maybe we would take a bit too far (Rinny?). But those were the days we didn’t know any better and just had fun. I remember some days Don would say “Get Rush on the phone”, and I would call Limbaugh’s New York apartment and BS with the new guy on the phone. Or I would call a friend of mine who worked with then VP Dan Quayle, and he would jump on the phone. It was a pretty cool time for News-Talk, and we just did it by instinct.

Rick: Tell us something we don't know about Don and Roma.

Jack: They’re married. Okay, it was still a secret when I left!

Rick: After leaving WLS, you worked with an even bigger legend--Hall of Fame broadcaster Paul Harvey. He was getting up in age then already. Can you believe that he's still doing it now, sixteen years later?

Jack: Every day, I would get to the Harvey offices and listen to Paul’s 7:30 broadcast. When he was finished, he would always stop by my office, take half a step in, and in his booming delivery, exclaim “Good Morning, Jackson!”. I will never forget those days. It was THE Paul Harvey, but I always saw him as the news guy. If I put him on any other pedestal, I would never have gotten my job done! Mr. Harvey will always be a news guy no matter what, but first and foremost, he was a family guy. The love he had for his wife Angel, and the pride he had for Paul Jr. was so prevalent during the short time I worked for him. Mr. Harvey is a legend in real man’s clothes. I love him!

Rick: What was your role when you worked with him, and can you give us an insight into how he puts his newscast together?

Jack: I would go through every newspaper from every town in the country. Again, this was before internet, so all of the “For What it’s Worth” stories came from the small town print papers. Besides working on those stories, I would help out where I could from mail to phones. In Paul Harvey’s office, no one had titles, no one was better than anyone else. Most of the time, Paul changed the ribbons on the news wire machines, simply because he was the first one in.

He would get in early, 4am or so, and put on his blue smock. It was one of those smocks that doctors wear, complete with an ABC logo patch, and the name “Paul” stitched on the right pocket. All of the wire machines had spit out stories all night, and he would scour each and every fiber of those paper rolls. He would then go into his office with the stack of stories, and start typing his scripts, large type and double spaced. He would then take the daily stories, add his famous live reads (Page two!), stack the stories and include whatever we had for him. Then off to the studio where he did Paul Harvey News for the world to hear. After that newscast, it was off to Rest of the Story land, and whatever else needed to be done. When the morning was over, he would walk down to the garage and drive off in his Buick. Yes, he drove a Buick every day. And yes, it took his assistant June Westgaard years and years to convince him NOT to park on Lower Wacker!

Rick: After Paul Harvey, you made another leap...this time going to work for Kevin Matthews at the Loop. I can't even imagine that transition. Can you give us a few examples pointing out just how different those two experiences were?

Jack: One of the first things I did with Kevin was to write a faux “Rest of the Story” with the subject being anyone from Kevin Butler of the Bears to Steve Dahl. I thought it was a fun thing to do, but Mr. Harvey was not amused. It was the first time that I didn’t think of how my actions could hurt someone else. I of course apologized to Mr. Harvey and realized that the Loop was a VERY different animal.

Both talents had similar traits. Both Paul and Kevin (photo) were unbelievably talented in what they did. Both had egos the size of Lake Michigan, and both were somewhat strange ducks. My experience with Kevin was however, much more difficult. He was one of those hosts that no matter what you did, it was wrong. Yes I knew a lot of that was the bit, but I wondered if I had made the right choice. After some time, I would come to learn that Matthews, along with Brandmeier, Steve & Garry, and later on, Bonaduce were talents that would help me focus on what mattered the most….entertaining the audience with compelling content. That’s what mattered most. Years later, I talked to Steve, and thanked him for those years. Every now and then I run into Danny, and love to talk those old “Loop” days. I sent Kevin an e-mail when he moved back to Grand Rapids, and I’m sure I’ll here back one of these days.

Rick: In the mid-90s you made that leap out of the market, away from your home town, and it's obviously worked out for you. I don't think a lot of radio people realize that the transition from executive producer of a big time show to program director is a logical move. You're going from essentially being the program director of a show, to a program director of a station. What have been some of the biggest challenges for you in that transition?

Jack: Honestly, there really weren’t any BIG challenges. The most difficult transition was all of the suit stuff like budgets, quarterlies, and meetings. But the core of the job, creating content, was easy. Whether it was San Diego, Nashville, Arizona, San Antonio or Vegas…there is always a need for great audio content. A producer has to think of the show and direct it to garner ratings and revenue. A PD has to do the same with all of the shows. And if you take the sales equation out of your job description, you won’t have a job. One of the most important things I learned as a PD as opposed to a producer is that this is a business, and must be successful as a business or the fun won’t happen. Another challenge was to never take anything personally in this business. I love people that are into what we do, and whether a competitor or a co-worker, we are all in this small broadcast world together.

Rick: I know that in your current job (PD in Vegas), you were an important cog in the recent Penn Jillette show, which also aired here in Chicago. I've met Penn several times over the years and he's one of those larger than life personalities (and not just because he's so physically big). What were some of the highlights and lowlights of that experience.

Jack: I’ll start with the lowlights. When the show started, it was part of the whole “Free FM’ rollout. New shows all over the country, to all sorts of newly formatted talk stations, with “regional” programming was the new directive. It was quite a challenge for anyone involved, whether it was New York with David Lee Roth, Chicago with Rover or West Coast with Carolla. We were this one hour, fill-in-the-blank show that was just sort of …. there… in the beginning. Penn was awesome. He had an idea of the show, and really wanted this to work. But in those early weeks, there were so many people from so many places telling him what to do. It really sucked and I think the show suffered some early hits. Phones came from New York so we had no idea who was calling or who would fit during a segment. Guests were nil if any. Nobody was on the same page with the show, and we saw it going into a steep dive. I met with then CBS President of Programming Rob Barnett, and just basically said I’m taking over the show, this is how it will run and that’s it.

We moved phones into the Slammer Studio (Penn’s house), and focused daily on what we would do to make a good show. Whether it was celebrity guests coming out to the house for the show, or fun elements each day such as Monkey Tuesday, Ask Layman Penn, or Pull of the Weasel, we gained a lot of momentum. Those days were some of the best days I had in radio. It was raw, at its newest, and Penn was an incredible talent to work with. He would learn every aspect of the radio business, and apply everything he learned. The highlights were each and every day after those first few months. It was such a pleasure to be a part of that team, along with Penn, Michael Goudeau and Patrick DiFazio. We ended the show knowing we should leave while we were on-top during the Free FM days. We have lunch together every week or so and talk radio often, and with all of that said, I don’t think those were the last days of Penn Radio. Stay tuned!

Rick: Do you ever make it back to Chicago?

Jack: Every chance I get! And every time I get back, I always have to make that commute downtown, park somewhere where I know the meter will run out too quick, and walk the old haunts. The last time I was back, I met up with Don & Roma for the last part of the show, and we made our way next door to have breakfast. Roma ordered eggs with lobster pieces, and I believe Don ordered the same. Not to be different, I had the same. But as we talked the old days of radio, and the new days of radio, something happened which confirmed to me that dreams certainly do come true…...

Don paid for breakfast.

I’ll be back!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wendy Snyder (2)

I have previously interviewed Wendy Snyder for Chicago Radio Spotlight, but I also recently conducted this mini-interview of her for SHORE Magazine...

Wendy Snyder // WLS Radio, Chicago

Wendy Snyder started her radio career as a rock jock at the Loop in Chicago during the ’80s, and has since cohosted radio shows with the likes of Tony Fitzpatrick, Bill Leff, Buzz Kilman and Steve Dahl. She is now the traffic reporter on the Don & Roma show every weekday morning on WLS (AM 890), and the cohost of Women of Mass Discussion every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.

Radio Philosophy

I just want the show to be entertaining. I love to tap into stuff that everyone else can relate to, and talking to the listeners is the best part. I love it when they get involved in the show and play along. I also think it’s really important to be yourself. In the old days of radio, you really felt like you knew the person on the air. We seem to have gotten away from that. Many people on the air are trying to be something they’re not. No one seems to be true to themselves anymore. What you see is what you get with me. I can hang with the boys and swear like a sailor, but when the situation presents itself, I can really act like a lady, and a professional one at that.

Best Advice

My radio pal, Buzz Kilman, always says, “Never miss your company holiday party.” And, I have to tell you, I never have.

Best Perks

Perks? There used to be plenty. You could get any and all the CDs you wanted, and concert tickets aplenty, but not anymore. Nowadays it’s even tough to get a free T-shirt. The times they are a-changin’.

Something Listeners Don’t Know about You

I like to do little projects around the house, many involving a drill. I grow tomatoes and cucumbers every year. I know my way around a Weber Grill—gas, of course. And believe it or not, I like the girly stuff, too. I am obsessed with shoes and purses. I am a total makeup freak. I am also way into cooking. I have really fancy Wusthof Trident knives, and I know how to use them. I also spent about 50 bucks on a black Peugeot pepper mill. I like to pretend I’m hosting a show on the Food Network when I’m in my kitchen.

Best Thing about Doing Radio Here

I have lived in the Chicago area my whole life, and the people in this city are completely accepting. When they like you, they really like you. It’s a total feel-good.