I'm heading out of town for the weekend, but I've left you with a few goodies.
Today is Barry Keefe's last day on the air at WTMX, and I interviewed him the other day about that. The interview is posted already at Chicago Radio Spotlight. I'll post it here when I get back in town.
Also, if you're near a radio on Saturday morning, tune in WLS. I'll be on with John Records Landecker at 7:30 to talk about his favorite feature from Just One Bad Century--This Week in 1908.
Musings, observations, and written works from the publisher of Eckhartz Press, the media critic for the Illinois Entertainer, co-host of Minutia Men, Minutia Men Celebrity Interview and Free Kicks, and the author of "Back in the D.D.R", "EveryCubEver", "The Living Wills", "$everance," "Father Knows Nothing," "The Radio Producer's Handbook," "Records Truly Is My Middle Name", and "Gruen Weiss Vor".
Friday, April 11, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Media Notebook (April 10, 2008)
Collected and Edited by Rick Kaempfer
Highlights and links to the big stories in the news this week about the media. This column appears twice a week at MEDIA NOTEBOOK
CBS considering outsourcing news gathering to CNN
(New York Times) I'm starting to scare myself with the predictions in my novel...here's another one that is really happening. Tim Arango writes: "CBS, the home of the most celebrated news division in broadcasting, has been in discussions with Time Warner about a deal to outsource some of its news-gathering operations to CNN, two executives briefed on the matter said Monday. Over the last decade, CNN has held intermittent talks with both ABC News and CBS News about various joint ventures. But during the last several months, talks with CBS have been revived and lately intensified, according to the executives who asked for anonymity because of the confidential nature of the negotiations. Broadly speaking, the executives described conversations about reducing CBS’s news-gathering capacity while keeping its frontline personalities, like Katie Couric, the CBS Evening News anchor, and paying a fee to CNN to buy the cable network’s news feeds."
CBS News, Katie Couric likely to part ways
(Wall Street Journal) Rebecca Dana writes: "After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the "CBS Evening News" anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011 -- possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year...Her departure would cap a difficult episode for CBS, which brought Ms. Couric to the network with considerable fanfare in a bid to catapult "Evening News" back into first place. Excluding several weeks of her tenure, Ms. Couric never bested the ratings of interim anchor Bob Schieffer, who was named to host the broadcast temporarily after "Evening News" anchor Dan Rather left the newscast in the wake of a discredited report on George W. Bush's National Guard service."
Excerpts of this weekend's NYT magazine piece on Chris Matthews
(Fishbowl DC) "We've got an advanced copy of Mark Leibovich's piece on Chris Matthews, entitled 'Chris Matthews, Seriously. (O.K., Not That Seriously),' which will appear in this Sunday's NYT magazine. Not only is it a great read (typical for Leibovich), but if you're into media gossip...man. This has got good stuff on Matthews rivalries with David Gregory, Keith Olbermann, Tim Russert...and that's just scratching the surface of the gems this piece unearths."
AARP Launches An On-Line Social Network
(Circulation Management) Insert your own punchlines. Jason Fell writes: "The creation of AARP Bulletin Today is part of a larger relaunch of AARP.org. In addition to a redesign, the site now includes content from AARP the Magazine and an online social network. With nearly 40 million members, AARP this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. The association was founded in 1958 by Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. AARP the Magazine was launched in 2002."
The Power 50: the most powerful gay men and women in America
(Out) As you might expect, many of them are in the media--including Anderson Cooper at #2. Tom Ford writes: "Although power is often subjective and defies a ready definition, we determined that to earn a spot on our Power 50 list, candidates have to be gay and American or working primarily in the United States (sorry, Elton) and have significance in our culture at large. To work out each person’s power ranking, we used a weighted system of criteria, awarding scores based on (1) political clout; (2) pop-culture resonance; (3) individual wealth; and (4) current personal profile. Whether they’re raking in millions, advancing the gay rights movement, entertaining us with snarky celebrity gossip, or selling us $2,000 cashmere sweaters, we’re confident that these VIPs have exerted considerable sway over how we think, look, and act."
C-SPAN launches YouTube election channel
(Webpronews) Mike Sachoff writes: "The private nonprofit cable public affairs network C-SPAN is launching its own channel on YouTube. The C-SPAN channel on YouTube will be focused on the upcoming Pennsylvania primary and is inviting voters to answer the question 'What issue in this election is most important to you, and why?' Users will be able to upload their videos to C-SPAN's YouTube channel and share what they believe is the most important issue in the election. Users who upload a video should focus on a single issue and include their name and hometown. A selection of videos will air on C-SPAN beginning Sunday, April 13 on 'Road to the White House.'"
Tribune Turns To Radio To Revive Empire
(Wall Street Journal) Schechner & McBride write: "As real-estate magnate Sam Zell tries to rejuvenate ailing newspaper and television empire Tribune Co., he is turning to another, more freewheeling medium: radio. An influx of veteran executives from radio -- including several hired in recent days from Clear Channel Communications Inc., which has been buffeted by the departures -- is likely to upend Tribune's once-staid culture. Under the direction of Mr. Zell and his No. 2 at Tribune, radio veteran Randy Michaels, pinball machines and a jukebox have been installed at the company's corporate headquarters in Chicago. Another radio veteran, newly hired Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams, he floated some provocative ideas for reviving Tribune's newspapers, including front pages primarily composed of colorful maps."
Sam Zell: A Tough Guy in a Mean Business
(NY Times) Perez-Pena writes: "Since taking control of the Tribune Company in December, Sam Zell has drawn a lot of attention in journalism circles for speeches laced with profanity, political incorrectness, insults and self-deprecating humor. But all the twittering and tut-tutting over Mr. Zell’s remarks — and his suggestions that some reporting jobs are not needed — masks a more serious concern. With the newspaper industry going through an unexpectedly sharp contraction, Tribune is struggling under $12.8 billion in debt, and its financial condition has deteriorated, creating what specialists say is a very real risk of credit default in the next year or so."
Rifts in Family Hang Over Redstone Legacy
(New York Times) Tim Arango writes: "In mid-March, the media mogul Sumner M. Redstone was in Palm Beach, Fla., for a Wall Street firm’s annual media conference when he was asked about his legacy. 'I guess I’d like to be known as a loving and supportive father and grandfather,' Mr. Redstone said. This was an uncharacteristically wistful note for Mr. Redstone, the chairman and controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS, which together represent one of the world’s largest media empires. Despite Mr. Redstone’s sentiments, his relationships with family and business associates remain complicated. Like many who have risen to preside over large business empires, Mr. Redstone, who turns 85 next month, has left a trail of tattered relationships — with family members, executives and, in his case, one very famous movie star."
Clear Channel and iTunes Tagging
(Radio Online) Clear Channel announced a milestone Monday in the radio giant's implementation of HD Radio's iTunes tagging feature on more than 340 of its primary HD outlets. These stations are capable of transferring a song heard on the radio to an Apple iPod using tagging. Additionally, CC is making use of its own technology to enable the purchasing and downloading of music on these stations.
24/7 Stress: Writers Blog Til They Drop
(NY Times) Matt Richtel writes: "They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece — not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop. You may know it by a different name: home. A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment."
Justice Department Sues Fox
(Variety) Cynthia Littleton writes: "The Justice Department has taken on the role of the FCC’s enforcer, filing a lawsuit Friday against Fox and Sinclair Broadcast Group to collect $56,000 in fines levied in the long-running indecency case involving Fox reality skein 'Married by America.' The Justice Department’s unusual move came on the same day the FCC rejected Fox’s request for a review of the FCC’s most recent decision to fine a handful of Fox affiliates for carrying the sexually charged reality program in a timeslot in which the FCC has indecency enforcement authority. The Justice Department filed suits against eight stations in federal courts in Washington, D.C.; Iowa; West Virginia; and Tennessee. In a statement, Fox said it was prepared to argue its case against what the media giant views as an arbitrary standard applied in the FCC’s indecency rulings."
The Disappearing TV Critic
(Broadcasting & Cable) Marisa Guthrie writes: "The fraternity of the nation’s television critics at daily newspapers was once a thriving milieu, dominated by a great diversity of committed voices. The critics’ opinions were sought, revered -- in many cases, even feared -- and blurbed in network on-air promos. That reality has changed drastically of late as the ranks of critics have grown noticeably leaner. Caught in the financial turmoil roiling the newspaper industry, they have become a beleaguered lot, a growing part of the collateral damage of the digital revolution. In the past two years, more than one-dozen longtime critics at major-market dailies -- including the Dallas Morning News, Seattle-Post Intelligencer, New York Newsday, New York Daily News and Houston Chronicle -- have been either let go, shunted to different beats or been forced to take the ubiquitous buyout proffered by bean-counting corporate bosses."
(Rick's note: We lost a good one in Chicago too, Sun Times critic Doug Elfman)
An interview with Bob Hale
(Chicago Radio Spotlight) Last weekend I spoke with original WLS Rock-Jock, Bob Hale. He told some incredible stories from the early days of rock radio, including the night of Buddy Holly's last concert in Iowa (he was the MC that night), and the first day that WLS played rock and roll (he was the overnight guy). He also talked about his days on the Today Show. A great read. Coming this weekend, long-time WTMX news anchor Barry Keefe.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Suburban Man: Blue Velvet
By Rick Kaempfer
The year is 1980. It is the height of the Cold War.
A sixteen-year-old boy is attending his junior prom in Heidelberg, Germany. The setting of the prom is magical. It is being held at the Heidelberg Castle, a beautiful, 17th-century structure built high in the hills above the Neckar River. The boy is wearing a blue velvet tuxedo; as soft and fuzzy as the “mustache” on his lip. His date, a diminutive gymnast, is wearing a pale gown. There is a slight chill in the air on this May night, but as the sun sets over the mountain, two Defense Department officials are in the bushes, witnessing the festivities from afar.
Their orders are direct and simple: keep an eye on the sixteen year old, and take whatever precautions necessary to avoid being recognized. They sit at a table on the other side of the castle courtyard, sipping tea and watching the boy dance. After the dancing, they follow him down to the restaurant district where a group of the youngsters stop for a Coca-Cola. There is a close call when one of the officials sneezes, and the young man turns in their general direction—but he sees nothing in the darkness of the evening.
When the car arrives to pick up the boy and his date, the driver somehow instinctively knows which girl is the teenager’s date—even though he hasn’t been told her name or what she looks like. The nervous and uncomfortable teen doesn’t recognize the rookie mistake. The surveillance is another Cold War success.
That’s a true story.
The very real Defense Department officials were my father and one of his coworkers. The sixteen year old they were following around that night was me.
I didn’t find out about it until several years later. By then I was in my early twenties, and we were living in America. My dad’s friend and his wife came to town for a visit, and accidentally spilled the beans. During dinner he turned to me and said, “I understand you have a girlfriend now. Do you still walk ten paces in front of her like you did with your prom date?”
That comment elicited howls of laughter from everyone in the room . . . my dad, my mom, my dad’s friend, his wife, my sister and my brother. I was the only one in the room that wasn’t laughing.
“Did somebody spy on me or something?” I asked.
“You really didn’t know?” my dad’s buddy asked between cackles. “I thought it was a dead giveaway when your dad knew which one was your date. How did he know? You wouldn’t let him meet her before the prom, remember?”
“One lousy mistake,” my dad protested, as if he had heard this taunt a thousand times. “I told you he didn’t notice. Plus, you were the one that sneezed at the restaurant. You could have blown our cover, too.”
“I thought you were looking right at me,” my dad’s buddy admitted to me.
“You both spied on me?” I asked.
“C’mon, put yourself in my place,” my dad explained. “You were being so mysterious about this date. You wouldn’t even tell me her name. I was curious.”
“At least you didn’t poke that poor girl trying to pin on her corsage,” my mom added. “It was a good idea to just hand it to her.”
“Mom, you were there, too?”
She nodded. I looked at the wife of my dad’s friend. She nodded, too.
“I had to see that blue velvet tuxedo,” she added.
I know I should have been mad, but by my early twenties I was all too aware of how entertaining it must have been to watch the awkward and uncomfortable 16-year-old me wearing a blue velvet tuxedo, struggling through a very expensive date with a girl I barely knew. To think that these two couples made my disaster into their own double date seemed somehow appropriate.
“So, did I put on a good show?” I asked.
Everyone laughed again. When they regained their composure, I got the best picture of what it must have been like to watch me that night.
“By the way,” my dad’s friend said, “‘Play That Funky Music, White Boy’ is not a slow dance.”
This article originally appeared in NWI Parent Magazine.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Every Monday stop by for jokes, links to stories you might have missed, amusing photos and video, and more. Contributions and suggestions are welcome and encouraged. Click on the "Email Me" link on the right to contribute.
Joke of the Week: Contributed by "K"
Love and Marriage!!!
A man took his wife to the rodeo and one of the first exhibits they stopped at was the breeding bulls.
They went up to the first pen and there was a sign attached that said,
'THIS BULL MATED 50 TIMES LAST YEAR'
The wife playfully nudged her husband in the ribs and said, 'He mated 50 times last year.'
They walked to the second pen which had a sign attached that said,
'THIS BULL MATED 150 TIMES LAST YEAR'
The wife gave her husband a healthy jab and said, 'That's more than twice a week! You could learn a lot from him.'
They walked to the third pen and it had a sign attached that said, in capital letters,
'THIS BULL MATED 365 TIMES LAST YEAR'
The wife, so excited that her elbow nearly broke her husband's ribs, said, 'That's once a day. You could REALLY learn something from this one
The husband looked at her and said, 'Go over and ask him if it was with the same old cow.'
The husband's condition has been upgraded from critical to stable and he should eventually make a full recovery.
Bonus Jokes: In yesterday's NY Post, the 50 funniest jokes
Stories you might have missed
1. How does Steve Bartman get the last 4 1/2 years of his life back?
(Moises Alou now says he wouldn't have caught that ball.)
2. Pregnant Man makes an appearance on Oprah's show
(This is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. Video at the link)
3. Wanted: Drinker to go to pub with dad
(Have you ever felt you were born for a job?)
4. Hawk attacks girl at Fenway
(And no, this isn't referring to former Red Sox player Andre "The Hawk" Dawson)
5. Football player arrested for attempting to urinate on dance floor
(And he wasn't successful? Wow, and I thought I had an enlarged prostate.)
Video of the week: RIP Charlton Heston. "Take your stinking paws off me..."
Picture of the week: My friend "D" sent me this with the tagline "I told you soccer was gay." I happen to love soccer, but I think this picture is funny...
"I’d rather read this book than watch most guys take a shower! Zagorski Rules!"
"This is the kind of impact your book had on me. When I saw that Charlton Heston died, the first thing I thought about was your hilarious 'Ben Hur' chapter in $everance."
"Even you have to be a little freaked out how closely reality is following your crazy story line in $everance. Are you getting any royalties from those a******s that run the media companies or are they just using the book as a roadmap?"
Regarding Suburban Man: "Green Living Idiot"
"You're doing a lot better than I am. I'm impressed."
"You may be 'living green' but I've seen your lawn during the summer. Are you sure that 'living brown' isn't more appropriate?"
Rick responds: Actually using the word "living" and "lawn" in the same sentence isn't allowed at my house. I prefer to think of that patch of land as a grub farm.
Regarding "Just One Bad Century"
"I heard you on WLS with John Landecker. I must tell you I am grateful for all your hard work. It is so neat to think of someone like you taking on a century of info and pulling it together for all of us die-hard Chicagoans. Your conversation just opened the floodgates of my memories. My grandparents came to Chicago from Ireland thru Ellis Island to Chicago, and my family still lives in the Chicago area. But baseball is and always was the pastime for my parents, family, and friends. Even now I work with severe die-hards with interest in every aspect of Cubs memorabilia and stats year around. Keep up the good work!"
"I am sooo loving your site. It manages to strike the perfect balance between Cubs love and Cubs hate. In short, it's the perfect Cubs experience."
Rick responds: Thank you. I do love/hate them very much.
288 days until we get a new president.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Chicago Radio Spotlight: Bob Hale
Bob Hale is a legendary radio and television broadcaster who spent most of his career gracing the airwaves of Chicago.
Began at WHA-AM/FM/TV Madison Wisconsin while at the University of Wisconsin in Madison – 1952-1957
1958-KRIB Mason City , Iowa as RnR DJ. In February of 1959 was emcee of the Winter Dance Party of ’59 after which Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper and pilot Roger Peterson were killed in the plane crash that shocked the world!
From there, I joined WMAY, Springfield in Fall of 1959…and 4 months later joined WIRL, Peoria .
In April of 1960 I joined WLS –Chicago as the host of East of Midnight; one of the original Swinging Seven who changed the sound of Chicago radio.
In Spring of 1964 I went to WMAQ Radio and stayed with them until 1966 when I joined WFLD-TV, as their first announcer. Also did weekday sports, and weekend news anchoring.
April 1967 I was offered a contract from WMAQ-TV as host of Today in Chicago, remaining there for 16 years.
I went to WLEX-TV In Lexington, KY as Principal News Anchor for 6 years, returning to Chicago to join WJJD in 1989. I retired in 1996 when WJJD changed to satellite talk and then switched formats to become The Score!
Since then I have been doing freelance writing and photography. Travel is a pastime – USA , South America, Europe primarily.
Rick: I know you've had to answer this question a million times, but please indulge us by answering it one more time. You were the Master of Ceremonies on February 2, 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa--the last concert by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Describe the scene backstage for us, and explain your part in that ill-fated coin-flip.
Bob: The bus with Valens, Holly, Richardson, Dion, and Frankie Sardo arrived in the late afternoon…actually around 6PM . We hurriedly got them something to eat, and then all pitched in to set up for the performance. Those days were pre-high-fi days, so we had to deal with only one microphone. The tour manager was Sam Geller of the GAC Corporation (which would go on to purchase Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus). As the set-up was taking place, Buddy was playing the piano. Sam and I were listening and he said to me, “This guy is going to be one of the greatest popular music composers of our time. He’s so talented – he can play so many instruments, and he creates such interesting music.”
Buddy’s talents were put to use during the concert as he played the drums during the Dion set. The regular drummer, Charlie Bunch was in the hosp[ital in Green Bay , Wisconsin , having suffered frostbite on the broken down bus! Buddy would play the drums for Dion’s set, which began the second half of the show. The first half was Frankie Sardo, and Big Bopper.
The second half, Dion and the Belmonts, followed by Buddy.
When Dion’s set was over, I sat down with him on the riser in front of the drum set and asked him to introduce his musicians. (Photo: Dion & The Belmonts 1959) When it came time for the drummer Dion said something like: “This fellow is taking the place of Charlie Bunch, our regular drummer who is in the hospital in Green Bay suffering from frost bite. Um...let’s see…the drummer’s name…is…ah, oh yeah! BUDDY HOLLY!”
Buddy jumped up, grabbed his guitar and began singing “Gotta Travel On.” The backup men quickly changed places and joined Buddy before he was half way through the first stanza.
There was some drama taking place off-stage, even before we got started, actually. At one point Bopper (photo) was sitting with my wife, Kathy, and me in a booth. Kathy was expecting our first child, and Bopper said something like, “That’s what I miss most…being around my wife when the baby moves. Kathy, may I feel your baby moving?” Kathy took Bopper’s hand and placed it on her stomach as the baby moved. Bopper smiled: “I can’t wait to get home to do that.”
Interestingly, no such conversation took place involving Buddy. We didn’t even know at that point that Maria was expecting.
During intermission the back-and-forth conversation between Bopper and Waylon Jennings took place, resulting in Waylon giving up his seat to Bopper. At that point Waylon uttered a phrase that would haunt him all his life – “Well, OKAY, but I hope your plane crashes!”
Years later, at a social gathering in Kentucky, Waylon (photo) and I recalled that night. He said: “Man, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t wish I could take back that comment. The next day when I got the news in Fargo, I went nuts. I cried, I yelled. And I began to drink. Drugs helped along the way. Of course, I realized years down the road I was killing myself, so I quit. I don’t know, maybe deep inside I was so damned guilty, I was trying to kill myself!” He admitted that no matter how long he'd live, he’d always be haunted by Feb 3rd 1959.
After the show was over that night, Tommy Allsup, pressured by Ritchie Valens, said, “Let’s flip a coin.” It’s at this point that two versions of the coin flip emerge. Tommy maintains he flipped the coin; I maintain that as soon as he suggested it, he reached into his pocket and realized he had no money – he was still in his stage clothes. He asked me if I had a coin. I took out a 50 cent piece, said to Ritchie, “OKAY, Ritchie, you want to go, you call it.”
“Heads it is, Ritchie, you’re flying.”
Tommy said, “OKAY,” and went out to the car to retrieve his bags which he’d already put in Carroll Anderson’s car. Regardless which version of the coin toss you hear or accept neither Tommy nor I demand “ownership.” We’ve talked about this, and have no emotional investment in either version. What we agree on is that night was a tragedy and an extremely emotional one for us all.
Rick: What was that next day like?
Bob: February 3rd would be a painful day for family, friends, fellow-musicians, and for those who attended the Winter Dance Party. Within minutes of my announcing the plane crash – I was pulling the 9 to noon shift on the 3rd, teens began arriving at the station (KRIB) just to talk. It became a day-long wake, Pepsi and Coke distributors brought extra cases to our studios – we had so many people just “hanging around.” Parents came, too. Many had been at the Surf the night before. It was the custom of Carroll Anderson to invite parents to the weekly record hops free of charge. Many teens and parents were in tears.
Some students from Waldorf College had been at the Surf the night before. Some came to the studios. I interviewed college as well as high school students. What I didn’t know at the time was that Waldorf, a two-year Lutheran college, did not condone dancing! The school had a rigid Danish-Lutheran background which was extremely conservative in social activities – “Sad Danes,” they were called in Lutheran circles. When the school heard about the students who’d been to the Surf, they immediately suspended the dozen or so students for a couple of weeks. No comments on the deaths – just on “school policy.” Fortunately time has given Waldorf a more enlightened school administration, as well as transforming the college into a four-year, well respected liberal arts college.
On the way home in the afternoon, after conducting about two-dozen telephone interviews with radio stations across the country, I drove by the crash site. The bodies had still not been removed, as the ambulances were still in the corn field. I could not bring myself to walk the hundred yards to the site – and to this day, I’ve not been able to make that walk!
Rick: One of your former colleagues from WJJD, Bob Dearborn, also became known for a connection to the Buddy Holly story in a way. His analysis of Don McClean's "American Pie" (a song inspired by the Buddy Holly plane crash) is considered by many to be the best and most thoughtful one out there. I'm sure the two of you discussed the subject a time or two. What is your feeling about that song?
Bob: Bob Dearborn (photo) and I have talked about his analysis of "American Pie." While I take McLean at his word when I asked him about the several theories out there - " Oh, heck, I took words that rhymed, and some thoughts I had, and tied them together. If they sounded good I kept them in."
I think Don has begun to see the value in all the "deciphering" going on - it's good for sales, even today! - that he's backed off that open and honest statement these days. But, As far for which one strikes home the most - Dearborn's, as far as I am concerned. Of course, I have to be up-front here; I am hoping to get Bob to the Surf next year for his interpretation presentation.
Rick: You were one of the original rock jocks at WLS in 1960. Talk about those early days and the way the city embraced the WLS personalities. Do you still run into people who connect you with that time?
Bob: Oh boy...this could a long bio-piece, but I'll cut to the chase, as the cliché goes. In early 1960 I had moved to WIRL in Peoria. At KRIB and WMAY I was sending a tape every two weeks to Sam Holman the to-be-program director of WLS. One afternoon, home in bed with a fever, and a couple of shots of Dr. Jack Daniels with honey and lemon - the late winter cold had struck - I received a call.
"Bob, it's Sam Holman at WLS, in Chicago."
Instant sobriety! INSTANT!
"Yes, Sam, how are you?" Actually, I didn't care how he was; I wanted to know why he called!!!
"Bobby, (right then I knew I was in! - 'Bobby') I'd like to come on to be my all-night man starting May 2nd. Interested?" Oh yeah...was I interested! "Besides, Bobby, you keep sending me all those tapes---I've got no room for more."
Dick Biondi and I were brought in early so that the three of us could make the rounds of newspaper people, record promoters and writers. Within 20 hours of that call two record promoters drove from Chicago to "meet me, and say hello." I had arrived!
When I came to WLS that first day at the old Prairie Farmer Building on West Washington Blvd, Sam and Dick and I were taken to lunch at Fritzel's--THE place to be seen! We weren't there more than 10 minutes, guests of Archie Levinson, well-known record promoter and husband of Fran Allison, of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame, when we were joined by Milton Berle! I leaned over to Sam and said, "I wonder who they'll fly in tomorrow to impress us?"
(Photos: Steve Allen with Bob Hale in WLS Studios)
That night Sam, Dick and I hung around WLS after midnight sign-off and the new chief engineer, Fred Zellner, fired up the transmitter out in a south-west suburb (Tinley Park) to see how far we were reaching. We'd take collect calls from anywhere in the US. Oh boy, did we run up a bill, fast. Calls from, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and a couple of ships-at-sea. And, I, as the in-coming midnight man, and Biondi as the incoming 9 to midnight man, knew we had a tiger of a radio station to play with! Damn, that was fun!
Biondi is the only one of the "old crowd" I see on rare occasions. Other than Dick, Jim Dunbar and me, the rest have died: Sam Holman, Mort Crawley, Ed Grennen, and Gene Taylor...all gone.
(Photo: Gene Taylor, Bob Hale, and Sam Holman at 1985 WLS Reunion)
Rick: What was that like working there in those days?
Bob: The midnight shift at WLS was incredible – we reached 42 of the 50 states. Signals just roar in the nighttime, especially when you have 50,000 watts on a clear channel, as we did back in 1960. I had a fan club at a secret Air Force base near the Arctic Circle . The guys called sometimes via a link up with an air base in Indiana . I had to promise to NOT dedicate anything to a name. I’d couch it by playing a tune for some of my “nightly listeners north of Chicago, who I know are listening to me with one ear, and other conversations with the other ear.” They were monitoring the Russian airwaves!
Two extras came my way. First, the record hops. It wasn’t long before promoters were calling to hire the WLS DJs for outside activities. The station approved them, knowing it was great promotion. Because I was working nights, Friday and Saturday night hops were out for me…unless I could make short appearances. I did many Sunday hops…sometime three on a Sunday. Some weeks we could match out salary. Biondi (photo) could match all our salaries put together!! (even today, he’s a hot commodity! Seventy-five going on 23!)
Secondly, the Lutheran youth association, called the Walther League, asked me to write a monthly column in the youth magazines. From that I was invited to local youth rallies, and our International Walther League conventions in such places as Fargo , Squaw Valley , and Washington D. C. On Sundays I’d drive or even train to Midwest youth gatherings. I wasn’t there to play records, but rather to speak, sometimes as a keynoter. My interest in theology helped me make sufficient cogent points. I found that to be the most satisfying addendum to the radio on-air work.
Rick: How did you make that transition from radio to television?
Bob: In 1964 I made a switch to WMAQ radio, the NBC station in Chicago. They were trying to regain lost listeners from their very low-key and bland format. I remained with them a year and a half, and while I was there, in January of 1966 I joined WFLD-TV, which was owned by the Sun-Times and Daily News.
WFLD was a UHF station – Ch 32 – in a heavily VHF market. That's where I made the switch to news. I did street reporting, weekend anchoring, and weekday staff announcing and on-camera sports reports. I also did many interviews. At the same time I joined WFLD, WMAQ-TV asked if I could a once a week youth interview program. I was given permission by WFLD to do it, and that slot was the entry-point for a full time WMAQ-TV spot a year later. I filled in for the host of Today in Chicago, 6:30 AM to 7AM weekdays.
I was told on my first fill-in day that it was actually an audition, and that if I handled it well, I’d be offered the job full-time. After that first broadcast I made a comment that I liked the format, and that I was hoping to shape something similar at WFLD in the near future. The next day – my second fill-in day - I was met by the program director who never showed up at 7AM before! He called me into his office and made an offer I could not refuse.
That same day I went back to WFLD and submitted my resignation (three weeks hence). Coincidently our General Manager, Red Quinlan, also submitted his resignation that day, for reasons I never did learn. The conversations centered around “WFLD is now a sinking ship when two of the officers jump ship.”
I remained at WMAQ-TV for 15 years, adding a Sunday two-hour version of that program, and serving for a year as the Midwest Editor for the network’s TODAY Show with Frank McGee and Barbara Walters (photo: Today Show set in New York). Eventually new management came in to replace retiring “good guys.” The new GM dropped my three contracts I had with Ch 5, and I was out of work.
For a year or so I was traveling host of the Illinois State Lottery drawings, which had weekly jackpot drawings in various locations around the state.
Rick: This was the early 80s?
Bob: Yes. In 1981 (I believe) I accepted a position as Principal Anchor at WLEX-TV in Lexington , Kentucky . They’d hired an expanded staff to get them out of the 4th place in a three-station market that they’d sat in for a few years. Six new people were hired, and after three years we got to number 1. Two years later, they decided they could make just as much money as #2 or #3 and let four of us go.
Rick: Is that when you came back to Chicago?
Bob: Actually, Kathy was offered a job that we’d been looking at for many months. In Chicago the new Lutheran Church in America was shaping itself after the merger of three Lutheran bodies. Kathy, as a CPA became the head controller for the Lutheran Foundation – which supported many universities and institutions around the world. As I was being let go at WLEX, she was being asked to come to Chicago . So, after all the previous moves based on my employment, we “came home” because of her career. She remained in that spot for 13 years.
Rick: And you ended up back on the radio...
Bob: Yes. Thanks to some help from Dick Biondi and Clark Weber (photo) – former WLS teammates – at WJJD-WJMK. They pitched me to do vacation news for both stations, and that resulted in an offer to be the drive time DJ at WJJD at the end of the summer replacement period. I held on there for six years, even through a format change that saw WJJD drop all music and import talk shows from the two coasts. But when the union contract ran out in 1999, we accepted a nice buy-out offer.
Rick: Even though you're out of radio now, you're certainly not retired, are you?
Bob: No, I hit the free lance trail. I immediately hooked up with a firm that was looking for freelance photographers for their work on high school year books. I am in my 8th year with them. I also write a travel column for Midwest Today magazine (located in Iowa ) and I do a once a month travel radio piece for the radio edition of the magazine.
Rick: Thanks, Bob. This has been a pleasure.
Bob: If all this information results in a movie offer, I’d be happy to play myself!
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