Saturday, May 19, 2012
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?
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.
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?
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?