Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spotlight Updates

I've interviewed the following people over the past two years and they have all undergone a change of some kind (either personal or professional) since our original interviews. So, I dropped them each a line...

Todd Manley
When I interviewed Todd in November 2007, he was the creative director at WGN. He has since moved to St. Louis and is the program director of KTRS. I asked him how he is liking his new gig...

Todd: I’m lovin’ the work. The team here is full of energy, and can do it all. You’d dig it, because that’s your background. Sling sound. Host. Book. Package. Kiss babies. I just got our FIX-IT guy booked as the builder on the St. Louis episode of ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition !!

August 18th we re-launched our morning show – I reunited our current star with his former partner and they’re really a great combo platter of jib and jab and have a taste of Bill and Wendy(aka Q101 days). I always loved those two. It will be a re-freshing way to do News-Talk. Also very proud of our web-site – – Our PM drive star has a tremendous blog internal to the site. I sure miss Chicago – but this has been a really rewarding adventure.

Bob Stroud
When I originally interviewed Bob Stroud in June of 2007, he was denying a published report in Bill Zwecker's column that he was thinking about marriage. He is now married, so I asked if he would like to revise those statements...

Bob: Well the "potential wedding" became reality in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on February 7th, 2008. (the date Buddy Holly was laid to rest in Lubbock, Texas in 1959....very important for a guy like me to have a date that means something to me so I don't forget what it REALLY means to me now). No family, no friends, no muss, no fuss, just us, a beach and a justice of the peace who we couldn't understand. Thank god they provided a translator or who knows what I might have been saying "I Do" to. And then I see where those copycats Susanna Homan and Tom Negovan went and got married as well. Sheesh, some people. Anyway, she is the former Diane Totura and she's the best friend I've ever had. And this February is the 50 year anniversary of Buddy Holly's funeral and our 1st anniversary. I'm trying to figure out a way how we can celebrate both.

Jenniffer Weigel & Clay Champlin
I interviewed Jenniffer and her husband (and fellow broadcaster) Clay Champlin in December of 2007, not too long after her book "Stay Tuned: Conversations with Dad from the Other Side" came out. She has since turned that into a one woman play, and I asked her about the status of that show...

Jen: The producer of Tony N Tina's wedding has picked up my one woman show, "I'm Spiritual, Dammit!"! It re-opens at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts on Dec 10th. The show is based on my book and talks about my life in broadcasting and all that got me where I am, so broadcasting is definitely in there! It runs until Feb 1st- on Wednesday and Thursday nights 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm.

Cara Carriveau
I originally interviewed Cara back in February of 2007 and updated her status in May of this year, but just a few months after I did so, she got a brand new gig--midday host at WTMX. I asked her how things were going in the new job...

Cara: The old saying "when one door closes, another opens" is so true! I am so happy working for Bonneville hosting middays at WTMX. I love coming on after Eric & Kathy, a morning show I've long listened to and admire even more strongly now that I've witnessed first hand the mass amount of work that goes into it. And to be back working for Bonneville, the best company in the broadcasting industry, is awesome!

I worked really hard to earn this position - unlike other radio stations that claim they are doing a nationwide search but ultimately promote from within rather quickly, WTMX truly did take months deciding on who would fill the midday slot because they really were looking all over the country. Since I was competing with a nationwide search I put together quite a unique demo package and even designed a specific website just for the job including a power-point presentation about why they should hire me (taking the time to learn HTML really paid off). When the position was finally offered to me, I was absolutely thrilled. My bosses didn't choose me just for my on air presence - they also recognize my ability to harness the internet and are also utilizing my talents in many ways in that arena, which I truly enjoy. Check out my Mix web page "Cara's Connection" for a constantly growing amount of content.

Besides hosting middays at WTMX, I continue to host my Cara's Basement podcast, provide artist interviews for The Chicago Music Guide, supply content for the NBC Chicago website, and co-host a podcast with my husband Bill Busch called Fitness From The Inside Out. I'm really busy but I enjoy everything I'm doing so it's a pleasure.

Life is very good right now and I'm thankful every day for not only having a full-time job but having one that I love so much. Especially in this crazy economy. I'm well aware of the many talented broadcasters who are currently "on the beach" and my advice to them is to take this opportunity to learn something new and enjoy some much needed R&R while you have the chance. I consider my time in between gigs a blessing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Kevin "Koz" Koske is the afternoon host at the Mix, WTMX (101.9 FM)

Rick: Despite the fact that you've worked all over the country (L.A., Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver), you're a Chicago boy. Compare the degree of difficulty integrating your show into a market you don't know at all to doing a show in your home town.

Koz: I think it was easier to do a show in a market I hadn’t grown up in. Growing up listening to major-market radio here in Chicago and Los Angeles made it easy to bring a big market approach to smaller markets. I always want things to sound bigger than life.

As far as my show, it’s been easy to plug myself into a new market because the same rule applies no matter where you are. Talk about what other people are talking about. I’ve never been a “guy from Chicago” doing a show in Palm Springs (Photo: KCMJ-Palm Springs studios 1991), L.A., Denver or anywhere else I’ve been. I’m just a guy on the radio who involves listeners in the show, taps into their lifestyle and keeps things local with the overall goal being to “marry the market.”

Being on the air in Chicago, my hometown, has been a dream come true. There’s a sense of pride that comes with it along with a dose of humility. A lot of the personalities I grew up listening to are still a big part of this city. It’s privilege to be on the air along with them.

Rick: You grew up in Chicago during the 70s and 80s, during a time when some pretty outstanding radio personalities graced the airwaves. Who were your favorites growing up?

Koz: I was always glued to ‘LS as a kid. Everything about it was magical and bigger than life. I loved listening to Larry Lujack and Tommy Edwards for “Animal Stories” and, of course, “Boogie Check” with Landecker.

But when I was 13, I discovered “Steve and Garry” and that’s when I fell in love with radio. I would run home everyday from Grove Jr. High to listen to them and I taped everything they did, so I could listen to it when they weren’t on. Of course, my mom didn’t think the show was appropiate and I lost my radio more than once while listening to “The Worst Seat in the House.” It only made me listen more.

Then came Brandmeier. A group of us would sit around a lunch table at school and talk about his show like you would talk about a TV show. Exploding Phone Booths, Mouth Guitar Contests, Piranha Man and, like Steve Dahl, Brandmeier had a band! Life was good and radio was great until I moved to L.A. when I was 15, but I had friends send me tapes of Steve & Garry, Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews, Alan Kabel, Spike O’Dell and anything else I could get my hands on.

Rick: I think it's safe to say that your show has a certain level of irreverence. I love your show rules. Would you mind sharing those with people who may not be familiar with your show?

Koz: I think any hint of irreverence came from doing the “Sorry List” at the end of my show. Apologizing to people while playing Patsy Cline has left it’s mark.

The show rules were created on the train one night. I came up with 10 because 3 didn’t seem like enough. A few of the rules…
Rule 1: What happens on the show stays on the show.
I don’t have a podcast. So obviously, everything that happens stays on the show.

Rule 2: I always answer my own phone.
I’ve never had a phone-op or a producer. Nothing is better than an unprompted listener and their reactions. I don’t ever want to miss an opportunity to make a listener a star.

Rules 6 and 7: Indiana calls are subject to humor and Wisconsin calls are subject to “stereo-type.” These are in the spirit of good old Chicago rivalry.

Rule 9: Friday email must be sent in ALL CAPS. It’s FRIDAY! If it arrives in lower case, it gets answered on Monday.

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

Koz: (Photo: Koz and friends at Wrigley) I joke around that my job description is to make sure that you are not doing your job. My “Kill a Half Hour” (3:20p-3:50p) is themed around that and there’s a web element to the show with Koz’s Corner for anyone who wants to screw around at work or just dive deeper into something mentioned on the show. I like to think I give people an escape from the everyday worries of life. If I can take somebody’s mind off their problems for a minute then it’s been a good day.

Rick: In the PPM ratings, the Mix is a powerhouse. PPM ratings have also shown that middays and afternoons may be just as important (if not even more important) as morning drive. Has that changed your approach in anyway?

Koz: My approach has always been to do every show as if it were my last. That hasn’t changed with PPM. You still have to make every break count and you still have to relate to your audience. You have to work hard to leave an impression with them that keeps them wanting more.

Rick: The Mix is owned by Bonneville. You've worked for all sorts of different companies (Entercom, CBS, Gannett, Salem) so you can answer this better than anyone. Working for Bonneville really is a different experience than working for any other radio company, isn't it? What are the differences as you see them?

Koz: I’ve had the privilege of working for some great companies during my career and to now be working for Bonneville is a blessing. Bonneville has an exceptional work environment and their commitment to this industry, as well as the community, is really something special.

Rick: Recently one major company announced that they would start voice-tracking evenings in addition to overnights (which many companies already voice-track). Are you worried about the future of music jocking?

Koz: I was sad to hear about this because traditionally, nights have been a testing ground for new talent in smaller markets. You still have to put talent on your radio station to be successful, so I think there’s always going to be a need for jocks. But consolidation weeded out a lot of “C” students and now economic budget cuts are taking their toll. No question it’s a tough time. For me, as a former programmer, I’m concerned about where the next generation of talent is going to come from and what opportunities they will be presented with because they are the future of our industry.

Rick: You've been in Chicago now for four years. What have been a few of your favorite moments on the air?

Koz: Here are a few...

• Asking Gwen Stefani what her favorite cuss word was.
• Pitching Simon Cowell on the idea of turning the presidential election into a reality competition called “American President.” He liked it.
• As a father, being a part of “Eric and Kathy’s 36-Hour Radiothon” for Children’s Memorial Hospital here in Chicago.
• Putting my mom on the air for the first time (right after I started at The Mix) only to have her put me on hold. It was her way of telling me to never do it again.

Rick: We share a sickness. I saw the picture of you and your son dressed in full Cubbie-regalia--which means you've also passed along this sickness to the next generation (as I have). Is it ever going to happen for us or are we both engaging in a form of child abuse by making our children into Cubs fans?

Koz: You know the Chicago rule, “You are what your dad is.” Austin just turned 2 and he’s already seen the Cubs in the play-offs twice and the Bears play in the Super Bowl. How long did we have to wait to see that? This child is leading a charmed life. But as much as I want the Cubs to win the World Series, I’m terrified of the thought. Can you imagine? If we finally win it, what the hell are we gonna do?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jeff Schwartz

Jeff Schwartz was a key force in shaping Chicago radio stations like The Loop, The Score, WCKG, and ESPN Radio during his 35-plus years in the business.

(Photo by Paul Natkin)

Rick: How did you break into the business?

Schwartz: My first job was working for Van Heusen shirts. Every son wants to follow in his father's shoes, and my dad was a clothing salesman, so I did it too. But they wanted to transfer me to New Orleans, and I just didn't want to move there. So I called up Bob Sirott (photo), who was at WBBM-FM at the time, and has been a great friend since kindergarten. I said "Bob, get me an interview. All I need is an interview and I'll take it from there." And that's what started my radio career in sales. This was in the early 70s, and they told me "You got the biggest list in the business...the yellow pages."

Rick: From there did you go directly to the Loop?

Schwartz: No, actually then I went to WDHF/WMET, and from there I went to the Loop. Les Elias was the GM then, and offered me the job of general sales manager.

Rick: I always thought you were in marketing/promotions at the Loop because of Disco Demolition.

Schwartz: I didn't move into marketing until later. When Jimmy de Castro (photo) started as the GM at the Loop, I had a hard time. I liked Jimmy a lot as a person, but we had a totally different way of selling. I couldn't do it his way. That's when we came up with the idea of my moving to promotions. They created the VP/Promotions job for me then.

Rick: So you were still the sales manager back in July of 1979 during Disco Demolition?

Schwartz: Yes, I was the GSM, but I always involved myself in promotions. I realized it even back then that we weren't just selling numbers. I couldn't sell numbers. I never did. I always sold emotion. And those promotions were part of what I did. Dave Logan was the promotion director in those days, and if you look at the video you can see him running on the field. He got to do the fun stuff. I had to get on a plane the day after Disco Demolition to calm down our biggest client in Detroit who wanted to cancel all of his advertising after witnessing the spectacle.

Rick: I've heard conflicting stories about who came up with Disco Demolition...was it you, Mike Veeck, Steve Dahl, a combination of the three of you?

Schwartz: There wouldn't have been a Disco Demolition if Steve wasn't blowing up disco records on the air at the time. That's where the idea starts. I was having dinner with Mike Veeck (photo), and at the time the White Sox were drawing nobody—maybe 5, 6 thousand a night. Mike said "We're dying here. Do you have any ideas?" They had just put in the exploding scoreboard, and I suggested that we do the promotion with Steve blowing up the records.

After that, it was a bunch of people working together to make it happen. Mike Veeck never said no to a crazy idea, I never said no to a crazy idea, but Steve was worried about attendance, and thought that nobody was going to be there. He thought we would draw maybe 10,000 people, which was better than they normally drew, but it still would have looked like an empty stadium. He wasn't thrilled by that prospect. I'd like to tell you that I knew it was going to be much bigger than that, but in reality, I thought the most that would show up would be maybe 25 or 26,000.

I've always been the type of person that says "Never say you can't do it. Just figure it out after you agree." And that's how it was with Disco Demolition. The event itself was a little overwhelming, but it's really neat now to have been a part of history. When WTTW ran the special about Disco Demolition a few years ago, I got my real reward. My daughter was watching it with my grandchildren, who were very young then, 2 1/2 , 3 years old. And my granddaughter looks up and sees her ZZ Pops (that's what she calls me) on the television, and she walks up and kisses the screen. That's pretty special. That's what it's all about.

But again, nothing would have happened without Steve. There was no idea without him, because he was the one who came up with the whole concept on the air, and he was the one that inspired all the people to show up.

Rick: You eventually left the Loop after Steve lost his job, and started up your own company called Promotional Rescue. You were basically a consultant, right?

Schwartz: Yes, I had an opportunity to leave and start my own business and did that for eight or nine years. It wasn't until I started consulting the Score in their early days that I was dragged back into the business. They talked me into coming back fulltime.

Rick: For the Score and WXRT, right?


Rick: I've always thought that must have been a strange combination of personalities: the mellow dudes at WXRT and the manic Score hosts like Mike North and Dan McNeil. Was that as big of a psychological yo-yo as it sounds?

Schwartz: My nickname is psychological yo-yo! Isn't that what medication is for? (Laughs) The Score side was easier for me because I'm a maniac. The XRT side was harder because it was a totally different culture. I was never a die-hard XRT fan even before I started working there, although the people there were great'll never meet finer people than Terri Hemmert and Lin Brehmer. But it was a different mentality. I was the kind of guy who jumped off the ledge then thought, now what? They were much more analytical. It really got to be a bit too much for me. I went to Harvey Wells and told him that I couldn't do both anymore. Poor Harvey was being pushed into so many different directions at once; he was in charge of XRT, the Score and WCKG. You just can't do all of those jobs at once. It's too much. He made me Operations Director at the Score because he knew that he could trust me to handle it, and take it off his plate. That was my first foray into programming, and it was all because of this multiple managerial stuff, which by the way, I think has been terrible for the radio industry.

Rick: As someone who has been instrumental in both sports stations in town, and is now associated with neither, which station do you listen to, and who do you think is doing a better job covering Chicago sports?

Schwartz: To be totally honest, I don't listen to either one that much anymore. When Mike North (photo) left, I really stopped listening to the Score. I'm not just saying that because I still work with Mike on some of his projects. I just think they lost a lot of emotion. His departure left a big void. The one guy I still think "has it" there is Mike Murphy. He gets radio. Listen to his show and you can hear his emotion coming through the speakers. Same with Dan McNeil at ESPN. I listen to Mac, Jurko and Harry because all three of those guys don't just say it, they feel it. You don't have to agree with them to appreciate what they bring. The listeners really respect their authenticity. The same was true with Mike North. I like Rush Limbaugh for the same reason. I don't agree with him very often, but he is a guy who really understands how to do talk radio. So, I guess to answer your question, if I'm really pinned down, I have to admit that I listen to ESPN more than I listen to the Score.

Rick: After leaving the Score you ended up running the FM talker WCKG for several years, and were reunited with Steve Dahl. I know you were gone from there before it blew up, but I think you probably have better insight than most about what went wrong. What, in retrospect, were the mistakes that led to the demise of WCKG?

Schwartz: When the "end of Howard Stern" happened, they frankly didn't have a plan. I put together a list of things that I thought needed to happen, from air personalities to ways to market them. I talked to Steve a lot before I sent that list in, because I needed Steve to support it. That was his radio station. We needed his audience to endorse this new show. We talked about a whole bunch of different options, but New York just wasn't listening to us. Rob Barnett and the Hollanders thought they knew better. So, when ESPN came to me with an offer, I said, "yup I'm out." The timing was perfect because I knew it was going to fail at CKG, and I didn't want to be there when it happened. Even the name "Free FM" was designed to fail. What the heck does that even mean? Was that a swipe at Howard because he wasn't free anymore?

New York just didn't get that Howard wasn't even the most important voice on our station, Steve Dahl (photo) was. Chicago radio is so much better than New York radio has ever been. We had the talent here...we had all these options, but they didn't understand this market because it's not at all like New York. New York doesn't have the anomaly of WGN—so they couldn't understand it. New York doesn't have an anomaly like Eric and Kathy...where did they come from? How could anyone explain the success of that show to New York? You and I would have been successful if we had millions of dollars in outdoor advertising. I'm obviously talking with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but you know what I'm saying. I think Eric does a real good job—I'm not besmirching him or his show at all. But it takes money to make money. These guys didn't think that advertising worked to sell their own product, which is, ironically, a product based on selling advertising. Does that make any sense? Plus, they actually OWN the companies that OWN the billboards! I never understood why they wouldn't use their own power to promote themselves.

Rick: Your last radio job in Chicago was program director of ESPN Radio. Can I just ask you a question about that organization there? What is the deal with all the suspensions of air talent? I've never heard of a station doling out so many suspensions, and it's not like I haven't worked at radio stations with controversial talent.

Schwartz: Oh boy, that's a tough one. How can I explain it? Hmmm. You know when you were a kid--your best friend's parents may have had a different set of rules than your parents did? That doesn't mean your rules were right or your friend's rules were right. Everyone just looked at it a little differently. ESPN had their own set of rules and those who worked there had to live up to the rules.

Rick: Are you saying that those weren't really your rules, or that it's not the way you would have done it?

Schwartz: Let's put it this way. When you get hired for a job, you don't ask "By the way, what's your suspension policy?" It's just not something you think is going to come up very often. I think it's a matter of public record that the Mac, Jurko and Harry (photo) stuff was not from me. I was caught in the middle of some situations, but those were the rules in place before I got there. I personally think suspensions only hurt, they don't really help much. It's like giving a timeout—and that's not the way I raised my daughter. I just had a different philosophy. That's just my opinion. That's not to say that people shouldn't be reprimanded, especially at a place like that. Doing sports talk, boys will be boys, and sometime emotions get the best of them. In those cases, reprimands may be in order.

Rick: You were also there for the birth of the Oldies station WZZN, which has now changed ownership and become WLS-FM. What do you think of the re-branding of that station, and were you surprised by how well that station is doing in the PPM ratings?

Schwartz: NO! I'm not surprised it's a hit. The WLS re-branding, though, doesn't really matter anymore because of the PPM. That would have helped more in the diary system. But as for loads of people listening to Oldies, no, that doesn't surprise me at all. I once told Harvey Pearlman when he was the GM at Magic, that they should market it as "everybody's second favorite radio station." That's what Oldies is. It's everybody's 2nd favorite. Nobody dislikes the Oldies. Every song is a proven hit that everybody knows. It's like a favorite old pair of blue jeans. Totally comfortable. In radio, finishing second is not like being the runner up in the World Series. Second in radio is HUGE. Having said that though, it will all come down to whether or not they can sell it. Let's wait to see if it turns into dollar and cents.

Rick: What are you up to these days?

Schwartz: That's what everybody asks me now. I've been keeping busy. This past year I've worked with Mike North helping him put together projects after the Score. I believe in Mike, I've worked with him on lots of projects for lots of years, as an advisor and friend. I've known him 26 years. I really don't want to work fulltime anymore, so I've only been doing that in an advisory role recently. When Mike starts up his Comcast show in January, I'm not sure where I will go from here. My wife and I have even talked about maybe moving out West. Right now I'm spending a lot of time with the grandkids.

Rick: Do you still keep up with the radio business?

Schwartz: I still listen to the radio, but I'm sad about what I hear, or more importantly, what I don't hear. It's not what it once was. There are no mom and pops anymore. Every station is owned by a huge corporation and every advertiser is owned by a huge corporation. Now when someone is handed a phone book like they did to me when I started at WBBM, the salesman has got no chance.

Do I miss radio? Sure. I miss what it was, but I really believe that the stock market has ruined the radio industry, and that's a shame.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Erich "Mancow" Muller is the host of a syndicated morning radio show, as well as a talk show on WLS every weekday morning from 9-11.

Rick: I can tell that saying the call letters W-L-S is a thrill for you. What do those call letters mean to you?

Mancow: Actually, Fred Winston the radio legend yelled at me for not selling those famed call letters! “It’s double U L S!” He instructed. WLS? Wow! Me on WLS.

Rick: Mike Fowler was your GM when you first came to Chicago, and he was obviously instrumental in bringing you back on the radio in Chicago (on WLS). You've been known to take your shots at management over the years, but you've always gotten along with Mike. What is it about him that makes him different?

Mancow: It’s a strange thing I have always gotten along with general managers and the money people. They see the value in my art. It’s the program directors that are mostly failed on-air radio people. They are frustrated & jealous of what I do. The worst was a gentleman named Mike Stern who went to The Second City school of yucks and thought he was wacky. He wanted to be me! Creepy.

Rick: I've heard that we're going to hear a little more Erich on this new show and a little less Mancow.

Mancow: I’ve hated “Mancow” since I coined it. People loved it & it stuck. You can’t pick nicknames they pick you.

Rick: Doing two shows a day (the syndicated morning show and the WLS show) has to be a challenge. Is the plan for this WLS show to be a completely different animal from the syndicated show?

Mancow: The process of 7 hours of radio a day is daunting. That’s what I’m doing--all in. How it will all gel is still up in the air.

Rick: A few years ago you came up with something you called "The Ten Commandments for Morning Hosts" after that stunt in California resulted in the death of a woman who drank too much water. What kind of a reaction have you gotten from other radio people around the country?

Mancow: I tried to warn stupid shallow hosts to wake up. They didn’t evolve and now they are losing their jobs. Evolve or die. Those that laughed it off did so at their own peril.

Rick: I can usually tell the influences of a radio personality based on the show they do, but with you I'm not so sure. Who are some of yours?

Mancow: My influences are so evident to me. “Lost in Space” set my imagination into hyper-drive. Also, TV Shows like “Ultra Man” and “Johnny Socko.” The music of “The Kinks” which featured the voice of reason and doubt through the bravado. Even at my rock jock baddest I always expressed my fears & weaknesses. On radio it was “The Shadow” and “Inner Sanctum” and the comedy of Stan Freberg and The Firesign Theater.

Rick: Fairly or not, you've acquired a reputation of "not working well with others." I think part of that comes from your very public feuds with other radio personalities in town, and part of that comes from the turnover on your staff over the years. Is that reputation deserved or not?

Mancow: My staff has been regular people that I’ve meet on the street. When they’ve lost their regular guy vibe I dust ‘em. One guy made a quarter of a million dollars & showed up late, left early, always complained and on top of that I wrote his entire character. Goodbye! Also when you pay for the party and never hear “thanks” it gets very old. My sports guy Al Roker Jr. has been with me for many years. He started fat & lazy and has evolved into a lean mean work addict. He’s great! I am old fashioned in that I believe in hard work. People that work hard last. Also, attitude equals altitude. At this point in my life I can’t be around jerks. No paycheck is worth that.

Rick: When you've done a high profile show for as long as you have, you've gotten a chance to meet just about everyone, from local and national celebrities to world leaders. Of all the people you've met since you got into the business, who impressed you the most, and who disappointed you the most?

Mancow: Don Henley (The Eagles) Peter Tork (The Monkees) were let downs. Michael Madsen, Bob Schieffer, Alice Cooper, Carlos Mencia, and my preacher Steve Munsey all were recent brilliant guests. Rush and (ahem) Drew Peterson were interesting as well.

Rick: Controversial figures like yourself are usually much different in real life than people expect. What is something about the real you that would surprise your fans?

Mancow: I believe radio listeners probably know me better than my own wife. I talk for seven hours a day so when I get home I hate talking. Truly, there is nothing I could say that would surprise my listeners. Non-listeners would be surprised to find out that I am a Christian, Libertarian, and father of two perfect twin girls that I love very much and I’m a serial killer….Scratch that last part.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Spike O'Dell

UPDATED January 2012


Rick: Spike, every time I check out your facebook page it makes me smile. People are supposed to enjoy retirement, and it's so obvious that you're in hog heaven.

Spike: Life is good! We really like living here in Dixie Land. We are in the Nashville area. It is such a fun town with everything you want in a big town, but packaged up in a small town feel! I'm even listening to some country music nowadays! Yee-Haw!

My children live here and they keep us busy with grand kids and going places. (we have 3 grandsons now with a 4th arriving in the spring) I spend my time golfing and doing a lot of photography. Tennessee is such a beautiful place to take pictures.

Rick: Have you been following what's going on at your old station?

Spike: A lot of changes at the 'ol "Love Pump" I see. Change is always going to happen and I know it takes some people a little time to get used to it.

I'm glad the powers that be are returning the station to more of a personality approach and pulling back the elements a little for the talent. It's the right thing to do. I fought the "traffic and weather on the 7's" hard, but to no avail. It was very restrictive and limited your ability as a host to do much of anything but get ready for your next "traffic and weather on the 7's". There were already a couple of stations in town that were doing that...why try to sound like them? I never understood the thinking there.

It will be fun to sit back and watch how the station progresses over the next year or so. Strong personalities are in've got the Cubs and Hawks and great college sports on the radio. Sounds like a pretty solid mix to me.

The original interview follows...

Spike O'Dell is the morning host at WGN Radio. After a distinguished 30+ year broadcasting career, he is retiring in December.

Rick: Are you really going to do it?

Spike: Oh yeah, I'm doing it. Anyone who has worked with me over the past 10-12 years knows that this has always been the plan. 55 has always been the magic number for me, and Karen and I have been planning for it now forever. We packed it away and knew we were going to do it. Now, I will say in all fairness, if I knew what was going happen with the market, I might have stayed another year , but we're gonna be fine. We're absolutely ready to go.

Rick: So, it's not a matter of being sick of the hours?

Spike: I think Rob Feder made a big deal about that awhile back, but that didn't come from me. I really don't mind these hours at all. It's been a lot fun. Heck, for the money they pay, heck yeah, I'll get up in the middle of the night. Now, it's not normal hours, that's true, and it will be nice to have a social life again after going to bed around the time most people get home from work—6 or 7 at night—but the hours really had nothing to do with my leaving.

Rick: And the new ownership team at the Tribune wasn't a factor either?

Spike: No not at all. I know people still wonder about that, but I made this pretty clear to everyone here when I renegotiated my last contract two years ago. I wanted a two year deal, and told them it was going to be my last one. They wanted me to sign for at least three—and I didn't want to do it, so we compromised on a three year deal, with the last year being my option. I even told them I'll be nice enough to give them six months notice if I decide to go...and I did that in July.

Rick: Were they surprised?

Spike: Actually, I think they were-- which surprised me. This wasn't a big secret. I've been talking about it for a long time.

Rick: Did they try to coax you to stay?

Spike: Yes, they did want to me stay, at least for a few more months, but I talked to my wife Karen about it, and we just said, no—this is the time. It's time. But it didn't have anything to do with the new guys at all.

Rick: And it didn't have anything to do with the new clock, either? That must have been a bit of a culture shock to you after so many years of doing the show one way, to suddenly drop whatever you were doing for weather and traffic at the 7s. Did you feel constrained in any way by that format, or do you think it's been a good thing for the show?

Spike: I came up through personality radio and that was my background. Top 40. Personality talk. Whatever you want to call it. Not really news-talk. I'm personally not a huge fan of the strict format we have now, but they did the research and presented it to me, saying that the listeners really wanted this. For me, it takes a little bit of the 'person' out of personality radio, but in all fairness, there's only one way to see if it was a good decision or not, and that's by looking at the numbers after a fair amount of time. If you're asking me my opinion, I'll say this: For years WGN has always had a different sound to it than any other station on the dial, and we took our lumps for that. But we laughed all the way to the bank, because nobody else did what we did and that's what made us so unique. With these strict formatics, it makes us sound like just another radio station sometimes...but again...we'll see if they're right about it. Time and numbers. That's the only way to really judge it.

Rick: I've said this about you for years, and I really mean it. I think you are one of the most underrated and underappreciated radio personalities in Chicago history. Why do you think that people in the industry have been so reluctant to give you credit for your incredible success?

Spike: I don't look at myself as a publicity seeker, and maybe that's a bad thing when you're headlining a radio show. After all these years, I'm not your typical radio person. I don't like the limelight or the spotlight—I really don't. I know that's a little unusual. In this business, most people can't get enough of it. I've always maintained that it's an honor to do a radio show while you're doing it, but six months after you leave, you're lucky if people even remember you. I know I could get headlines by saying or doing something outrageous, but that's really not who I am. It's never bothered me that I don't get the credit that other more outrageous personalities get. I'm fine with that. I've always been fine with it.

Rick: You got the morning slot under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. One day Uncle Bobby was the king of Chicago morning radio, and the next day after his tragic plane crash, the microphone was handed over to you. What was it like during those days?

Spike: I was numb to be honest with you. I always felt like I was just filling in for Bob (photo) and it took a long time before that show became mine. I totally understand the cautiousness on the station's part. To start with they wanted me to do it just like Bob—after all, he was the franchise. But after awhile I had to say to them: "Look, I'm not Bob." They finally warmed up to that, and I started doing my show instead of his.

Rick: "I Like Spike" isn't just catchy slogan. When your fans are asked why they listen to you, they usually say that they like you. I know it sounds simple, but that really is your secret isn't it?

Spike: I hope so. I hope that would be part of it. I had a guy back in the Quad Cities who said to me: "There will be days when you're in a bad mood, and don't really feel like doing a radio show, but you know what? The person listening to you doesn't care about that. Why give them a bad day just because you're having a bad day?" I've always remembered that. I tried to be the good neighbor, and if what you say is true about how people look at me, that's a great compliment.

Rick: Looking back over your career now—what are some of your proudest moments, and are there any moments that you would handle differently in retrospect?

Spike: Oh yeah. I've definitely said some things I wish I didn't say. We're all guilty of that, especially in talk radio. You know as soon as you say it, and think to yourself, "what did I say that for!" or "I shouldn't have said that!" and you wish you could reach back into the microphone and pull those words back out. I've been wrong on so many things. But I don't have any specific regrets, because I'd like to think that I've been big enough to say when I was wrong. I've apologized on the air many times.

I also happened to have been on the air a lot when bad things happened. We already mentioned Bob's crash, and it was horrible to be here when that news came in, but I was also on the air on 9/11 when the planes crashed into the towers. And I was on the air when the Oklahoma City bombing story broke. Heck, my first month or two on the air here, Mayor Washington died while I was on the air. None of those were pleasant memories, but in a strange way they were good learning experiences—they helped me develop my craft. Taught me how to handle the toughest situations.

I'll remember all those times, but I'll also remember all the great times...laughing and scratching with some of the greatest people you could ever hope to work with. So many great folks, too numerous to mention, the different crews, like my morning crew now (featuring among others, Andrea Darlas, shown here). And the afternoon crew we had back in those days had an absolute blast every day too. That was free form radio—exploring things and just taking things wherever they went. I'll always remember that time with a smile on my face.

Rick: You've also been around long enough to see radio undergo some dramatic changes. What in your mind is better about radio today compared to the day you started and what is worse?

Spike: Well, the money's better today (laughs). It took me 30 years, but I can't complain about that. That's better for sure. I think the corporate end of the business has made it worse, though. The whole industry has become so corporate. Believe me, that's not just here—it's everywhere. I understand sales is in a tough situation in the current climate, but sales seems to dictate programming in ways that it never did before, and that has taken a lot of fun out of it for guys like me.

Rick: Of all the people you listened to on the radio, or worked with at a radio station, who had the biggest impact on your development as a broadcaster?

Spike: When I was working in a factory on the banks of the Mississippi, I would listen to all of those WLS guys on the Big 89 and the guys at Super CFL. I remember thinking: "Hey these guys are having too much fun." I wanted to do what they were doing. I loved 'em all. Fred Winston was great—he and Lyle Dean. Larry Lujack and Little Tommy with Animal Stories—that was tremendous. But to me, John Landecker (photo) was the best. I listened to him every night—and I still think he is the best rock jock that ever lived. The best of all-time.

Now when I came here to WGN, I really never thought I had a chance of getting this job. I was just this kid from Moline, and thought they'd just give me a tour of the place and that would be that. Just walking the hallways here was humbling. When I got the job I couldn't believe it. Think about some of the people who were working here then. I learned so much from Bob Collins. Just watching him. He was a real mentor to me. (Spike is saluting Bob Collins at this year's National Radio Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Chicago)

I think another underrated guy in this town was Roy Leonard. He was a class act, a consummate pro—I learned a lot from him too. Not to mention Big O--Orion Samuelson, and Max Armstrong. I also always admired Clark Weber. I don't know him well, but I consider him to be a class act too.

Rick: Do you have any preferences for who should take over for you, and have you been consulted about that decision at all?

Spike: No I haven't been consulted. I thought I might be, and I would like to be, but it hasn't happened. I just hope that they don't bring in somebody who has made a career out of beating up WGN. I hope they promote somebody from within.

Rick: If I call you up five years from now, where would I need to call you, and what do you hope to be doing?

Spike: I would assume that I'll be a couple hundred miles south. We have a house in the Nashville area, and our kids are down there. What will I be doing? I'm not sure. That's a good question. I'm definitely hanging up the headphones. I don't foresee ever doing it again. I know I'm walking away from a good paycheck, but it's time. I told my wife that she's followed me around all these years, now it's my turn to follow her wherever she wants to go. I'm not ruling out going back to school. Maybe I'll work with my son. He's got a couple of businesses there. I'll definitely be doing some fishing.

Rick: No regrets?

Spike: No regrets. I've done radio for 31 years, and worked at 5 different radio stations, and I know this is a rarity in the business, but I've never been fired. Although...I guess I shouldn't say that quite yet. I've still got a few weeks left to go.