Saturday, April 16, 2011
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...
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?
Rick: How would you describe your on-air approach in this format?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.