Sunday, June 03, 2007
Chicago Radio Spotlight: Bob Stroud
Once a week, I talk to a current or former Chicago radio personality for a feature I call: Chicago Radio Spotlight.
Bob Stroud has been a fixture on the Chicago radio dial for almost 30 years. Bob is currently the midday jock on WDRV 97.1 FM, The Drive and hosts “Rock and Roll Roots” every Sunday morning between 7-10 a.m.
WMET-FM (Production & “Rock and Roll Roots”)
WLUP-FM (“Rock and Roll Roots” and production, then mid-days)
WLUP-AM (Production Director, “Rock and Roll Roots”)
CD-94.7 (mid-days, “Rock and Roll Roots”)
WXRT-FM (“Rock and Roll Roots”)
WDRV-FM (mid-days, “Rock and Roll Roots”)
Rick: When people think of Bob Stroud, they think of “Rock and Roll Roots” I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of how that show originated.
Bob: In May of 1980 I was working at WMET (95.5 FM) as the production director. MET's general manager Bruce Holberg and I used to hang out in the hallways and talk about the great old records we loved. He was from Philly and grew up listening to those big time Philly top-40 jocks and I grew up in Kalamazoo listening to those great Chicago top-40 jocks. We both had such a passion for those rock and roll songs from the 60s, but nobody played them anywhere. Bruce thought it would be a good idea to do a show of rock oldies as opposed to the Fabian, Shelly Fabres-type oldies, and we were just about to put the show on the air when the Loop announced they were hiring Dick Biondi to do the same thing on the same start date. I remember feeling totally deflated. But when we went on the air with Roots, people liked it, and I got such a kick out of doing it. I got to play whatever I wanted. It was great.
Rick: Dick Biondi was on the Loop?
Bob: Not for long. It didn’t work out for him there.
Rick: You mentioned those great top-40 jocks. Who were the guys that you really listened to when you were a kid?
Bob: Well, actually, it was probably Dick Biondi on WLS. The first time I heard him, I thought, wow. ‘He is soooo wild!’ And for the time, he really was. From 1962-1966, I was devoted to WLS. Then I discovered WCFL, and Ron Brittain. In the late 60s he was hands-down the most entertaining, the most cutting-edge jock in the business.
Rick: Then it must have been a big deal for you when you came to work in Chicago yourself.
Bob: Oh, it was. I was working in Sarasota Florida before that, and Bob Coburn was the PD at WMET. He flew me up to Chicago for an interview. I told my boss in Florida about it, and he gave me the worst advice of my radio career. He said, “Now, Bob, this is the big city—you better clean yourself up. Get a haircut. Buy some nice clothes.” So I did. When I landed in Chicago I was met at the airport by a guy with shoulder-length hair, wearing a satin radio jacket and jeans. I thought “Oh great.” When I got to WMET, everybody looked at me like, “Who’s the geek?” I knew right away that this was a badass station. It had an attitude that was totally catchy. The general manager of the radio station, Harvey Pearlman, was walking up and down the hallways holding an empty bottle of vodka, screaming “TAKE NO PRISONERS!”
Rick: Holy crap.
Bob: I know. It was something.
Rick: So how did you end up at the Loop?
Bob: Well, in 1983, WMET fired everybody on staff except me. They wanted me to stay on and do production, but it just didn’t feel right. I got an offer in Philly and moved there for awhile.
Rick: Did you like Philly?
Bob: Hated it. They don’t even sell beer in grocery stores there. Can you believe it?
Rick: (laughs) So the Loop called you at the right time?
Bob: Yes. Greg Solk (The Loop’s PD at the time) called me, and said they had done some research in the market and discovered that people missed “Rock and Roll Roots” and asked if I would consider recording it in Philly and sending it to him.
Rick: On reel to reel tape?
Bob: (chuckles) Yes. So that’s what I did. After a few months, in April of 1984, they asked me to come back to Chicago fulltime and replace Matt Bisbee in the production department (Bisbee had been moved to middays at the time). I jumped at the chance. Not too long after that, Biz and I switched places, and I started doing Lunchtime Roots in addition to the weekend shows. That lasted almost ten years.
Rick: And those are some pretty memorable years. How would you describe the vibe at the Loop during the 80s and early 90s?
Bob: Dangerous. At any given moment anything at all could happen. One day, Tom Thayer and Steve McMichael came into the studio and duct-taped Kevin Matthews to a chair. While Thayer rolled Kevin down Michigan Avenue, McMichael literally took over the show. Stuff like that happened all the time. Remember the time Wiser was sent out to be a rodeo clown by Brandmeier? I can still hear him in that barrel at the rodeo… “Johnny, I’m not kidding around here! This isn’t funny!” The stuff that you producers had to go through was unbelievable.
Rick: Would you consider that the classic Loop era?
Bob: There were two classic Loop eras. The first one was the one in the late 70s and early 80s—with Steve & Garry, Mitch Michaels, and Sky Daniels. Those guys were the kings of Chicago at the time. The second classic Loop era was the mid-80s through the early 90s, and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. Think of all the talent we had there at one time—Brandmeier, Steve & Garry, Kevin Matthews, Bobby Skafish, Patti Haze, my God, the list goes on and on.
Rick: After you left the Loop in 1993, and before you started on the Drive in 2001, you bounced all over the radio dial.
Bob: Yeah, my first stop was WCKG. Not one of my favorite places. I was there for about a year and a half, and it was very formatted and strict. I do have a good exit story from there though. I had just finished my 12:50 break one day. I came out of the commercials and introduced Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae,” when the PD came into the studio followed by a girl holding her headphones. He said: “Bob, Mike Disney needs to see you—bring your headphones with you.” I thought “I know that wasn’t exactly a hall of fame break, but c’mon…” When I got to Disney’s office (the GM), he closed the door behind me. “Sorry about this Bob, but we hired Howard Stern to do mornings, and we’re moving Patti Haze to mid-days, so you’re the odd man out.”
Rick: Just like that? During the show?
Bob: Yes. During the show.
Rick: Who was the girl with the headphones?
Bob: Her name was Patti Pietch, and she later worked with me at CD 94.7. Every time I saw her, I said—“Oh no, not you again. Is it all over?”
Rick: Was she there when you were fired there too?
Bob: (laughs) No. I was fired during a taping of “Rock and Roll Roots.” I still remember the show I was doing--a time warp to 1966. Bill Gamble (the program director) walked in and told me that they were going to an all-80s format and I wouldn’t fit in.
Rick: But you were one of the biggest names in Chicago in the 80s…
Bob: (laughs) I did think it was ridiculous that he thought I couldn’t do an 80s format.
Rick: Now before the Bob Stroud story has a happy ending at the Drive, you also worked at a few other stations—WXRT and WLS.
Bob: I was at XRT for seven weeks, doing “Rock and Roll Roots” on the weekends. The WLS thing was actually a big thrill for me. Mike Elder, the PD, was a good guy, and he let me do rock and roll specials and “Roots” there. It was such a thrill to say the call letters WLS. That was the first station I listened to as a kid.
Rick: You seem really happy now at the Drive.
Bob: I don’t want to sound like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but it’s really great here. This (Bonneville) is the best company I’ve ever worked for—they really take care of their people, and make sure you have the best tools to do your job. The other day they had a consultant in here asking us what they could do to make the experience of working for the company more pleasurable. Can you imagine that? They actually care.
Bob: Yeah, I know.
Rick: And you were the first voice on the Drive. Do you remember the first song the station played?
Bob: It was Lake Shore Drive by Alliota Haynes & Jeremiah. But the first song I mentioned on the air was the last song of the set. Greg Solk scheduled “Hello It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren, because he knows I love Todd--and obviously that was an appropriate song.
Rick: And now you’re #1 in your timeslot.
Bob: I really give the credit to Greg Solk. This station was his vision. He really did his homework, and was right on the money. Our delivery is totally unique. We don’t do promotions of any kind—it’s all about the music, and the listeners have really responded to that.
Rick: I know that you’re a music lover. Are there any bands outside of your format that you like to listen to in your spare time?
Bob: I really love Joni Mitchell. She has always been one of my favorites. I’m also a big fan of Elvis Costello. I finally get Frank Sinatra, too. My parents loved him, but it took me many years to get that. As for the new bands out there, my favorite is probably Fountains of Wayne.
Rick: One last thing before I let you go. I read that congratulations are in order. Something about “heading for the alter”?
Bob: It seems as though a certain gossip columnist was fed a line of hooey concerning my impending marital status. I am currently not "heading for the alter" as was indicated in his well researched column. Although if and when the time comes, Miss Totura and myself will be working on the concept of having Susanna Homan and Tom Negovan included as part of a double nuptual ceremony.
If you missed any previous Chicago Radio Spotlights, click here: http://chicagoradiospotlight.blogspot.com