Sunday, March 02, 2008
Chicago Radio Spotlight: Lisa Greene
Lisa Greene is the midday personality on WCFS-Chicago, 105.9 FM.
1992-1994: News anchor/DJ/Production director, WIUS/Bloomington, IN
1994/95: Fill-in personality, WLUW/Chicago
Aug 93-Dec 93: Continuity assistant, WFIU (NPR Bloomington)
Oct 94-Dec 94: Music research, Q101
Jan 95-Dec 96: Traffic/news reporter, Metro Traffic Chicago
Jan 96-Aug 96: PT personality, WXLC
Aug 96-Dec 96: PT personality, WMYX/Milwaukee
Jan 97-Jun 97: Evening personality, WQLH/Green Bay
Jul 97-Dec 98: Evening personality/Music Coordinator, WPNT/Milwaukee
Dec 98-Sep 99: APD/MD/Middays, WMXB/Richmond
Sep 99-Dec 99: PT personality, WWZZ/Washington, DC
Jun 00-Jan 01: PT feature host/Larry Lujack prod. asst, WUBT/Chicago
Jan 01-Jun 06: News/traffic anchor/co-host, Shadow Broadcast Services
Apr 01-pres: PT feature host (Oldies)/producer (Jack-FM), WJMK/Chicago
Jun 06-Feb 07: PT personality, WILV/Chicago
Feb 07-pres: Midday personality, WCFS/Chicago
Rick: First of all, congrats on the new gig at "Fresh FM." I know this was all a very secretive hiring process. How long had you been talking with Fresh, and how did it all play out?
Lisa: Thank you! It's all very exciting. Kind of a funny beginning for me: It all started last November when I bumped into (my former WJMK GM/current Fresh GM) Dave Robbins--literally. It was pretty clear at the time that WCKG was going to flip to some kind of AC format. Though I loved working part-time at Love-FM, I wanted to get back to jocking full-time, and got my package ready. The day after I put it together, they flipped to the "The New Fresh 105.9."
The music was GREAT! Right up the alley of someone in my age group, and similar to formats I had worked in in the past, so it was something that I clearly was appropriate for. Since I still work for CBS on the 9th floor at WJMK, I walked my package upstairs to drop it off for Dave, instead of risking delays from the glorious Chicago mail system! Dave wasn't in so I left it on his desk and headed out toward the elevator.
As I walked, I heard voices around the corner but it was a blind spot. It turned out to be Dave and a sales guy; we practically crashed, but when he saw me, he had his typical huge smile on his face and hugged me! Can't ask for a better reception than that from a former manager! We were laughing and he asked who I was visiting up there. When I told him I left a demo package for *him*, he said great, that he wanted to talk to me about that--another good sign!
As we caught up, he mentioned some of their initial plans for putting jocks on, which was still a while away, and said he'd put me in touch with Mike (Peterson, Fresh and US99 PD). There was a little phone tag, of course, as it was holiday time and I later learned Mike's wife had given birth to their third baby just then! Hectic time for him. We had a good meeting, I auditioned around Christmas, and though there were some corporate delays mixed in, it was good news from there! It's been a relatively smooth process and will be a great place to work. Dave has a great ability to create a positive working environment, and Mike has been so supportive in getting Mike LeBaron and me all set every step of the way to do our jobs individually, and getting the all departments working as a team.
Rick: You've been a music director during your radio career, and you've worked at nearly every music station in Chicago in some capacity, which may make you uniquely qualified to answer this question. How would you describe the music being played at Fresh Fm, compared to it's competitors in town?
Lisa: You know that old commercial, "This isn't your father's Oldsmobile?" I think of it that way: "This isn't your parents' soft music station." "Today's Soft Music, The New Fresh 105.9" is imaged to be familiar and pleasant, though you'll notice not all the songs can be called "soft," individually! It's an interesting comparison to twenty-some years ago, when 35-54-aged people were having kids and working in offices: stations like WLIT here became popular and established the traditional Adult Contemporary (AC) sound, but artists like Barry Manilow, James Taylor, Streisand, Celine Dion, etc., were contemporary for those listeners.
Over time into the '90s, as you know, traditional AC's spun off into Modern AC thanks to Modern Rock radio, and Hot AC thanks to pop-leaning stations. Traditional AC's maintained the "lite" label, and type of "easy listening" is still how the heritage AC presents itself, today. So now, twenty years later, when people my age are card-carrying adults, working and/or with kids, it's natural to be drawn to styles of music from their college or early-adult years and today, because they grew up with more musical choices and it's all contemporary to them. Even I was surprised when I started hearing songs that are heavy on guitar by Lenny Kravitz or Kelly Clarkson after the launch, here on a station with "soft" in the slogan. But the fact of the matter is, people of my age group grew up with more musical choices, and no one I know in my demo talks about an "easy listening" preference these days!
My take is that "soft"="familiar" here. For the average 30- or 40-something mom driving her kids around, it's obviously recognizable as NOT thumpy like a dance station, not loud like a rock station, doesn't try to be too-cool-for-the-room like a Modern AC. What it IS, is familiar music--all hits--with pleasant imaging, and content and personalities which relate to their lifestyle. People in my demo are digging it.
Rick: My guess is that you are right smack in the middle of the target demo. What do you think Fresh needs to do to get women to start listening to a station that had been programming to a male audience for the past twenty years?
Lisa: I don't know that they have to do anything differently than they're already doing, for now. The TV spots started running immediately after the launch, which even existing stations run a few times a year in order to create awareness. Billboards are up; typical stuff. However, you're correct about the demo: I'm 36, and naturally I have lots of friends and family of similar age. Some are single, married with kids, or divorced, but I've heard from nearly all of them between November and now, telling me they've just...found Fresh 105.9.
Honestly, I think part of it is that we're a nation of button-punchers when it comes to, for example, listening to the radio while driving around in the car. If you hit that "seek" button and land on a station that plays enjoyable tunes from the '90s that were contemporary during your early adult years, plus similar female-friendly songs from recent years and today, you're going to stay there. I'm hearing, "I've added it on my pre-sets!" a lot. Much of the feedback I've gotten is from women outside the industry who didn't know the male-targeted WCKG Talk format was even there. They skipped right over it and have found a station they enjoy, now. The rest is happening by word of mouth.
Rick: As of right now, you and Mike LeBaron are the only two live voices on the air at Fresh FM. Did you know each other before you started there? Is it a little odd signing off and not having a live voice on the air after you?
Lisa: I have heard Mike LeBaron (photo) on the air in the market for a long time, but no, we had never crossed paths til we started at Fresh. Lots of my colleagues down the hall at the Mix have asked me recently to send him congratulations, and have said what a talented, great guy he is--and he is! I want to say he's been kicking around the market as a part-time jock longer than I have, so we're both well-prepared and excited for this opportunity.
Is it odd signing off without a live voice after me? Not really. Back when I was doing the "Saturday Night Dance Party" at WJMK, after my first year, you were there and might remember that they eliminated overnight jock positions. I had to sign off by saying "see you next week" and flip it to automation, which was a bummer after Doug Johnson came on after me for a year. I once had another PD elsewhere who decided we should not formally sign off or introduce the next jock at the end of our show. No disrespect to that PD; I like him and when the PD asks you to do something, you just do it. But it felt weirder to me to just leave without introducing the next person when there's a full staff of jocks than it feels when there's no one to introduce. It's my understanding that there will be an afternoon driver at Fresh in due time, though!
Rick: Before you started at Fresh you were working at Love-FM. I know you were close to Mark Sullivan, who tragically passed away a few months ago. I thought you wrote a beautiful tribute to him on your blog. How would you describe Mark to those of us who never got to know him?
Lisa: Thank you. He was a pain in my ass!! But you know, in a fun way. Those who read the blog would get a more accurate picture because I needed to get it out of my system, there were important stories to share, and I could be more detailed. We were determined to be pains in each other's asses, ribbing each other all the time--you know: friends.
I would not claim to be so close to him as his childhood buddies or anything, but we had a lot in common. From interests (yoga, music, radio), to lifestyles (single, from Chicago, close in age, got let go from radio job and lived back with parents before getting back on our feet with gigs here), to personality traits (ambitious, a sensitive side, compatible senses of humor, and yes, compatible egos, too). I hadn't given it much thought in those terms until last Fall when he was sick and on all of our minds constantly. We had a lot to talk about. I think we saw a little of ourselves in each other. We always talked about getting together outside of work, but radio breeds opposite schedules, so it never happened, and I'm very sad for that.
Mark (photo) was a good guy, very talented jock and musician, made sure the people special to him knew it. Sometimes he talked about his lifelong condition, sometimes he didn't, but imagine what it must have been like, even as a young child, to have a bunch of surgeries and know you might not make it very long. His mother told me 40 years was a gift and that he had cheated death three times before, so they had faith he would recover this time, too. He made an effort to spread smiles and to do what made him happy most of the time. Wouldn't you? I was psyched to give him the ol' teaser about the process moving along with Fresh, in December. I know he'd be very happy for me, as I was for him, about getting full-time here at home. I told him last month when it was officially announced. I like to think he heard me.
Rick: Let's talk about some of your previous stops on the radio dial in Chicago. I mentioned that you had been working at Love-FM (WILV 100.3)
which is a rhythmic oldies station, but you've also worked at WJMK when it was an oldies station, and WUBT ("The Beat") when it was a rhythmic
oldies station. How were each of those stations the same or different from each other?
Lisa: Well, all of those stations hired me and the rest of their airstaff for our CHR backgrounds, in terms of delivery. The Beat was called "Jammin' Oldies," which essentially was Urban Oldies. So, musically, very Motown- and disco-based, and played artists like Wilson Pickett, Prince, Irene Cara, Bee Gees, and the Time to fill it in. It was a fun station but they flipped to Kiss 103.5 after I was there seven months, and the canned everyone despite being initially hired for our CHR backgrounds! Clean slate, I guess.
WJMK's regular format, as you know, played traditional Oldies, including the Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, the usual Motown stuff. It was intended to remind folks who grew up in the 60's of how their favorite Top 40 station sounded at the time. When I was hired, Kevin Robinson wanted a '70s party feature, and heard me adapt to it well on the Beat. (Photo: Lisa with WJMK legend Dick Biondi) So, on my show, I got to play some of the traditional artists that had songs in that decade, plus the disco stuff I played on the Beat, plus cool novelty tunes by the Partridge Family and the Osmonds, which always, personally, make me smile. It morphed into the "Saturday Night Dance Party," so away went some of the novelty tunes and in came more soul music, but I loved that too. I rocked out in the studio in between playing ringmaster, taking phone calls from all over Chicagoland. It was only part-time but was one of the best gigs I ever had!
Love-FM was Motown/disco/soul-based for a while as well, but in recent months scattered some '80s and '90s songs, like "Safety Dance" and artists like Duran Duran, Toni Basil, and even Rick Springfield. All party-ish hit songs that people know and can sing along to. They've struck a good, energy-filled balance, now. All were enjoyable versions of the format to work in.
Rick: You've also had a long stint at Shadow Traffic. People that work at Shadow end up working on just about every station in town. What are some of your fondest moments with Shadow, and what shows were the most fun for you?
Lisa: Oh...I was there for 5 1/2 years, so there are a lot of them! You're thrown into a variety of situations there, so it's a great opportunity to diversify your skills and learn to play off of a talk host, rock host, and other formats. My favorite times include doing Seaver's Afternoon Drive traffic on the Loop for my first couple of years. The PD didn't want us to talk long, so it was good training to get some good, quick rock-friendly banter and the report in, and get back to the music. Seaver's a good guy who can do a rap or cross-talk concisely, while sounding like Mr. Cool at the same time, so you just follow that lead. The playlist rocked back then, so mostly he teased me off the air about singing along in cue before he turned my mic on!
Then there were the days when I frequently filled in on Midday traffic with Steve Cochran (Photo). Oh, man--definitely good times! Everything he says is funny! I think he found that I tapped into his timing and goofy personality well, so he had me contribute quite a bit in conversation and interviews. Another time I was doing WGN traffic on a Saturday morning with the big-voiced Lyle Dean on news. I called him ahead of time to alert him of a scanner report of a naked guy running in an intersection in Palatine, but couldn't confirm it yet. He said to run with the item and follow his lead. When I generically reported "police activity" in Palatine, he matter-of-factly asked, "and, *what* is the activity?" I replied, dryly with a smile, "that would be...a...naked guy running in the street. Details as they become available." He called me off-air and said, "that was SO good!" Maybe you had to hear it, but it was hilarious.
I also loved doing morning traffic and news with my buddy, former WRXQ/Joliet PD Rob Creighton. We go back since college so that was pretty loose and fun.
Rick: You are also involved in local theater. On the surface I know it seems like radio and theater are similar--but they're actually totally different. When you're on the radio you have a lot of people listening to you, but you're in a room all by yourself. When you're on stage, there's nowhere to hide. How has radio helped your theater work, and vice versa?
Lisa: Interesting question. I feel they're mainly different in venue, and method or structure of the entertainment: in theatre, you're on stage with a group of people, playing other people, in front of an audience of limited size, and you don't interact with the audience. In radio, you're in a studio alone, talking to hundreds of thousands of people (in Chicago), who feel like you're individually their companion, playing a version of yourself. They are pretty similar, in that the performers all have creative instincts, urges, and disciplines, want to entertain and contribute to the audience's day, and connect in some kind of meaningful way, however brief.
Hm...how have my radio and theatre experiences contributed to each other? Well, by the time I hit college and decided on radio as a path, I found that my voice lessons as a kid helped me warm up and get the breath and the sound out; most people don't think about that when they're listening to the radio, or thinking of pursuing a broadcast career! I once had a music teacher who said, "your body is your instrument." It's true in radio, absolutely. Both activities contribute to each other and to me as a person because--lots of people are shocked by this--but as a kid I was very shy for a long time, and still can be, today. I made a conscious decision as a teenager to literally get up there and try to find some way to express myself. I was nervous and sucked for a while, but found my way. Whether it's going on the air, hosting a bar gig, or dressing up like a 90-year-old dead woman on stage (photo), I realized in recent years that everything I do in those areas is to kind of..conquer the fear and prove to myself that I can do it!
Rick: Let's end this with a little "Fresh" quiz. If you can answer all of these questions successfully, we'll officially sanction you as a "Fresh" employee.
Lisa: OK, shoot.
Rick: Why would Will Smith be your favorite TV star?
Lisa: Oh my. Well, he was the FRESH Prince, of course!
Rick: Why did teenage boys get slapped by teenage girls in the 1950s?
Lisa: They were FRESH!
Rick: Why is Kool n the Gang your favorite artist?
Lisa: Haha. Um...could it be because they sing a song called, "FRESH?"
Rick: How would you describe your breath after eating a tic tac?
Lisa: Oh, Rick. It's minty!! That's my final answer.
Rick: Why did my mother used to threaten to wash my mouth out with soap?
Lisa: "How you do say 'stop being so FRESH or I'll tighten your lederhosen!' in German?"
Rick: Nicely done. Thanks for doing this, and best of luck with the new gig.
Lisa: Thank you!