Saturday, June 11, 2011

Penny Lane

Penny Lane was part of the all-female WSDM-Chicago (97.9 FM) lineup in the 1970s, but has been in the advertising/voice-over world for many years.

Rick: I have very fond memories of listening to WSDM radio in the days before it became the Loop, but I confess that it wasn't for the music. It was for the all-female on-air lineup, including of course, Penny Lane. How did you end up getting the job there?

Penny: I graduated from Goodman Theater School of Drama, which is now the theatre school of DePaul University. I worked in their box office after graduating while looking for work. My boss had WSDM-FM radio on all the time. It was known as "The Station with the Girls and all that Jazz." One day I heard them announce a contest. They were looking for the most creative letter written answering the question: "Why I want to win a week on the air." So I submitted my letter and won. After the week was up, they liked what I did and offered me a regular time slot.

Rick: Last year I interviewed Connie Szerszen, and she told me that each of the girls were asked to come up with an air name. She chose "Dawn" because she was doing mornings. You chose "Penny Lane" because...

Penny: Our program director, Burt Burdeen, who had an incredible ear for choosing music and comedy bits for the station,asked me what name I wanted. I hadnt given it much thought and the next track that played on the air was, "Penny Lane". He said, "Why dont you use that?" It has been a great name for me because everyone remembers it because of the Beatles tune.

Rick: What are some of your favorite memories from those days?

Penny: The creative spots and promos the station wrote. I loved performing them! The parties for launching new artists and records. So much fun. Being the first to play a new record and playing so many new releases when they first came out, before anyone else. I liked hearing from listeners who enjoyed my work as well as the station. It was, as they say, all good!

The perks: Being invited to The Playboy Mansion and Bill Cosby opening the door to greet the guests! Being able to ask listeners to send in money to buy recording equipment for the handicapped children at Children's Memorial Hospital in the name of Jim Croce (the recording star, who had recently been killed in a plane crash). I knew Jim. A very close friend of mine who was also a radio personality, Morgan Tell, introduced us. Morgan became his road manager and was killed with him in that crash. I wanted something good to come out of this sad event. We raised enough money to put 3 players and audio systems in the hospital.

If you want the one memory that was by far the best and most important to was meeting my future husband Wayne Juhlin. He was writing a comedy album on the late Mayor Richard J. Daley (photo). He needed a female on the "CHICAGA" album and since he was also a record promotion man and knew (WSDM PD) Burt, he asked him for a suggestion. Because of my theater background, Burt suggested me. What fun! It also led to me leaving the station and going on to WFYR with Wayne as the morning duo. We also did many commercials and syndicated radio shows first for Dick Orkin ("Chicken Man" and "Tooth Fairy") and then we went out on our own.

Rick: I know the whole idea of the all-female lineup was sort of a take-off on the Playboy Club. You were even called "The Den Pals." But despite that sort of sexist (by today's standards) approach, there really were quite a few very talented radio personalities that worked there. I think people that aren't familiar with that station, might be surprised by some of the names that later went on to become famous.

Penny: You are so right! The famous journalist Linda Elerbee. Danae Alexander, who only recently left radio after a long career on the smooth jazz station (WNUA). Mary Dee of WGN-TV. Cindy Morgan who went out to L.A. and did movies like "Caddyshack" and "Tron." Wanda Wells who was on (and may still be on) WFLD TV. You mentioned Connie. There were quite a few but I don't know what happened to them all. (Photo: The Den Pals. Back Row, Yvonne Daniels, Connie Szerszen, Danae Alexander, Jan. Front Row: Cheryl, Penny Lane, Janice)

Rick: I know one of your former colleagues at WSDM was Yvonne Daniels, who died way too young. When the Radio Hall of Fame honored her posthumously a few years ago, several of the former WSDM jocks were there, including you. What was that night like for you?

Penny: Yvonne, who went on to be the first female DJ on a major rock station, and whose father was the great singer, Billy Daniels, was in a class by herself. What a voice, and smooth as can be. Her upbringing and knowledge of music and the performers was amazing. That night, I felt lucky to have worked with her and so happy she was honored!

Rick: As you already mentioned, after your WSDM days you later worked at WFYR with your husband, Wayne Juhlin. What are some of your favorite memories from your stint at WFYR?

Penny: Oooooh gosh! A whole different ball game! We had to do promotion after promotion! We got up at 4 am, were on the air from 6 to 10, then had meetings, and then we were expected to go all over the suburbs and city to do promotions in the afternoon and night! Clubs, clubs and clubs! Going to clients and giving away prizes and emceeing events for them! Crazy promotions, like the station hiding gold bars and giving clues as to where in the city they might be. They had a "FYRE" truck that lugged us all over the city to make appearances at both nightclubs and clients. Once they made Wayne into a human ice cream sundae! We judged "Miss Nude World Contest"...everyone was without clothes...even little kids...a whole way of life I had never been exposed (so to speak!) to.

Sadly, one client was a resort in Lake Geneva. They were hoding a hot air balloon race. We were expected to go up in a balloon, and we decided to go up with a lady who was an experienced balloonist. Because of Wayne's fondness for pinball machines (he saw one in the lobby of the resort and kept playing and winning games), we were late for the event, so they took off without us. 20 minutes later the balloonist hit a wire. The basket turned over and she was killed.

Rick: You've stayed in the business since your on-air days through your company Penway Productions. Tell us a little about the company and some of things you've done.

Penny: After working with Dick Orkin (photo), we fell in love with the art of doing funny commercials. We opened the company in about 1977 and have freelanced for some of the biggest agencies. Our commercials have been heard nationally, and we have won Addys, Clios and Windys. We have written for trade shows and performed for them as well. Wayne still writes commercials and has written and adapted plays in Chicago. I do publicity on a freelance basis and enjoy meeting new people and learning about products, places, and events that need exposure and media placement.

Rick: I know you've been doing this now a lot longer than you ever did radio, but do you ever see a way that radio could lure you back in someday, or is that chapter of your life officially closed in your mind?

Penny: I feel like I'm still on the radio part time because of the commercials. I just recently did a a spot for the National Soybean Association. But to answer your question, if, as so many ex jocks and talk show hosts like to say, it was an interesting offer...sure. I would consider it.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Jim Moran

Jim Moran is a long-time traffic reporter for Metro Traffic in Chicago.

Rick: You've been doing traffic in Chicago now for nearly a decade. What are the best and worst parts of being a traffic reporter in this town?

Jim: I think the best thing is the fact that traffic reports are such an important resource in Chicago. There are very few cities that have the traffic, and the traffic reporting technology that Chicago has - it's exciting to be a part of that. Another great thing about reporting traffic - is we're usually at work during the worst traffic times, it's much more fun to talk about traffic, than to sit in it. (Laughs)

I don't think it's the worst thing, but sometimes the most difficult is trying to touch on everything going on. During the summer, it feels like traffic is bad nearly 24/7. Trying to fit everything in during a :60 to :90 report can be a challenge....but that's keeps it fun!

Rick: Working at a place like Metro you literally have gotten to know every other person in Chicago that does traffic. Do you have a traffic mentor, someone that you look up to, and try to emulate?

Jim: One of the things I've been very grateful for is the opportunity to work with some of the most talented people in our industry. When I first started Bart Shore (photo) and Joe Collins helped me out quite a bit. I still turn to them for advice and as a radio listener, I love to hear them deliver traffic reports - they are two of the best in the business! Someone who also served as my mentor and a close friend is Mark Nepolean. As far as others that had helped me in the begining - Ric Federighi and Rick Sirovatka - I wouldn't have lasted long at all without their help.

I am also grateful for the chance to work with some outstanding news folks - I have always thought Mike Scott at WIND-AM is one of the best in the business. When I was a program director at WKRS-AM in Waukegan, I would instruct my interns/aspiring news people, to listen to Mike's reports (he was doing sports for WBBM at the time). He has such a great delivery!

Rick: Just from a traffic perspective, are there any days that stand out to you as particularly memorable broadcasts?

Jim: The day before Thanksgiving is generally the worst of the year. One year in particular, I remember a young Mike Pries and Jeanette Ditzler had just started with us - (Mike is now the evening reporter for WBBM and Jeanette spent a good amount of time as an airborne reporter for WGN) - they were both at our editor's desk, and a snowstorm came through and created what has been one of the single worst traffic days in the past decade. Both handled the situation like was fun to see these guys take charge and kick ass. It was such a crazy day for everyone, and it could have been much worse if Mike and Jeanette didn't pull through like they did.

Rick: The other thing that is fascinating to me about doing traffic, is that you get the opportunity to work with radio personalities from all different formats on many different stations. Of the many you've worked with, who were some of your favorites?

Jim: I can't even begin to think of everyone - over the past nine years, I've had a chance to be on almost every radio station in the market. Some of the top names I can think of are from my days as the evening news/traffic guy for WLS-AM. I was able to work with some personalities that I'm still starstruck to be around - Jay Marvin, Don and Roma, Roe and Garry, Steve Scott, Cisco Cotto, Jim Johnson, Jennifer Keiper, Deb Rowe...this list can go on forever.. (laughs). WLS' current PD is another person who I think is one of the best in the business, I can't say enough about Drew Hayes - great guy! I was also fortunate enough to work with two other great WLS program directors - Mike Elder and Kipper McGee.

I also spent time as a reporter for several NextMedia stations - I loved working with Alison Gerard, Todd Thomspon and Todd Boss at WCCQ, Tom Keif at 95 WIIL Rock is always fun to work with, and he's someone I consider a close friend. Big John at WIND-AM was great to work with - I've listened to him since I was in high school - it was outstanding to share the WIND airwaves with him. I think the most inspiring person I've had a chance to work with is Drew Walker (photo) at US99 - he is the epitome of what people in radio should be - a fan who loves their job and is grateful to be working in radio, in the greatest city in the world.

I currently provide traffic for WBBM-AM - I've had the opportunity to work at the station as a sales rep, and also work on air for the station for the past four years. From Rod Zimmerman and Ron Gleason, all the way to the newest intern - that station is a well oiled news machine. Every member of the air staff is tremendous at what they do. Plus, it's a fun place to work - the personalities and skill sets of the staff are perfect!

Rick: Of course, as you've already mentioned, you're not just a traffic reporter. You've been a sales rep, a newsman, and a program director. You've also branched out into other areas. For one thing, you're a published author. Tell me about the origin of your book about Libertyville.

Jim: I love my hometown of Libertyville! The Arcadia Publishing book I was able to publish back in 2006 was an opportunity for me to share some photographs and postcards from my personal collection, plus help share and spread my passion for my hometown. The book is available through most online book sellers - Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Rick: And now you've even become an elected official in Libertyville. What made you decide to run for Village Board Trustee, and do you think your name recognition from the radio helped get you elected?

Jim: My world of covering politics and my love of Libertyville finally collided this spring when I was elected to the Village Board in Libertyville. I can't even begin to describe how honored I am to have been elected by my neighbors to serve our awesome community!

It's funny - I don't think a lot of people in Libertyville associate me with my radio career. I think more people associate me through my family or my work in the community.

Rick: How has it been going so far?

Jim: So far, it's been great serving on the Village Board. My experience working with various municipalities throughout the years as a news/traffic reporter has already allowed me to provide some valuable insight and perspective to our board.

Rick: I know you've also dabbled in doing your own talk show at WKRS (AM 1220). How are you enjoying that experience?

Jim: Being back home at WKRS has been fun - so far, I've been joining Jerry and Nick on Monday mornings on WKRS. We'll see where this grows to - it's a chance for me to talk local politics and be on the air at a great local radio station. Early in my career I was the program director and morning host at WKRS, plus this is the station I was on the air at, the morning of September 11th. It will always be a special place for me.

Rick: You and I share an affliction too. We're both Cubs fans. As Mr. Burns says on the Simpsons..."Oh Ziggy, will you ever win?" Jim, are we doomed to a lifetime as Ziggy, or is there hope?

Jim: Rick, I wish I could say there was hope. As a Cub fan, we're supposed to be the foolish optimist that thinks, "we'll do it next year for sure!" I wish I could say I was smarter than this...(laughs). The Cubs are the only team in the world who could be 20 games out by the end of June, then put together a six game winning streak - then have fans start talking playoffs. I love it!