Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jake Hartford

Jake Hartford hosts a Saturday morning talk show at WCPT (820 AM)

Rick: I feel like a moron because I used to call you at Channel 2 when I worked with Steve & Garry and you were Walter Jacobson’s producer. I never realized that Jim Edwards (TV) and Jake Hartford (Radio) was the same guy until a few months ago.

Jake: One and the same.

Rick: That’s funny to me. Your radio name, Jake Hartford, sounds like a real name, and your real name, Jim Edwards, sounds like a fake radio name. A typical radio thing is to use your first and middle name as your radio name if your last name is too ethnic. When I first started in radio, a PD tried to convince me to do that, but my middle name is James, and Rick James just wouldn’t have worked. What is the origin of the name Jake Hartford?

Jake: I was at Channel 2 and Roe Conn (photo) was there at the time too. When WLS went to talk, Roe was doing stuff for them part time, and he asked me to come over and do a few shows with him. This was at a time when networks were really protective of their staffs, and didn’t like the idea of their people working for two different networks, even if one was radio, and the other one was television.

The WLS GM Tom Traddup and the PD Drew Hayes were OK with it, but they thought that WLS-TV people might be upset, so I used a family name on the air as my pseudonym. It was only supposed to be a couple of times, radio was supposed to be a lark, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Plus, I later found out that I couldn’t be Jim Edwards because there was another one at AFTRA.

So, anyway, they started liking what I did there, and they asked me to do more and more, and by then people at WLS knew me as Jake Hartford, so I had to retain that brand. I mean, eventually people at Channel 2 found out about it, and they didn’t care. It seems the only ones that did were the WLS-TV people.

Rick: I heard that the name Jake was a play on Jacobson.

Jake: That’s true. They even called him Jake at Channel 2.

Rick: You were on WLS Radio for nearly twenty years (1989-2008), working seemingly every shift on the station at some point or another. One of my favorite bits was the spring forward/fall back scam you pulled every year...intentionally telling people the wrong time. What are some of your favorite moments from your WLS years?

Jake: That Spring Forward bit started as an accident when I was doing Saturday nights. It confused some people, and others thought it was a bit, so I started doing it twice a year. I got tired of it and was going to stop doing it, but management wouldn’t let me stop. They looked forward to hearing it.

When I think of WLS, I think of Linda Mitry. She was my radio wife. She did the news, weather and traffic. She was with me for a few years, and then left. Came back and left again. We were reunited at WCPT until this past June when she married and moved to Detroit.

The problem with remembering specific moments is that I tend to remember the bad moments instead of the good. For instance, I had William Shatner on once, and everything was going great, when Michael Garay—who I think is one of the best tech producers out there, played Shatner’s version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds coming out of the commercial break. I asked him: “What in the world were you thinking when you did that?” It went south from there...and fast.

I'd say Clarence Thomas was the biggest topic. All lines were taken when I walked into the studio at midnight, they were full all night, and full when I walked out.

The show I don't remember doing occurred in February of 1993. It was a Saturday night and I was on from 8pm to midnight. Right at 8pm as the news started, my wife called and said that son number 2 was on his way. He was born right before midnight.

WLS always had a reputation as being WGOP, because of Rush and all that, but politically I was all over the map. People kind of heard what they wanted to hear, and through their own perspectives. There were times when I filled in for Don & Roma, and if I was on with air with someone who was way to the right, I’d be considered Leon Trotsky. I’d be considered right of Attila the Hun if I was on with someone liberal.

More than issues of left vs right, the listeners became like family to me. They'd hear stories of our two kids growing up during my years at WLS. They would keep me informed about their lives. You wouldn't believe the number of emails I've received over the years from people who were having a real tough time in their lives...loss of jobs, illnesses in the family and even deaths. They would tell me that the time spent with me on Saturday morning was an oasis from their troubles. That is truly touching.

Rick: You were one of the people let go on that Leap Day bloodbath last year. The ownership situation at WLS, with Citadel in deep deep financial doo-doo, has obviously had a dramatic impact on that place.

Jake: Other ABC/Citadel managers around the country handled the cuts better. The Chicago team took the easy way. Neither the GM nor the PD is there now.

You know, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me why I was fired, and it was the only time I was ever fired in my entire career by the way, I’d be a rich man. I honestly don’t know.

The PD called me and asked me to come into the station around 4pm because he had something he needed to talk to me about. I said, “Listen, it’s rush hour, I don’t exactly live around the corner, can’t we just do this on the phone?” He told me they were getting rid of the whole weekend lineup. It was a short conversation, less than a minute. There was no thanks, no nothing, after nearly twenty years. And then, it turns out that they didn’t get rid of the whole weekend after all. They still had to have a body in there to do what I was doing. The whole thing made no sense at all.

Rick: I loved your line about moving to WCPT. You said you were just moving a little left...(from 890AM to 820AM, and from right-leaning political talk to left-leaning political talk). Is this new radio home a more or less comfortable fit for your politics?

Jake: (Laughs) Let me put it this way. I got calls from three different people when I became available, which was flattering. Harvey Wells called me first, and he was very nice. He actually listened to my show on WLS, and said “I like what you do. I don’t want you to change.” Harvey and the people I work with are completely OK with me. Some of the listeners are not OK with me, because of the WLS years. They see things that aren’t there.

One of the first guests I had on my show on WCPT was Lanny Davis. He’s a very liberal guy, he worked for Bill Clinton, but he wasn’t liberal enough, apparently. You would have thought I had booked Newt Gingrich. For the first few months that sort of thing bothered me, but it doesn’t bother me at all anymore. I just go in there and do my thing.

Rick: I think it’s hard to describe your show to the uninitiated. How would you describe it?

Jake: Quirky yet refreshing. Some listener penned that a few weeks ago. I like that. It’s not predictable. It’s not for everybody either. In the history of Chicago radio, if you look up the most popular radio personality of all time, you’ll find that more people didn’t listen to him than did. You have to keep that in mind.

Of course, we’d love to have more listeners. That’s always a goal, and it does get a bit frustrating sometimes. We’re thinking of taking up a collection for a billboard. Many of my WLS listeners have found me here, thanks to Rob Feder’s nice mention in his column, so I do have a lot of my old listeners, but if I could only take out a 30 second spot on WLS, I’d love to get the rest of them.

Rick: Why do you think liberal talk has had such a hard time gaining a foothold when conservative talk is so pervasive?

Jake:When I sample the national shows, they seem to be fixated on Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etc. The ones I hear from the right hardly ever, if ever, mention Hartman or the others. On a local level, that would be like me going after Mr Fix-it (WGN) or Paul Brian (WLS.)

Where's the upside for me? Say what you will but WLS does have a ton of Dems as guests as well as Republicans. Give me the big tent.

Rick: You were with Channel 2 for many years, working with Walter Jacobson. Did you see the recent Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson reunion on Channel 2, and if so, what did you think of it?

Jake: Yes, I saw it. They were a little rusty because it’s been awhile, but you have to remember, even though they were back on together, the surroundings were completely different. It’s a whole new building.

Bill is the consummate professional. You could wake him up at 3 in the morning, give him a script, and he would do a great job. Walter was a little rusty, and his Perspective could have been a little sharper, but it was great to see them again.

Rick: You actually used to do the Perspective with him at Channel 2, didn’t you?

Jake: Yes, they went through quite a few producers before I got there. When I came in, I did more of a hard hitting style, more investigative pieces, and they really liked those. Unfortunately, when it came time to move on, they wouldn’t let me, because it was clicking. I ended up doing it for ten years.

Rick: One of my good friends is Dane Placko at Channel 32. He used to sit next to Walter in the Fox newsroom. When Dane was on the phone the people on the other end of the line would hear a strange noise in the background, and couldn’t believe what they were hearing. It was a typewriter. Walter was still using a typewriter. What was it like working with Walter?

Jake: (laughs) You don’t have enough time for that. Wait for my book. Walter can be very smart, and Walter can be very na├»ve. Sometimes he would have a hard time concentrating, he would get distracted. He was very nice, I got along fine with him, but he was also a little mercurial. I’m sure that being taken off as an anchor really bothered him, and he’d love to use the success of this night to vault himself back on the air.

Rick: I think as a former news producer you have a unique perspective on the devolution of radio news. News departments have been cut back (with a few notable exceptions) to a ridiculous level; it’s been outsourced to national news-gathering organizations or traffic/news services, or it’s been eliminated altogether. What do you think is the future of radio news?

Jake: I think it’s bleak. One of my big complaints at the old place was, get it right, and if you don’t, what’s the point? The traffic/news service on the weekend would pick strange news stories, and I would think: Why in the world did you choose that one? Sometimes the traffic was just completely wrong. There were times I would leave on Saturday mornings, and there were entire streets blocked off that nobody had reported. I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

Rick: What about your future plans?

Jake: I don’t have any. I don’t think about it. There are so many big name people, really talented people, that aren’t even on the air now. I did a show recently with Buzz Kilman (photo), and it was so much fun. I’d love to do a show with Buzz. How in the world is that guy not on the air somewhere? There are too many others.

At least I have a show. I’m taking it one show at a time.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Steve Cochran

UPDATED January 2012


Rick: Welcome back to Chicago. Are you physically back in town too? I know you're doing two shows a day now, one in St. Louis and one in Chicago.

Steve: I never left. I was only down in St. Louis maybe once a month, if that, and now I'm here all the time. Mostly, I did the St. Louis show from a Comrex in my house, which is about the size of an old tape recorder. All you have to do is plug it right into the computer, and voila, you're in St. Louis.

Rick: How are you liking it over at WIND?

Steve: It's great. The St. Louis people are great and continue to be great, but when this came along, I told them it was something I really wanted and needed to do. They totally understood and helped make it work. Basically, I'm on the radio all day--I'm either A) A complete egomaniac or B) I need to be kept off the streets. I think I'm going with B.

Rick: But you're not ruling out A.

Steve: Good point. Let's make it A and 1/2.

Rick: Your schedule sounds slightly crazy. Take me through a typical day.

Steve: Well, I tape interviews and prep for the early show in St. Louis between 8 and 10, and then I'm on the air there from 10-12. 12-1 is post show stuff, taping promos, that sort of thing. Then I've got a little bit of time between 1-2:30 to get stuff done in my real life. Between 2:30-5, I'm prepping for and recording interviews for the other two shows. Then I'm on the air in Chicago between 5-7 on WIND. 5-6 is only in Chicago, but the 6 PM hour is also the first hour of my night show in St. Louis. That 6:00 hour is on in both cities. Then, I'm on from 7-9 PM only in St. Louis.

Rick: Is it hard to do a show for both markets in that 6:00 hour?

Steve: Well, I don't try to hide it. It's programmed for Chicago mostly, but I've never blown off an audience in my life, and I don't do it now either. Fortunately I've got a great producer here and a great producer in St. Louis too. The producers do have co-ordinate a little, but it's not as hard as it looks.

Rick: So you really are on the air all day long.

Steve: Well, Rick, let me tell you. Some hosts like to do one show and syndicate that to a hundred stations. I like to do a hundred different shows. Keeps me limber and in shape.

Rick: Are they all the same sort of shows?

Steve: Not really. No. Not at all. The morning show is more of a magazine show. It's more comedy. More my foundation. More like the old WGN show before GN went to hell. The 5-7 show on WIND is very political, but we still have our yucks. The trick is doing that show to the hard right audience here at WIND, while respecting the old WGN audience that heard me as more of a middle of the road--sometimes right and sometimes left. This show leans more hard right, but it's done with respect. The night show is a little more sports. It's comedy and sports.

Rick: Wow. That's all over the map.

Steve: This is great for my ADD.

Rick: Do you keep track of your old station and what they are doing these days?

Steve: I don't really because of my schedule. I hear Blackhawks games because I'm a big hockey fan, but that's been about it. I'm a big Brandmeier fan and sent him a congratulatory note when he got the job, but I haven't really had a chance to listen to him because I'm usually working at that time. I've got a lot great friends there and I wish them all well. I really like Garry Meier, but my job now is to kick Garry's ass. This station is the little train that could, the little station that people think "Oh are they on the air too?" But I like our chances. We're very serious about taking this thing to the next level.

The original interview follows...

Steve Cochran is the afternoon-drive host at WGN AM-720

Rick: You have this image as this casual guy who just shows up and does his show. It all seems to come so easily to you. You may arrive just before show time (it was 3pm when we had this conversation), and you sound very casual on the air, but I can tell that you’ve done a ton of show prep. I’ve talked to three of your ex-producers, and all of them said you were the most prepared/hardest working guy they know. It takes a lot of hard work to make it sound that easy, doesn’t it?

Steve: It is true. I appreciate the fact that you get it. I’ve been in the bigs for 26 years now, and I really don’t need to hang around the radio station all day to show management how hard I’m working. I’m doing show prep many, many hours a day. Because I make it so look so easy, and because I’m not around the office, some people get the wrong idea.

You worked in radio many years, and I’m sure you know this is true: There’s no way to get any legitimate work done at a radio or television station during the day. I’m really not that interesting. Why do I need to be interrupted every thirty seconds?

Rick: (Laughs) That’s so true. I had that fight with management many times in my career. I got 50 times more work done at home...even with three little kids.

Steve: Just because they have to stay at the office doesn’t mean we have to. The bottom line is the proof is on the air.

Rick: I can really see the prep work in your interviews. I think you do a great job as an interviewer. You manage to ask the tough questions, but you do it in such an ‘aw shucks’ friendly way that it doesn’t offend your guests. Have you ever had it go badly when you asked those tough questions, and if so with whom?

Steve: Not by asking tough questions, not really, but I have had bad guests. Some were real bad. Robert Goulet had a nice voice in Camelot, but he was a miserable drunk. He was the worst guest ever. He was bitter. He was nasty. I have zero patience for that.

I don’t respect anybody more than anybody else. I treat everyone the same, because everyone is interesting in their own way. That’s the way I see it. I didn’t treat President Carter (photo: Carter in WGN studio) any differently than I treated a guy on the street in front of the studio.

The ones that stick in your head, as bad guests, as difficult interviews, are the ones that are so full of themselves. I interviewed David Cassidy one time, and his publicist came in before the interview and said: “Um, David really doesn’t want to talk about the Partridge Family.” To which I said, “Well, then I guess David doesn’t want to be on the show.” You’ve got to be kidding me. When I worked at Z-100 in New York there were a couple of bands like that too.

Usually, though, in all fairness, you find it’s the front people that are the pain. The paid flacks and PR people can be a royal pain in the butt, but the celebrities themselves aren’t so bad. In fact, I’ve found that the bigger they are, the easier they are to deal with.

Rick: Another thing I admire is that you manage to convey your own political opinions—which I’d say lean relatively conservative—without ‘the-sky-is-falling’ hyperbole. I’ve answered phones at WGN a few times, and whoa, the calls that come in are surprisingly intense, on both sides of the political spectrum. How do you manage to keep it so civil in a country that is so not?

Steve: I find that it doesn’t matter what you say, people hear what they want to hear through their own perspective. Two different people can hear the same thing totally differently—you can be a left wing lunatic or Rush Limbaugh’s best friend. I lean politically right militarily and I lean left socially. I think there are nut jobs on both sides—about 20% on the left and 20% on the right. 60% are in the middle with me, and those are the people that we need to get involved. Right now the people on both extremes control everything.

I’ve been offered plenty to do right wing talk radio or pretend like I’m a liberal. I couldn’t do either one. Look at Olbermann (photo), he’s completely lost his mind. I used to love talking to that guy, but he’s gone off the deep end. And Beck and Hannity, wow—those guys are complete frauds. I don’t know how Hannity, Beck, and Olbermann look at themselves in the mirror. Nobody in their right mind believes that their side is right every single time, or that the other guys are wrong every single time. If you believe that, you’re an idiot.

We had Newt Gingrich on recently, and here’s a guy that wants to be president so desperately he can taste it. But Newt never wants to be questioned on anything in his past; he doesn’t want to be held accountable for anything. He just wants softballs, and he’s used to getting them. When he doesn’t, he comes in and does that tough guy act. That turns me off immediately. I guess that answers your earlier question too. Newt is one guy that didn’t respond well to a tough question. Most people can just deflect those things or say they don’t want to talk about it because they expect it. It’s an interview for cryin’ out loud.

Rick: You’ve been there a long time now. What are some of your favorite moments from your WGN years?

Steve: This is going to sound corny, I know, but to me, the greatest thing about working at WGN is that audience. They are so loyal. I’ve never seen an audience so loyal, even the Loop’s audience during their heyday (mainly because they weren’t sober). That’s the number one thing for me. The audience is special.

When I was working at other stations in Chicago, and Bob Collins was kicking my ass, I never got it. I get it now. The consistency is the reason WGN has been such a great radio station. On paper it didn’t make sense sometimes, and it was all over the map, but that’s what talk radio ought to be. How did Eddie Schwartz (photo) make sense with that high nasal squeaky voice? It worked because the audience accepted him because he accepted them. He was there for them. Everybody on the station on some level got the audience.

Unfortunately, I think that’s what we’re losing now. It’s not just here, though. It’s all over the country and all over the dial. You’ll find the same thing in New York or Los Angeles, because the business is so damaged.

Rick: Last year when Spike retired just about everyone assumed that morning slot would go to you. I believe Robert Feder even predicted it in his farewell column in the Sun Times. It almost happened, didn’t it?

Steve: Yeah it did. I’ve never actually talked about it anywhere before, but yeah, I turned it down. It just wasn’t the right deal.

At the end of the day you have to make a decision. There are all sorts of considerations, including obviously financial ones; yours and the company’s. Believe me, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But I’ve done that get up at 2 in the morning thing before for many years, just like you did. It ages you, affects your health. Look at this face after all those years of doing mornings; I’m only 21 years old.

John Williams (photo) did the morning show after that, and I still think that if he had been given ample opportunity and support he could have had a nice long run there because of the audience’s loyalty. The new guy, Greg Jarrett, seems like a nice guy, although I don’t really see him too much because our schedules are so different. I do wish him the very best. I hope he has an incredibly long run in that slot.

Rick: I know this may be a touchy subject, but I have to ask it. In the past week or two a few of your program director’s memos have been made public. (Read more about those memos here). What are your thoughts about them?

Steve: I don’t know too many people in my position who are known for their closeness with management. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be—maybe we’re not supposed to get along. You probably prefer that to the alternative.

The memos kind of speak for themselves. Yes, there’s a micromanagement there, but honestly, that goes on everywhere in this business. It should be common sense. I’ve always believed that the best management hires the best people, and then gets out of the way. There’s no upside to micro-managing an artistic endeavor. That’s what we’re talking about here, what we do is an art form too.

Rick: You’re also a stand up comedian and an actor. Do you consider yourself to be a comedian that happens to be doing radio, or a radio guy that also does comedy?

Steve: Oh, I’m definitely a radio guy. I think I’m as funny as anyone that does this, and I’m pretty good at the information part, but I really enjoy the platform. I love this audience and the history of this radio station. The world is changing and it’s a different business, but there’s one thing common to both radio and comedy.

It’s a tragedy when you become too hip for the room. It doesn’t work anywhere. The risk we take is thinking that everyone really is walking around living off the smart phone, living on their twitter accounts. People that are 40+ are living real lives. They’re the busiest people in the world. They don’t have time to read all of these blogs, spouting all that nonsense...

Rick: With the exception of this blog, of course.

Steve: Yes, except this blog. This is different. You’re not some 19 year old living in your basement.

Rick: No, I’m a 46-year old living in my basement.

Steve: (laughs) True, but you’re going out there finding information. Like this oh so informational interview.

Rick: There are a million questions I could ask you because your radio career is so diverse. I mean, you’ve worked all over the country, and all over the radio dial here in Chicago. When you look back at those various gigs, which one do you look back at most fondly, and which one was the gig from hell?

Steve: That’s a great question. Let’s see, let me think about this. The first one that comes to mind was the Loop. The Loop was probably the most fun because of the incredible line up. I was there at the tail end of it, but at one point it was Johnny, Kevin, Danny and me during the day, and just to be a part of that was great. To work with Jimmy de Castro (photo), who really is a genius, and Larry Wert, that was a heck of an experience.

As for the other end of the spectrum, 100.3 was messed up and it was bad, but I wouldn’t say it was a gig from hell. I guess it’s good that I can’t think of a specific gig from hell.

Rick: What about WCKG?

Steve: (laughs) Oh yeah. WCKG. One day. I worked there one day. I was a big deal in Minneapolis doing mornings, Robert Feder writes a positive column about my arrival, and I’m excited to come there, and then all of a sudden, I get a call from my producer Jimmy Baron. He says “We’ve got a problem—they want you to do all sports.”

That was the first I heard about it. I mean there was already going to be plenty of sports on the show. They had Jay Mariotti doing daily sports and Jimmy Volkman doing extra sports bits, and I had worked at an all-sports station in Minneapolis, but WCKG had no connection to any team, no play by play, nothing. Plus, they wanted to call the show “Steve Cochran and the Rock and Roll Locker Room.”

Rick: Oh my God.

Steve: Exactly. I said, “Fellas, I can guarantee you that’s not going to happen.” But I did agree to try their format. I showed up in the middle of the night to try it out at a time when there weren’t many people listening—1-5am. I did one show.

After it was over I waited around for management to show up, and told them I’m not doing it, I’m going back to Minneapolis. They told me, “If you’re thinking about suing us, we’ve got more lawyers than you do.”

Rick: Nice.

Steve: Of course, the punch line to that story is that they never actually did the format.

Rick: I know your deal with WGN is running out soon. What do you think will happen?

I really don’t know what’s going to happen. That doesn’t make me unique in the business. I’d love to ride off into the sunset after a lifetime at WGN, but a lot of different things could happen. I’d definitely miss the platform, as I mentioned. There’s something special about it. But then, having said that, we may not be able to figure out a way to make this work. I really hope we can.

As the great philosopher Rodney King once said: “Can’t we all get all just along?”

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bill Gamble

Bill Gamble is the program director of US-99 and Fresh-FM (105.9) for CBS Radio in Chicago.

Rick: First of all, congrats on your return to Chicago. It must be nice to get handed a top rated station (US99)—that doesn’t happen to program directors very often. I’m guessing that your motto will be: “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” Am I right?

Bill: It really is a machine. People come and go and the machine keeps rolling. It was rewarding to get it to #1 in September. But you know how it is. It’s so competitive in this market; it can change overnight, especially with PPM. I’m lucky. This is a radio station that has great relationships with the artists and the community. We’ve got great people in mornings, middays and afternoons; our marketing director’s been here for ten years. It’s a special place, and hopefully I won’t wreck it. (laughs)

Rick: I didn’t realize that you had a background in country radio until I researched for this interview. Your last stop in Colorado was a country station, wasn’t it?

Bill: Yes, that’s true. I left Chicago and ABC in Sept 2005, and went to Denver with CBS in 2006. I programmed the country station there, called the Wolf, but I also programmed the Hot AC, and the Oldies station.

Rick: You see, to me, that’s the most fascinating part of your radio resume: the wide variety of formats you’ve programmed. I had a short stint programming an AOR many years ago, and I know that it takes a great deal of musical knowledge to do one format. You’ve done no less than seven or eight different music formats. How do you manage to do that?

Bill: I think you get to the point where you realize what the job is. The job is not breaking new artists. It’s not making a musical statement. As program directors, we’re really just glorified customer service reps. (Photo: Bill with 94.7 staffers in Fall of 97--Scott Dirks, Bob Stroud, Scott MacKay, Zemira Jones)

I had a Tom Petty album behind my desk at Q-101—that’s what I personally like. But you give the audience what they want. If you do that, it will work out okay. There are some programmers that create this wonderful tapestry and I get that, but even more now with PPM, it’s clearly just as simple as asking: “What do you want?”

Rick: You’re talking about research?

Bill: That’s part of it. Research, experience, retail sales, market knowledge. I’m a big believer in knowing how things work in a certain market. Knowing the promoters, knowing the past, having experience. The great thing about having that time off between jobs was that it helped me get back to thinking like a listener.

Does it really matter if I play the power recurrent out of the stop set? (laughs) I don’t think so. The listener isn’t thinking about that. He or she is thinking about flu shots, or the Bears, or the rain. Realizing that makes you a better programmer.

Rick: You’re also programming Fresh-FM, which is an AC or Hot AC station. You’ve been there a few months now and made a few changes. Where do you see Fresh-FM fitting in on the Chicago radio spectrum? Who do you consider to be your main competitors?

Bill: I would put it slightly differently. It’s who do we consider to be our target? We’re targeting women. We believe there’s an opportunity in this market to get contemporary women. Our approach is slightly different than the other stations. It’s not about talk. It’s not about contesting. It’s about: Here’s the song, I hope you like it. Here’s the music. That’s how Fresh is different. From the cume point of view we’re always in the top ten, so people are checking us out.

Rick: You’ve made some personnel changes since you arrived. Mike LeBaron was let go. Roxanne Steele was hired. Brooke Hunter, who you’ve worked with at several stations previously, was recently brought on to do a weekend show.

Bill: Yes, Brooke is doing a Friday night 90s show cleverly titled “Friday Night 90s” and will do some fill in stuff from time to time. And yes, we hired Roxanne Steele to do afternoons for us, and she’s doing a fine job. Rick Hall is filling in for mornings for the time being, and he’s done everything we’ve asked of him.

Rick: You are looking for a morning talent though. Are you looking for a music jock or a personality show?

Bill: We’re looking for someone that can get us numbers. I’d rather not say any more than that right now.

Rick: You’ve obviously tried both approaches at your previous stops in Chicago. You’ve worked with big time talent like Murphy and Kevin Matthews...

Bill: And Morton Downey Jr. and Chet Coppock back at WMAQ.

Rick: And some great music jocks too. As a programmer, do you have a philosophy of dealing with talent?

Bill: I think the answer is yeah, I do. Treat them all as individuals. They’re all different. There isn’t a silver bullet for dealing with all personalities. What works with one won’t work for another. For instance, Kevin Matthews (photo) is different than everyone (laughs).

But there are some common traits that all great talents possess: a tremendous desire to win and impatience when things aren’t right. I like that. I like to see the expectations very high. They should be—and they should be unhappy when things aren’t perfect. I admire that.

And boy, this market more so than any other market, has world class talent. All you have to do is leave Chicago for a little while to appreciate how great the talent is here up and down the dial. It’s simply not as good in the rest of the country. Radio matters to people in this market.

Rick: You are considered an innovator in the business because of some of the formats you started—especially in the modern rock realm. You created that first Q-101 modern rock format many years ago. Then you created the Zone, which went through a stretch where it was also an alternative sort of station. Is it true that you had planned to unveil the new Zone format on September 11, 2001?

Bill: It was actually the 12th, but yeah. Can you believe that? We were set to go, and we had really been working on it. You know all the work that goes into that stuff, and then we all got caught by surprise. I guess everyone in the country did. I walked into the station, and everyone was in the conference room when the first plane hit. Then the second.

I was watching the TV, and then I realized, wait a second here. We have people on the air, and we need to cover this, and there was that lag time while we were all mesmerized. We decided to simulcast with WLS, which was our sister station, and we ended up doing that for the better part of the next month or so.

Now every programmer I know monitors things much more closely. We all have a browser open, or we’ve got the television on with the sound down.

Rick: So how long was it before you got the format up?

Bill: I think it was about a month.

Rick: What are your thoughts about that format now? Has it outlived its usefulness or is it still viable?

Bill: I haven’t done it for awhile, so I’m not really on top of it. It’s hard to say. If you look nationwide, there aren’t many stations programming it, and the ratings aren’t that great for the ones that are, but that doesn’t mean young listeners aren’t out there.

Contemporary hit radio, for instance, is getting tremendous PPM numbers. The idea that youth won’t listen to radio isn’t true. I’ll admit that back in the day it was difficult to program to 15-25 year olds, because advertisers wanted older listeners, but there are some healthy radio stations in this town (B96 for instance), programming contemporary music.

As for the alternative scene, people that have studied this—people much smarter and tuned in than me—say that the whole scene really ended the day that Kurt Cobain killed himself. After that it became so derivative—meanwhile Dave Matthews was selling 20,000 tickets in colleges. (Photo:Q-101 staff early 90s: Dave McBride, Brian Peck, Robert Chase, Bill Gamble, Hedi Hess, Steve McEwen, Mark Goodman, Carla Leonardo)

The audience directed us in a new path. The record companies tried to shove Limp Bizkit down our throats, but the audience told us something else. The great thing about PPM is that we used to feel like we were driving the bus, but we obviously weren’t. The audience figures it out. We follow them.

Rick: Now that you’ve been back in Chicago for a few months—what is the best part of being back?

Bill: The best thing is our kids are here, and our friends are here, and it’s good to be home. I’m a White Sox fan. I’m not crazy about that late season fold, but it’s good to be able to watch them again. It’s fun to watch Cutler and the Bears. It’s good to be in a place where people care about sports. In Denver they kind of like sports, but its nothing like here.

Plus they have like seven feet of snow in Denver now. (laughs)