Sunday, August 27, 2006

Steve & Garry Notebook

When Steve & Garry reunited for one show last Friday, it was big news in Chicago. Every local television station covered it, every local newspaper (Front page on the Sun Times!) ran stories (see Thursday's media notebook for the links), and people all over Chicago were talking about it.

I worked for the Steve & Garry show for almost five years (1986-1991), including the last four years as their producer. I've previously chronicled that on this blog a few times
(Loop Photo Album 1986-1993)
, but I haven't really written about it at length.

This seems like a perfect time to do that.

I was running the Steve & Garry fan club and helping out the Loop's promotions department when Steve & Garry's former producer (Roman) quit. That's when they promoted me to producer, and announced my arrival in the Steve & Garry newsletter (on the left).

During those years, I had some high highs and some low lows (some of my nicknames included "college boy", "Slow-Mo", and "Rick the German Boy"), but now that so much time has passed I really only think about the highs. Here are my five favorite moments.

#5: The Brian Wilson interview
Brian Wilson emerged from more than a decade of intense psychological treatment to release a solo album in 1988. He still wasn't quite right (and maybe never will be) when he arrived at the station for an in-studio interview. How do I know this? When I offered my hand to him, he jumped backwards like he had just seen a ghost. His "personal advisor" wouldn't let him out of his sight and actually sat on the floor in the studio during the interview. The interview itself was also memorable. At one point Brian started choking, leaving Steve and Garry speechless and completely at a loss for what to do. I've probably heard that 48 seconds of audio a thousand times since then, and it still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

#4 Steve's on-the-air vasectomy
When Steve decided to get it snipped live on the air, the rest of us cringed. Garry actually had to witness it and provide play by play, while I was thankfully running the equipment, a safe distance away from the snipping. This was a big story at the time (I can't remember the year exactly...I want to say it was '89 or '90). The story came full circle for me in 2003 when I was getting my own vasectomy. The doctor who was handling the procedure realized who I was in the middle of the operation, and started asking me questions about Steve & Garry while he was cutting my bits and pieces.

#3: A Christmas Carol
In December of 1988, I tackled my first big production for Steve and Garry, a celebrity reading of the classic "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. I booked dozens of local celebrities to play the parts, and we performed it in front of a live audience at the Museum of Broadcasting. Steve was Scrooge, Garry was Cratchit, Bruce Wolf was Fred, Christmas Past was Roger Ebert, Christmas Present was Buzz Kilman, the late Channel 5 news reporter Paul Hogan was Marley, and other participants included Sports Illustrated writer Rick Telander, Channel 2 anchor Linda McClennan, Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley, West 57th correspondent Bob Sirott, Channel 7 anchor Diann Burns, Channel 5 anchor Joan Esposito, Channel 7 reporter Janet Davies, Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak, Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, Chicago Bears safety Gary Fencik, artist Tony Fitzpatrick, Kevin Matthews, Bob Stroud, Stan Lawrence, Chicago Bears Guard Tom Thayer, and Channel 7 anchor Mary Ann Childers.

It was a huge success, got a big write-up in the Chicago Tribune, and my boss at the time, future gazillionaire Jimmy de Castro wrote a memo to us saying how great he thought the show was (above on the left).

I've previously written about how this chance meeting with Mary Ann Childers had a big impact on my life. You can read that story here:Thank you Mary Ann Childers

#2 The Ringo Starr Interview
Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was in the studio promoting his appearance with Ringo's All-Star Band. Steve asked Joe if he could get Ringo on the air, and Joe handed me the number to Ringo's hotel room. As a fanatic Beatle-maniac, I was stricken with fear. After a mild panic attack in the producer's room, I made the call. He was actually very nice to me on the phone, and agreed to come on the show. My conversation couldn't have lasted more than thirty seconds, but I remember every word of it. When he finally got on the air, he noticed he was on delay. He told Steve & Garry that it hurt him that they didn't trust him and demanded that they take the delay off before he continued the interview. When they followed his orders dutifully, he made sure he was on the air live, before blurting out: "SHIT!" Today that would have cost the station $325,000. In 1989, it was hilarious.

Ringo later showed up at the station for a nationwide interview (for a show called "Rockline"), and I got his autograph. It's something I will treasure forever.

#1 Meeting Bridget

A year or so after I became the producer, a young intern from the news department came into the producer's booth to retrieve the news wire copy for Steve & Garry news anchor Carrie Cochran. I struck up a conversation with her like I did with all of the news interns (I was friendly in those days), and discovered quickly that the two of us had a lot in common.

Unfortunately, the producer of the Kevin Matthews Show (Shemp, shown next to me below) also liked her and asked her out on a date. She took the unusual step of asking me to accompany them, which I did. By the end of the night, I was volunteering to drive her home all the way to Wheaton, and Shemp was out of the picture. I broke up with my girlfriend shortly thereafter, and Bridget and I started dating.

That was eighteen years ago and we're still together. We got married in 1991, and we have three boys now (Tommy, Johnny & Sean).

Jim Wiser (left) was the producer of the Jonathon Brandmeier Show. Shemp (middle) was the producer of Kevin Matthews, and I was the producer of Steve & Garry. This picture was taken at a Loop Christmas Party at Garry's restaurant "Lan's".

I quit the Steve & Garry show in 1991 to pursue my on-air career (which lasted exactly two more years...I went back to producing in 1993 when John Landecker called me up and asked me to produce his show).

This is how the Steve & Garry newsletter announced my departure:
"A changing of the guard took place at the producer's postion after four years. Our very own "German Boy" moved onto smaller and lesser things. Steve and Garry both scratched their heads as to why he would leave without having another job lined up. Our investigative reporters snooped around and came up with these ten rumors.
#1: Steve did one too many Colonel Klink impersonations
#2: Cliff got a little too touchy-feely during dance rehearsals
#3: Rick and Maggie Brock had a torrid love affair that will continue in Phoenix (Maggie was the newsperson, and she left the same week I did--she moved to Phoenix)
#4: Longstanding philosophical differences regarding Jerry Lewis.
#5: Laziness
#6: Heading back to Fatherland to start WW3.
#7: His girlfriend was getting a little too close to Steve & Garry.
#8: He was miffed at the lack of publicity the reunification got on the show
#9: He didn't get to do his "Kermit the Frog" voice on the air a single time...even the day Jim Henson died.
#10: He loves golf and couldn't take Steve and Garry bashing the sport any longer.

Steve and Garry broke up exactly one week after I left the Loop to produce John Landecker's show. I ran into Garry a few times after that, but despite working on the same floor as Steve (when he moved to WCKG), I didn't see or talk to Steve again until he invited me to his 50th birthday party in 2004.

I now communicate with both of them occasionally via e-mail, and like any fan of the show, I'm rooting for a full-fledged reunion...although I know it's a long shot.