Monday, November 05, 2012

John Records Landecker

The mystery radio memoir I was teasing last week has been revealed by Robert Feder at TimeOut Chicago. Here is what he wrote...

Next March 28th will be a red-letter day for fans of John Records Landecker. It will mark not only the Chicago radio legend’s 66th birthday but the publication of his new memoir, Records Truly Is My Middle Name. Written by Landecker with longtime producer Rick Kaempfer, it’ll be published by Kaempfer’s Eckhartz Press. “I worked with the guy every single day for 10 years, and never heard some of these stories he tells in this book,” Kaempfer says. Among colleagues and pals who contributed additional stories about the great man are Bob Sirott, Jonathon Brandmeier, John Gehron, Joey Reynolds, Jan Jeffries, Catherine Johns, Eric Ferguson, Bill Zehme, Kevin Matthews and Don Wade. Forty years after he first conquered nighttime radio in Chicago, Landecker is still going strong — from 6:30 to 11pm weekdays on Cumulus Media classic hits WLS-FM (94.7).

I'll have more details in this space in the weeks and months to come.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Signing Off For Now

First of all, I'd like to thank all of you who have taken the time to read Chicago Radio Spotlight over the past five-plus years. During that time I interviewed over 200 Chicago radio pros. I knew some of them already from my own radio career and really enjoyed re-connecting with them, but I also enjoyed meeting and interviewing many others that I had only admired from afar. Writing this blog has been a great experience.

Unfortunately, with all of my other responsibilities beginning to pile up, I no longer have time to do it.

My publishing company, Eckhartz Press, is doing quite well now, and demanding a great deal of my time. In the next few weeks we'll be shipping our fourth book "The Balding Handbook". (It's really funny, by the way, I highly recommend it). I'm sure you'll be seeing, hearing, and reading all about the book's author David Stern in the Chicago media over the next few weeks. I'll probably accompany him on that tour, and get a chance to see many of you.

Of course, if you know me, you know I can't get radio totally out of my system. Luckily, my publishing company will also be a new outlet for my radio-jones.

Next year (March 28) Eckhartz Press is going to be releasing a memoir from one of the 200+ interviewees listed on this blog. I'll reveal that mega-star's identity on December 10th, but I will tell you that if you've enjoyed this blog, you will LOVE that book. There are some incredible stories by the author. Just incredible. Plus, I interviewed over thirty additional radio personalities and asked them to tell me about their brushes with the author. Some of those tales are even more amazing. There will be tons of great pictures as well.

I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if further radio books were to follow. (Feel free to pitch me-- In the meantime, all of my previous Chicago Radio Spotlight interviews will remain on this blog. If you haven't read them all, explore the site. The interviewees are listed alphabetically on the right. Also, I will continue to do my personal blog every weekday morning, if you're interested. Radio is one of the many topics I write about on a regular basis.

Thanks again for reading me over the years, and thanks for your kind words and support.

All the best,
Rick Kaempfer

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Adam Delevitt

Adam Delevitt is the program director of ESPN Radio in Chicago, WMVP AM 1000

Rick: Next year will be your 15th anniversary at ESPN. Can you believe you've been there that long already?

Adam: It’s surreal. Seems like it was yesterday that I walked down Michigan Avenue on my last day as an intern at WGN Radio in the Trib Tower, to my first day as an assistant evening producer at ESPN Radio in the Hancock Building. I remember thinking to myself: "If it lasts more than a year I'll be happy!"

My last day at WGN radio I got to do one sports update on the “Kathy & Judy” show. WGN newsman Wes Bleed threw it to me and mispronounced my name, and I corrected him. Everyone there made a big deal about that. "Nobody corrects Wes Bleed." I said: "Hey, my name was mispronounced!"

Rick: Who did you intern for at WGN?

Adam: I interned in the sports department for Dave Kaplan (photo) and Dave Eanet. Dan Falato hired me after asking me one question. I was there for six months and I also worked on Sundays during Bears pre and post games with Hampton, Waddle, and Kozlowski (“The Three Bears”). That show was a blast!

Rick: What was the question Falato asked you?

Adam: Who is your favorite play by play man? My answer was Wayne Larrivee …and I was hired

Rick: Was that your first radio gig?

Adam: No. I also worked at One on One sports for three months as a tape cutter. I left my part time paid gig there to take the non-paid internship at WGN. My boss at One on One sports told me I was making a stupid mistake and I would never make it in the business. Every year I see him at the Super Bowl. I just smile and wave at him.

Rick: So which show did you assistant produce when you first joined ESPN?

Adam: Evenings and weekends for Bill Simonson, "The Huge Show”, which later added Lou Canellis. I also produced Sunday Bears/NFL programming which was my favorite thing to do at the time.

Rick: I first met you eight years ago when I was in the studio to interview Dan McNeil and the gang for an article in Lake Magazine. (Photo: Afternoon show from that era--Ben Finfer, Dan McNeil, John Jurkovic, Adam Delevitt, Harry Teinowitz) At the time you were the executive producer of the show. I remember it being pretty tense. You could hear it on the air, but you could really feel it in the studio. Has that tension level gone down?

Adam: Tension at that time was pretty high between Mac and Harry, even though they cooled off before Mac and the station parted ways. I think the tension level in the studio has gone down since then, but there’ll always be some tense times when you have such opinionated personalities in the same room for twenty hours a week. I just don’t like it to get personal.

Rick: In that article Dan said you were "like a brother" to him. Do you keep in touch with your brother?

Adam: I do. We meet for lunch/coffee every month or so, and still talk on the phone. When you spend so many years with someone in such close quarters, you develop more than just a business relationship – we’ve developed a friendship that continues, and even though we’re competitors and I want my midday show “Waddle & Silvy” to beat him every day – we do still keep in touch.

Rick: Last year the afternoon saloon faced another crisis when Harry Teinowitz was arrested for DUI. That must have been a difficult moment for everyone.

Adam: Harry (photo) told me about it as soon as it happened. He recognized that he had a problem, and he went and got treatment. Harry has been sober for almost 18 months now and is doing great. He has a wonderful support system around him. It’s great have him on the air again.

Rick: As you already mentioned, at any sports talk station you're bound to find strong personalities. I've always thought former producers such as yourself make perfect program directors for stations like yours, because producers have extensive experience dealing with strong personalities. Has it worked out that way for you? How do you think your work as a producer has prepared you for this job?

Adam: I think to some extent it has helped. Every talent wants to be loved. That’s something you learn very early on when you're a producer. Some like tough love and some need more of a bedside manner, but they all have their shtick and you have to be able to adapt to all types of personalities. I will say the former athletes who are on the air always seem to be easier to deal with.

Working as a producer, I always liked to work a few segments ahead to be prepared for anything. Now as PD, I try to stay ahead of as many things as possible - I never want to feel like I’m behind or playing catch’s the reason I get in early (before 6am) and try to plan days, weeks, and months ahead so I always feel we’re prepared for what’s next. Obviously, when breaking news happens everything gets tossed out the window, but it’s always good to have a plan.

Rick: You've been the PD now for almost two years. What's the best and worst part of this gig?

Adam: The best part of this job has to be the people working here, behind the scenes and on the air. We’ve had very little turnover which is rare in this business. It’s such a pleasure to have a family atmosphere. Also, there’s ALWAYS something to talk about in Chicago sports. It’s the best sports city in the country and we never have a lull. And let's not forget that working for ESPN gives me a plethora of resources too. That's always a good thing.

The worst part? It's not even that bad, but there's so much going on sometimes, it’s difficult to listen the station as much as I’d like while I'm in the office. Sometimes I need to get out of the station to listen to my shows in the car or at home (or on the stream) just like a normal listener. In the office, with sales, marketing, and business people popping in all the time, it's much harder to do that.

Rick: I think most Chicago sports fans know about the Waddle & Silvy show, and Carmen, Jurko and Harry. Put on your promotional hat and tell us about some of the other live and local shows on your station that you think sports fans should check out.

Adam: “Talking Baseball” is a Chicago sports institution. This is Bruce Levine’s 21st year hosting that show on Saturday mornings at 9am. It’s been on the same time slot for more than 15 years. Fred Huebner is Bruce's co-host this season and they have tremendous chemistry.

“Chicago’s Gameday” with Jeff Dickerson & Sarah Spain (photo) is a Sunday morning show from 9am -1pm that is a great mix of sports and pop culture featuring two up and coming hosts. Jeff Dickerson is our Bears beat reporter and fill in host, and Sarah Spain is our update anchor on the Waddle and Silvy show and a fill in host. It’s a fun, energetic, and very interactive show that has lots to offer.

“Chicago’s Gamenight” with Jonathan Hood (and a mix of ESPN reporters mixed in) is another must-listen. Jesse Rogers and Nick Friedell join Jonathan on most nights to round out the evening in Chicago sports and keep people up to date on the evening games. Both Jesse (Blackhawks Reporter) and Nick (Bulls Reporter) are also used as show hosts in and out of season too.

Rick: When I talked to you last time, I asked you what it was like to be a producer for a former producer (Dan McNeil) and you said: "Sometimes I have to remind him times have changed since he did this." Now you're the former producer advising producers. Do they say the same thing to you when you critique them?

Adam: Absolutely – and I welcome it! Producers and interns are my eyes and ears to what’s happening out there, and I need them to challenge me on things. I have an open door policy and I love it when my people come in and say “why aren’t we doing this” or “why are we doing this” or “maybe we should try this on air”. You never know where the next great talent, segment, guest, caller, or innovation is going to come from and I try to be as open-minded as possible.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Justin Kaufmann

Justin Kaufmann is the executive producer of midday programming at WBEZ. (Photo credit: Bill Healy)

Rick: I know you're a life long Chicagoan (Wonder Lake). Who did you listen to on the radio before you got into the business?

Justin: When I was 10, it was all Z-95. Best station ever. And my early teens were all about The Blaze. Wonder Lake loved The Blaze. Then I fell in love with talk radio when I hit high school. I remember skipping class to go see Steve & Garry open Gurnee Mills. I was a pretty big Kev-Head back in the day too. I convinced my principal to let me do the morning announcements and I wasted the opportunity by just copying Kevin Matthews. I was quickly removed.

I ended up at Columbia College in the Radio department and was exposed to much more, including WBEZ.

Rick: Since December, you've taken on a much bigger role at WBEZ, Executive Producer of Middays. At other stations that would mean producing one show. At WBEZ, you're overseeing three of them. Please tell me you have a staff of people working for you.

Justin: I have five segment producers, three directors, three web producers and three hosts. So we have plenty to make great radio. It's actually liberating not working for one show. It forces a producer to really own their segment. We would never be able to pull off this kind of system without experienced producers and directors. Can I name them all? Seriously, they need to be named: Robin Amer, Steve Bynum, Joe Deceault, Kate Dries, Andrew Gill, Jason Marck, Eilee Heikenen-Weiss, Katie O'Brien, Alexandra Salomon, Carrie Shepherd and Becky Vlamis. Pay attention to those names. Best staff in radio. It's the public radio equivalent to the Green Bay Packers coaching tree (that makes me Holmgren).

Rick: One of the midday shows is the new Steve Edwards afternoon show, which isn't really a midday show at all, but I digress. I've been a big fan of Steve's for years. How would you describe his new show, and how does it compare to his former work on 848?

Justin: I worked as a producer with Steve on 848, so we know each other well. Steve (photo) was unbelievable on 848, but Afternoon Shift is really his show. First off, Steve was at the table in creating this (he was hired as second host on 848). So he had major input on what he wanted from this new vehicle. Steve is one of Chicago's best interviewers. He stands out because of his knowledge, experience and preparation. There is almost nothing he can't do. He doesn't just do great interviews, but he's a great performer. He treats the show like a performance. And that is seriously refreshing. So it's my job to match that energy and performance by creating segments and booking guests that are going to rise to that level.

Rick: I was a guest on 848 years ago when Steve was hosting the show. Now Tony Sarabia is at the helm. How has the show changed over the years, and where do you see it going from here?

Justin: 848 has been on the air for over a decade now~? It started in 1998. That's unbelievable. And it has seen its share of hosts. Jan Coleman, Steve Edwards, Gabe Spitzer, Richard Steele, Alison Cuddy and now Tony Sarabia. So with each host comes a new wrinkle. I've worked with Tony my whole career. With Tony, we are planning a new style of 848. Live, live, live. Live music, live interviews, live call-in. He is a great host and a great co-worker and you can throw anything at him. Another HUGE part of being a talk show host. Tony goes with the flow and has the experience from covering Chicago news and culture for over 20 years to make great radio.

I would like to see us come up with a new name though. I love the show, hate the name. I can say this because I was one of the founding producers of 848. And the old story goes that it was my idea (the name). So Torey, if you are reading this? Let's come up with something new...without numbers.

Rick: This obviously isn't your first job at WBEZ. You've been there for nearly twenty years. Describe the evolution of your WBEZ career.

Justin: I'll try a quick version: I started in talk radio (Talk of the City with Richard Steele, anyone?) and then produced Metropolis with Aaron Freeman and the John Dempsey Show. I then was a founding producer of 848 and then left that post to produce the short-lived and much loved/hated comedy show Schadenfreude. When that show was canceled, instead of firing me, WBEZ moved me to run their web site. At that time, the site was just directions to the studio and a big "under construction" sign. So my team created the system that started putting all of our produced content online. I then managed and grew the site, created the Vocalo blogs (with Robert Feder) and ran the WBEZ site up to last year. And after all that? They pulled me back into talk radio. End of paragraph.

Rick: You mentioned your group Schadenfreude. If you could pick out just a few Schadenfreude highlights over the years, what would they be?

Justin: I met some great people when I took classes at Second City in the mid 90s. We worked together as Schadenfreude ever since. We do sketch comedy and we still perform today. Highlights? I gotta say - running our Alderman character (Alderman Ed Bus) for mayor after Daley left was a ton of fun. We got a lot of attention and were invited to roast the outgoing mayor at a retirement party. I've never been so scared in my life. And of course, this viral video was a roller-coaster ride. Everyone thought it was real. Kate still gets called out on the street today:

Rick: I've always enjoyed your writing on the WBEZ blog--and the work of people like Claire Zulkey, and Lee Bey. Is part of the plan for the future to further integrate the digital portion of WBEZ with the on-air and vice versa?

Justin: Well, I brought all the bloggers in and now I want to use them on the radio. It's just that simple. Really, they were hired with that in mind. They had to be great performers in multiple forms of media. Claire Zulkey (photo) has a great live show at the Hideout called Funny Ha-Ha. So she knows how to write and perform. Lee Bey has a weekly spot on Fox News Chicago. So we hire bloggers with the goal that they can be used on the radio. We weren't really connecting that way before. It would take a lot of work just to get a blogger on-air, even if their story was great. And most of the time, the shows wouldn't be interested. It was a bit frustrating, especially with some great investigative work going on with our blogs (Feder, DeRogatis, etc). We've changed that. Now I've even taken some of our on-air contributors and made them bloggers. It just makes more sense that way. And more importantly, we are starting to get our producers and editors writing up segments before they air. So creating blog posts to start the conversation before the live radio happens. It creates awareness and a conversation that just continues on air and then keeps going on-line. That's something that would have never happened 5 months ago.

Rick: One of the constant pressures at WBEZ is funding. I know that the government only provides a small percentage of funding to NPR, but what are your thoughts about the current debate going on in Washington?

Justin: WBEZ is a major market radio station. If government funding was cut, we would find ways to survive. But the worry is that a wholesale cut to government funding would destroy smaller market stations. And those stations are really doing great work for their individual communities. Public radio has a mission. It's to serve the public. It would suck if you forced them to air commercials for Viagra and E-Trade and play Katy Perry once every 40 minutes to stay afloat. Right?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Alison Moran

Alison Moran has been part of the Chicago radio scene for twenty years. She is now the women's sports director at SRN Broadcasting. She also writes the Token Female sports blog for ChicagoNow.

Rick: You and Roe Conn have something in common. You both got your starts in radio working for esteemed Chicago broadcasters who just happened to be blind. Roe worked with Don Vogel at WMAQ, and you worked with Bob Greenberg at WBEZ. Tell us how you got your foot in the door there, and what some of your duties were.

Alison: Thanks for asking, Rick! Truth be told. I had prayed for an opportunity to do some kind of broadcasting and I was a volunteer at CRIS Radio, a sub-carrier of WBEZ, in the late 80's. I attended a CRIS fundraiser, and I met Bob there. He told me he was looking for more people who could take him to games and essentially, be his "seeing eyes." It became my post-college internship for a year and a half. Bob worked very hard as a one-man sports show. He was also the Chicago correspondent for KMOX-AM, the 50,000-watt CBS station in St. Louis, and for the public radio station in Champaign-Urbana, so we were feeding game actualities and wrap-up reports until just before dawn. Bob also did a 15-minute show for CRIS Radio called "Sportscene," which he eventually gave to me. Then, he'd go on the air at WBEZ in the early AM. The man never rested! What did I do? Everything! Went inside the locker room to seek out players for him to interview, learned to write the wrap-ups, and splice tape. A few months later, Bob lost his voice, and cleared me to do reports on his behalf. So my voice was being heard on WBEZ airwaves for a month. I also got to cover the Citrus Bowl in Orlando when Jeff George announced he was going pro, and the NHL All-Star Game at Chicago Stadium.

Rick: A few weeks ago I interviewed sports reporter Cheryl Raye-Stout. One of our topics of discussion was the dearth of females covering sports. You were another one in the trenches during the 90s, as a news & sports reporter at UPI. Tell us a few more tales of a woman covering the male-dominated world of professional sports.

Alison: I'm not sure there was a "dearth"--but I was certainly grateful and happy to be one of the pack. Covering Charles Barkley when he was with the 76ers was a hoot. Les Grobstein still remembers exactly what he said when we were covering him playing against the Bulls. It's unprintable even by Internet standards! That was one of my favorite rivalries--trash-talking Charles and, at that time...the "do no wrong" Michael Jordan. Say what you will about Charles and his mouth, but I will say that I was five rows back in the locker room, he let off a stream of obscenities, and noticed me. I have never, ever been fazed by obscenities, but he looked me square in the eye and said "sorry!" Guess Mama taught him right. I told him not to worry about me, and smiled. If memory serves me correctly, he smiled back.

Another: Everyone knows the story of Bobby Knight and the chair, right? I have my own Bob Knight and the chair story...a little different than the others! I was asked by UPI Radio to interview him at Northwestern after he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Well, I ended up being the last to enter the interview room, and there were literally no seats left anywhere. The room was packed. I was going to do what I usually did--just put the mic on the interview table and dive under it to stay out of camera range. I was also nervous because I was wearing...horrors of horrors--a purple and white dress...Northwestern colors! And I'd never met him before.

So, Bob rose up from his seat, picked up the chair next to him....held it over his head...and placed it gently on the floor right across from him. Then he patted the seat, looked at me, and said. "There's a chair for ya." I sat down and mouthed "thank you, Coach!" You wouldn't expect that from Bob Knight, would you?

(Photo: Alison and Steve McMichael)

The only time I ever had any so-called trouble was a weekend that I was the only woman covering a Cubs-Dodgers series at Wrigley. One of the players--not sure if I should name names here--got upset when he saw me in the locker room and yelled that I should announce my presence before entering. I just mumbled, "okay," and went to interview Orel Hershiser, who was the winning pitcher that day. Even though I was standing far back from the pack, Orel reached out and picked up my microphone and drew it in like the last lily in a bunch of flowers. It was, somehow, a comforting gesture, like he was saying "not everyone doesn't want you here."

The next day, I said "Women!" as I entered the locker perpetrator said "Why don't you just leave?" I turned my back on him and started talking to Daryl Strawberry, then went in to talk to then-Manager Tommy LaSorda. The perpetrator didn't pursue me, so I thought I was safe. The final game, he'd saved the best for last. He'd recruited another player, it seemed, to walk close by me naked with an eaten corncob in his hand....the significance of which was lost on me! Orel again came to my rescue, saying, "xxxxxx (his name)....remember Lisa Olson!" I just didn't react at all. Just pretended like nothing had happened. I got my interviews, and thanked Orel just recently in my "Token Female" column. I've always wanted to do so in person.

Rick: You also covered big news events. What are some of the most memorable?

Alison: I don't like to sound frivolous, but the biggest for me was Princess Diana's visit to Chicago the year before she died. Credentials and security were tighter for her visit, it seemed, than for the upcoming Democratic National Convention. Jay Sapir, UPI's Bureau Chief, had a wife who was pregnant with their first child, and she was having a rough go of it. He had covered the day's events, but had to take his wife to the doctor that night, and asked the credentialers if I could take his pass for the night's gala at the Field Museum. They said fine. At the time, I was in a neck brace, recovering from a herniated disc. If I wanted to see what was behind me, I had to turn all the way around. My family was up in arms, but how many chances would I have to do this? So I attended the big gala, neck brace and all. At the sight of her, I started running up the museum stairs, yelling, "Your Highness, Your Highness," and raced her all the way up the stairs, but she never looked around or at me. Jay had warned me she might not. Okay, I tried!

However, I did get great interviews from Joan Rivers, Marlo Thomas, Phil Donahue (who danced with the Princess at the gala and told me all about it) and singer Gloria Estefan, who arrived a bit late. A Chicago Magazine photo spread of Princess Diana's visit had a picture of me (in the crease, of course!) interviewing my neck brace. The credentialer later told Jay that his reason for sending me must have been dire...after all, he sent a reporter with a broken neck to cover for him!

It's been great to be at the forefront of history-making events, like interviewing Carol Mosely-Braun's headquarters when she was elected Senator. Or, listening to Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan on Savior's Day with General Moammar Ghaddafi on satellite hookup. Being present at Rod Blagojevich' rise to power by covering his run for the 5th Congressional District seat, and him handing me the first question after the election.

Or snagging the only interview that Bill Clinton gave during the South Side Irish Parade in 1992. Or covering candidate Pat Buchanan, walking with the Plumber's Union, in the freezing rain four years later, walking backwards down South Western Avenue with the other reporters, with him staring straight ahead and just saying "We're going to to take our message all the way to the Convention!"

Rick: You've done work with SRN Broadcasting (Sports Radio Nightly) now for more than a decade, and for the past three years you co-hosted a show called "Weekend Report" with Les Grobstein and Steve Leventhal. What was it like working with those guys?

Alison: It's the brainchild of the owner, Steve Leventhal, and he hired me in 2000 to cover college sports and other events. And our show was called "The Weekend Sports Report." (Photo: Steve, Alison & Les)

That was the MOST FUN I'VE EVER HAD IN BROADCASTING! What a mix of chemistries! Les, Steve and I have all been friends and worked together for years at SRN, but this was the first time we were in one room, giving our opinions, talking sports. I was the first woman they'd ever had as a co-host, and it was a lucky coincidence at that. I essentially ran weekends at WKRS, and Steve had wanted the show on a local radio station. With the SRN studios in Lake Bluff, it was a short trip to WKRS' Waukegan studios. For years, I'd told them they needed a woman's voice on the show...never thinking it might be mine! I just wanted gender equity. I was the producer, engineer, and co-host. Later on, Steve added two sports updates to my role, which I wrote and delivered. I felt just like what Ginger Rogers said about dancing with Fred Astaire--"I did everything Fred did...just backwards and in high heels!" And I LOVED IT!!

Everyone knows Les' reputation for being a sports encyclopedia...and it's well-deserved! Working with him every Saturday morning from 7-8 for just about three years was like taking a weekly final in this week's sports. You had to know your stuff. You had to be prepared. And you had to be unafraid to just say what was on your mind. They taught me to do that. Les, Steve and I had many go-rounds, particularly about the placement of women's sports on the program, but in the end, I think we produced some of the most entertaining sports hours in radio. The podcasts are still available on and One of my happiest moments there was finishing first in our NFL Round Table and picking the Giants as Super Bowl Champs this year.

Rick: Is that when you started your blog "Token Female"? I know it's currently part of the ChicagoNow family of blogs, but it's been around longer than that, hasn't it?

Alison: It was actually begun in 2006. Steve is an innovator. SRN was one of the first companies to establish a sports-only blog, on Steve was looking to expand his audience and the type of sports coverage offered on the blog, The Chicago Sky had just finished their first season. There was lots of women's NCAA basketball that wasn't covered in-depth. And a new, professional softball team and women's professional soccer league were coming into fruition at the time. Steve asked me to write a blog about women's sports and women's sports issues on

I like to think of "Token Female" as one of the few places where in-depth coverage of women's sports and women's sports issues takes place. We had a wonderful sports and music writer and editor at yoursportsfan, Stuart Shea, who taught me so much about the art of sports writing and encouraged me in my choice of topics.

Steve encouraged me to bring "Token Female" to Chicago Now a year ago. I 've written about Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball for All, who pitched batting practice in spring training in 2011. She had a fastball equal to Jamie Moyer's average speed today. Have you ever heard of Eri Yoshida? She was the first female ever a Japanese independent league. She's a knuckleballer, and has also played for the US independent leagues, for teams like the Yuma Scorpions. Tim Wakefield's coached her.

I've also covered sports that don't get a lot of attention, like Chicago Wolves Hockey. Jimmy Greenfield, ChicagoNow's hardworking Community Manager, gives me the same type of free reign Steve initially gave me to choose my topics.

Rick: You once told me that your hashtag in the business should be #oneluckybreakafteranother. Explain why you feel that way.

Alison: I have felt so fortunate in my life to be able to do something I'm so passionate about consistently. From not being allowed to play Little League (no Title IX when I was a kid), to the passage of Title IX, to the lucky breaks I've had in Chicago sports, I've never really gone away from sports or news for all but two of the last 22 years, and that was by choice. Every opportunity I've had led to another. When I was ready for another assignment after learning all I could from Bob Greenberg, I was at the right place (the old Comiskey Park) to meet Jay Sapir at UPI Radio. When the two reporters I replaced in sports came back to UPI, I asked Jay if he needed me, and I covered news for the next six years. Then, I took around two years off for some personal time and went to graduate school.

When I started itching for broadcasting again, I got a chance to be the "third man" in the semi-pro Kane County Eagles booth at Mooseheart, which was broadcast over WRMN in Elgin. I did that for two years, and the final year, I read Drew Walker's website, and learned that WKRS needed a Sunday morning engineer. I'd hadn't done anything with engineering since the WBEZ days, and everything had changed. Big ups to their then-Program Director, Mike Sweeney, and then-Promotions Director (now current Overnight Host) Diane Ebert for being willing to train me and pay me at the same time. And to Libby Collins and Jason Cornell, my Program Directors, for always being in my corner, encouraging me, and keeping my progress and growth rolling forward. I got a chance to do everything--cover breaking news stories, create shows, produce, get trained on the latest equipment available, and learn what it was like to be the person who needed to answer for what went on in the station on weekends. Indeed, #oneluckybreakafteranother!!!!!

Rick: As you mentioned, for the last nine years or so, you've also been part of the late-great WKRS AM 1220. I appeared on that station several times over the years as a guest, and loved the small town attitude there. How big of a shock was it when the owner announced a format change?

Alison: I loved every one of my nine years there (2003-2012), but as far as shock goes--not much of one at all. There had been rumors to that effect for years before the announcement came, so we'd all had ample time to prepare ourselves. And our Program Director was wonderful about keeping us all in the loop prior to that time. As I told Karl Wertzler, WKRS' General Manager, "I feel like I had nine years and nine lives here, and I am grateful for each and every one of them."

Rick: You've been a part of the business now for more than twenty years, and you've had a front row seat for the many changes that have taken place over that time. What are your thoughts about the current state of radio?

Alison: Radio is one of the most intimate forms of communication you can have with listeners. As you said about WKRS, it was a small-town attitude. I remember on one appearance, one woman came up to me and said "Oh, Alison, I thought you and Don "DPlantmann" Guzan were married, because you're just so much like a couple on the air." We weren't, of course, but people felt comfortable interacting with us when we went out on behalf of the station.

The second thought that comes to mind is how personal it is, whether you're talking about music or news/sports/talk format. People choose to listen based on what connects them to what's important to them, whether its a downloadable song from Adele or Usher to their local news and sports to world events. I don't want the industry to lose their sense of connecting to their audience, despite consolidation and flipping formats, and the need for ever-increasing amounts of revenue. One of the most viewed columns on Token Female that I just wrote had to do with Rush Limbaugh's taking off after that girl who wanted her contraceptives covered by her Catholic employer. I received my first actual "hate" mail from that piece, and I was so excited! And the debate continued for a full month after that.

It's very sad that so many great stations have gone by the wayside--like WNUA. And the WLS I grew up with. So many public, "terrestrial" stations have flipped formats, like WKRS, in search of greener dollars. Like newspapers and magazines before, radio will go on...specialized, as it is now. All-sports, all-conservative, all-liberal, all-news, all-local, all-AOR, etc, designed to build and hold audiences that connect with the format. Streaming radio live makes it possible for people around the world to hear us, and connects us to a much larger community that was initially possible.

But now, we have a whole new medium on the Internet. That's the next big thing coming...all--Internet Radio. There have been more than a few versions that started as FM stations, but Steve's pioneering an all-Internet FM station now on, and he's getting tens of thousands of hits daily. If there's a way to marry the intimacy and connectivity of a radio station with the convenience of the Internet, have a way to chat live with thousands of people daily during shifts, and marry social media into the mix....that will likely be the next big thing.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

No Spotlight This Week

I'm not doing a Chicago Radio Spotlight interview this weekend because of my son's math meet in Champaign (Go nerds!), but I'm not quite ready for my summer hiatus yet. I've got a few more scheduled for later this month.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dick Orkin

Dick Orkin is the owner of the Famous Radio Ranch, and one of most acclaimed radio commercial actors and producers of all time. He worked in Chicago radio at WCFL in the late 60s and early 70s.

Rick: I still think WCFL in the 1960s was one of the best radio stations of all time.

Dick: I agree.

Rick: How did you get in the door there?

Dick: Ken Draper (photo) was a program director in Cleveland prior to that, and I worked with him there. When he moved on to Chicago, he invited me to come work with him again, and I accepted his invitation. We were together there for a few years.

Rick: Did you realize while you were doing it how special that place was--the sheer amount of talent in one place at one time--I mean here it is more than 40 years later and I'm still asking you about it.

Dick: I recognized very quickly that Draper had assembled a great group. It was a great station for talent; Jim Runyon, Barney Pipp, Jim Stagg, Ron Britain.

Rick: Tell me about the creation of Chickenman. How did that start?

Dick: The origin of Chickenman was the direct result of the popularity of the television show "Batman". It was huge. It was camp. It was fun. Draper decided that each of the DJs should choose a campy superhero mascot, and for the Jim Runyon show, we came up with Chickenman. I sort of based the character on the Broderick Crawford sheriff character--that sort of straight, know it all delivery of his. It seemed like a fun thing to parody. It began with that. I wasn't thinking about a chicken.

Rick: A good twenty years after Chickenman ran originally, my alternative rock station was still running it. It really did transcend the time and format, didn't it?

Dick: Oh yeah, no question about it. The funny thing is, it wasn't intended to run for that long. We were thinking maybe a month. That was the way Draper ran things. His style was to run with something for the short term, and then replace it with something new, to stay as current as possible. No one seems to remember that all of the personalities at the time had their own superhero mascot. Ours was just the one that caught on.

After it did, Draper decided to syndicate it from WCFL for a few years until I left the station, and then I bought it. Even after I left, it continued to run as a serial, and I continued creating new episodes. It probably still runs on a dozen stations or so. My brother, who handles that now, will still get an occasional call from radio stations around the country.

Rick: Chickenman, of course, wasn't your only radio serial. You also did "Tooth Fairy". How did that one come about?

Dick: I only did Tooth Fairy as a follow up to Chickenman. It was requested by Draper. If I'm not mistaken, the Dental Association wanted a short term thing, a PSA sort of campaign, and it also became popular, and turned into a full fledged serial. Tooth Fairy ran on more stations than Chickenman did, but it didn't have the same life.

Rick: In the early 70s, you made the decision to leave radio--at least the structured world of working at a radio station. What led to that decision?

Dick: Well, the changing of programming at WCFL was the main thing. A radio rep firm came in and decided the musical format needed to change, and those changes didn't allow for enough time to keep Chickenman. It was really that. They did change their mind about it, but I wasn't comfortable with the new format. Plus, I was production director by then, and that just wasn't as fun for me. I also wanted to go into business for myself, and I found a partner that was willing to do it with me, and the timing just seemed right.

Rick: I think it's safe to say that your radio advertising work is just as famous, if not even more famous than your earlier stuff. Everybody has a favorite Dick Orkin spot. What have you figured out in those dialogue spots that no one else can seem to figure out? Is it the writing, the acting, the timing?

Dick: I don't know how to answer that. I just did it. You know, my background was in theater--I went to the Yale School of Drama. So I was far more interested in the dialogue, and creating real characters. My partners and I, first Bert Berdis, and then Christine Coyle (photo), would discuss our days and what was happening to us, and that's where a lot of those ideas came from. Real life. Our characters and scripts were based on people we knew. Our families and friends.

Rick: In 1978, you decided to relocate to Hollywood--the current home of the Famous Radio Ranch. What was the reason you did that?

Dick: The bill collectors were chasing me (laughs). Just kidding. It was the weather. Honestly, I was suffering from respiratory problems, and the weather was just making me sick. That's really the reason we moved out here.

Rick: There are fewer and fewer advertisers focusing on radio advertising these days. What is it that they are missing about radio's potential impact?

Dick: I don't think they see it as a theater opportunity. There are no limitations to radio--they don't think of it that way. Radio has the advantage of creating any stage you want, with a limitless cast of characters, in any location in the world, your imagination is your only limitation.They're so stuck in that straight spot with a single announcer. Their concept of dialogue is a rote, 'he said, she said' thing, and they don't really deviate from that.

Rick: Your list of admirers is long and distinguished. At least a dozen of my previous interviewees have mentioned you as an influence. Whose work do you admire, then and now?

Dick: Back then I was an admirer of Bob & Ray and Stan Freeberg, and people like that. I always loved the husband and wife team Stiller and Meara (photo). I actually got to know them for a period of time and we frequently talked to one another in New York and Chicago. They did a Blue Nun commercial that really changed radio in the late 60s, early 70s, which, by the way, was also based on their own experiences and their own lives.

As for who I admire now, I really regret that there isn't anyone I can think of. I wish it wasn't so. When I hear spots on the radio today they are usually pale imitations of sitcoms.

Rick: You're in several broadcasting Halls of Fame, but in 2010 you asked the NAB to take down your plaque in the Broadcast Hall of Fame because you didn't want to be associated with Rush Limbaugh after his tacky comments in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. Do you still feel that strongly about that?

Dick: There was a whole series of things he said, that was just the last straw for me. It hasn't changed. He's still out there with his foul-mouthed racist attitudes. The foul mouthed stuff didn't bother me. I always loved Howard Stern. It's the racist stuff--there's just no call for that. But Rush just doesn't know when to stop. And the targets he chooses--like the college student Ms. Fluke. He just attacked her again the other day. He has a marvelous opportunity--there are so many pompous and stupid politicians to make fun of, but he's so pompous himself, he can't recognize the opportunity. He's a great talent, but that talent is simply wasted doing what he's doing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cheryl Raye-Stout

Cheryl Raye Stout has been a Chicago radio sports reporter for nearly 30 years, and has taught Radio Sportscasting and Ethics in Broadcasting at Columbia College for the past 14 years.

She currently works at WBEZ.

Rick: What's the origin of your passion for sports? What drew you into this world in the first place?

Cheryl: Growing up on the west side of Chicago, I was one of nine children from a blue collar family. We spent as much time outside as possible playing every sport. Coming from a large family, there wasn't money for going to games, so I listened on radio, watched games on TV, and played a lot outdoors. Our backyard was our softball diamond. On the church steps next door, we would play pinners. In the evening, the neighborhood played spud. We would also go to the park and play pickup games of any sport.

However, girls were not allowed to play Little League or any truly organized sports. The CPS system did have an after school program at my grammar school. We played a number of sports; my specialty was softball and track and field. In high school, Title IX came the year I graduated so there were no scholarships for sports yet. I was active at Austin High School playing basketball and volleyball.

The passion for sports came from my maternal grandfather, a native of Poland, who lived with us. He was a retired coal truck driver that delivered coal to both Wrigley and Comiskey Park, and he loved baseball. He taught me to love the game and its history. He would watch every game with his beer and non-filtered cigarettes. That became a bonding experience, not the drinking and the smoking, but sharing baseball.

The first time I stepped foot on Comiskey Park during my first radio assignment in 1982, I took in every moment -- the look of the dug-out, the grass on the field, the bats, the big beautiful baseball diamond and could only think about my grandfather. My uncles were big baseball fans too, so it was such a pleasure to take my favorite one to Wrigley and have his picture taken on the field. He was as giddy as a 10 year old. What's funny is that my parents didn’t care for sports at all.

Rick: It's hard to imagine a more male dominated world than the world of professional sports, but you've been thriving in that world for more than twenty years now as a sports reporter and producer. What have been some of the hurdles you've had to overcome?

Cheryl: I actually got my first credential in 1982, gulp! There were many obstacles; there were only a few women on the scene, Channel 2’s Jeanne Morris and Chicago Tribune’s Linda Kaye, but I was the one that ventured into the locker rooms and had to deal with some very unpleasant situations. (Photo: Cheryl with Bob Lanier and Doug Collins)

Additionally, many media members were not that kind. It seemed I was always being tested either for my knowledge or the ability to take the heat. One example, one of my colleagues asked me to call a local head coach to set up an interview. Easy, right? I called and his wife answered. She exploded on me since her husband liked to wander and thought I was one of his girlfriends. She said there wasn’t any women doing sports radio in Chicago. Pretty much told me I was a liar. Of course, my co-worker got a good laugh. It taught me a lesson: Be prepared. After that call, I always knew the wife’s or girlfriend’s name and would use it. They were important to deal with and I respected how tough their lives were being with a professional athlete.

There were times I would go in a locker room and hear nasty comments. When the Bears were in their hey-day during the ‘80s I could cover the games but was denied the open locker room. The first time I stepped in there several players came right up to my face and screamed obscenities. Media members smirked and the PR director ushered me out. I sat outside the door for a few seasons, and then a rookie QB changed it. Jim Harbaugh was brought to me for my usual outside the locker room interviews. He turned to the media relations person with him and asked why I was there and not with the rest of the media. He noted that I was already doing post game locker room interviews. The door opened and I finally went through.

There was another sports personality that I want to acknowledge; White Sox manager, Tony LaRussa. When I got my first credential, he escorted me to all the security people in front of the players and told them to respect my credential.

Too bad not everyone felt that way. Many times I had to figure a way to do what I needed to do without confrontation. Sometimes I used humor. Steve Lyons once struck a pose buck naked. He yelled my name; I turned my head, and then quickly turned back. The next day, I brought a bottle of sun tan lotion and put a note on it…”You need to take care of your tan lines.”

Rick: You're currently reporting sports for WBEZ. I know I've heard you on several different shows, and I've read your blog on their site. Talk a little about some of things you're doing for them these days...

Cheryl: Once AM1000 went under in its original all-sports format, I was re-thinking my career. Sports talk had become too vicious and unpleasant. Out of the blue, eleven years ago, Steve Edwards (photo) contacted me through my website. It was a gift. I had a 3 year old son, wanted to still do sports on the radio and raise him. WBEZ has allowed me that opportunity. I cover all the major sports in town and sometimes we do some other avenues. I am credentialed for all of the teams, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Sox, and Cubs. I cover the games and sometimes do feature interviews. Under the leadership of Justin Kaufmann, my role will be expanding with more blogging and in the studio with Steve Edwards Afternoon Shift show. To me it is such a professional radio station in these crazy media times. The various personnel there have always been respectful of my role.

Rick: We met about twenty years ago when you were with WMVP, but I already knew of your work before then when you were the producer of Chet Coppock's show at WMAQ. I believe he called you "the straw that stirs the drink." Chet's one of the most unique people in our business. How would you describe him to people that have never met him or heard his show?

Cheryl: Chet (photo) is the carnival barker of sports talk radio. He is an entertainer and can ask a question that can run on for five minutes. He should have copyrighted all his clich├ęs. He would introduce a guest saying, “Your dime, your dance floor.” Priceless. He loves his Chicago Bears and probably would love to be in a time machine to go back to that 1985 team. Chet also had strong ties to the WWF and relished the ringside of the wrestling world. He never cares or worries about anything he says about others. Most times, it gets him into hot water. He would verbally go after players, like Greg Luzinski or media people. That always made me very uncomfortable.

Rick: Do you have any favorite memories from your time producing his show?

Cheryl: Getting Chet out of the studio and putting him in the dugout at Comiskey Park and at the old Chicago Stadium. It enhanced the show. But Chet always had this need to eat food, usually popcorn. He would eat on the air and end up choking a few times.

We really had a large cache of guests. Eddie Einhorn, Mike Ditka, top notch college coaches, every Chicago Bear, Cubs and Sox managers, Bulls head coaches. It really was a destination for someone that had something to say in Chicago. When Lou Holtz got the job at Notre Dame, they called us up and asked to have him on the show.

Rick: You've been a sports reporter in Chicago during a few pretty exciting eras, but nothing was more exciting than that Bulls championship run in the 1990s. I know you had your share of scoops during that time. When you think back on that time, what are some of the stories that come to mind?

Cheryl: There are a couple involving Michael Jordan. After his first retirement, a friend of mine that had ties to both the Bulls and Sox told me that MJ was going to play baseball. Almost a year before, we had a pre-game conversation about baseball and he said he always wanted to play. When I was told Jordan’s desire to do it I went to work to get the story. After gathering information and enlisting Jim O’Donnell to work together to get it published, I broke the story on WMVP’s air with host Jay Mariotti. He told me it was baloney. Gratefully, Channel 2’s Tim Weigel ran the story and gave full credit. (Photo: Michael Jordan in White Sox uniform on the day of his baseball press conference)

Than less than two years later, I was at the Berto. Michael was gone, and so was the media, beat reporters got off the beat. I was the only one from the first championships still covering the team. I got word that Jordan had left spring training in Sarasota; I noticed the noise behind the curtain was familiar. I happened to be in contact with a player’s friend who confirmed that it was MJ. After practice, I waited until the handful of media finished and asked Phil Jackson and a player if Michael was at practice. They both confirmed it. As I was on the air, reporting the story, my beeper was going off. I ignored it and called who was beeping me later. It was the player’s friend who had MJ with him but had left since I didn’t call quickly enough.

Rick: Tell us about some of your brushes with sports greatness in other sports.

Cheryl: I was at the Italian-American Hall of Fame ceremony for Joe DiMaggio. He was surrounded by a slew of people when we met. I spent most of my time sitting next to and talking with Stan Musial. He was fabulous, kind and gracious.

Not long before he died I found Harold “Red” Grange in Florida…by using a phone book. He was frail but was terrific. It was one of those moments. My eyes welled up thinking about how important he was to the NFL.

Also, found Luke “Aches and Pains” Appling by calling information. He and I had a wonderful interview about Comiskey Park and his years with the Sox.

Chet had wonderful connections with many sports figures and I was fortunate to meet and spend time with them. One was former Bear great, Sid Luckman, gentle and generous.

A few months before his illness was revealed, I did a 45 minute interview with tennis great Arthur Ashe. One of the most intelligent men I ever met. We talked about apartheid and his quest to have the history of African-American sports figures come to light. Loved dealing with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Smart and funny.

I ghost wrote for Dick Vitale in the ‘80’s. We talked several times a week. He has two personas, his on air wild and crazy commentating, and his considerate and almost demur side off the air.

I am very fortunate to have met and or interviewed so many people. It’s a long list. (Photo: Cheryl in the Cubs dugout with Dusty Baker)

Rick: You also got a chance to meet and chat with a couple of movie stars covering this beat. Where and how did you meet John Cusack and Tom Hanks?

Cheryl: Both were at Sox Park, Cusack at the old one when he was preparing for “Eight Men Out”. He sat next to me for three days asking me questions. When he showed up at Wrigley the following year, he didn’t know me.

At new Comiskey, Tom Hanks was working on, “A League of Their Own”. He was on the infield during the Sox batting practice. Jeff Torborg was the manager and had his usual team meetings, and Tom couldn’t go in the locker room, so I thought, what the heck, and asked him to do an interview. He did. I didn’t want to overstep, so when I finished the interview, I thanked him and started to leave. He told me to stay and we continued talking.

There is one more person I met that was a nice highlight. I was standing behind the Cubs batting cage and some ladies came up to me. They asked me who I was, and what my job was. They were Hillary Clinton’s assistants. When I told them what I did, they said she would be interested in meeting me. She came to the press box, and I was called over and had a great chat with her.

Rick: And finally, if you could go back and re-live one sporting event that you've covered during your reporting career, which event would it be and why?

Cheryl: That is the hardest; I covered the Bears in Super Bowls, all six Bulls championships, Blackhawks and Sox titles. There is no bigger thrill than seeing the crowning of a team that you covered and knew from the time you were a kid. They each have a story and a great feeling. This may sound strange, but I would love to see any game regular season or playoff with Michael Jordan. Just to see him fly through the air, play defense, hit the winning shot like he did against Cleveland in 1990. I would pay to see the greatest players up close one more time.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Greg Bell

Greg Bell is the host of "When Radio Was" (which airs on WBBM-AM 780 in Chicago), and Sirius XM RadioClassics

Rick: First of all, I always enjoy talking to a fellow Illini. I think we were there around the same time (I graduated in 1985), although if I'm not mistaken, you didn't even do radio back in those days...

Greg: That's right, I was a cinema studies major at the University of Illinois and also studied theater. Never made my way over to WPGU, but certainly listened quite often and remembered you, Rick. And I even followed you when you headed to Chicago to work, I believe with Steve & Garry.

Rick: How did you get your big break into the business?

Greg: After bouncing around the west doing the "ski bum" thing and realizing acting was not what I wanted to do, I ended up back near my hometown in Springfield, IL and, on a whim, went into the local TV and radio stations looking for a job. At WFMB, they handed me some copy, placed me in front of a microphone and recorded me. It was atrocious, but the program director simply said, "Can you come in this Friday night?" I worked the overnight weekend shift for that country music radio station for the next few months. At the time, I knew almost nothing about country music, so I "boned up" on it by watching The Nashville Network.

I didn't last more than a year though, and ended up back in Colorado, this time settling in Steamboat Springs. I was managing a restaurant, but one evening was talking with a DJ at a nightclub there and he just happened to be the PD at KFMU, the local rock station. He talked me into taking my one day off per week and coming in and doing the overnight shift. I was back in the business. I transitioned over to the news and sports department working first as just a reporter (covering city council meetings, court proceedings, ski racing events, etc) then later became the news director. In 1994, our morning team (known as Greg & Greg) won best medium market morning show at the Colorado Broadcasting Association awards and that led to getting hired in Boise, Idaho.

I spent a year in Boise, not only doing the morning show for a Adult Alternative music station (KF-95) but also programming the automated AM (KFXD). I tossed out most of the lowly rated political talk shows and replaced them with entertainment based programs. One of the shows I added was the DC based Don & Mike Show, and that gave me a connection to Westwood One.

In 1996, I relocated to the Baltimore/Washington area and after helping produce the Washington Wizards (then still the Bullets) radio post-game show, I went to work for Westwood One producing weekend talks shows. In 2000, I went to work for an internet based financial company producing their radio talk show. After 9/11 and the subsequent financial hit, that company laid off about 1/3 of their staff including me. For the most of that year, I had been trying to get out talk show picked up by a newfangled technology known as satellite radio, and had been resisting offers to take a job there. In December of 2001, I was hired at XM Satellite Radio in DC for the now-defunct USA Today channel (basically a radio version of the newspaper.) In the summer of 2002, they launched two new spoken word channels, Sonic Theater and RadioClassics. I was hired to run the classic radio channel, and was able to draw on my knowledge of classic films and television to also host the channel. This year marks my 10th year there and also my 5th year as the host of When Radio Was.

Rick: Your show "When Radio Was" has a long and interesting history.

Greg: That's true. It began in the late 1980s as a local show in Chicago created by old-time radio collector, Carl Amari. He was the original host but in 1990 when it went national, television game show host Art Fleming (photo, original host of Jeopardy) was hired to host it. Following Fleming's death in 1995, famed satirist Stan Freberg became the host of When Radio Was until he retired from the show in 2006. Chicago native and old-time radio expert Chuck Schaden initially replaced Freberg, but after less than a year, he also moved on and I became the host beginning in October of 2007. Quite a humbling experience to follow such genuine media legends.

Rick: I'm doing the math in my head, and I know that based on your age, you obviously didn't experience any of these old time radio shows the first time around. How did you get into this era of radio?

Greg: As I was indeed born in the 1960s, I was too young to had listened to these shows when they originally played. What is often called "The Golden Age Of Radio" wrapped up in 1962, when CBS, the last network still playing weekly radio theater, ended that with the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Personally I was always a fan of classic media, old films, TV shows and radio.

I also grew up listening to the revival radio shows including Himan Brown's CBS Radio Mystery Theater in the 1970s and The Elliott Lewis led Sears Radio Theater in the late 70s early 80s. And I was a fan of Chuck Schaden's Those Were The Days and listened to When Radio Was during the Fleming and Freberg era. The entire reason the XM (now Sirius XM) RadioClassics channel was created was to introduce all these wonderful shows to a whole new audience, who like myself, were not around when they originally aired. Great storytelling is truly timeless, and these shows prove that.

Rick: Do you have any favorite old-time radio shows that to you, really show all that the medium can be?

Greg: Ah, the old "who is your favorite child question?" I love most of the shows I play, but if I had to pick a few favorites I would have to do it by genre.

Comedies: Jack Benny (photo) is the king, but for great chemistry and timeless humor; my favorite is The Phil Harris & Alice Faye Program. Harris and Elliott Lewis as his pal, Frankie Remley were Cramden and Norton before the Honeymooners came along.

The top thriller and mystery series: For me they are Suspense and The Whistler both had tremendous storytelling and tfeatured different themes each week, so it might be a murder mystery one week, science fiction the next and so on.

Police dramas: Dragnet was a radio show first and is very well done, but I also recommend Broadway Is My Beat (follows NYPD detective Danny Clover) and The Lineup.

The Westerns; sure everyone remembers The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy and Red Ryder, and they are entertaining but were targeted for younger listeners. So my favorites are Frontier Gentleman, Fort Laramie (featuring future Perry Mason star Raymond Burr) and Gunsmoke. Radio's Gunsmoke which debuted three years before TV version is easily the best of the bunch. With a whole different cast (William Conrad was the voice of Marshall Dillon) Gunsmoke was much more than a western, they writers tackled issues of the 1950s like racism, xenophobia, domestic abuse while setting the stories in the late 19th Century American West.

Rick: These old shows sound pristine on the radio, which is really a challenge considering some of them 70 years old now. Is it just because I'm hearing them on AM Radio (and therefore not hearing the imperfections), or have they all been digitally restored?

Greg: When Radio Was and Sirius XM RadioClassics Channel 82 both get their content from Radio Spirits, the preeminent OTR company and yes they digital restore the shows, many of them transferred from the original recording medium including reel-to-reel magnetic tape, transcription wire and transcription discs (basically over-sized record albums)
Some of the original audio is so fragile, it falls apart during the restorations, so they often only have one shot to get them transferred before they are lost forever. Quite a remarkable process.

Rick: The show is syndicated into something like 200 markets, and it's also on satellite radio, and on-line at, but where are you yourself located?

Greg: I'm based in the Washington DC area, but as long-time listeners are well aware, do to my numerous on air mentions of Illinois, my heart is still in my native state.

Rick: I've seen a few old-time radio shows re-created live on stage, and it's truly fascinating to watch. Have you ever participated in shows like that, and if so, is there any way something like that might be coming to Chicago?

Greg: I have been involved in creating modern radio dramas, but at this point only in studio and not on the stage. One I am currently working on, "Western Law" is planned for a live performance before an audience. It is based on a story by friend and OTR fan Derek Haas (A Hollywood screenwriter who co-wrote "Wanted", The "3:10 to Yuma" remake and currently is co-writing the proposed NBC series "Chicago Fire".) It is my hope that we will be able to do more in front of audiences, and Chicago with such a thriving theater culture would be a great place to do one.

Rick: So, when you talk to someone that hosts a show called "When Radio Was", you can't avoid the question: What are your thoughts about "What Radio Is" now? Can it ever reclaim it's former glory?

Greg: I do believe that 10 years of satellite radio as well as all the internet radio has also spurred on the traditional radio stations to re-consider how they present their products. Not sure if it is improving, but I do think that listening to the past like shows played on "When Radio Was" trigger the creative juices of modern radio folks. It is contagious and very, very addictive.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Happy Easter

Have a nice Easter/Passover weekend.

Chicago Radio Spotlight will return next weekend.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pugs Moran

Pugs Moran worked in Chicago at WLUP, Q-101 and WCKG, and has been down in Dallas for the last ten plus years, working as the co-host of the Pugs & Kelly show.

Rick: You and I crossed paths many years ago when you were part of the Kevin Matthews show at the Loop in the early 90s. How did you get that first gig with Kevin, and how would you describe your role on his show?

Pugs: I was working at Shadow traffic and Kathy Voltmer (photo) got the ball rolling when she brought me down to the Loop newsroom to assist on the legendary Eddie Schwartz show. I will never forget my first overnight at the Loop. It was quiet but oddly active at the same time. I compare it to the first time my grandfather took me to a Sox game…My first sight of that green outfield and the light towers and hearing Nancy Faust. It was one of the most important nights of my life; and then I met Mitch Rosen.

I either drank or was held down and forced to drink his Kool-ade. Mitch was kicking ass and taking names at a clip I had never seen. He offered me a ride on his coat tails, told me I would go through hell and promised nothing. I took the offer and have pledged eternal loyalty. All hail Chunga! Mitch took over the Kevin Matthews morning show and I often wonder if people remember how funny Mitch is. Chunga, Herb Katzenberg and many others were staples of that show and they were 100% Mitch Rosen creations. I know because I was right there watching him create them. I think the reason Mitch is great with Talent as PD is because he is himself very talented.

I was kept sequestered from Kevin for the first month or so. Then one day while working in the green room, the one with the great window view on 37, Kev walks in eating a homemade sandwich from a brown paper bag.

He just stood over me staring for what felt like hours but was probably as long as it took him to chew. I was frozen at the idea that the most creatively gifted guy I had ever heard was looming over me. I expected his first words to be something hysterical, something that would come from way out in left field. He finally said, “Hey bud, you want half of my sandwich”? That was first contact, then the next morning while listening from the office I remember hearing Jim say “hey Kev, who is that fat kid that’s always hanging around?” I became the fat kid that would do “anything for the show”. I was pure slapstick and I don’t know if any of it was funny but I know one thing, I made Kevin laugh and to me that was the golden wonka ticket. If we all have a radio family we spring from then mine is, Kev, Mitch, Geli, Peggy, Swanny, Dorothy and my big brother always the late and loved Doc.

Rick: I look back now at that stable of young pups that worked at the Loop, guys like Wiser, Swany, Shemp, Artie Kennedy, Jimmy Mac, Vince Argento, Neil Sant, Danny McNeil, Tom Serritella, the list goes on and on. There were a lot of us that learned at the feet of the masters, and we've all gone on to success in various different arenas. What did you learn during those days that you've taken with you everywhere else you've gone?

Pugs: WOW, what an Amazing list of studs. I would see your list and add Geli Silkowski, Steve Sauer, Doc Simpson and really nothing got done without Clarkson and Super Sue. The point is, there was a whole lot of talent there, but there were classes. I always considered my class was Artie, Neil and Jimmy Mac (photo). We were all the same age and went out to shows and drank too much. The guys like Wiser and Shemp were upper class-men they had semi management positions and families at home. I always felt slightly intimidated around those guys and learned a lot observing them.

I have taken everything I learned at the Loop with me everywhere I have gone. “Free FM” was a BS cookie cutter format and that post Stern CBS “fm talk” circus was a disaster just about everywhere, but not for Kelly and me. The station we were on in Dallas was one of the earliest CBS fm talkers and the Last I believe to fold. The success of that station way down there was entirely because of the “Loop influence”.

The Great Reid Reker created that station immediately following his involvement in the creation of CKG’s “The Package”; and we all know CKG’s talk format was very Loop influenced. That station in Dallas had gone through four midday shows in two years before we took over. We were the only show that could carry over the Stern audience while doing something totally different. They appreciated that and we built a good relationship with his show’s audience.

The fact is we did a “Loop style” show, a bad rookie imitation of a 1983 Steve and Garry show, funneled through Wendy and Bill and repackaged as “Pugs and Kelly”. A third generation knock off in anyone’s book but the novelty of it in Texas allowed us the time to develop our own voices and the show became what it is.

But I don’t believe you could have spent any time around those people at that station and not been influenced by each and every one of them. They were a dream team, a radio production street gang that drank and did other things a lot! The air talent was the best and the best tend to have the best working for them.

Rick: After leaving the Loop, you worked with Bill (Leff) and Wendy (Snyder) at Q-101 as one of their producers there. I always thought they pulled the plug on that show just before it was ready to take off. You were there at the time. What are your thoughts about it?

Pugs: The biggest mistake in Chicago radio history! I was there and I couldn’t believe what I was watching.

I believe the reason Eric and Kathy are the massive successes they are is due in large part to the demise of Wendy and Bill. I think it is very easy to imagine that Wendy and Bill could have seen the same level of success.

Q101 had no idea what they had. Bill Gamble did but he left. Nobody understood how talented and I don’t mean to over state this but in my opinion, “The Wendy and Bill show” is the greatest show that never was and my second favorite show of all time. They should be the two nicest filthy rich radio people Chicago has ever known, but they aren’t and that sucks. Wendy and Bill were the single greatest influence on the Pugs and Kelly show. They showed us how to do “Steve and Garry” with a man and a woman and make it all gender neutral. Kelly and I are a flipped script of Wendy and Bill. I equate Kelly to Bill Leff in that she always has the first and funniest remark. I cannot compare myself to Wendy (photo) in any way. I’m not in her league but I would like to be the master broadcaster she is.

Rick: I have to ask you about this, because it was a big news story when it happened. You were also part of a big controversy at WCKG--when you and Kelly were recorded having a private conversation without your permission. There were lawsuits and settlements and months of high drama. Looking back on that now, all these years later, what are your thoughts about that incident?

Pugs: It was the most impactful experience of my career.

I was in my 20s and after years and years of grunt work Kelly and I were being given our shot. Kelly was married to Shemp at the time and she was also acting as Steve’s assistant. Reed Reeker agreed to give Kelly and me a show. I left my job at AM 1000 doing afternoon sports updates with Kevin Matthews and Kelly left her Job as Steve’s assistant. We are massive Steve and Garry fans and cite them as our primary influences, the chance to do a show on a station with Steve was a career goal and we couldn’t help but think all our aspirations were going to come true…and then they didn’t.

For me it was just terrible. I had lost my job and more than likely my career and my marriage was crumbling. Kelly was out of work, Shemp was out of work, Kelly was 6 months pregnant and they were half way through building a new house. It was just a nasty regrettable ugly time, but from it all came Reid Reker being promoted to GM in Dallas and he hired the “Pugs and Kelly show”.

Today I still see Steve Dahl (photo) as my favorite all time broadcaster. The greatest compliment I receive down here in Dallas is from listeners who are former Chicagoans who say “You remind me of Steve Dahl”, I better, I’ve been trying to channel him for 15 years.

Rick: How did you adapt to Texas, and how did Texas accept you?

Pugs: Oh man they hated us and many still do. We were progressive talking blue collar Chicagoans. “Carpet bagging Yankees” in the local vernacular, and we changed nothing about our style or accents. We didn’t say “Y’all” we said “you guys”. I wasn’t shy about my hatred for the Cowboys or complaining about my disgust with what Texans consider pizza. We did a fish out of water act, 100% honestly discussing our life the way Steve and Garry would. At the time we felt exiled from our true radio homes of Chicago and were just going to use this time in Dallas to hone our show before returning. Getting back to Chicago remains the top goal of our show.

One thing did happen that sped our bonding along and that was 9/11. If the Pugs and Kelly show were never to air again I would be ok with those shows being our legacy. Talk radio was just amazing and we were all so kind to one another and supportive. Dallas was maybe a little more “Target sensitive” in those days because of it being the Presidents home town and all, but that’s when I really came to understand that amazing breed that we call Texans. I will take a Texan in an emergency situation any day of the week..well most Texans…lol

Rick: How would you describe the Pugs and Kelly show to someone who has never heard it?

Pugs: F***ing awesome! But I am a bit biased. Some of the descriptions I like. “A brother and sister trapped in a hot back seat during a family road trip”, “George and Elaine doing radio” and this one from the Dallas morning news, “The greatest live read artists ever to don headphones”. I like that one because it’s something we work very hard on. Conversational chemistry is our thing and if it’s effective selling product our show gets to stay on the air. We are at our heart a full service lifestyle talk show for the reality generation.

Our show is talking about whatever the world is and when we aren’t doing that we are talking about our girlfriends or ex wives or mothers or kids. Sometimes I think that if Bravo produced a radio show we would be it. We exploit our lives in the hopes that the listener will relate. Our most popular bits are our advice segments. We act as life coaches whose own bad choices can’t help but influence the advice we give. The problem is, there aren’t any formats that want “real people” in the way WGN has always done. Everyone must have an act these days, you either hate Obama or are obsessed with Sports. Those are all the opportunities for radio talkers and that’s why all the talent is running to podcasting.

Rick: I know the road has been a little bumpy the last few years down there in Dallas. Describe a few of the ups and downs you've experienced down there.

Pugs: The ups would have to be the ratings successes and the legendary station we helped build here.

The downs are a seemingly endless string of poor decisions coupled with bad breaks and a tragic economy. A few years back we jumped at the chance to do mornings at a competing station here in Dallas. During the negotiation the economy collapsed and talk in the morning drive became talk in the afternoons and 3 weeks later it was 7 metal songs and hour. A few months later our station flipped to some kind of Latino hip hop and Kelly and I were given a two year paid vacation, which we negotiated away a month later in order to pursue our next mistake. (Photo: Pugs & Kelly with show producers Sybil Summers and Eric Mark)

We were still a bit of a “commodity” so we decided to do something risky but potentially very rewarding. We raised a bunch of money and went in with an independent group who had purchased their own AM station here in Dallas. We did a full service and progressive leaning talk format in President Bush’s back yard during a major economic recession. What could possibly go wrong? Well everyone went broke.

Rick: What are you up to now?

Pugs: The Pugs and Kelly show has been on a break recently as Kelly just had a baby boy. The previous year we had been doing a pretty successful daily subscription pod cast that was also simulcast locally in DFW on 1190am in the noon hour. It is our hope that something will one day open up In Chicago, so we could end our exile, but if that never happens, we can continue our new media and podcast shows in our adoptive land of Texas. I am currently working with a marketing and live event promotions group on creating a DFW podcast network. There are millions of opportunities out there right now and corporate radio just doesn’t seem to be recognizing it…and that is a good thing for us.

Rick: Have you ever pitched the show to any stations here in Chicago? Someone is always looking for a new personality show, and what would be better than native Chicagoans with a history in this town?

Pugs: I agree Rick, sounds win win to me, but not really. We have been wined and dined in New York city and given the Hollywood treatment in LA. There was a feeding frenzy a few years back when Howard was leaving CBS. There were jobs opening up everywhere and Kelly and I scammed our way into the “FM Talkers” line of succession. We had grown very close with Opie and Anthony and they helped us a lot with meeting the right people. Despite all of the flattery and outside interest, we would have taken the first offer from Chicago, but it never came. The exile continued.

I have reached out and introduced myself to the programmers I admire just to try and stay on the radar, Drew Hayes and recently Bill White at WGN, but I have never been up for or gone after anything in Chicago. I think it is for the same reason I buy lottery tickets but never check the numbers. If I check the numbers and lose, the dream dies. I believe that “the Pugs and Kelly show” could be dominant in Chicago for the next 20 years. I believe we could go up against Eric and Kathy and take their listeners.

I am really interested in WGN and what they are doing. Anybody that has Bill Leff and Garry Meier has a preset on my dial. I am also eternally interested in “the Loop” for obvious reasons and Q101 or whatever the hell it’s called now. I am a great believer in talk on the FM band for a younger more active audience. Kelly and I could go do well there, but they must decide what they are first. They must add some “chat shows”, find some unique personalities to help create an image for the format. The podcast world is filled with amazing and unknown talent. Feature some! I have been glaring at that station since its birth and I’m lost but I confidently believe I could fix it. Our show did very well on a male 25/54 station but the real numbers were in 18/34 and women.

We had the Bubba’s listening but unlike other shows we also had the soccer moms and the drag queens. There is a big talk audience outside of 25/54 male, and it’s just sitting there; somebody will go after it and we know how to get them. She’s north side and I’m south side, we met at the Loop in the early 90s and created a Chicago style talk show and killed with it…In Texas! Imagine how good we might do in our hometown surrounded by people from high school we are trying to impress? Hey, I think I may have just pitched “the Pugs and Kelly show” there. Wish us Luck.