Saturday, September 05, 2009

Another Chicago Radio Spotlight Update

Brand new interviews return next week, but first I wanted to catch up with a few more of my previous interview subjects that have undergone changes in their careers since we last spoke.


I interviewed my old boss and pal John Landecker several times for Chicago Radio Spotlight (and he has even interviewed me). Since we last spoke, however, he has begun broadcasting the afternoon show on WIMS Radio in Michigan City, Indiana (he also does a weekend show on WLS). I called him up the other day and asked him to tell me more about going back to his roots and doing small-town radio...

John: I love it. I love it. Are you kidding? It reminds me of my early days in Ann Arbor at a station in the country under the transmitter, but it’s also totally unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s a talk show, first and foremost. To use a term Paula Griffin (my co-host) coined, it’s “go with the flow” radio. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, and taking that attitude, it can go anywhere. Any topic, any off-hand comment can lead to a new direction, going on line, Googling things as we talk, finding movie clips. I don’t worry about content. If I want to blast something locally in the news—like the local school superintendent, I do. Or the shooting downtown at Randolph and Michigan—that's what I do.

We don’t take a lot of calls because there’s only one phone in the studio, and it rings while you’re on the air (laughs), but when we do take a call it's kind of reminiscent of Boogie Check in a way because I have no idea who is calling and what they're calling about. That has been so much fun. We get great calls, but it’s mainly us. My co-host is Paula Griffin and she is a native of the area and has worked here in radio for quite awhile. I still do some of the stuff I've always done, like the little quicky parody songs, and what not, but this is local radio so, literally, anything goes. And the commute! The commute is rough. (John lives in Michigan City). There was a truck on the road the other day and it made my commute 12 minutes! You probably can't pick up the signal in parts of Chicago, but you can listen on the internet. Just go to


I interviewed Steve Dale just before my summer sabbatical, and he had just been let go by WGN Radio. He didn't remain on the sidelines for long, and is now back on the air at WLS. I got in touch with him the other day and asked him about his turbulent summer, which included switching stations, having the Mayor declare "Steve Dale Day" in Chicago, and a terrible personal loss...

Steve: I was able to come out of the closet at WLS, and admit that for years I've been listening to Roe Conn. His knowledge base on every topic on the planet is incredible. I spoke with Roe on air about Michael Vick, and he spouted off how dogs evolved - geez, who knows the latest theory on that. He does! Students don't need to go to Columbia to learn to be a talk show host, just listen to him. And Don and Roma are sort of, kind of, today's version of Bob and Betty Sanders. I'm not talking about content, as much as the interplay between them. I met them briefly - if they only knew how thrilled I was. The thing about Don and Roma is that magically they are able to speak to listeners one by one, as if they are only talking to you. It's truly a rare talent. And I also have the pleasure of being a guest with Pat Cassidy, an absolute pro. I'm kind of afraid but hoping to go head to head with Mancow on topics where we don't agree, such as breed bans. I've yet to meet him.

I'm on WLS Saturday afternoons at 2 (for now), but when Notre Dame sports hit, I'll be on at 6 a.m. Saturdays. Well, at least I'll be doing morning drive on a 50,000 watt giant. I'm honored to be at WLS. We've built a ginormous amount of content on our pet pages, with more to come. We even have videos on the site, and link to a Blog - and much, much more. An we do an hour of On Demand radio, available each week, anytime with some of the most noted pet personalities in America, I'm treated well, and most important, I hope I'm able to help individual pet owners, and talk about relevant issues. My challenge is finding a way to communicate to my old littermates at WGN, that I've moved up the dial. We even had billboards around town. That was cool.

Unfortunately, my dad passed away just 2 days after the 'Steve Dale Day' was scheduled. I was staying with him in hospice. I had to phone the Alderman, and explain I could not attend. My dad sparked my interest in animals. Interestingly, when he was around 20, his goals were either to work in radio, or become a zoologist. Well, ever since I was 20 (or even younger, actually), I've worked in radio in one way or another. I never became a zoologist, but I do work with animals. That's why from here on out, as long as I'm on the air, I'll thank my dad at the end of every show.


I interviewed Andrea two years ago when she was doing news on the WGN Morning show with Spike O'Dell. She's still doing the morning news on WGN, but has since worked with two other morning hosts; John Williams and Greg Jarrett. I caught up with her again this week and asked her what that experience has been like...

Andrea: It's true! I have had the good fortune of working with 3 different "major market" personalities in the past year. I think each of our hosts brings with him/brought with him to the table something unique, and hopefully enjoyable for our listeners.

Spike was "the guy next door," someone everyone could relate to! He was-- and is-- one of the nicest, most down to earth, humble people you would ever want to meet. Spike had a unique way of blending current events with fun and humor into his show, and it showed... he was "KING" of morning radio during his reign! We keep in touch several times a week via email, facebook, etc, and he STILL makes me smile every time we talk!

John Williams brought a whole different persona to the morning show. As a morning show host, John was much more serious and much more into current events and the news of the day. But, John also has a very DRY sense of humor and -- like Spike-- John doesn't mind "throwing himself under the bus" every now and again to get a few laughs!

Greg Jarrett is kind of a combination of John and Spike. Greg is a total "News Guy"...he's been around the world literally "in the trenches" covering all kinds of interesting stories and is able to bring those stories to the show and incorporate them into his interviews. But, he's not "all news".... he has a great sense of humor, too!

I think the biggest similarity they all share is that they, like all of us, are very proud to be affiliated with WGN because the radio station has always been such a staple in the Chicago area!


I first met and interviewed Jerry shortly after he arrived in town, and was doing the midday show at WLS. He was moved out of that time slot to make way for Mancow and Pat Cassidy, and then a few months ago, made the move down the dial to WGN Radio. I caught up with him the other day and asked how the transition has gone...

Jerry: All is well. I am doing up to three shows on the weekend, depending on the Cubs schedule. I also do fill-in for various weekday shows. I was on for Cochran a few times and I will be doing the over-night soon.

I was the guy who did the first several weeks in mid-morning after they let Kathy and Judy go, so I took the hits and the hate for the radio station. No problem - as an opinionated host, I am used to that.


One of the contributors to Jerry Agar's show is Dobie Maxwell. He's a part of the segment known as "Jerry's Kidders." I first interviewed Dobie last year when he was doing that segment on WLS. Dobie had a big summer. He made his national television debut as a comedian (on Craig Ferguson's show). I recently caught up with him and asked him how that went, and what it's like to do "Jerry's Kidders" on a different radio station...

Dobie: Getting on national television was like my whole life flashing in front of my eyes. I thought about all the horrific gigs I had to endure to get there and starting out in Milwaukee and my mentors over the years and it was like going down a waterslide of my entire past. It was also like an out of body experience in that I felt like I was watching it from afar rather than living it in person. I'd heard that from others who did their first shot and wasn't sure what it meant. Now I know exactly what they meant and they were 100% accurate.

It was also important to add legitimacy to an entire lifetime of struggle. The very first thing anyone asks when they hear someone is a comedian is "Ever been on TV?" Now I can say yes and not have to fudge something like Good Morning Albuquerque. Craig Ferguson's show is very credibile and it was a terrific experience and one I won't soon forget.

Jerry's Kidders is a little different only because we have to watch out for kids on Saturday mornings when that wasn't much of an issue on WLS, mainly because of the day and time we're on. WLS was Mondays at 11:30. Most kids are in school or at least not listening to WLS in the summer. WGN is on Saturday and there are a lot more kids. We don't try to do an off color show but once in a while when something approaches 'the line', we now have to push that line back a little, or at least we choose to. We're not trying to push any envelopes other than one with a paycheck in it. Other than that, it's been great fun. We all love to have the studios on Michigan Avenue because people can watch us perorm, and that's what we're used to so we don't mind at all.


I interviewed Mark two years ago when he was in California programming a few stations out there. He has since returned to his hometown of Chicago, and I had the chance to catch up with him recently to ask him what he is doing these days...

Mark: I left my position as High Desert Broadcasting Rock Programmer (KLKX and KKZQ) in June of 2008. I came back to Chicago, and re-branded my production company (formerly named Zanderadio Productions) as 4C Studios. In addition to producing The Rockin' 80's (we just celebrated 5 years as a national show!), this past March we launched another national show, The Rockin' 70's. We continue to produce other national content for various clients, and soon will launch a new and unique podcast aimed at a very specific and passionate audience. I have recently done some fill-in work at WERV for Next Media, and have gone back to teaching at Illinois Center For Broadcasting, where I previously taught for ten years.


I interviewed former WLUP Program Director Jack Silver earlier this year, just after he was let go by his radio station in Los Angeles. He got a new gig this summer, so I checked back in to find out more...

Jack: I'm back with CBS Radio Los Angeles as Director of Integrated Marketing and Promotions for Classic Hits K Earth 101 and Smooth AC 94.7 The Wave. It's a chance to use my sales skills while integrating clients into live events, broadcasts and other non traditional revenue ops. I like it a lot and both stations are huge in Southern California.


I interviewed former WLUP and WXRT veteran Dave Benson two years ago for Chicago Radio Spotlight when he was the program director of KFOG in San Francisco. He was let go in the spring, and re-emerged in Seattle over the summer. I asked him to tell me about the journey, which I have been following on Facebook. He handled the situation in a way only Benson would handle it...

Dave: Well, things at KFOG came to an end in mid-April. Cumulus told me I'd done a great job (KFOG was # 1 in demo in April) but that I "just wasn't their kind of guy," so they didn't offer me another contract. That was fine with me. Over the 3 years of Cumulus' ownership the company's priorities and capabilities had become clear. Cumulus is a broadcast property consolidation company. Quality, localized programming isn't something they excel at or seem to aspire to. And the reality of their precarious financial position just made them more and more desperate, which lead to even more screw tightening and fear-based decision making. I had a great run at KFOG and hated to leave those good folks behind but I also looked forward to a break. I hung out a bit, walked the dog, rode the bike and just enjoyed living in my home during daylight hours.

I decided to take the kind of trip that you can only do when you've got enough time, so I got ready to go and then got a call from the good folks at Entercom. They were interested in having me join them in Seattle and they were willing to be patient while I took my trip. We made a deal and I took off for about 6 weeks, going to New York, London, Paris, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan. I landed in Seattle on a Friday in late July and went to work the next Monday. I feel very fortunate to be able to go back to work with a company that aspires to quality broadcasting. And the move to Seattle feels great. I'm among friends and talented radio folks once again and I look forward to the work and life in this area."