Saturday, February 25, 2012

Carla Leonardo

Carla Leonardo is a weekend disc jockey at the Drive, WDRV-Chicago, 97.1 FM

Rick: I know you've been in Chicago off and on for years, but what is your home town?

Carla: Chicago is my home town. Grew up on the West Side, in what was called the Island.

Rick: You have to tell the story about how you got your first job in radio, because I think it's one of the most unusual radio stories I've ever heard.

Carla: I had moved to Puerto Rico in the early 70's, to live with a guy who used to be a jock on WGLD in Oak Park. They were the station that had jocks named Psyche and Scorpio...and the man I lived with, Charlie Brown. I had been a stenographer by profession, but my services weren't exactly in demand in San Juan. I worked as a bartender in a few places, and in what turned out to be the last bar I ever worked in, I met a guy named Georgie Jay. He was from New York, and became a regular in the bar. Georgie was totally in love with WNEW-FM, then the shining FM beacon of progressive radio, and wanted to start his own station--a brokered deal. He came into the bar one night and asked me my sign. I told him "Gemini", which turned out to be his sign as well, and he wanted Gemini's on the air. That, my friend, was the inauspicious start of a long career.

Rick: You've worked all over the country (and a few other countries for that matter), but this is your third stint here in Chicago. The first one was at the Loop in the late 70s. Talk about what the station was like when you arrived, and what your role was on the station.

Carla: The station was one of the coolest places to work at. Patti Haze (photo), Dave Logan, Bill Evans, Tommy O'Toole, and Garry "Mondo" Meier, who was working overnites at the time. All the big bands used to come thru, and those that were definitely on the way up: Van Halen visited on their way to Haymakers! I was morning news/traffic/sidekick to a couple of really great guys: Ken Noble and Les Tracy. I feel lucky to have had a chance to work them. I also met a young intern there, who later went on to become a brilliant programmer and power in radio, none other than Greg Solk, my current VP here at the Drive!

Rick: There must be a few good stories about some of the craziness that was going on at the Loop back in those days. Any you're willing to share? I'm sure the statute of limitations has expired.

Carla: Well, I think the statute of limitations has run out so I can tell you one story: There was a huge Loop show and the boys were keeping out the girls...specifically, the women who worked doing all the support stuff we needed to function. I wasn't really happy about that and made it clear. There was some disrespecting going on and it didn't get resolved well backstage. I'm Sicilian, which means I don't forget. So at a Loop staff party at some Division Street bar, I hired some guy to pie one of the biggest offenders, Tommy O'Toole! Tommy was always a most put-together guy, pressed jeans, etc., and I don't think I've ever seen anybody move so fast! He was in that bathroom, rinsing off and fixing his hair before the whipped cream had even settled.

I also remember one of my morning partners, Les Tracy--an absolutely wonderful guy--who was a little too candid in an interview with the Reader. He told the interviewer that he was "real good at being 'sincere'". XRT got some mileage out of that.

Rick: Your second stint in Chicago was at Q-101 in the mid-80s to the mid-90s. That was really two totally different stations during your time there. First it was an AC station anchored by Murphy in the Morning, then it was an alternative station. Which one was a better fit for you?

Carla: Hard to say which was a better fit. I didn't like true AC, so the time spent in that format had me going home at night and playing the Sisters of Mercy "This Corrosion" over and over. Anything to take away the sweet taste. I love alternative and actually put a lot of work into the format, but I didn't really live the lifestyle: I've never been fond of plaid flannel. But I loved it.

Rick: If memory serves, you were the one to debut that alternative format. Talk about that day, and the reaction you got from the listeners.

Carla: I did start the new format off, with the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love". What a trip. After so much work and so much joy, I was incredibly nervous to start it off. All the big wigs from Emmis were there adding to the pressure. But it was an instant hit, so that helped.

Rick: Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Q-101?

Carla: My absolute favorite memory was Camper Van Beethoven (photo) coming up for an interview, discovering the container of nitrous, and singing Sinatra songs. Love those guys! Another thing I was over-the-moon about was the Local Music Showcase. I was lucky enough to get the show approved, and that was my baby. I met so many great local bands, heard so much talent, and went to many a show to support them. I'm very proud of a CD I produced at the time called "Random Acts", which was a benefit disc for Clara's House, for abused women. There's some great music on it and I think a lot of the songs would be relevant even today.

Rick: And now you've been part of the Drive for the last ten-plus years. It seems like every time I turn on the Drive during the weekend, you're on the air. You sound like you were made for this format. Are you as comfortable with it as you seem to be?

Carla: Yeah, this format is second nature! I'm thrilled to be here, too. This is without a doubt the most professional bunch of people I've ever worked with. A true blessing.

Rick: Your station is the one station that my entire family can listen to without complaints from the peanut gallery (my three sons are 16, 13 & 9--and love classic rock). Are you surprised by the wide variety of ages that listen to music that is essentially twenty, thirty, and forty years old?

Carla: I think I am surprised. I always figured each generation had its own voices. I'm not complaining, understand. I mean, one of our slogan's nailed it: the greatest music ever made. I compare nowaday music to the pre Beatles days. There's social unrest, yet the music is, in my opnion, incredibly banal. Something new may be born.

Rick: In your time in Chicago, you've worked with some of the biggest names in the business. Who are some of the Chicago radio pros that have had the biggest impact on your career and why?

Carla: The crew I work with now. I really am in awe of how very talented everyone here is at the Drive.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Christopher Michael

Christopher Michael has been in broadcasting since 1967, and is currently a weekend news anchor on WGN Radio. He is also the owner of an independent production company, Sound Targeting, Inc.

Rick: I've heard you on various different shifts on WGN. What is your regular timeslot there?

Chris: My regular slot is Saturday night overnight. The shift starts at 9:30, my first newscast is at 10:30, and it runs until 5. I do fill in occasionally, although not as often as I'd like. I'd love to be there even more.

Rick: You've been broadcasting in Chicago for more than 40 years now in various different capacities and at various different radio stations. How does this WGN experience rank among those?

Chris: When I was first getting started in Kankakee, I dreamed of working at WGN one day. I finally attained my dream about seven years ago when they hired me. I love being on WGN. Who wouldn't? It's the premier radio station in the Midwest, one of the best in the country, and has exceptionally talented people working here. To be among that crew is a great thing. I really liked working with Brian Noonan (photo). I thought Brian and I had good chemistry together. As I listen to Brian on his Sunday show and on Sports Night, I can hear that he works very well with everyone, which tells me Noonan is an exceptional talent.

Rick: What are some of your favorite WGN moments?

Chris: From a news perspective, one of my favorite moments was the night there was a high-rise fire and I was filling for Paula Cooper on Steve & Johnnie's show (photo). It turned into an active story--we won the AP Silver Dome award for spot news coverage. It was truly a team effort. When it comes to news coverage, that's the stuff I remember most, and that's what I've primarily focused on the last 25-30 years of my career.

Rick: Let's go back to your earliest days in Chicago radio. How did you get that first big break?

Chris: The first break in Chicago happened when a radio station was signing on for the first time, WYEN, Des Plaines.

Rick: Didn't Garry Meier get his start there too?

Chris: Yes, he did. Garry came a little later. There were a lot of really talented people there. Rob Reynolds, who is a big ad agency guy, worked there at one time. Ron Davis (WFYR) was there.

I was told they were starting this station and interviewed with Ray Smithers. He hired me for overnights as a jock, but we did a lot more than that. We played UPI Newscasts, but we also read some local headlines. We did everything from picking out our records (remember those?) to writing news, and it was great fun. It was a great learning experience. The smaller stations and small market stations don't do that too much anymore. Now they feature a lot of automation, syndication, and voice tracking. In doing so, they have taken away that learning ground from young broadcasters.

Rick: Any "learning experience" memories there?

Chris: I was taken off the air one night by the cleaning lady. There was a little toggle switch in the back of the studio that turned the transmitter off, and I had no idea. She obviously didn't either, because she was dusting the air studio with a feather duster, and must have hit that switch. Nobody knew why we were off the air, because technically we weren't. That switch only shut off our studio from the transmitter, the transmitter itself was still on the air, but it was broadcasting silence. All of the meter readings were just fine. I couldn't figure it out, so I finally called the GM, who wasn't exactly thrilled that he had to come into the station. He immediately saw the switch was turned off, switched it back on, and oh boy, was he mad as hell at me. He held that against me until the day he fired me.

Rick: After WYEN, where did you go?

Chris: I went to an AM/FM station in Zion. (The FM there now broadcasts the Drive). People's hairdryers had more power than that station. They hired me to be part of their news deperatment, which believe it or not, was a five person news department at the time. I didn't know this, but I was brought in replace everyone. Once I started, they fired everyone else. I worked like crazy in that job. They wanted as much local news as possible, and I did a few 15 minute and even a 30 minute newscast. In Zion, Illinois a half hour of news doesn't happen, but I had to fill it, and that's where I learned how to scramble. Since we were technically broadcasting into Kenosha too, I was able to put all sorts of stuff together. We had a bus driver that would stop into the police station, get the crime report, and call it in to me. I called the Kenosha animal control and did a lost dog report. We did the local obits. I also developed a sort of bravery I didn't think I had. I was desperate, so I called public officials directly. I called them all the time, and they took my calls.

Rick: You were probably most prominent during your time at WMAQ, when it was an all-news station. I get the sense that you remember those WMAQ days fondly.

Chris: That was a tremendous place. I started when they still played country music and there were lots of attitude problems there at time. There had been some union disputes with NBC, but when Westinghouse took over, and we became all news, that was fun, and exciting. It was hard work, but that half hour was your own. We had the best news staff in the country. A couple of times we even beat WBBM in the ratings, but that wasn't too often. Nonetheless, it was terrific.

Rick: Favorite news memories from that time?

Chris: I remember one vividly, the night of the West Town explosions. I was on the air when it happened. They came in through the intercom to tell me "we've got someone on the line who heard an explosion", and this guy explained to me that flames shot out of his heater when we heard the bang. While he was talking to me he said, "Wait a minute, I just heard another one." We scrambled everyone out there to report on the story. There was a Bulls pre-game scheduled at 6:20, and we were contracted to go there, but somehow, miraculously, the story died down around 6:15, and the timing was absoltuelty perfect. Our last report ended twenty seconds before the game, and I did one last ID, and hit the time perfectly. When I walked out of the booth, everybody was applauding. Unfortunately, the tape wasn't working, so that whole thing was lost to the ether.

Rick: You and I met during your time at WJJD. You were the morning news anchor for awhile there, when our morning news anchor was Richard Cantu (at WJMK). How did you come to work there?

Chris: That happened by accident after WMAQ fired me--which had come as a complete shock. I really thought I would be there until I died. They had this idea to do a different afternoon show, and they had told me that they wanted me to anchor it, and even asked me who I wanted as a co-anchor. I said Nancy Benson, who is really good. It was to be a news program with live interviews, and we were really excited about it--it was going to be a great show. They took us off the air to rehearse it and we loved it. Then, on March 3 at 2:30pm, instead of putting us on, they fired us both, and put the program in the hands of Criss Cross and Derek Hill, sports talk guys. They fired us together. They asked if I had anything I wanted to say, and as someone who never seems to hold back I said: "You fired the wrong anchors, and you're gonna find that out in a few weeks, but don't surprised when you do, because it's just another stupid thing you've done."

Rick: Subtle.

Chris: (Laughs) Yes. So I worked fill in that summer at ten different stations, including WJMK when you were there, and one day I filled in for Kurt Schafer at WJJD. The Operations Manager Rick Patton asked me "How would you like to do it full time?" I assumed he meant they were going to add an afternoon newscast, but the more things he said, the more it sounded like Kurt's job. So, I flat out asked him, and when he told me I'd be replacing Kurt, I said I didn't want the job. He was a friend of mine and that wasn't right. Rick replied "Well, whether or not you take it, he's out."

So, I said, "Here's what I'll do. I will fill in after you let him go while you look for somebody else, but that's it. I'm not going to take his job." I went there on a fill in basis and did it for a few months, and by then Kurt was working at WMAQ, so when they said they'd like me do it full-time, I felt like it was OK. This is a hard business, and I love it, and I have a passion for it, and I know a lot of other people feel the same way, so to go in to take the job just because you want one is not humane. I like to think of myself as a good guy.

Rick: Here's what I remember from your time at WJJD. I remember walking into the newsroom before, during, and after the shows and hearing you and Richard Cantu engaged in "friendly political discussions."

Chris: (Laughs) Yes, it was sort of like a Point-Counter Point, wasn't it? "Richard, you ignorant slut!" (laughs)

Rick: Was Clark Weber still doing the morning show at that time?

Chris: By then it was Ed (Vrdolyak) and Ty (Wansley), and we weren't on the morning shift too long, because shortly after I started, they brought in Howard Stern to do mornings. I was moved to afternoons with Ed and Ty (photo).

I must admit, at first our relationship was a little frosty, but it got better. In fact in 1995, I got quite ill with a rare illness known as Guillain-Barre syndrome--a serious disorder that occurs when the body's defense (immune) system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system. I lost the ability to walk. By the time they put me in the hospital, I had the use of my left arm and hand, and could still breath and swallow, but it was quite serious. I was in the hospital for awhile, and when I was ready to come back to work I still could't drive. Ed sent a car to pick me up. He was very good to me.

Rick: I know you work with Clark Weber at your independent production company Sound Targeting. How did you and he cross paths?

Chris: I met him when I was filling in for Kurt. Years later, I was working at a station in Waukegan. Clark came in one day because they wanted to get him on the air there. It didn't work out, but I had a nice conversation with him. I had fond memories of working with him--he really is a true gentleman, and at that time I had just started my own business. I had this idea for Clark. I wanted him to do a daily one minute essay of some kind. I finally got up the courage to call him, and he agreed to do it. We called it "A Senior Moment", and it will run until the end of this month. Clark has decided that it's time to retire from it, but it's been 6 years, almost seven years now.

Rick: You've obviously worked with some of the biggest names in Chicago radio (like Clark) during your 45 years of broadcasting. Of those, who were some of the personalities you were most impressed by?

Chris: There are some really really good people. I'm going to leave some out so let me apologize in advance. For one, Bill Cameron. He's the best. I employed Jim Gudas at one time. He works tirelessly to get his job done. He gives it 150%. I worked briefly with Joel Sebastian. I was there his last week on the air. I had no idea he was that ill. He looked thin, but I had no idea what he looked like before that. I worked with Paul Harvey (photo) for awhile. He was a great person to work with because he would trust your opinion on stuff even if he didn't always take it. I asked him how he managed to stay positive, and he said: "Tomorrow will always be better than today." Just a great, great attitude.

Some of these others, you might not know. Mike Doyle was a terrific reporter at WMAQ. I had a newswriter named Chris Havlik. I think he works for AP in Phoenix now, but he was terrific. I used to joke that I couldn't speak on the air unless he wrote it. You don't find that often.

Rick: I know you're obviously not retiring anytime soon, but you must look back at your career and all you've seen and heard, and think of a few big moments. What are some of those moments that immediately come to mind?

Chris: I think what comes to mind most are things that I did well. Sometimes it was the turn of a phrase, or something that made me or somebody else laugh, but most of all, it's just the satisfaction of a job well done. You say so many things on the air. Some are good, some are bad, and most are in between. Rather than whine about the bad things, I like to think of the good ones.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Steve Bertrand

Steve Bertrand is the morning news anchor on WGN Radio. He has been working in various different capacities at the station since 1985.

Rick: First of all, congratulations. You were recently given the Communicator of the Year Award by your alma mater, Marquette University. I know you've won a bunch of awards in the past (including a Peter Lisagor Award), but this one must be special to you.

Steve: Thanks. I've never been a big awards guy but I am honored with this one. Marquette is a great institution that continues to have an impact on me. I love going back up there to meet with students. I also love that their basketball team is as strong as it is. Now if I could just get Chicago media to give their scores more often. Marquette is a top 20 team, with more students from Illinois than Wisconsin. Who cares about Notre Dame?

Rick: You've been at WGN now for more than 25 years. For many of those years WGN was just about the most stable radio station in America. That has all changed recently. How have you adjusted to the changes?

Steve: Have the changes stopped? Let me start by saying I'm very happy with the direction we're headed. It's all good. But I'm not going to insult you or your readers by pretending there weren't a couple hellish years. I think everyone who worked at the station knew we needed to shake things up but the atmosphere became almost oppressive. I've come to hate the phrase "change is good." Change for the better is great but change just for change sake, without forward direction, is demoralizing. At one point I was told to stop pronouncing the "t" in President Obama. It sounded too newsy. So for more than a year I referred to the President of the United States as "Presdeh-Obama." I've pretty much kept my feelings to myself until now but am comfortable saying this knowing we are headed toward brighter days. The Tom Langmyer/Bill White train is a much more pleasant and productive ride. (Sucking up ends now.)

Rick: You have always been more than just the newsman on the shows you've been involved in, and to tell you the truth, when I heard that the newsroom was moving up to the 4th floor a few years ago, the first person I thought of was you. It must have gotten a little more difficult to chime in since the move. I was up there one time, and the atmosphere was almost like being in a library...very un-radio like.

Steve: That's a very perceptive question. My closest co-workers at the radio station have always been from every department, not just the newsroom, so I did not take it well when I heard we were moving to the Tribune's 4th floor. Because we were moved upstairs, I would go weeks without seeing Garry Meier (photo) or John Williams in person. It made it harder to do the job. Now, we built some great relationships with the Tribune reporters and I'm glad for that. I'm just gladder to know we'll all be together again on the 7th floor. (Did I mention we're headed toward brighter days?)

Rick: Now, of course, you're part of the Jonathon Brandmeier show. How are you adjusting to getting up so early in the morning? People who haven't done it, don't understand how taxing that can be on a person's health. Have you developed a routine yet?

Steve: I've been shocked by how well I've adapted. My wife will tell you I've always looked for a reason to go to sleep, so saying goodnight by 7:00 or 7:30 has been easy. The work at the station is made much easier by Justin Swain, who is the morning reporter/producer. He makes sure all the ducks are in a row. I get home from work around 1:00, take a quick nap and then hit the health club for an hour. Once or twice a week I stop by Black Dog Radio studios to record an author interview for my Facebook page. I like to cook so I make a nice meal for my kids each night (which they ignore) and then pack the leftovers for the next morning.

Rick: You sure sound like you're having a good time on the air with Johnny. What has that experience been like? Have there been any surprises?

Steve: I am having a blast. Each day is a surprise. I like that. We're still getting our feet under us as a team, but that's okay.

Rick: Any favorite moments so far?

Steve: He cracks me up. Everyone talks about how easily distracted he is. It's true. But at the same time, he doesn't miss a thing. I don't know how that works. He is so good at convincing people to let their guard down. I think it's because he's nice to them. He'll do an interview with someone who should be on the defensive and, before it's over, they'll invite him over for dinner.

Rick: What are some of the differences and similarities between Brandmeier and some of the other people you've worked with?

Steve: I have been incredibly lucky in my career to work with hosts who are very generous professionally. It was most obvious with Kathy and Judy. They would let me say just about anything and do just about anything on their show. We were like family. My God we used to get into snits off the air (mostly me). I'm sure it helped all of us, but it helped me the most. Even before them though, Roy Leonard and Spike O'Dell were completely open to anything I had to offer. That's a huge confidence builder for a young guy. I've told this to Roy many times, but I consider him my mentor, both professionally and personally. Just a great guy to work for.

Rick: I always enjoyed the dynamic of you and Leslie Keiling on John Williams show. Your on-air political arguments were almost exactly the same as the political arguments Leslie and I used to have off-the-air during our days together on John Landecker's show. It used to drive Landecker crazy. How did John Williams feel about it? Did he encourage it or discourage it?

Steve: When it comes to professional generosity, John is King. Leslie (photo) has a way of riling me up. She would probably say the same thing about me. The thing is, we completely agree that we love John and want to do whatever we can to help him succeed. I still listen to his show everyday. In fact, I just sent him an email to tell him about why he's wrong about Matthew Broderick and the Super Bowl.

Rick: One last thing before I let you go. You and I recently ran into each other at a banquet I was MCing. Sorry I pointed you out to the crowd and embarrassed you like that. I'm sure you had people coming up to you all night.

Steve: No worries. The response from people was nearly universal: you sound shorter on the radio.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Captain Whammo

Jim Channell was a big star in Chicago in the 1970s at WDHF and WMET. He was known on the air as Captain Whammo! He now works as the morning host and program director of Christian radio's Praise FM, in Ft. Myers Florida.

Rick: Back in your WDHF and WMET days here in Chicago you were known as Captain Whammo. What is the origin of that nickname?

Whammo: (Laughs) Wow, a tough question right out of the box. You know, I really thought I'd never tell this story again. I haven't told it in a long time, but here goes. I grew up in Chicago and went to a Christian school for eight years, "The Pillar of Fire", then went to Lake View High School. Going from that strict Christian school to Lake View High was quite a transition, as you might imagine. I thought "Man there are girls everywhere!" I had lunch with 8 different girls at one table.

My heroes in those days were the coolest, most stylish, best dressed big league baseball players; Bo Belinsky and Sandy Koufax. My buddy and I would find out what they were wearing, and we'd get the same attire to pick up chicks. For instance, Bo had black slacks, a checkered jacket, and hush puppies. So I got those too. (Photo: Bo Belinsky with Ann Margret)

So, anyway, we were dressed like Bo and Sandy one night trying to pick up girls, and we we're coming out of a pizza place in Old Town, and this guy on the street had this box and did a gyration, and said "I'm going to Hazel's house, and I'm going to get me some Whammo!"

So, me and my buddy, after we moved on to other towns would always mention this when we talked to each other. We'd call it: comparing whammo notes. It was an inside joke between the two of us. Well, one night I was on the air on WDHF in Chicago, and I said "I'm horny tonight, give me a call."

The PD hotlined me and asked: "Did you say what I thought you said?" When I told him I did, he said: "You can't say that." So I substituted the word "Whammo" instead, and he liked that. He liked that a lot. In fact, he told me to drop my real name, Jim Channell. He said: "From this day forward you are Captain Whammo!" I thought What the heck? But I didn't like the Captain part. So, for the first hour I just went by Whammo. He called me again and said: "You are Captain Whammo". He was the boss. So I did it. I knew I had to have some kind of a hook--I mean I was up against John Records Landecker on WLS!

Rick: Who was the PD?

Whammo: His real name was Ron Dennington, but he was known on the air as Robbie Knight. He looked a little bit like Mr. Magoo.

Rick: Did the Wham-O corporation ever come after you with a lawsuit?

Whammo: No. Never. I did have a few guys ask if they could use the name after I became a Christian. I said "I can't stop you, but I wish you wouldn't." And they didn't.

Rick: You weren't just a great Chicago jock, you were from here. What did it mean to you to make it as a big star in your own home town?

Whammo: It was a big thrill. That's why I went by my real name at first, I wanted people to know that Jim Channell had made it in Chicago. But I took kind of a strange route getting there.

My first love was the Cubs, and I wanted more than anything to be a ballplayer, but I realized early on that wasn't going to happen. I went to Columbia College to go into journalism. While I was there I met a guy from Racine in a radio class. He told me: "I know how to sneak into WCFL." That was my favorite radio station at the time. They had THE BEST talent on the air; Ron Britain, Jim Stagg, Dick Orkin, that was my favorite station. Ken Draper was the program director then.

So anyway, we went to the basement of Marina City, and there was one elevator that would go up. It would stop on the main floor, but my friend found out that if you stood on one side of the elevator the security guard couldn't see you when the door opened. Sure enough, it worked. We went up to the 16th floor, and that was an eye opener. Boy, all of the DJs had all these chicks hanging around, especially Barney Pipp. I thought "I gotta do this."

One day we went into the elevator and the PD Ken Draper was in there too, so I asked him a question. "What should I do to get into radio?" He said: "I don't want to underplay college, but go to a broadcast school, go to small town, and then work your way up."

I took his advice. I dropped out of Columbia and went to Midwest Broadcast School. The broadcast school had this box of index cards, and each card had an address of a radio station. We were allowed to send four tapes out. I have relatives in Ohio, so I picked out my four stations, including one in Chillicothe, Ohio. That index card mysteriously disappeared (laughs), so the only tape they got was from me, and that's how I got my first job.

Rick: How did it go?

Whammo: Got fired in one month. I made $60 a week, and worked six days a week. Even in those days that wasn't a whole lot of money. They had gift certificates for hamburger and chicken dinners that one of our personalities gave away on the air, so I grabbed a few, and forged his name on a bunch of them, and that's how I ate. What I didn't know was that the restaurant gave them back to the station for reimbursement. Well, one day the boss calls me in and says, "Jim I'm gonna have to let you go, the Dairy Queen has identified you as a forger. We have to reimburse them. If I were you, I'd get out of town."

Rick: (Laughs) Really?

Whammo: I got drafted shortly after that. I was in radio and tv in the U.S. Army and that kept me out of Vietnam.

Rick: I talked to a former colleague of yours from your WDHF/WMET days, Greg Brown, and he told me three things about you. You used to take a nap in the studio behind the cart rack before your show...DURING his show. He also said you wore shorts every day, regardless of the weather. And, that you were working on perfecting some sort of a gambling technique that would make you rich in Vegas.

Whammo: (Laughs). OK, let's take those one at a time. The naps. That's true. The station was too loud so it was hard to find a place to nap. We were on State Street at the time, so I either slept in the studio, or slept on the stairwell. I still remember that I found out Elvis had died while I was napping in the stairwell. When I got on the air, I played all the Elvis songs we had; but we only had two. I called our program director Gary Price and said: "Gary, we only have two Elvis songs, can I get some more?" He said no. So in my tribute on the air, I said "If Paul McCartney had died, at least we'd have more music to play."

Wearing shorts every day? Also true. It wasn't like I was wearing my boxers. I was at least wearing Bermudas. My goal was to be comfortable. I took my shirt off, wore my bermudas, and did the show standing up.

The gambling story is also true. I never wanted to be a 50-year-old rock and roll disc jockey, and thought "What am I going to do when this ends?" I had run a gambling operation at Lake View High School. I would pick the team I thought was going to win, and then I'd go to each class, pass out a piece of paper with my team on it, and if you thought I was wrong, you could bet against me. I was about $50, $60 bucks ahead, and I had all of my betting paraphernalia in my pocket, when they caught me. They took me down to the principal and he called my dad. Boy did I pay for that one.

Anyway, when I grew up, I started to devise a system to do it legally. For four years I worked on that system. I knew Wally Cover, the head of the ushers at Wrigley Field and Chicago Stadium, and in exchange for some radio swag, he gave me great seats to analyze the teams. At that time none of the Chicago papers published the odds. I think only The New York Daily News had the odds. So I bought the Daily News every day, and kept track of my picks. I didn't actually bet the money, I wanted to make sure it was a winning system before I bet real money. The first year of the system I got stomped on. But by the fourth year I was averaging $20,000 a year. I'm sure it would still work.

Rick: Is it true that your own siblings weren't allowed to listen to your show because you were considered a bad influence?

Whammo: Wow, you've really done your homework. Yes, that's true. My sister was in high school (Lane Tech--just after it had gone co-ed), and my dad wouldn't let her listen to the show while she was in high school. He was mad at me because I was living with a girl at the time (a bible school girl), and he didn't approve of my lifestyle. I didn't care. I was having a great time on and off the air.

Rick: Anyone that grew up in Chicago in the 1970s remembers your high energy show on WMET. You just exploded through the microphone. What are some of your favorite memories from those days?

Whammo: Everything was wrapped up with meeting girls. That's the first thing that comes to mind. I'd go to my car, and two or three of them would be waiting for me. If they called me and I got their number, I had a whole scenario I would go through. I would talk for ten or fifteen minutes on the phone with them, and decide if I wanted to see them or not. Then I'd "meet" them, and afterwards, I went home to the girl I was living with.

I loved the music too. Queen came to the station and did some liners for me. They were listening in their limo on the way to the Stadium for their concert, and invited our music director to see them in their suite. When they saw him, they were literally saying "Whammo!" They wanted to do an interview with me. That was a big thrill. I got an autographed album.

Other highlights; I had my picture taken with Ringo Starr. I spent a day with Bob Hope. One of the nicest guys. He really was a gentleman. Met Alice Cooper twice. Great guy. There are some DJs that think they are too cool for the room, but I loved every second of it.

One time I had backstage passes for a Rolling Stones concert, but they wouldn't let me go. I had to be on the air. One time I took a helicopter to and from Great America, and I had them circle Wrigley Field, before we landed at Meigs Field. That was incredible. I also was a judge at Miss Nude America twice, and both years I picked a winner.

Rick: And you were named one of the top 4 DJs in the country by Billboard Magazine during that time, too.

Whammo: That's true. I was living in Evanston at the time, and the PD called me up and asked me to do a one-hour aircheck he could send to Billboard Magazine. He said just do an hour, no editing. I stumbled on one of the intros, and I knew that wasn't going to fly. So, I went back and did the same hour again. In those days when I answered the phone, I called it the Whammo Line. There was one great caller that called all the time (I called her the midnight caller--but her name was Cathy Moyer). Well, on this particular night she made a wonderfully suggestive call and that became part of the tape that got me the Billboard Magazine award. I believe the other three jocks were Don St. James, Charlie Van Dyke, and Bob Berry from WOKY in Milwaukee.

Rick: Tell us what happened on November 5th, 1978 that changed your life forever.

Whammo: I had recently been fired from WMET by Bobby Christian (ironically). When he came to town, he changed the format of the station, and my approach didn't really fit. So, I was thinking of gambling for a living, and had gotten a job at KENO Radio in Vegas. We had just arrived in town, I hadn't even gone to the station yet, and I had won the first five bets I made. I'll never forget, I was standing on the Hoover Dam, when Bucky Dent hit the homer to beat the Red Sox in that one game playoff, and my money was on the Yankees. Anyway, I woke up the next morning and said "Let's get outta here." I didn't want to stay in Vegas.

I never called the radio station, never told them I wasn't coming, just loaded up the truck and went to Reno and Tahoe, and then headed back to Chicago. I hadn't given notice. I left the furniture and everything.

So while we were gone, my girlfriend Rhoda's parents were looking for her. Her parents knew about me, but they didn't know she was living with me. They called, and when nobody answered the phone, her mother called my mother to see if she knew where to find Rhoda. My mom spilled the beans, and that's how her parents found out we were living together without being married. Her mother called and said to Rhoda "Why don't you come to Iowa?", but she didn't say why. Rhoda went.

While her bus was pulling out of the station, I was already going down my list of phone numbers calling every girl I could. When I finally called her mother to check on her, her mother told me that she wasn't there anymore. She was in Madison, Wisconsin. When I reached Rhoda in Madison she said: "I'm leaving you and getting my life together with the Lord."

I had just paid cash for this brand new Camaro, and I told her I would drive up there and take her to church. When I pulled up to her sister's house Rhoda was wearing her hair the way I liked it, and wore the dress I liked, and I thought "You idiot, you're a fool for letting her go." I told her "I want to buy you a ring and get married." But now she was telling me it didn't feel right. I was telling her I had found the Lord, but I was misquoting Bible passages. She knew it wasn't real. I wasn't getting anywhere with her.

So, when I came back to Chicago, I looked in the mirror and realized that everything that had gone wrong was my own fault. Thanks to my time at "The Pillar of Fire" school, I believed in heaven and hell, and believed in God and the devil, and I really felt that I was going to hell when I died. I had gone to a big crusade the year before to be saved, and I went with all sincerity, but it didn't work. I thought I was beyond salvation. I thought "I'm really going to hell."

So that night, November 5, 1978, I turned off just north of Rockford, and started crying like a baby. I had everything I had always wanted: I had made it as a rock and roll disc jockey, I had money in the bank, I had all of these chicks, and yet, that wasn't the answer at all. I turned on WMBI, Moody Radio. Warren Wiersbe was on, and the show was called "Songs in the Night." I cried out "God forgive me. If I could live differently, I would. I can't change without your help. Please change me. You're going to have to do the change." I thought if I'm going to get that girl back, I had to be sincere. And I was.

Rick: Did you get the girl back?

Whammo: No, I didn't. But Hammond Indiana's Jack Hyles baptized me, and after teaching broadcasting school for awhile, I finally got a job in Christian radio in Dundee. I put my radio talent in God's hand, and he started opening doors. Soon I was at WCFL, which was Christian at the time. Now, I do a Christian Oldies show, Classic Christian Gold. It's worldwide. It's in the US, Canada, England, South Africa, the Philipines, New Zealand, Paris, Stockholm and Australia. And God has really opened the doors. We've never asked for money and we've never had a sponsor, and yet we're still going strong. Miracle after miracle after miracle.

Rick: You should really write a book.

Whammo: I'm planning on it. My wife is an excellent writer. And it will be brutally honest. We're going to put a warning in the book--in the next 85 pages we'll reveal what a rock DJ did on and off the air. If you're offended by this, move immediately to page 86. I've talked to pastors and so forth, and to a person they said, people in the Bible did some crazy things too. David committed adultery. Noah got drunk. If you don't put it in there exactly as it happened, it won't be as powerful. When they read it they'll say: "If God can save Captain Whammo, he can save anyone." My goal has always been to share my story at Moody Founders Week. I did share my story at their church once, but to share it for Moody's Founder Week would be the ultimate.

Rick: Can I ask you a favor?

Whammo: Sure.

Rick: Next time you talk to You Know Who, could you ask him to help out our favorite baseball team here in Chicago. We could use a little divine intervention.

Whammo: (Laughs) If the Cubs ever win the World Series, they better have the National Guard on hand just in case. It's gonna be crazy. By the way, here's a prediction: With Theo, the Cubs will the World Series within the next ten years.