Saturday, September 04, 2010

CRS Updates: Roe Conn, Cisco Cotto, Jerry Agar and Bob Hale

I got a chance over the last week or so to reconnect with a few of my previous Chicago Radio Spotlight interview subjects. All have undergone some big changes since we last spoke...


Since we last spoke, Bill Leff is gone from the show, Cisco Cotto has come and gone, Jill Urchak has come and gone, and Christina has come and gone and come back again. Now on the show: Richard Roeper, Jim Johnson (who never left) and Christina Filliagi. I asked Roe how he likes the changes that have been made to his show...

Roe: What a difference a year makes. In 2009, our company (Citadel) was going bankrupt, management panicked and adopted a "try anything" approach that relied more on stunts and controversy than content. The audience was left whip-sawed and confused.

With Michael Damsky and Drew Hayes at the helm (and Citadel successfully emerging from bankruptcy) the environment changed. Damsky had an actual business plan that put WLS back on offense, the centerpiece of which was repairing afternoons.

He brought in Drew, brought back fan-favorite Christina Filiaggi and let us rebuild a show around current events that uses entertainment instead of anger to make a point.

It's easy to piss people off. Outrage is cheap to produce and hard to sell. Entertainment is harder to produce but much easier to sell.

Mike and Drew understand that and were very supportive in allowing me and Jock Hedblade our Executive Producer to do whatever we needed to do.

Our first job was to get Richard Roeper on board. He was close to signing with WGN, but was hesitant about their direction. They have fallen into the trap we nearly did. Build cheap controversial programming and hope for the best. That has never worked in Chicago.

Richard, Jock and I have crafted a show that plays to all of our strengths. It's packed with information, but fun. It doesn't rely on the tactic of pitting people politically. It has an edge without being predictable.

And apparently it's working. We are up 110% 25-54. We are back in the top 10 with adults 25-54 and the top rated show on AM with women 25-54. But most importantly, we're having fun again.


When I last spoke with Cisco he was the co-host of John Howell's morning show on WIND-AM 560. Since then, he has come back to WLS to co-host the afternoon show with Roe Conn, and then was given the 9-11 AM slot when Mancow and Pat Cassidy were let go. I asked him how he liked his new shift, and if he felt any pressure having to fill the gap between Don & Roma and Rush Limbaugh...

Cisco: Being back at WLS is literally like a homecoming. I was there for 6 years as a news reporter before deciding to try moving into the talk studio. Many of the behind the scenes people are still at WLS so there were lots of hugs when I returned. It may sound silly in an age when radio jobs come and go, but WLS really does have a family feel. Drew Hayes and Michael Damsky are helping to foster this. They see their roles as coaches rather than bosses. They are always asking how they can help us as opposed to issuing edicts. Sometimes I have to pinch myself a bit to make sure this is real. A friendly environment and supportive bosses isn’t what radio is “supposed” to be like. I’m truly having a blast and enjoy going to work every day.

One of the best parts about being back is being able to see Don and Roma everyday. They are two of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met in radio. So now, between the end of their show and the start of mine, we get to joke around off the air. Often we’re laughing so hard my producer has to call into the studio, “Cisco, your show started 2 minutes ago. Would you like to talk or should I replay your opening music?”

Why do you think there would be pressure as the show between two local radio legends and the man who single handedly established the conservative talk radio format? Pressure? No pressure! Seriously, it certainly is a responsibility. Both Don & Roma and Rush have big audiences and if I don’t deliver then there’s obviously something wrong with me and not them. But my history with the station made the start of the show easier because listeners were welcoming back a voice from the past. Also, I’ve tried to learn a lot from watching and listening to both Don & Roma and Rush over the years. Every day I remember that I have to be entertaining and/or informative. People aren’t going to tune in just because I have a show. I have to offer them something. I have to talk about things that affect their lives. Sometimes that’s politics and sometimes it’s not.

Though I’m obviously conservative, I think people listening to the show would find that thoughtful, respectful liberals have a fair hearing on the show. That doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with them and I’m going to try to show them the error of their ways, but I’m also not necessarily going to bite their head off. If they’re jerks then I probably will. There’s a lot of politics on the show because what’s going on in Washington, Springfield, and City Hall affects each of us every day. But I go beyond that. Some of the questions I’ve addressed in just the last couple of weeks: Why should a swimmer performing a rescue because the lifeguard didn’t get there in time have to pay his own medical bills? While we don’t sanction domestic violence, wouldn’t everyone understand if Elin took a 9-iron to Tiger? And why in the world is the new Sun Chips bag so darn loud???


Last time I interviewed Jerry Agar a few years ago he was the one in that time-slot between Don & Roma and Rush on WLS. Since then he moved over to WGN as a fill-in host for awhile, before landing another full-time gig in his native Canada a few months ago. I asked him how the new job is going, and if it was more difficult to do conservative talk in a more liberal country...

Jerry: I am currently doing the 9 am to 1 pm show on Canada's heritage, and largest talk station News Talk 1010, formerly known as CFRB in Toronto.

Canada has gone even further to the left since the days when I grew up here and it seems I got back just in time to fight the socialism.

The people at the station are great. Like WGN it is live and local all day and evening, with a full news room.

I am still proudly associated with WGN as I get to do some Saturday evenings for them.

One of my sons has just started his senior year in high school so my family is still in the Chicago area as we want to let him finish it out with his friends and sports teams.


I got wind of an honor that is being bestowed upon Bob the other day. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He also sent me this picture from more than fifty years ago...

Bob: It's true. The Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of fame in inducting me Labor Day weekend. That a 1.50 gets me on the CTA! (It is still 1.50 isn't it? As a Senior I ride free...a really stupid idea!) So, for what it's worth, I guess my Buddy Holly death connection is about to rocket me into international fame!!!! Again, that and 1.50.....

The pic is from 1959 when KRIB's rock and roll format was one year old. It was taken at my weekly record hop at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

Next week I'll be back with a few more updates...