Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ed Tyll

Ed Tyll was part of the legendary Loop AM 1000 lineup in the early 90s. He is now hosting middays 12-3 (ET) in Orlando at WEUS 810 AM.

Rick: I was telling a friend of mine that I was going to be talking to you today and he sang: “Ed Tyll, you may not like what he says, Ed Tyll. But he’ll say it anyway, Ed Tyll.” Now that song is stuck in my head. You don’t still use that jingle do you?

Ed: (laughing) I’m still using it. I have seventeen other jingles, but that exact version—which is the original-- is still in the rotation, one of out every 18 times that will song play when I come out of a commercial break.

Rick: In Chicago, people remember you from your time at the Loop. I regularly get e-mails from people asking me to track you down. Now that I have, why don’t you tell everybody what you’re up to these days?

Ed: I still do a radio show, and it’s really the same one I’ve been doing since kindergarten. I love to tell the sensational tales of reality and how great and disastrous it is, and then see and hear how people respond to that.

I’m based in New York City, which is my home town, but the station I’m on is in Orlando. In a world of recession and catastrophic destruction in the field that I love, out of nowhere, some guys that used to love my show in Orlando—which is where I went first after Chicago, called up and said: “We own this radio station now, and we want to make it an authentic talk station. You can do the show from your apartment. We’ll have producers and board ops down here in Florida, and it will just be like you’re in another room from them.”

Plus they had these syndication plans with my show and another personality that was big in the market after I left. They said to me: “If I grab the two of you and have you back to back, we can eventually syndicate both of you (both of us have been syndicated in the past). We’re a showcase market here in the tourism capital of America.”

And that sounded pretty good to me—a non-corporately owned father-son operation.

I went on the air in October, and they flew me down there for a few days to do the show there, and make a few appearances, and reacquaint myself with the market and the listeners there. It’s now in it’s sixth week. I’m on every day from noon to three Eastern Time. I haven’t had this much fun since the 90s.

Rick: You’ve always done what I considered to be a fairly serious talk show. That is, you discussed serious topics in a serious way. It may have been controversial, but it was never really wacky. But you’ve obviously got another side to you. Since you left Chicago you’ve become a stand up comedian. How did that come about?

Ed: The comics wanted to know that too. My original idea of big time entertainment in my childhood came from those Bill Cosby albums. You don’t go out of the house in New York in the winter--you stay home, and if you’ve got a few Cosby albums and a few friends to come over and listen to them while you’re mom makes you hot chocolate, that’s what you do.

After you fall in love with a business like I did with broadcasting, and then that business changes as much as it did, you feel like your wife has cheated on you. And I'd run into these stand up comics like Richard Jeni, and they still had total freedom to say what they were thinking. They’d say, well, I’d love to say this on Leno or Letterman and I can’t, but when I’m on stage in a club, I can say whatever I want. I have total freedom. And that really appealed to me. That’s where I found my niche. I was never a Henny Youngman-type of joke teller. I never submitted jokes to comedy services or anything like that. I created this one-man show.

Rick: How would you describe your comedy act?

Ed: It’s called “Sacred Cowburger,” and it’s a sociological shredding to laugh by.

Rick: Can we see any examples of this on YouTube or anything.

Ed: Yes, you can on YouTube, but I must confess that’s not current material, and it’s definitely not the whole show. I’m not big on this Youtube/Facebook lifestyle. I do participate, I suppose, but it’s not like I’m constantly doing Facebook updates. I’m not even sure why I’m on there. Well, let me take that back. I do know why. My girlfriend got me on there.

Rick: Back in the Loop days I would have classified you as a conservative—I remember you being a big Ronald Reagan fan. So I was a little surprised when I was researching your career to see that Reason Magazine called you a “left liberal” talk show host. Have your politics changed over the years, or has the left-right paradigm moved that far to the right in the last twenty years?

Ed: Here’s a confession. I’m still excited about that crazy little girl from Alaska. I was thrilled that she excited all these woman last year at the convention. Now I know she’s crazy, but I do sense that she’s authentic, and the support for her is real. I’m not sure where exactly you’d place me on the left-right paradigm. I suppose conservative would be accurate, but Republican definitely wouldn’t be.

As for Reason Magazine, I don’t know where they came up with that, other than the fact that on any given day they might have tuned in to something that didn’t fit the exact dogma. For instance, I’ll do a tirade on the scandal of America’s homeless, which certainly isn’t the typical conservative topic. I was raised Catholic. That’s part of who I am.

Rick: Do you think the fact that you’re a little difficult to classify is one of the reasons you’ve moved around so much during this political talk radio era?

Ed: That is exactly correct. You have really put your finger on it there. There is a stubborn independence about me that resists easy classification, and we are definitely living in an oversimplified era.

I’m definitely not swept up in the hyper partisanship, and you know why? I don’t think most people are like that. We’re not that easy to classify. Nobody believes, and nobody should believe, every single thing that a political party stands for. That’s ridiculous. My show is more reflective of reality and I resist the caricaturing of people that has been dominating talk radio the last ten years. When people ask me about my brand, I say my brand is four letters—T-Y-L-L.

Rick: I know you’ve always had some pretty strong opinions about freedom of speech and censorship. You’ve probably even lost a job or two along the way for something you’ve said. What do you think about some of the recent stories in the news;  Juan Williams, Keith Olbermann, Rick Sanchez, or even Don Imus?

Ed: It’s very troubling. It’s an awfully dark cloud hanging over our industry. Calling Williams a bigot for what he said? You’ve got to be kidding.

Suspending Keith Olbermann for what? You’ve got to be kidding me. I'll tell you what happened there—somebody in a position of authority wanted to put a thumb on him, to better control what he said, to shut him up. Shameful!

Our founding fathers talked about an unmolested public dialog being a crucial component of our democracy. What would you like us all to be? A soft marshmallow? It’s contrary to Darwin and our greatest moments as a nation. The marketplace of ideas needs to be unrestrained.

Rick: Since this is called Chicago Radio Spotlight, I do need to ask you about your time here in Chicago. You were part of that incredible AM Loop lineup in the 90s, doing nights, and overnights. Do you have any favorite memories of your Chicago days?

Ed: Oh God, I do. Working at the Loop was like working on radio's Mt. Rushmore. I even got to interact with Johnny B, because I stayed late after my show working on stuff, and so I was still there when the caravan would arrive. Johnny B introduced me to Gary Busey once. After my first show on the air at the Loop, Steve and Garry crank-called me out of bed the following morning—they got a big kick out of that. I was in the station during the day for meetings and what have you, and would run into Kevin Matthews. He and Shemp and Jim Shorts, that show was just magical.

These are the flashbacks, and positive ones too. What about Chet Coppock! (Photo) Chet’s intro to my show used to be three minutes long. It was a riot. He would wind up this huge buildup by calling me BIG ED TYLL, and in would walk in this 5’6, 115 pound guy.

Working on the Loop was like being on tour with all famous guys, all the time. I do remember one night when all of us got together for an event on the same night, and it was awesome. They did a poster for Budweiser with all of us, and we came out on stage at the same time. That was something.

Rick: When you were doing overnights on the AM, I had my fair share of overnight shifts on the FM, and heard quite a few of your shows. I remember being amazed that you would just sort of crack the microphone, and pontificate without notes for like 45 minutes. I’m guessing you did your fair share of preparation before you came into the station, but how in the world did you manage to do that?

Ed: (laughs)  Yeah, I still do that. I still don’t use notes. Whenever I do the stand up show and I have the right audience, and they’ve let me run over, I’ve been known to do as much as  two hours and 45 minutes with a live audience. The best radio comes without notes, channeling what is going on in your head, and from your heart--just spilling it on the air.

Rick: Do I remember also, and forgive me if my memory is hazy here, but didn’t you also briefly work at another station in Chicago?

Ed: At the end, after the Loop gig ended, in the summer of 1993, I was surveying what was next, and I had become close to Scott Loftus, and he said I could come on his station, and so I did. I got in like four or five months there. That was fun too. It was out in the suburbs somewhere.

Rick: You’ve worked everywhere now. Probably more places than anyone else I’ve ever interviewed. I think you have a pretty unique perspective on Chicago. What are the pros and cons of working in this city?

Ed: The cons are minimal because I’m biased to big sprawling cities. I love clean, and Chicago is clean. I love polite, and Chicago is polite. I love well read, and Chicago is well read. I love people that are protective of their identity and culture, I’m very pro-provincial, and I love that about Chicago. I still get excited every time I see the city on TV-- the Water Tower, the Wrigley building, the Hancock (Hey I worked there!), the Drake. I lived on Wabash.

Best of all, Chicago has small town values in a big city. I hope to come out there shortly after the new year with the comedy show, and don’t be surprised if I pop up on an affiliate there in the near future too.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is the afternoon news anchor on WLS Radio's Roe Conn show. He has been with the radio station in one role or another since 1968.

Rick: If you don't mind, I'd like start at the very beginning of your WLS career. You started in 1968, which couldn't have been a more exciting news year in Chicago. What was it like reporting the news during that tumultuous era?

Jim: 1968 was a life changing year for me. Not only had I just started as a newswriter-editor at WLS...but some of the biggest stories of my career happened soon after I arrived. Martin Luther King was assassinated (followed by the west side riots in Chicago.) Bobby Kennedy was shot. The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago and the anti-war protests and riots broke out.

Although I was a rookie reporter, the new news director at WLS, Bob Benson, decided I should become a street reporter and cover these events. Little did I know that these stories in my first year were some of the biggest stories ever. I was only 23. In addition to filing reports for WLS, the ABC network began using my reports on a regular basis. I was used as a fill in network anchor on ABC network newscasts. I covered the clash between anti war protesters and the police at the corner of Balbo and Michigan. It was pretty "heady" stuff for someone my age.

Rick: WLS was a music station then with a news room much bigger than the newsroom you have now in this news/talk format. Describe the size and scope of that newsroom and how the labor was divided amongst you.

Jim: Yes the newsroom grew to a point where we had up to 17 people including reporters, news anchors, and editors. (Photo: WLS Newsroom, 1979, L-R, News Director Bud Miller, Catherine Johns, Jeff Hendricks, Jim Johnson, writer Ira Johnson, Linda Marshall, Harley Carnes, Karen Hand, producer Lon Dyson....and Bob Conway in the clock.)

I was a newswriter and editor who doubled as an on air reporter (belonging to two unions for awhile). I later became a full-time on air reporter and anchor covering city hall and breaking news and also filling in for various news anchors on vacation. I was also the “assignment editor" for awhile. I did not like being a so-called boss and eventually got rid of that chore.

In the late 1970s I also worked as a weekend on air reporter for WLS TV. The late Sixties and Seventies were like a scene from the TV show Mad Men....three martini lunches with the sales department and the older city hall reporters were quite common. And the Women's Lib movement had barely begun back then. There were more than a couple scandals involving on air people and young women who worked as assistants and secretaries. (My lips are sealed)

Rick: Throughout the 1970s, you worked with some of the biggest stars in Chicago radio history. Who were some of your favorites during that time?

Jim: Well, of course, Larry Lujack, John Landecker, Fred Winston, and Bob Sirott jump to mind.

Rick: You were a big part of the Steve & Garry show in the 80s, and that was probably one of the most stressful and dramatic times of your time at WLS. The struggle between management and talent was very real. You were probably caught in the middle of it. What was it like from your perspective at that time?

Jim: These were wild times. I was a big listener and fan of Steve and Garry and was happy to fill in for Maggie Brock (their news-person at the time) when she was on vacation, or filling in for Catherine Johns on the am side. At first Steve was not thrilled with my being thrust into their show, but as time when on we got along fine and I eventually became their full time news guy. It was a blast!

I was at ring side for some of the most interesting clashes between on air talent and management in history. Steve and Garry were eventually forced to move to the AM side of WLS which they at first resisted. As it turns out, they had huge ratings on AM and even Steve admitted that "huge transmitter" put him into a lot of homes throughout the Midwest. After a year though, their contract was up and WLS lost them to the Loop ...and I stayed at WLS.

Rick: In 1989 when I was producing Steve & Garry's show at the Loop, they were celebrating their tenth anniversary together. One of the things I did was contact people that used to work with them, and have them call in as a surprise, and you were one of the people that called in. I remember that so vividly because you were actually on-the-air at WLS during that same time slot, and just walked into another room to call the competition. Do you remember that, and did you ever get in trouble for it?

Jim: Of course I remember that...I thought it was fun to call in ... I even remember what I said when you put me through (without telling them who it was). I said "Hey guys let's roll out the Canarble wagon."

Actually as I recall, the bosses didn't mind. Drew Hayes was our program director and is back now. He had a flair for the dramatic and knew it was all good publicity. I'm having a blast with Drew back at the station. Drew and Michael Damsky (our general manager) have brought a breath of fresh air to the station…and made some changes for the better. WLS is thriving again.

Rick: During the Roe and Garry years, you worked with Garry for the second time. There was obviously a comfort level there between you two, and that show had a great run, but when it blew up it must have been extremely awkward and difficult for you. What was going through your mind during that era?

Jim: Everyone involved probably has their own version of what happened. When Drew Hayes (in a brilliant move) brought Garry back to WLS to join Roe as a co-host I thought it was a pairing made in heaven. On the first day Garry started joking about the Canarble wagon and we were off and running. (Photo: Garry, Roe, Jim, and the Canarble Wagon)

Roe and Garry clicked from the beginning and once again I came along for a great ride. Then a few years later when Garry turned down a huge final contract offer from WLS, I was shocked and sad...but life goes on.

Rick: There have obviously been quite a few changes on the show since that time, but the one constant other than Roe himself, has been you. He obviously thinks very highly of you. How would you describe your relationship with Roe?

Jim: Its as good as it gets. Roe (photo) and I have worked closely together for more than 20 years. In addition, we are close friends, and have shared countless professional and personal family moments. Sometimes during the show I swear we can read each others minds! If I get off track ..he lets me know with a glance. I honestly cannot remember ever having a serious disagreement. I’m free to chime in when I want, but most of the time I try to stay out of the way and let Roe and Roeper do their thing. One thing we all agree on is that nothing (and I mean nothing!) said on the show is taken personally.

Rick: What are some of your favorite moments from the Roe show years?

Jim: Oh my god…you’re asking me to remember highlights from what has been a feast of fascinating guests, current events and wacky topics? Not possible. We have had a front-row seat to history and all the compelling events in the past 20 years…including the 9-11 attacks. News-makers, politicians, top show business personalities and gangsters have been in the WLS studios with us. I think some were either drunk or on drugs.

The dozens of “live shows” we have done outside the studio in various locations around the world have been and continue to be a blast. If I ever write a “tell all” book I will have to go into a witness protection program .

Rick: How do you think the latest lineup of the show, with Richard Roeper, is gelling?

Jim: This was another great move by our bosses Michael Damsky and Drew Hayes! (Photo) Can I suck up any more than I have already? He has fit in beautifully. He brings a lot to the table with his own huge resume (columnist, radio and TV host, and author to name a few things). I have listened to a lot of radio and TV in my lifetime and I have never seen anyone fit in to a new show more smoothly and naturally. Simply put, “he gets it!"

Rick: The news business is really in the Johnson blood, isn't it? Your dad was a newsman, you're a newsman, and your daughter is a television news reporter too. What is it about this business and your family?

Jim: No doubt about it I was blessed to be raised in a family with a great Mom and Dad, although their marriage was a constant storm due to my Dad’s drinking and occasional womanizing. Despite their stormy marriage I always knew I had their unconditional love.

My father. He was a brilliant writer and newsman who also loved the outdoors. He started in Chicago at the City News bureau, which was supported by the newspapers in the early days. He eventually went to the Sun Times as a city hall reporter and outdoor sports columnist (odd combination but he loved both).

He quit his good job at the paper and dragged his family up to the North Woods where he and my mother built and operated a hunting and fishing lodge for many years. The politicians, judges, policemen, and firefighters that he covered vacationed there. (Including the original Mayor Daley and his young sons including one who also became mayor). John Callaway the wonderful reporter and TV host here in Chicago was friends with my father and also came up to fish and relax. I felt like I was living in an Earnest Hemmingway novel and loved almost every minute of it.

I assume my daughter Alexis and I inherited my Dad’s journalism blood and my daughter also got my wife’s looks and common sense.

Rick: As someone that has been around the news business literally his entire life, what are your thoughts about the future of news?

Jim: Actually in the past couple of years the business has changed dramatically. Of all the things I’ve witnesses in the business, the explosion of information on-line and the all-news channels have really changed things. Twitter and Facebook are not only social networks, people use them to break news! They didn’t even exist until recently. How did that happen?

I actually like the changes…there’s more out there than ever before. As I tell broadcasting interns, ”Life is change…either get with it our get out of the way.”

Rick: What else do you tell them?

Jim: Try not to let a bad boss drive you out of a job you really like. He who speaks first in a meeting usually loses. Be patient and you will get most of what you want. I’ve been up, I’ve been down, and up is better!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Brian "Whip" Paruch

Brian Paruch is the morning news anchor on the Eric and Kathy show on WTMX. Since he started in Chicago radio he's been also been known as "Whipping Boy" or "Whip" (which is what Eric and Kathy call him on the air).

Rick: First of all, congrats on the new gig. You must be pretty excited stepping into a ratings powerhouse like this.

Whip: When I started part-time at the Mix in '06, it did cross my mind that this was a job for which I'd be a good fit, especially once I started filling in (either for traffic or news) occasionally. But I thought Barry Keefe would be here forever, so I didn't really allow myself to think about how great it would be to join the show; then when Barry left and Mark joined right away, I REALLY didn't think it would ever be in the cards. So when they approached me with it, I was extremely excited and surprised.

Rick: I know you filled in for Mark Suppelsa when he was on vacation, so you already had a relationship with the morning show gang, but it's never exactly the same thing as doing it full time. How has it gone, and how are you adjusting to returning to the grueling morning show schedule?

Whip: It's gone fine so far, as far as I can tell. I'm having a great time, and they haven't kicked me out or told me to change anything, and those, I think, have to be good signs. The schedule of waking up that early is bringing back some memories...but it's not as though it's a strange concept to me, so it's not too bad. Plus, when I was working here and at the Score, there would be a lot of days when I would pull double this is very much a bright side, and could even be considered easy, compared to that.

Rick: You've obviously done the news before, but you're following in the footsteps of some pretty heavy hitters there; Mark Suppelsa is obviously a household name in Chicago after his many years anchoring television newscasts, and Barry Keefe before him was the morning newsman for thirty years. How is your approach similar or different than those two guys?

Whip: I think I'm different than both of those guys, in that my credibility is about a three on a scale of one to ten, whereas they'd both be considered tens. I really just try to write the news the way I speak, and try to think in terms of what our listeners would care about when I select stories. When there's an obvious lead story, like the elections, for example, I'll do that; but on other days, I'm not afraid to lead with, say, Charlie Sheen....while giving the "important" stuff its due, too.

Rick: I really enjoyed listening to you when you were doing sports talk on the Score--I could tell that you had a real passion for and knowledge of the subject matter. You've been doing sports since your days at WPGU at the University of Illinois (yup, another plug for the ol' Alma Mater). Was that difficult for you to give up? And what will you miss the most about doing sports talk?

Whip: It was a little difficult to give up sports, because I'd always wanted to do it before I did it. And it most certainly was fun, most of the time. The only thing I didn't like about sports talk was that sometimes there was some flat-out meanness and/or craziness from listeners, and while I know intellectually that thick skin is a must in this business, sometimes some of the Score callers would actually get to me to the point that I would be driving home, having like a pretend argument with Jim from Evergreen Park in my mind. I know that's not good. I will miss, though, the ability to sit there and talk about the Cubs and/or White Sox for hours straight, especially when things are going well.

Rick: I've known people throughout the years that get stuck with a nickname early in their careers. Some embrace it, some grow to loathe it. You've been known as "The Whipping Boy" or "Whip" since shortly after you started in Chicago radio. How do you feel about it now all these years later?

Whip: I have always thought that the "Whipping Boy" thing was a very distinctive identifier, something that really stuck in people's minds. In other words, a positive.

Rick: Where did you get that nickname?

Whip: Bill Gamble (photo) actually gave me "Whipping Boy," which, from what I understand, was a name that a couple of other guys on alternative stations in different cities at that time (1994) had. I think Heidi Hess was the first person to shorten that to "Whip," then Wendy and Bill changed it to Brian the Whipping Boy, because Bill Leff refused to call me by the wacky radio name.

Rick: Wendy and Bill actually did a show that was similar to Eric and Kathy's show. Has that experience helped you make the transition to this new job?

Whip: I also did news on that show, so in that way it was similar...but it was also different in lots of ways, namely: they had been on the Loop previously, and I had already been on Q101 for awhile, so I think my presence was meant to sort of give Q listeners a familiar presence on this new show on their station. Here, I'm joining an already-established group and trying not to get in the way or harm it. But certainly that experience helped me know when to jump in, when to hold back, etc., all those things that are essential with several voices on the air.

Rick: You're also one of the many Chicago radio graduates of the Mancow show. I've heard the pros and cons about that whole Mancow experience from some of my previous interview subjects (including Mancow himself--who, not surprisingly--gave me mostly the pros). How do you look back on that experience now with the benefit of hindsight?

Whip: Mancow (photo) was a lot of fun a lot of times...but was also very stressful, because you sometimes didn't know from day to day what might pop up out of literally nowhere to cause a problem, or a headache, or an explosion. It also taught me unequivocally to be able to adjust on the fly, and to try not to derail where a host was trying to go. Also, I was kind of the voice-of-reason guy on that show, so I was able to develop some devil's-advocate sorts of skills there. But mostly it was just weird and surreal, and sometimes looking back, I can't believe that it actually happened, or that we actually talked about some of the things we talked about, or that people in the studio actually did the things they did (which, mostly, I just watched in amazement instead of participating).

Rick: I think one of the things I respect the most about your career is that you've really done it all. You've been a music jock, a newsman, a sidekick, a producer, a talk show host, and probably fixed a copy machine or two. Of all those gigs, what's the most satisfying, and which one is the most difficult?

Whip: I think a talk-show host is both the most satisfying and most difficult. It can be tough to come up with compelling topics, especially when you're literally in a studio by yourself, except for a producer and a phone. It takes a special kind of person, and some would say, one who has the qualities of a self-absorbed blowhard, to do that really well consistently. But there are few things more satisfying than presiding over a thoughtful, quality discussion...even if it's only about something as irrelevant as whether or not Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams will ever be able to patch things up.

Rick: You're a local guy--a native Chicagoan--which means you also have a healthy knowledge of Chicago radio history. Who were the guys (or gals) that you listened to when you were growing up, and who has influenced your on-air style the most?

Whip: I go back to being very, very little, and loving Larry Lujack (photo) and Tommy Edwards on WLS: I've since met Tommy, and he's a great guy. Actually, anyone from that WLS era: Bob Sirott, Landecker, etc. And Brant Miller, for some reason, growing up. He came across as very real-sounding to me. I used to call him on WLS and, later, Z-95. I also really enjoyed the Barsky Morning Zoo (in high school) and later I liked Brandmeier, and Bobby Skafish and Bob Stroud when they were on the Loop (I also have worked with Skafish, and he's also a great guy). I also really liked certain sports broadcasters, but not necessarily sports talkers: John Rooney and Wayne Hagin were a great Sox radio team, I thought, and Thom Brennaman was fantastic with the Cubs (and is now fantastic nationally, of course).

Rick: And finally, tell us something we don't know about Eric and Kathy.

Whip: Eric and Kathy actually have no idea that my birth name is not "Whip." Please do not tell them, as I feel that we have a good thing going here.