Saturday, September 29, 2007

Celebrity Snippets: John Mahoney & Virginia Madsen

John Mahoney is probably most famous for his role on the long-time hit show "Frasier", for which he was nominated for an Emmy. He got his start in Chicago theatre at the Steppenwolf. Virginia Madsen is also a native Chicagoan, and has been in countless films, including the recent hit "Sideways", for which she nominated for an Academy Award. They appeared together in the film "Almost Salinas"

This John Mahoney & Virginia Madsen interview took place during the bad old days at WJMK when the studio was literally falling apart around us, the station was cutting back in ridiculous ways (only one engineer for three radio stations), and the powers that be were trying to force us out. Nevertheless, we continued to try to put on a first class radio show. Some days it went better than other days. On the day John and Virginia were in the studio, we hit a new low--although it was certainly not their fault.

The following story about John Mahoney & Virginia Madsen is taken from my first book "The Radio Producer's Handbook," (co-written by John Swanson) which, by the way is still available at It comes from Chapter 3 "Crafting a Great Interview", page 30, in the section about live in-studio interviews...

There are times when even an in-studio interview can derail for technical reasons. John Mahoney and Virginia Madsen were appearing live in John Landecker’s studio to promote their film Almost Salinas. By a fluke of nature, the transmitter of the radio station malfunctioned about a minute after the interview began. The station was not on the air at all.

However, the producer of the show, Rick Kaempfer, was the only person in the room who realized it. The headphones were not plugged into the on-air monitor because the show was in delay, and therefore, the host and the guests had no idea that something was wrong. Instead of telling everyone and ending the interview, Rick calmly walked out of the studio and called the Chief Engineer.

While the engineer worked on getting the station back on the air, and Rick flop sweated like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, the interview was completed. None of it aired live because the transmitter wasn’t fixed for another twenty minutes. However, the interview was recorded on a DAT (Digital Audio Tape), and it was replayed on the air the following day, just as it originally occurred.


I think this was the day I decided that when the plug was officially pulled from the John Landecker show, that I would not be returning to radio.

The plug was mercifully pulled only two months later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Suburban Man: Anna Kaempfer

My grandmother, Anna Kaempfer, died a few weeks ago. (That's her about ten years ago with my oldest son Tommy.) I wrote this eulogy for her funeral. I hope you don't mind if I share it with you.

Anna Kaempfer was my grandmother. My Oma.

And she lived 93 years.

A long life, through turbulent times, and in difficult circumstances

And those hard times did have an effect on Oma. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone tougher than her.

On the other hand, and my cousin Bob will attest to this—there were times over the years when the real Anna Kaempfer came out.

The whole expression on her face would change as she recounted the stories from her youth, from her days in Rumania. We only ever saw one actual picture from those days…a black and white photograph of the biggest “street” in town…

But Bob, and my sister Cindy, my brother Peter and I, all had vivid pictures of her beloved hometown in our minds from those stories she told. It was so obvious that everyone and everything she ever loved lived in that time, and in that place. She made it sound like heaven on earth.

She would smile. And she would laugh. And for those few moments, when that town came back to life before our eyes, we would see the real Anna Kaempfer.

These past few years as the Alzheimer’s began to take its toll, the memories began to fade, but her hometown never left her. The last time I visited her, just a few weeks ago, that’s where she was.

She told me so herself.

But she didn’t need to tell me. Because I saw it in her eyes when she played with my five-year-old son Sean, who absolutely loved to visit her. And I saw it in her smile.

She was home.

And, Oma, it’s a very short journey from heaven on earth, to where you’re going now. It’s just at the end of that black and white street.