Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter!

I'm not posting a Chicago Radio Spotlight interview this weekend or the following two weekends because of family commitments (Easter, First Communion, and Mother's Day), but Chicago Radio Spotlight will return on May 14th with an interview of a Chicago radio legend that I've never interviewed before. I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gary Spears

Gary Spears is the midday host at K-Hits, WJMK-FM (104.3 FM)

Rick: First of all, welcome back to Chicago. You’re certainly no stranger to this town. What did you miss most about it when you were gone?

Gary: Deep dish pizza.

Rick: Wow, no hesitation.

Gary: (Laughs) Has to be the deep dish pizza! I grew up in Lafayette Indiana and listened to Chicago radio growing up, and came up here to visit once in high school. I had my first deep dish pizza then, and I was hooked. It’s amazing that I’m still relatively thin because I love it that much.

Rick: It must be nice to come right into a situation there at K-Hits with people you already know, people that you’re comfortable with; PD Todd Cavanaugh, Eddie & Jobo, etc...

Gary: You’re so right about that. Todd and I were good friends. We lived in the same apartment building and everything. I talked to Eddie and Jobo (photo) about this when I first got into town. When you start up at a new radio station, you have a tendency to feel a little insecure—stations can be a little cliquey. You usually go around and meet everyone, shake their hands and say hello, but in this case I went around and hugged everyone. I knew Todd, and Eddie, and JoBo, and George. I didn’t know Bo—I believe I took over for him when I came back to B-96 in 1990, but he’s a great guy too.

This really is a great atmosphere. No huge egos trips. We’re all in it to win it, and we’re all in it to have fun. By the time you get to this point in your career the ego thing is definitely tamer than it might have been earlier in your career.

Rick: If memory serves, you actually pre-dated those guys at B-96. You were one of the original jocks in that format, and now you’re one of the original jocks in this new format. How are the two experiences similar or different?

Gary: You’re showing my age, thanks a lot. (laughs) Yes, I was one of the original jocks of the Hot Hits format, and there are quite a few similarities. If I’m not mistaken, that was also in the springtime. Same time of year, brand new station, and even the on-air approach is similar. This station is getting back into personality with energized air talent. That was also the case back in 1982. Mike Joseph was the consultant that owned that Hot Hits name back then, and that was his approach. Lots of jingles, sweepers, and high energy.

Rick: I’ve been listening to K-hits the past few days, and it’s an interesting blend of music. It’s more contemporary than the old WJMK (Full disclosure: I worked there for ten years), but it’s not quite the mix that you played early on at B-96. It’s sort of in between. To me it’s like listening to the format on WLS-AM in the late 70s, early 80s. Would you agree with that assessment?

Gary: It does have a retro feel to it. The music and the on air feel. That’s my take on it—I’m not speaking for management. I listened to that station growing up, and I absolutely loved those guys on WLS at the time; Bob Sirott, Larry Lujack, Tommy Edwards, and especially John Records Landecker. Loved John Records Landecker (Photo). He had the ability to communicate, entertain, and inform in short energetic bursts like nobody else.

Rick: How would you describe your on-air approach in this format?

Gary: I’ve always looked as personality as the icing on the cake. This is my first time being judged in the PPM world, but I always felt that my style was they very well suited to what the PPM tells us people want—short bursts of personality. People’s attention spans are like 10 seconds. If you can get the point across in that amount of time, you’re really accomplishing something. That’s my approach. Every break has to have something interesting, informative, or entertaining.

Rick: But get right to the point.

Gary: Exactly. I’ve had discussions with other jocks about it that don’t like it, that aren’t adjusting well to it, but I honestly believe it’s totally doable. You just need to think about what you’re going to do before you get on the air. You need to edit, to squeeze 40 seconds into 20 seconds. It takes work, but I’m here to tell you it can be done.

Rick: I was listening to you the other day, and you did a quick bit about the government shutdown over a fifteen second Bee Gees intro. I thought "Wow, actual content over a record intro."

Gary: (laughs) That’s what I mean. Exactly.

Rick: It’s been more than 15 years since you were last on the air in Chicago. In the meantime, you’ve mainly been out in LA—most famously working for Kiss-FM there. I understand that you also really got the acting bug while you were out there.

Gary: I did, but not while I was doing radio. When I was still working in radio I was totally focused on that. I’m not one of those guys that get involved in a million different things at once. But I was part of the budget crunch at Clear Channel in ’07, and after that, I did begin to focus more on acting and voice-overs. I did lots of commercials—and a few of them are still on the air. I just got an e-mail from Bobby Skafish the other day because he thought he saw me in a Party City commercial. Yup, that was me. I also did some ads for Panda Security. I was in one Hallmark movie “Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith.” I did some Grey’s Anatomy. In the background, but definitely on camera.

Still, it was all small stuff. It takes so long to break into that business. It’s really a struggle. I must admit I had a hard time adjusting to it. I was used to getting a paycheck every two weeks, and now I was waiting for the phone to ring—just for an audition. And then the economy fell apart, and one of the first things to go in a recession is advertising. Commercials were cut back, and some agencies started going non-union, and the other ones were hiring big name stars. I’d go to auditions, and see these big names there. They had to do it too. It became a struggle for them too.

Rick: When you were at Kiss-FM you followed Rick Dees every morning.

Gary: Yes, and Rick Dees (photo) is an amazing guy. One of the nicer guys I’ve met in the business. He was a huge success there from 1982 until 2005 or 2006 or 2007, I forget the exact year the change took place. He wasn’t just a radio guy, obviously. He was also on television with Solid Gold. He had a line of cigars and golf clubs. He’s very diversified, and has done very well for himself, but at heart he is a radio guy, and a trailblazer at that. I remember hearing his early stuff and it was really impressive, amazing stuff. He still does great radio. I was lucky enough to co-host his countdown show with him a few times, and he has this beautiful studio out there. I believe he just signed a deal with Cumulus.

Rick: Did your tour of duty at Kiss cross over at all with Ryan Seacrest?

Gary: Yes it did. He was there the last couple of years I was there.

Rick: And what is he like?

Gary: Well, I’m not sure exactly how to describe him. Ryan’s Ryan. At that time he already wasn’t doing the show from where the rest of us did. He was located in the E! building. But I’ve known him for a long time. When I first got to LA, I worked at a place called Star 98.7. He was doing nights at the time, and was a nice enough guy back then. I don’t know what he is like now, but I do know this; he sure is rich. (laughs) Guys like Ryan do a service for radio because they bring recognition to the medium, so that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the other side of the coin is that they also take away jobs from other people after they’re syndicated nationwide.

Rick: You had two tours of duty at B-96, one in the 80s and one in the 90s. Do you have any favorite memories from both of those eras?

Gary: I worked for some really impressive guys. Buddy Scott. He’s a brilliant programmer. And then I worked for another brilliant guy the second time I came here, Dave Shakes. I was lucky to work for people like that. Professional, smart, in it to win it. Todd Cavanaugh is the same way. He’s always been very hungry, and I love that about him. I think it’s going to be a good run.

Rick: I read that you had just bought a house in Florida and were planning on retiring down there when you got the call to come to K-Hits. Is that true?

Gary: Yes it’s true.

Rick: But aren’t you too young to retire?

Gary: Yes, yes, let's go with that. Yes I am. (laughs) It was weird how all this came down. I was in LA and getting tired of the acting thing, and I found this great house in Florida CHEAP, so I bought it and relocated there. This was only in December. But living in this area of Florida was like being in a tropical Chicago because it’s filled with Chicagoans. They even had Chicago bars. When the Bears were playing, you could see all their games.

Only a month later, the phone rings, and it was Todd Cavanaugh, calling from Chicago. I had just moved across the country, but this offer was Chicago, and I wasn’t going to say no to that. So that house in Florida is going to have to wait. I’m living in downtown Chicago now and loving it. I’m looking out the window right now. I live just north of Millennium Park, and this view is just incredible. The Chicago skyline is the most beautiful in the country.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Matt DuBiel

Matt DuBiel has been in the news recently because of his Save The Loop campaign. I previously interviewed Matt when he was the program director of The River.

Rick: First of all, it's been three years since I last interviewed you and you've done a lot of different things since then. Could you get us caught up on what's been going on with you in the past few years, and what you're doing right now?

Matt: Man how time flies, huh Rick! If you believe what you read on the internet, I am "unemployed." I could bore you with the inconsequential details of my career I suppose...but the Reader's Digest version is simple: I am free from the shackles of corporate radio!

Over the last 3 years Mike Noonan and I built a nationally syndicated show from scratch, hosted by Donny Osmond. We built the network to 75 stations including WLS FM in Chicago and sold the show to McVay Syndication last year. Building a business is an experience in and of itself, but selling one is a wild ride!

I’ve been experimenting a lot with my personal and professional life over the last year or so especially and chronicling some of it at You could almost define the last year more by what I am NOT doing.

For the last 3 years (even as early as my 9 FM days), I have immersed myself in the fusion of audio entertainment and internet marketing. I stopped listening to radio people and going to radio conventions and started paying attention to the people trailblazing the internet media movement. I have been studying and engaging with people like Leo Laporte, Chris Pirillo, Alex Jones and Gary Vaynerchuk. I have put lots of what I have learned into practice, and the results are paradigm shifting.

We’ve cracked the code for making money on the web, powered by radio. Leo is doing it. Alex is doing it. We know how to do it, and the weird thing is, no one cares. They’re still caught up in paying Arbitron ridiculous amounts of money, to define the rules of radio advertising, and then suffering at the hand of those very rules, which in the long run are killing radio.

Meanwhile Arbitron is realizing profits and radio is transferring wealth to Groupon, Google, Youtube and Facebook.

Rick: You were in the news recently because of the "Save the Loop" campaign. Robert Feder wrote a column quoting Loop GM Marv Nyron. Nyron outed you and your partner Mike Noonan as the brains behind the operation. I've seen a few quotes from you since that story came out, and you kept saying it wasn't just the two of you. Who else was (and is) involved?

Matt: Well now…in fairness to Marv, I don’t think he used the word “brains." I KNOW Feder didn’t. (laughs) This whole Save The Loop thing blew my mind. Here’s Emmis openly saying OUTLOUD, “We’re not cutting it in Chicago…we’re gonna move on….we’d like the industry and the world to know we’re totally open to selling WLUP and WKQX”. They weren’t pussy-footing around the issue at all. It was in corporate conference calls and reports…industry trades, you name it. The Loop and Q101 all but had shiny for sale signs in their front yards!

We happened to launch the video online right after they did a format tweak at The Loop. Incidentally, we bought over a year ago! Naturally, we knew some folks would be disenfranchised by the format change. The timing was right. We finalized the script, the audio, and the video and pushed the button. Within a week we had thousands of people signing up. We documented everything by the way. We knew we were going to get bombarded with naysayers and a negative response, but we also knew we’d get some buy in and we might make some good contacts or start some interesting conversations.

Unfortunately, somehow…someway…Marv and a few others took this as a negative and an attack. The tenor of this was nothing but to elevate and edify the institution that is WLUP Chicago. You don’t want it Emmis? Cool…no sweat. We think it would be radical if we could put together a group of Chicagoans to make this a Chicago thing. We spoke to some radio pals and we had some buy in from some names we thought would resonate with Chicago.

The plan all along was to appeal to real Chicago people who are passionate about WLUP, if in fact anyone is passionate about an FM radio station anymore in 2011. The fans were the coolest. Some of the radio folks were the coolest too, but sadly many of the radio people who said “I’m in!” never made good on any follow up whatsoever.

Two people made good on the videos as promised. I don’t want to mention the first name because I don’t want to ruffle any feathers at his day job. The second was Jeff Schwartz. Those two guys are men among men. They just get it.

As far as who else said they’d be on board, and who else said they’d talk and so on… It would be sour grapes for me to name them and list them as they did not come through. I will say this, throw out a name of a person who you wish would have consider this and we either heard from them…once, or they heard from us and declined.

No matter though…and here’s why, the list of people who have opted into the email list for is growing every day. The people, or “folks” as Bill O’Reilly would say, are responding favorably. They believe in the concept. So do a few merger and acquisition experts we’ve met with.

Rick: Are you still working on it?

Matt: We’re going to continue to engage with the people who are part of the community for sure. These people are awesome. The open rate of the emails we send to them is better than 70%. These people are plugged in. They will decide how far goes.

I will say, I expect Emmis to hold out longer now that their finances are looking up. Combine that with the fact that those stations aren’t worth what they want to sell them for…and I think Emmis is going to be in Chicago for a while.

Rick: A few years ago you programmed the first "we play anything" station in the Chicago area, 9-FM. That same general format was used by CBS for "Jack-FM". In the light of Jack-FM's demise, I'm curious about your opinion of the entire format/genre.

Matt: Here’s the hi-comedy. Radio kills oldies. Radio gives birth to variety hits. Radio kills variety hits (even though listeners love it if done right). Radio revives oldies? It should be noted I missed the Jammin Oldies birth and death in there too. The bottom line, radio knee jerks at different paces like clockwork.

Now if you flip around the dial in Chicago you have Rewind, K-Hits, The Drive, The Loop, and WLS FM. You can even throw in Lite FM, The River….all shades or degrees of Classic Hits. K-Hits and Rewind remind me a lot of 9 FM. When I left 9 FM, the cume was 750,000. Newsweb killed it anyway. Anyone want 750,000 cume, raise your hand? WSCR? WMVP? WIND?

Everyone’s got the PPM sweats and it’s sad. The problem is what’s good doesn’t matter. What matters is which format can appeal to the 2,500 people carrying PPMs in Chicago. It’s crazy, because it’s directly counter to what serves advertisers.

So radio’s target is satisfying 2,500 PPM carriers, while their sales reps are talking to advertisers about targeting hundreds of thousands, even millions. The kicker is, advertisers don’t actually need to reach millions of people who will ignore them. They would MUCH RATHER reach thousands or just hundreds of people who will buy, or at least engage.

Now radio managers play this shell game with stations and formats to make it feel like they know what’s going on, and Robert Feder calls me a hoaxster!

Steve Dahl, Mancow, Brandmeier, and Mike North should all be on the air daily in Chicago. Don’t fire the talent, fire Arbitron and cultivate sales talent who can sell personality based radio. Chicago retail needs it. Suburban retail needs it.

Rick: Do you think there's a hole in the Chicago radio market that still needs to be served?

Matt: Well I think we’ve got classic hits pretty much locked up. (laughs)

I am 34 years old. I am a “professional” Gen X husband and father of 3 living in the suburbs. Sports radio isn’t my thing. I’ve got nothing to listen to. There is no rock station. There is no station super serving men 25-54 or 18-49. I am at the age where men cross over to talk radio. It’s too angry for me. It’s too left vs. right for me.

I’d be less worried about format and more worried about generation programming. The Drive programs to a generation. It’s a station for Boomers. They own it. XRT used to say they were growing old with their listeners, but I am not sure they have it on lock down like The Drive.

The Mix is the closest thing to a generation station for my g-g-g-g-generation….but it’s not made for me. I think that’s why their male numbers are higher than you’d expect for a Hot AC.

There’s a hole for a Male driven format in Chicago, especially targeted to Gen X, whether that be music or talk. I think there’s room for another country station in Chicago, especially male leaning. Noonan and I have long believed our Blue Collar Radio format would do very well in Chicago.

Another non-format specific niche is no one owns the suburbs like they could. The suburban stations don’t own the suburbs, and the Chicago stations don’t own the suburbs. There’s a lot of money out there, but they don’t care about ratings. They need to move the register.

There’s a hole for rock now of course. I also have long been a believer in the Movin’ format which Rewind dabbled in for a bit but never really jumped all the way in on. At some point I think a business talk station with regular Bloomberg updates and financial talk mixed with real estate talk would do very well.

If I had an underperforming suburban station I’d throw Jack FM on off the bird asap. CBS spent millions marketing that station over 5 years and people know what it is. It wasn’t a bomb, it just wasn’t good enough for CBS. That’s what people don’t realize. A lot of these shows and formats are NOT failures. Steve Dahl is NOT a failure. He just doesn’t fit into the formula corporate radio is forcing themselves to use. The mind job is this: Corporate Radio can change the formula anytime they want. Someone needs to shake them and say YOU DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW THESE RULES. Make your own like Google did, and Facebook, and Groupon, and Craigslist and Drudge.

Rick: People that haven't seen you in awhile may be surprised by your appearance. You're a shell of your former self. How much weight have you lost and how did you do it?

Matt: Well that’s sweet of ya Rick. I'm blushing. I recently lost 70lbs. When I did afternoons at WLLI my on air name was Fat Matt. It was a playful name given to me by Rob Halford (Singer of Judas Priest) off the cuff, but at the time I was about 205. From there I ballooned up to 240!

It was pretty disgusting frankly. I was a fat mess. (Photo: Matt before weight loss)

Last fall, I lost 30 lbs in 40 days. Then I took a break and lost another 30 in 40. Over the last few months I’ve paired down another 10-15 and I weighed in at 168 this morning.

The secret….is women’s urine. I am serious. If I took a pregnancy test right now I would fail. Dr. Oz just did a whole show on the HCG Diet, and that’s what I did. In fact, Nina Chantelle from Kiss did it too, although she did the holistic drops which don’t actually have any hormone in them. I did the injections which are much more effective and require Doctor supervision.

It sounds like a pretty radical undertaking, and it is somewhat. But when you’re 30 pounds overweight or more, you need to do something radical. I did it with a local Doctor and it has changed my life forever. No more heartburn. No more high cholesterol (they wanted me to take crestor!). My jeans are a 32 inch waste and they are hanging off of me!

There’s a certain larger than life radio guy I turned onto the diet recently who’s doing very well with it. His results are going to be very exciting.

If radio personalities want to talk to Dr. Tom about how the diet works, drop me an email. I might even be able to get you “taken care of” if you’re willing to do a testimonial for their website! It’s life changing!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Megan Reed

Megan Reed hosts the midday show on Rewind 100, WILV.

Rick: Did you really play a DJ in an 8th grade play, and did that really make you want to do this for a living?

I always had an interest in the media, and I was in plays because I wanted to get into show biz, but I couldn’t sing, dance or act. (laughs) So I tried out for West Side Story in 8th grade and I was assigned “Glad-Hand the DJ” role, and I thought that was a lot of fun. And I listened to WLS all the time in those days, and they made the DJ job sound so fun too. I thought, hmmm, I may just have to pursue this.

Rick: You must love this midday gig you have right now. In a lot of ways, for the life you lead outside the station—as a mom of three kids, it’s perfect, really.

Megan: You got that right. It’s absolutely perfect. I can drop them off at school, but still be home in the afternoon to monitor them doing their homework, and put out whatever fires have been started.

Rick: Which is also the typical life of the Rewind 100 demo. You are living their lives, which I think helps you be relatable to the audience.

Megan: Well, thanks. Yes, I agree. It does help. And this format really does feel right to me. It’s a perfect fit. It’s the kind of stuff that I listen to myself.

Rick: I enjoy the Class Reunion lunch show you do. For those that aren’t familiar with it, what’s that all about?

Megan: We basically celebrate your senior year of high school. People write in, via Facebook or e-mail, and tell me the year that they graduated, and pick out three songs from that year. Every weekday at lunch we go back to someone’s senior year of high school. I also test your pop culture knowledge from that year. It’s fun to go back.

Rick: To Rewind?

Megan: (laughs) Yes.

Rick: Rewind 100 is a station that nobody is really talking about, but it’s quietly doing extremely well in the ratings. So well, you just got a new competitor down the dial. What do you think is the secret to your station’s success?

Megan: I think it’s really smart programming. First of all, it’s a good company. We have very smart people running the operation. They’ve been doing this a long time, and they really know what they’re doing. That’s who should get all of the credit for our success. After all, they pick the music. Plus, I think the 80s era really strikes a chord with people of a certain age. It’s just very comfortable for those of us that grew up with it.

Rick: Bonneville (owner of Rewind) really is a different animal, isn’t it? It’s not like the other radio companies. I worked for them briefly, and in a lot of ways, they were a breath of fresh air compared to the faceless corporate behemoths that own every other station. Now that a new owner (Hubbard) is taking over, have you noticed any differences?

Megan: You’re right about Bonneville. They really are great. As for the new company, I haven’t really seen any changes at all yet, and I really don’t anticipate any. Things are going pretty well right now. But to be honest, that’s sort of beyond my pay grade. I’m not in that end of the business at all.

Rick: You grew up in the area. Who were some of your radio heroes growing up?

Megan: I grew up in Batavia, and I LOVED WLS. Loved it. I listened to just about everybody at the station. Bob Sirott, John Records Landecker (photo), Tommy Edwards. You know who else I really liked was Amy Scott. I listened to her when I was in college. I went to school at Iowa State in Ames, and we could get WLS at night—and in the early to mid 80s, she was doing the night shift at the time. WLS was a clear channel station, and it came in pretty well. We listened to it when I was in working in Canada too. We could only pick up one English station and one French station during the day, but at night we could hear WLS.

Rick: Before coming to Bonneville, you worked at the Lite for many years during their heyday. How does this current experience compare to that one?

Megan: Actually in a lot of ways it was very similar. At the time I started at WLIT in 1989, it was relatively new, and it was owned by Viacom at the time, which was still run like a mom and pop organization. We had a great general manager, and a really great programmer, Mark Edwards. They really knew what they wanted to do and stuck with it. I was there for almost twelve years and I really enjoyed it.

Rick: Was it a big shock when they let you go after all those years?

Megan: They let everybody go, so no, it wasn’t a shock. But it wasn’t pleasant. That’s for sure.

Rick: They say that you aren’t really in radio until you’ve been fired at least one time.

Megan: (laughs) Yes, that’s true. So I guess I’m really in radio.

Rick: For awhile there it really looked like the job of radio disc jockey itself was in peril. Big companies were hiring people to voice track multiple stations, and some stations tried to compete directly with iPods by going jock-less. That approach hasn’t really worked out for them. They may have saved money in the short term, but there are precious few success stories of stations that used that approach. What edge do you think a live and local jock gives a radio station?

Megan: A real live person gives a radio station warmth. That’s what it boils down to for me. It’s like the difference between calling somewhere and getting a live person instead of a recording. It really does make a difference. The entire vibe is different. You can relate to a person. It’s hard to define because it’s such an intangible. I don’t think people walk around thinking, “Oh, I like having a real person there,” but it’s more of a feeling they get.

I’ve been hearing these stories that radio is dying, or that radio isn’t any fun anymore, and that nobody cares about it, but I don’t buy that for a second. I don’t think radio is going anywhere. As for me, it’s still great fun. I think you get out of it what you put into it. It’s what you make of it, and I choose to make it as fun as I can.

Rick: Another common complaint I’ve heard from female broadcasters is that there simply aren’t a lot of women in important roles in radio. Do you agree with that, and if so, why do you think that’s the case?

Megan: I don’t know that I totally agree with that. I mean, yes, it’s a male dominated field, but I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with that. There’s a place for everyone. I understand some of the complaints that women have, but I also know a lot of women in the business, and a lot of them have been in it for a very long time. Including me. I’m going on twenty five years.

I’ve always struggled with this subject matter, because I understand why some women would be upset, but I think in the long run the right person gets the job—male or female. It’s different if the station is targeted to women, and doesn’t give women a voice. If there’s a station that’s targeted to men, I certainly don’t have a problem with men having those jobs.