Sunday, September 07, 2008
Chicago Radio Spotlight: Eddie Volkman
Eddie Volkman (right) is the long-time co-host of the morning show on WBBM-FM (B-96) along with Joe Bohannon (left).
Rick: Your dad is still a revered figure in this town. What was it like growing up in Chicago as Harry Volkman's son?
Eddie: By the time I was born my father had already been on television for several years. In fact, both of my older brothers' births were announced on my dad's weather segment. It was so normal to us that my brother, Jerry actually asked a kindergarten classmate, "What channel is your dad on?" High School was a little tougher. As an athlete, opposing teams would yell things like "Are you puttin' on the High Pressure Defense?". I'd shut 'em up by "raining" 3-pointers! You have to remember, in the 70's & 80's--pre-cable days--the channel 2 or channel 9 news had higher ratings than "American Idol" or other hit shows these days. The recognition factor was pretty high. (Photo: Jerry, Eddie & Harry)
Rick: You and Jobo have been together now for twenty years--which is unheard of in this business. What is the secret to your long-time partnership?
Eddie: We're opposites in many ways. We both often say "I can't do what he does". Jobo's a polished host who claims not to be funny (but he is!), who gets from point A to point B with surgical precision. I tend to be a scatterbrained comedian, actor, singer, impressionist, etc. I keep things lighhearted and funny even during more serious discussions on the show.
Rick: There is something I've always wondered about you guys. Obviously a ton of work goes into your show every day. How do you divide up the show prep duties?
Eddie: As a kid, I tended to follow the lead of a year-older brother. Jobo was more of an independent thinker, and by his own admission is rather obsessive/compulsive about show topics, preparation and scheduling. Although the show's content is somewhat of a committee decision (there are 6 of us in there each morning), I've learned to trust Jobo's instincts and almost Freudian approach to every program--you can never lose when you talk about sex, food, or relationships. I pride myself on being able to run with any topic that comes up. It's like improv for me.
Rick: Any show that's been around for twenty years has to evolve and goes through highs and lows. What do you consider your highest high and your lowest low?
Eddie: Well, to be perfectly shallow, the bidding war between CBS Radio and Clear Channel for our services back in 2002 was quite a boost for our egos as well as bank accounts, but of course the most rewarding times are when ratings are highest. You don't want to be All-Pro on a last-place team. Our best ratings were in the early to mid-90's before the proliferation of iPods, Spanish radio stations and other factors that have since fragmented the audience. The lowest low obviously would be when we were fired in May of 1994 over a libel lawsuit that anyone can Google--we still don't talk about it much. Although we were picked up by WIOQ-FM in Philladelphia a few months later, our hearts were still in Chicago, hometown to us both. That situation cost me my house, my marriage and my kids moving to Arizona. Count being re-hired at the end of 1996 as the other greatest high point!
Rick: I was working for the same company on another morning show (Landecker at WJMK) when you were forced to have management approve every single word you said before it aired. I can't speak for the other shows in the company, but we were petrified that would become a company wide policy. How did you make it through those years, and did you learn anything about yourselves through that process?
Eddie: The libel lawsuit that lost us the job in 1994 had the company on edge when we were hired the second time. Our General Manger, Don Marion was quite worried about lawsuits, and was under the gun to do whatever was necessary to prevent that situation from ever happening again. I think there was actually way too much precaution involved, but his job was on the line if anything went wrong. Don and our Program Director, Todd Cavanah would alternate weeks sitting in the studio. Jobo refers to us as "being pre-recorded" back then, I preferred to say we were on a two-minute delay, not unlike the 10 or 20-second delay most morning shows have anyway. The only real pain was having to record something, then have it ready by the time a song was over.
Rick: I've previously interviewed Karen Hand who was a big part of your show for many years. That female component to the show has always been there in some shape or form (currently with Erica Cobb). How important is it to have the female perspective?
Eddie: One weakness Jobo and I both have is growing up in families of jocks ("athletic", not "disc"). We can tend to get caught up in talking too much sports, drinking, and male humor if we're not careful. On a station that targets women 18 to 34 and teens, that's not a good thing. Also, as I mentioned, we talk a lot about relationships. If a woman-caller to the show says she's in an abusive relationship and we tell her she's crazy to remain there, we sound like male bullies with no clue as to the dynamics of her situation. Coming from Karen Hand or our more recent co-host, Erica Cobb (photo), it sounds much more like advice from a girlfriend, and hence much more comfortable and credible.And of course, a female perspective is always appreciated on issues of fashion, politics, food--you name it!
Rick: One of the challenges for your show is that you guys are not in the same demo as the audience you're trying to attract. How do you manage to stay so young and relate to that younger audience?
Eddie: It's just a matter of reading what they read, keeping up with their interests and technology, and even watching the shows they watch. It's become so natural that I actually find myself somewhat bored with my own peers, sad to say. My high school buddies golf and have riding mowers--I play basketball and video games. Whatever we're doing works, I guess. Our teen and young adult ratings are about the same as twenty years ago.
Rick: If my math is correct, the seven year contract you signed back in 2002 is ending next year. When you signed that contract, Kiss-FM made a huge push to steal you--and when they couldn't get you, they signed DreX to come into the market. Will we be experiencing a similar situation next year?
Eddie: Well, financial times are different. We're well-aware of the revenue situation in radio these days compared to 7 years ago. We believe there is interest in our services at B96 and other outlets beyond our current contract, but at what price I don't know. The situation that occurred with Mike North at co-owned CBS station WSCR is an example.of the salary adjustments you have to be realistic about. I guess we'll see!
Rick: They say that mixed marriages don't work, but you and JoBo have managed to stay together despite the fact that JoBo is a Sox fan, and you're a Cubs fan. What will happen if those teams play each other in the World Series this year. Will the partnership survive?
Eddie: Oh yeah...In fact, as the Cubs fan on the show I, of course, want to see my team win the World Series, but I also want it to be against the White Sox! It would mean so much more than beating, say, the Tampa Bay Rays. Even their own fans don't care about that team! As a former college baseball player, I am a fan of the game as much as anything. On-air I'm brutal to the Sox, as Jobo is to the Cubs but, truth be known, I have always followed and cheered for both teams. It's just a good Chicago-like, on-air bit (although Jobo genuinely hates the Cubs!). Our "brotherhood" goes deep enough, however that nothing much ever gets between us!