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.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doug Dahlgren

Doug Dahlgren was a prominent voice in Chicago radio during the 1970s, most famously during his time at WCFL.

Rick: You've worked all over the country, including obviously Chicago, but you hadn't worked here in a long time. What made you decide to retire here?

Doug: I was working in Olympia, Washington, and we were doing well in Seattle, but getting paid Olympia rates, if you know what I mean, so I finally just gave my notice. For the first time in my life my timing was right, because they blew up the station shortly after that. It was my last radio job.

We came to Chicago because my wife and I have friends and family in Milwaukee, and hey--if you could choose between Chicago (which is close enough) and Milwaukee, where would you choose? (Laughs). Actually we've been here now seven years, but we were really only planning on staying for five. I love it here, and it's been great, but we miss the mountains and salt water. I have a boat that I love, and I suspect we'll move back out west at some point.

Rick: You went to high school in the Chicago area (Bloom, and Homewood Flosmoor) in the late 1950s. Were there any air personalities on the air during that time that influenced you or your approach to radio?

Doug: Wally Phillips, without a doubt. I was doing a project for a church group and I needed some sound effects, and because I was a fan and knew that Wally used a lot of them, I just showed up at the station one afternoon and asked if I could see Wally. He gave me all the sound effects discs I could carry--and told me to bring them back when I was through with them. That was incredibly generous of him. Another person I listened to in those days was Howard Miller. He and Wally were the biggest stars in Chicago.

Rick: I know your radio saga has many stops in those early years including Iowa, Wisconsin, and Florida, but how did you get that first big break to return to Chicago at WDAI?

Doug: I was at WTMJ in Milwaukee at the same time Bob Collins was in Milwaukee, so when he was named the PD in Miami, we went there together. (Photo: Bob Collins, Doug Dahlgren & Dick Sainte). I was the morning guy. Bob was a great guy to hang around with, a turd to work for (laughs), but a great guy. It didn't last too long. They blew up that station, and Bob went back to Milwaukee. After it blew up in Miami, Gary Price called me. He was the PD of WDAI at the time, and asked me to come over and do mornings for him. Shortly after that, he was hired by WCFL, and brought me along with him.

Rick: It's safe to say you're best known in Chicago for your time at WCFL in the 1970s, when you were teamed up with Dick Sainte as Dick and Doug. How did the two of you become a team?

Doug: Dick was working in mornings with Tom Murphy and I replaced Tom, and I still don't know the story of why--of what happened there with him. But Dick and I hit it off right away, our timing was immediately perfect. We never stepped on each other. We became almost like brothers off the air. Later on, he lived in Oregon when I did too, so we'd see him all the time. He had a huge career after WCFL too. He passed away a few years ago.

Rick: Do you have any favorite memories from that WCFL era?

Doug: Every day was fun. We had a good time on the air, but we probably had even more fun off the air. There was a bowling alley in the building, and we hit that together a lot. We drove to the coast together (to SF) once--took a good week or more to get there--and had a great time along the way. We were hawking a syndicated show in LA one time--though that didn't fly. Every day was a gas. We had a great engineer at the time named Warren Callahan. Loved working with him. His relief engineer was Al Urbanski, and he was just great too. (Rick's note:My story about Al Urbanski & Ann Margret is here) John Tondelli also worked there. We had the best engineers in the business.

Rick: That job ended when WCFL abruptly changed formats and became a beautiful music station. I know that was a shock to WCFL fans. Was it a shock to you?

Doug: Yeah, we read about it in the paper in Gary Deeb's column. The next morning they held a staff meeting, and said "Sorry, it wasn't supposed to leak out yet, but that's the way it goes." Dick and I asked if we could have one more show together, and they said yes. Though, in the middle of that last show, they came in and yanked us off the air because we were talking about the format change. That was considered a big no-no. (Photo: Doug with Elton John)

Rick: I've watched that Steve Edwards/AM Chicago interview on YouTube a few times. (You can watch it here: Part 1 and Part 2). You both sounded pretty upbeat at the time, but you ended up having to go your separate ways, didn't you?

Doug: Nobody was knocking on our door. (laughs) Not for jobs anyway. Wally called us both up the next morning and had us on the air, and I still have no idea how he got our phone numbers. He reached me at my girlfriend's house. Then Fred Winston had us on WLS. That's when I met John Gehron for the first time. Fred asked us how it felt to be escorted out of the studio, and we said, it feels like this, and we carried him out and finished the show for him. (laughs).

Rick: After WCFL, you moved down the Chicago radio dial to WIND. What do you remember about those days?

Doug: Connie Szerszen was doing the 6-10 pm slot at the time. (Photo: Connie & Doug in 2010). Bob Emery took over as PD, and fired Connie, the first time she had ever been fired, and since I was already on staff there, I was the natural successor in that 6-10 slot. There were a lot of stars on that station. We had Howard Miller, Clark Weber, even the weekends were great. It all ended when they decided to make the format "all talk". I went to WMET after that for a year, did mornings for Harvey Pearlman.

Rick: Is my memory faulty or did you also do voiceovers for WFLD at that time?

Doug: Dick and I did that when we were on the air together. We would go over and record tracks for the kid shows.

Rick: I was a kid at the time, I remember it well.

Doug: That was great fun. We got to work with Ray Barnas, and that was a thrill. Ray was the technical director of Don McNeils' Breakfast Club back in the day. After Dick went to San Francisco, I did the tracks by myself for awhile. Then they hired me as their full-time staff announcer, which I have to say, was about the dullest job imaginable. I did that for awhile, and they eventually fired me because I was so bored. I eventually ended up out West.

Rick: So are you really "officially" retired now..or could you be enticed back to terrestrial radio for the right offer?

Doug: Everybody's got their price, so never say never, but probably not. I may agree to some voice work, or do a show from home, but to tell you the truth, I haven't listened to the radio for years. When I listen now, it's all talk or all music, and there's nothing in between. When I was in the racket, it was possible to do both. Personality and Music. That's the kind of radio I liked to do.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lin Brehmer

The Chicago Tribune has a nice piece today about WXRT morning man, Lin Brehmer. It's a really entertaining article, and I'm not just saying that because I'm quoted in the article.

You can read it here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'm in Arizona enjoying spring training. Chicago Radio Spotlight will return next week.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ken Cocker

Ken Cocker is the Saturday and Sunday afternoon jock at K-Hits, WJMK, 104.3

Rick: This isn't your first go-round at this frequency. (Ken was part of the lineup at Oldies 104.3, WJMK in the late 90s/early 00s). How is it the same or different this time around?

Ken: I think this time around the difference is the music. I know it's similar, but at the old JMK we were jerking back and forth between the decades. Sometimes it was 50s and 60s. Sometimes was 60s and 70s. Sometimes all three. Sometimes they'd throw in a Billy Joel song or something. And we shifted gears a lot. But this station is so solidly focused on this sweet spot of music; it's the 60s, 70s and 80s. That 70s era is really my wheelhouse, and that's really our middle ground. Plus we play my favorite stuff from the 80s, songs like "Cars" by Gary Numan and "867-5309 Jenny" by Tommy Tutone. I really appreciate that consistency.

Rick: I don't how many people know that you were once a professional baseball player. What position did you play and who did you play for?

Ken: I was drafted out of high school (Hersey High School) by the Red Sox organization. I was a pitcher.

Rick: Who was your pitching hero?

Ken: The pitcher I tried to emulate as much as possible was Bob Gibson. I threw real hard like he did, and had the same kind of personality. There was no giggling and goofing off when I was on the mound. I got pissed. Sandy Koufax was another one. Although he was a lefty. I loved the power pitchers.

Rick: Talk a little bit about your minor league days.

Ken: I started out in A ball in Sumter, South Carolina. I had a good season, so the next year I played Double A at Winston Salem, but in the offseason I still came home and worked at UPS. Hell, they paid $11 an hour (laughs). That was good money then! I still had to make enough money to fill up my Pinto.

Rick: So what happened? Did you hurt your arm?

Ken: No, I hurt my leg playing basketball. In those days there were no health clubs, so the teams would make you play basketball games to stay in shape. You were only allowed to miss two games and if you missed a third, they told the big club you weren't showing up. Well, I enjoyed the company of the ladies, and that had already caused me to miss my two. One night, I was in the middle of a date when I remembered I was supposed to be playing a basketball game, and it was going to be my third strike if I didn't get my butt over there. So, I got there late, and didn't warm up properly, and rushed out onto the court, and sure enough, I blew out my knee. It was my pushing-off leg too. Poof. Just like that (snap) my baseball career was over.

Rick: How did you go from baseball to broadcasting?

Ken: My dad said to me, "You better find a job." (laughs) I called the team and they said they could use help at the radio station in Sumter, South Carolina. That's where I had played my A-ball. They didn't call it this at the time, but they needed a color man for the games, so I did it. After the season ended, I didn't know what to do. (Photo: ballpark in Sumter)

They had a music station not too far away, so they said: "Want to try that?" I thought, "Sure, what the heck." But they also told me that I needed to keep sending out tapes to move up the ladder, so I took that to heart. I worked in a town called Camden, then I went to Orangeburg, then to Charleston, then Savannah, and from there, Indianapolis. All of that in a year and a half. I wanted to work in Chicago so I was always looking for the next opportuntiy.

Rick: I started listing all of the stations I've heard you on in Chicago over the years and there's quite a list, isn't there? WMET, The Point, US-99, The River, WCPT, The Loop. Am I missing any?

Ken: I think that's all of them.

Rick: I'm sure there are some great stories from all of those stations, but let's start with the Mighty Met, WMET. That's the first time I remember hearing you.

Ken: That was my first job in Chicago. I was only 21 at the time, and I was working the afternoon shift in 1978-1979. Greg Brown was the morning guy at that time, and Captain Whammo was on right after me. I can confirm that sleeping story he told you a few weeks ago. When I did the afternoon shift and Captain Whammo worked at night, he would go to the Cubs game in the afternoon, and remember, in those days all of the games were in the afternoon. After the game he would come into the studio and sleep behind the transmitter rack. I said to him: "I need some decibels to do this right. You know that, right?" He said "It's OK, man." And I'm not kidding you when I say I cranked the music. The walls were rockin' with Kiss' "I wanna Rock and Roll all night" and Captain Whammo would be there behind the transmitter rack, sleeping through the whole thing.

Rick: You had a nice long run at the Point (WPNT), as I recall. People came and went in that morning slot, but you stayed in afternoon drive for many years. What do you remember most about that station, and that time of your career?

Ken: I started out doing nights, then shifted to afternoons, and it's true, I stayed there for a long time. They rolled through people quite a bit in the mornings. John Calhoun, who I've worked with now at a few stations, was one of them. There were lots more, including Fred Winston.

That was a big thrill working with Fred (photo). I had listened to him in high school, and was a big fan. One time we did a promotion where Fred picked a golf team and I picked another one, and we had a friendly on-air competition. I'm a good golfer and Fred is not, so I was pretty sure my team would win huge. Little did I know that Fred had picked a bunch of ringers, so they kicked my butt.

But Fred was a great guy, and fun to work with. You know I've worked with a lot of these legends now, and each time I was worried that they were going to be full of themselves and hard to deal with, and none of them are. Dick Biondi--great guy. Landecker--great guy. Tommy Edwards is too.

Rick: So what happened at the Point?

Ken: I was there until the station was bought by the forerunner of Clear Channel, and then Bonneville took it over, and they flipped formats, and got rid of all of us. But I have to say, they were real good about it. It was all handled very professionally--we all got our proper severance and everything.

Rick: What was your favorite radio job?

Ken: If I had to pick one, I'd probably pick the one I have now. Maybe it's just that I'm at an age where I'm comfortable with myself, and I know and love the music so much, and maybe it's just the kind of personality I have--I tend to be forward looking, and enjoy living for today. But this is probably my favorite.

Although, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention US-99. I was the first voice heard on that station when we flipped from WE-FM back in 1982. To have that still going strong 30 years later is incredible. We really began with a modest operation. I mean modest. We had one three-deck cart machine and three reel to reel machines, and that was it! We had to play the songs from reel to reel tapes, which was a real pain. No records, no music on cart. There were lots of gaffes because of that.

I remember one time they did a $10,000 contest, which was a TON of money to give away at the time. The premise was that if they didn't play at least four songs in a row, someone would win $10,000. Now, this obviously wasn't supposed to happen for awhile, but because of the set up we had, somebody screwed up almost right away. The first week or so. After that, they put the music on cart, and got a locking cart machine. Once the first song started, it couldn't be stopped until all four carts fired. Of course, wouldn't you know it, a cart blew up, and another $10,000 was out the window. We gave out twenty grand in the first month, and that was our budget for the whole year.

Rick: What years were you there?

Ken: I was there from 1982-1990. Had a great time.

Rick: Still like country music?

Ken: I still listen to it occasionally and enjoy it. I used to date the girl that eventually married Trace Adkins. She's a Hersey High School grad too. There's a bunch of us around. Amy Jacobsen. Jeff Joniak. Dave Corzine. All Hersey grads.

Rick: When I was researching for this interview, I saw a great article about you from 2007. It was about your time at WCPT. I know you were the operations manager there, but the article was mostly about one of your other duties at the time...feeding the cows in the field next to the radio station. That must have been a trip.

Ken: That's a true story. They had cows out there because they had to maintain the agricultural zoning of the building, so they had to have at least two farm animals. They owned two cows. I'm an animal lover, so I volunteered to feed them. Loved those cows. I remember their names. Lollipop has since passed on, but Elsa is still living, and there's a new one now, and his name is Junior. I visit from time to time. I keep in touch with my cows.

Rick: You've worked with just about every conceivable Chicago radio personality over the years, some of whom you've already mentioned. You also grew up in Chicago, listening to Chicago radio. So let me put you on the spot. If you were told to put together the all-time great Chicago jock lineup, living or dead, regardless of cost or availability, who would be on your station?

Ken: How many do I get?

Rick: Let's go with seven.

Ken: OK. Seven. Hmm. Well, Larry Lujack for sure. That's obvious. And of course Tommy Edwards. Let's see. Connie Szerszen. She'd have to be on there. Naturally, Dick Biondi. Fred Winston for sure. I get two more, let's see. John Records Landecker. He's a must. And you know, here's one that not a lot of people mention, but I'm going to say J.J. Jeffrey. I loved him on the air. He was just fantastic!

Rick: Thanks for doing this Ken. I know you're a PGA golfer, and the weather's nice today, so I'll let you go so you can hit the links.

Ken: People will get the wrong idea when you say PGA. I'm not on the tour or anything. I'm only a club pro. People hear that and think "You must be great!" Not really. I'm not as active as I once was. But I am ready to get back out there. I'm waiting for the snow piles to melt, we still have a few out here in the boonies, but if it stays nice like this, that's where you'll find me.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Jonathan Hansen

Jonathan Hansen is a reporter for Total Traffic Network and Metro Traffic Network. He's only been in Chicago radio for about a year, but is quickly moving up the ranks.

Rick: The first time I met you was the night of an Illini Media Hall of Fame event a few years ago. It was a room packed full of Illini media all-stars including nationally known journalists and broadcasters, and you, this kid, you were the master of ceremonies. You were fearless. You treated it like a Dean Martin roast, playfully ripping all of the people there. I remember turning to my buddy Dane Placko (a fellow rip-ee) and saying: "This kid is going to be a star." What do you remember about that night, and how in the world did you do it?

Jon: First, thank you for the kind words. Those Hall of Fame events were something special and wonderful to host. There are only so many chances that a 23-year-old nobody gets to playfully rip Robert Novak, Larry Doyle and Dave Eggers to their faces in front of 300 people (including Bob Epstein, an Executive Producer at NBC Corporate). I didn't want to take it for granted. Fellow Illini Media employees Kit Donahue and Melinda Miller put together an amazing program, and gave me as much time (and editorial license) to open the show as I wanted. Once I discovered I could have a projector screen, with the help of photoshop and WPGU Program Director Joe Lamberson, the rest kind of fell into place.

Honestly, it was an honor to be a part of those ceremonies and get a chance to meet the some of Illini Media's most famous alums. I've already started preparing your introduction, so perhaps if you donate a little more we can get you in, Rick.

Rick: I'll have my people call your people. My other memory of that night was the late Robert Novak's speech when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame there. He spent the entire speech angrily spitting on the Daily Illini because they didn't name him sports editor in 1953. He wasn't joking either. He was still royally pissed off--more than 50 years later. Were you thinking to yourself, "Holy crap, I just spent the last ten minutes ripping this guy. He's going to have me whacked"?

Jon: Having never been a CIA employee I felt confident that he wouldn't screw me over. And actually, I had one student employee whose job it was to watch Bob Novak and see if I could get him to laugh. Mission accomplished. But with all due respect to Mr. Novak, who had a great career, I do remember how petty that speech came across. Mr. Novak had an opportunity to impart a very profound lesson to an audience of college media students. Careers in media don't have a set path, and you have to be able to roll with the punches. I think that's something that I have learned quickly in this business--sh*t happens. Holding grudges and asking woulda-coulda-shoulda questions usually wont get you anywhere.

Rick: You were in charge of the student-run radio station in Champaign (WPGU) for a few years after you graduated. That station is owned by the same company that owns The Daily Illini (The Illini Media Company), and they have been in the news recently. Roger Ebert has been championing the cause of saving the company from bankruptcy, and even I have opened up my checkbook (which had cobwebs on it) to help out. As an insider who worked there until pretty recently, what can you tell us about how it got to this point?

Jon: When I was hired as a full-time employee to be the Broadcast Operations Manager in 2006, I quickly learned how tough it really is to sustain a media company--even as a non-profit. When national ad buys started cratering as a result of the 2008 recession, I don't think we reacted fast enough. Part of the problem was our recent move into a brand new building in 2006. It's an amazing facility and has served the company well, but the timing could not have been worse to take on a large mortgage.

Money was always extremely tight, and the full-time employees and students all dealt with countless cutbacks to help keep the company afloat. At the same time, we worked tirelessly to provide excellent content to Champaign-Urbana, and give our students a valuable experience. I give a lot of credit to the entire staff there, and am very proud of the work we created even while taking large pay cuts, losing many employees, and operating essentially day-to-day. There are a lot of proud people that worked and continue to work at Illini Media.

Rick: So here's a softball follow up. What did your WPGU time mean to you and your professional development?

Jon: When I was 19-years-old, I was writing and delivering news updates. At 20, I covered the Illini Basketball team on their run to the NCAA Championship game. As a 21-year-old news director, it was my responsibility to manage our coverage of a terrible accident after a college freshman was struck and killed by a campus bus. At 22, I helped converge a print and radio newsroom to provide a multi-media product for a quickly changing audience. I list these experiences not to boast, but to simply show that Illini Media gave me the opportunity to make countless mistakes and learn from them.

I was then very blessed to work as the Broadcast operations manager as a full-time employee from 2006-2010. Some days I would be working with the FCC on license renewals, other days I would be putting out fires with upset clients, and then most of the days I got to be a glorified babysitter to 200+ 18-22 year olds. I am so grateful to my experience there and felt 100% prepared to enter any job in media.

Rick: Now you're in Chicago working as a traffic reporter for the Total Traffic Network and Metro Networks. How has that transition gone for you?

Jon: The past year-plus has been quite an adventure. After six months working in a Senate office in DC, I moved back to Chicago just hoping to do anything on-air or behind the scenes. When a former WPGU employee suggested I check out Metro Networks, I really had no idea what she was talking about. What do you mean that the great Joe Collins and Bart Shore (photo) don't work in the WBBM studio? Traffic broadcasting in St. Louis can come from Chicago? I was very naive to the world of traffic reporting.

I applied for a "fill-in" reporter position and was hired with the promise of at least zero hours per week. I was just excited at even the possibility of getting on-air at WGN or WBBM. I grew up listening to AM radio, and--as strange as this sounds--always loved listening to the traffic reports. I knew of Eisenhower and Kennedy as expressways before I knew them as presidents. I decided that if I always said "Yes" to any shift, I would eventually get more hours. And luckily, that's exactly what happened. Producing overnights eventually led to a few on-air overnight weekend shifts, which eventually led to some weekend shifts, which led to day-time and drive-time shifts, flying opportunities and some on-air TV gigs as well.

Also, this past summer, I was fortunate to be hired this year as Gene Honda's backup PA announcer for the Chicago Blackhawks. And while I only get to fill in here-and-there, I think announcing a Blackhawks game is about the coolest thing I've ever done. And after some nervous moments pass, it is quite a thrilling three hours of "work."

Rick: Have there been any favorite moments so far?

Jon: My favorite moments are being on-air anywhere in Chicago. Whether reporting for John Williams, Garry Meier, Steve and Johnny, Bill Leff and Nick DiGilio, it's all quite humbling. On a holiday shift, it was myself, Dean Richards and Tom Skilling just chatting away. Quite a "pinch me, is this real?" moment.

Also, something about doing traffic on WBBM anytime--afternoon, night, or Christmas morning--gives me such a rush. Also, the morning of our first bad snowfall this winter I was doing traffic on FOX-TV for Good Day Chicago. So, not to sound cheesy, but they are all favorite moments. It still is amazing to me that I get to be on-air with these people I grew up listening to.

One particularly strange night I worked was the night of the February 2011 blizzard. The entire evening I answered phone calls from people stuck on Lake Shore Drive, or worried mothers and fathers calling about their kids snowed-in on the Drive. Expecting mothers frantically asking me what they were supposed to do. We heard some amazing things on the scanners that night, whether it be the police on snowmobiles trying to get people to warming buses, or people simply having panic attacks because they didn't know what to do.

Rick: Last year when CBS had that contest to name a new traffic reporter, you were one of the finalists. People may not remember, but they put all of your bios and videos on the website and had viewers vote on their favorites. What was that experience like?

Jon: The CBS experience was a blast. After 700+ people submitted videos for consideration, they brought 75 of us to the studio for an on-camera audition. CBS did a fantastic job hosting and making everyone feel important. The final 10 of us got a day on-air, and again--CBS went above and beyond to make the experience very special. While I didn't get the gig, I made some great connections and the experience really solidified my goal of having a career in television.

As for having my bio and videos online, well, I guess I better get used to that. Reading negative comments is never fun, but I guess just part of the job. I figure that if I want to continue in this field, I've got to be perceptive to what people think but not let it weigh me down.

Rick: When you were in Champaign you also were part of an improvisational comedy group. Any plans to do that in Chicago? I understand there are a few outlets for that sort of thing here.

Jon: I did take a few levels of iO when I moved back, but with my ever-changing schedule each week, I can't really find consistent time to devote to comedy. But, I will be getting back involved the moment I have a "regular schedule" (of course, its all relative in the media world).

Rick: Not many people from your generation have chosen to pursue careers in broadcasting. Why do you think radio has become such an afterthought for people your age?

Jon: I was in Champaign fairly recently and talked to some WPGU students, and I can report that there are still plenty of people who want a career in media. I grew up listening to AM radio every night while falling asleep, so this kind of a career is all I've ever wanted. As radio becomes less prominent in kids' bedrooms, teenager's cars, and college students' dorms, it's only natural for interest in radio to dwindle.

This is a generation that can blog, post youtube videos, create clever twitter accounts. There are quicker, easier ways to get your voice out there and "be famous." I think radio has lost a lot of its sexiness. And simply put, there aren't as many jobs in radio as there used to be. No need to harp on all the reasons/benefits/drawbacks of consolidation, but it is the reality.

Rick: I know you're slightly embarrassed being featured on Chicago Radio Spotlight because you've only been working here for about a year, so thanks for agreeing to do it. I hope you don't get too much grief from your colleagues.

Jon: Metro/Total Traffic is a great place to work. Jim Dubenetzky, Kevin Scott and Mark Napoleon have given me so many amazing opportunities in one short year. And luckily, I seem to not have pissed anyone off too badly...yet. I guess that formula is working so far. But as great as my bosses and co-workers are, I will rightfully get some playful ribbing. I'm sure I deserve it. Thanks Rick!