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, May 23, 2008
Chicago Radio Spotlight: Paul Brian
Paul Brian is the Director of Communications for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, and the host of "Drive Chicago" on WLS-AM.
*American Forces Radio and TV in the Panama Canal Zone
*WYEN in Des Plaines
*WCLR afternoon drive.
*WFAA Dallas, PD/Afternoon drive
*WGN Radio… early evenings at first, between Sports Central and Milt Rosenberg (7-9), then afternoons riding herd over the Noon Show, and then from 12:30 – 3 pm. Did primary backup for both Wally and Bob.
*Left radio in '89 to work for the Alfa Romeo IndyCar team for 3 years, splitting living between here and Milan , Italy . Drivers in 89-90 were Roberto Guerrero and Al Unser, Sr.; then Danny Sullivan in '91 with Roberto driving the second car in the 500s. Also consulted Amoco Corp in its SuperVoice Crisis Communications programs and consulting
*Helped form IndyCar Radio Network after Alfa left the US and shut down its racing ops. Did the whole series as the color commentator for two years.
*1993 joined the Chicago Automobile Trade Assn as Director of Communications. CATA produces the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place
*Started Drive Chicago (the radio show) on WMVP in 1996, moved the show to WLS six years ago.
Rick: I thought of all the people in radio, you'd be the most appropriate to interview on the day they run the Indy 500. Not only because you host "Drive Chicago" on WLS every Saturday morning, but because you've been involved in racing for many, many years. What is it about racing that turned you onto the sport in the first place?
Paul: I think it was that cars offered me equal footing to the jocks when I was a kid, to be honest. It's not that I was a bad athlete, but I was always the funny fat guy who made a great baseball catcher because I was wide. I wasn't very good as basketball, but made a good interior lineman (see "wide factor" above). But the car thing… well that brought everything into equal footing. With the car there, there was an understanding the physics of what was going on, the dynamics of engineering and the plain kick-ass fun of driving.
I think most people think that watching an oval race is like watching paint dry—round and round and round—and who could get excited about that? The fact is that there's as much an inner game to racing (ovals or road courses) as there is in a football, baseball or basketball game. The jock-sniffer broadcasters don't understand that inner game, nor any of the other aspects of the sport, so they treat it like it's a second-class citizen. For one weekend a year, though, they all turn into experts on the Indy 500 and attempt to sound like they know from Shinola about which they speak. Frankly, they're embarrassing to listen to, from the perspective of anyone who knows the truth. It'd be like listening to a fifth grade kid explain the rigors and exigencies of a two-minute drill or a championship that comes down to a final five-seconds 3-point shot.
So for me, the love of cars and racing came with the same intensity as most kids get about stick-and-ball sports. I was also fortunate to have parents who loved cars. Dad (on the surface, a pretty conservative pharmacist) drove Pontiac GTOs and mom's best pick ever was a Chevelle 396 SuperSport convertible. I can remember her dusting off some kids going westbound on 31st St. heading toward Oakbrook and laughing about her lead foot. She was a pretty cool lady.
Rick: Unlike other racing commentators, you're a radio guy who went into racing, and not the other way around. I think it's safe to say that you are best known in Chicago for your years with WGN radio in the 1980s. What would you consider some of your personal highlights from the WGN years?
Paul: I had just returned from four years in Dallas working for the Bonneville properties there. I had started at (then) WCLR and the parent company wanted to plug in that format in Dallas, so they offered me a good position and a nice raise to move to Texas to help them, but the chance to go to WGN was—as it would naturally be for a local kid who grew up with GN on the radio most all the time—was something I wanted to do, and did.
I got the chance to work with some awesome people: Wally, Bob, Roy, Orion, Dr. Milt, Harry, Brick, the list goes on and on. I was a bit in awe of being there and they were all gentlemen, giving mentors and good friends. Dan Fabian was the PD then and gave me two orders: Don't lose the license, and have fun. I remember the Bears championship season vividly. I did all of the pre-game shows from Gate O at Soldier Field for those years and (while a lot of times froze my ass off) had a ball. The coldest I've ever been in my life was sitting on some concrete slab for the Superbowl Championship celebration in Grant Park doing the remote on what had to be the coldest day of the year. There was an electricity that day and during that year that hasn't been matched—even by the Bulls run of championships or the White Sox World Series win.
I got to interview some awesome people, as many of us in this business get to do and sometimes minimize. It's not worth listing them, but it was memorable and perhaps my grandchildren will read about in my notes some day and think that Grandpa had a few moments of note.
Rick: You were there during the days of Wally in the morning, and Bob Collins in the afternoon, and filled in for both of them. How would you describe each of those guys to people who didn't know them personally?
Paul: I think I did their shows a lot more than I did my own! Wally used to take about eight weeks of vacation a year and Bob about six, as I recall. Wally (photo) was pretty protected by his producer, Marilyn. I respected him for his history, but when I'd just blow into his office past her, she'd get all ruffled that I had run her gauntlet. It got to be very fun after a while, actually. Once there, though, Wally was pretty engaging and never dismissive at all. He got pissed at me once for goofing around the night before with a player piano he had delivered to the studio that was going to be a bit. I think he got over it. I know he was a target for a lot of jokes, but I think he knew that if someone had an X on him for humor, it was because he was the leader of the pack. At the end of the day, the guy with the biggest paycheck wins, so on that basis Wally was the winner, wasn't he?
Bob. Bob (photo) was a close, close friend and I miss him a lot. We'd go to lunch at least three times a week and saw each other socially a lot. Bob, contrary to some who only knew him from his radio side, was a pretty sophisticated guy. He had a dinner once and told me he wanted me to come because I was the only guy who could figure out the silverware puzzle for eight courses, but he knew very well all of the subtleties of being a gentleman, which he was. I think most people keep a mental list of the five numbers you want to have in your pocket if you ever wound up in the lockup at 26th and California . Bob was one of the numbers on my list—and I never doubted for a second that if he got that call at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, he'd show up. He was a guy you could count on.
Rick: I was Steve & Garry's producer when you were at WGN, and they had a field day giving you a hard time. They created characters named Paul Steve and Paul Garry, turned on the deep voice machine, and talked about racing. I remember booking you to come on the show once as a surprise guest, and it was an outstanding bit--all three Pauls on the air at the same time. How did you feel about that parody at the time?
Paul: I don't recall how that happened, but every time I remember that day I smile. I was never put off by them using the Harmonizer to do my voice. To the contrary, I always found it kind of flattering. I think both Steve and Garry were surprised that I'd do a send-up of myself on their show, but I guess it turned into some pretty memorable radio. It was fun to hear them reacting to me doing all the bits they had done about me. We've been friends for years and I'd share a table and some great steaks with them any time. They were a very talented pair.
Rick: In 1989, you left radio to work for the Alfa Romeo IndyCar team, which launched your second career. Of the two businesses, radio and racing, which is the more rewarding to you personally?
Paul: You've offered me an either/or question and there's another component: the Chicago Auto Show, which has without a doubt been the most rewarding. Can you imagine a better toy to play with every year than being part of the team that produces the biggest auto show in North America? I think all of the racing and radio was preamble to the auto show position. I've been doing this for 16 shows now and every year it gets more fun, more rewarding, more exciting.
I'm blessed to have a board of 18 who give our staff a lot of latitude in producing the show and I think that the results are rewarding for everyone. The public, the manufacturers who bring the displays, the dealers who get a kick start to the winter sales doldrums, the media, it just goes on and on. Remember that the car business in Chicagoland provides more than 50,000 jobs and more than $15 billion in sales. Those are awesome numbers. To be a part of a show that has more than a century of history in Chicago and moves an astounding number of people to McCormick Place every February is a blast. Additionally, I've not left the radio thing altogether, since I've been doing the Saturday morning show on WLS for 11 years now. It's just enough to keep my fingers in the sauce and keeps me in touch with a lot of my radio friends.
Rick: For people who haven't heard your WLS show "Drive Chicago" before, how would you describe it?
Paul: It's an automotive show, but not SO automotive that a non-car person could listen and get turned off. It's not a fix-it show. Hell, I know how to drive them and how to evaluate them (on or off a track), but I don't know from Jack Squat about fixing them. There are people who do that. Why should I get into their job? I'll leave the "Gee, my Framitz is broken" questions to the PBS guys (who are buddies who send great lobsters!)
I try to give people advice about what's new in the market, what's fun, what's fuel-efficient, what's on the horizon, whatever they're thinking about. I'm often asked, "You never say anything about a 'bad car.'" Well, the point is that there really aren't any "bad" cars out there. There are some better than others, but if someone is building a crappy car it's not going to be on the market—or even make it to market. Manufacturers know what a good car is and if it's off the mark, they wouldn't risk bringing it to market and suffering the consequences throughout the rest of their brand line. It makes my job easier, but tougher because there are so many good choices out there.
Rick: Who is going to win the race this year? You'll really be out on a limb here because I'm posting this interview the day of the race.
Paul: Sentimentally, I'd like to pick Graham Rahal since his dad and I have been close friends for about 30 years. (God, that's a long time and a bit hard to admit!) It'd be great to have him win in his rookie year, but I think that Tony Kanaan is looking pretty racy this year. He has three top-five finishes in six starts, highlighted by a second place finish in 2004. He has led laps in every one of his starts, including more than 80 (if I remember right) in last year's. Danica is for real, and it'd be great for the sport if she won, but just being there with two other women drivers is very cool. Milka Duno could surprise some people with a strong run, but I don't think she's got the car. I will go out on a limb and predict that the winner will have Firestone tires.
Rick: Let's go back to the beginning of your radio career, because there are two very funny stories I want you to tell. Talk about the day you got fired from WYEN in Des Plaines.
Paul: Ah… WYEN. Garry Meier (photo) and I worked there together. I did mornings and I think Garry was doing early evenings. We worked for a guy who came out of the old "Beautiful Music" station FM100, Ed Walters. He was another guy like me who had two first names—and for the same reason. He also had a damn near unpronounceable last name and used his middle name on air, as I do.
So anyway, I got a call one day from a listener who asked about the call sign—WYEN—who asked if the YEN had anything to do with Japanese ownership. I told him that it didn't, and that it actually stood for "Where You Earn Nothing," which I thought was appropriate. Well, it seems that the owner's wife didn't quite like that and I'm told was getting kidded about it from friends, and the next thing I knew I was getting "The Talk" which ended in me out of work. It was a blessing in disguise, though, as it opened up the door for me to work with Jack Kelly at WCLR and Bonneville for five good years. Oh! When I was looking for work inbetween I also sold cars, which gave me another automotive resume item, I guess.
Rick: And then my favorite story...talk about the day you were hired at WFYR.
Paul: Before I got hired at WCLR, I got hired by WFYR (103.5). The PD was a guy named "Brian" something or other—can't remember specifically—who hired me and asked me to start at a date a week or two down the road, so I showed up at the old 188 W. Randolph Building (where AP, City News, a lot of others were located) to work on the date specified. The only problem was that evidently Brian Whomever He Was had been fired the day before and had somehow neglected to tell anyone that he had hired me, so I showed up to work and they had this blank stare. No one knew a thing about it. I walked out and went home to get back on the phone for a job. I've often wondered about that guy. I'd like to yank him around at the aluminum siding place he's working at now.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Media Notebook (May 22, 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
Is the Live TV Commercial making a comeback?
(New York Times) Stuart Elliot writes: "The networks are also reusing a popular advertising ploy of the past: the live commercial. When TV began as a national medium, many spots were delivered live because many programs — dramas, soap operas, talk shows — were live. Some products, among them Timex watches and Polaroid instant cameras, made their reputations through spots that offered audiences live demonstrations. The shift to recorded series relegated live commercials to “remember when?” reels. Now, as marketers strive to counter the growing ability of viewers to skip or avoid spots, live sales pitches are being reconsidered for their potential stopping and staying power."
Did John McCain create an HD Monster?
(Slate) Timothy Noah writes: "Marie Curie died from exposure to radium, her greatest discovery. Jim Fixx, who sold Americans on the health benefits of running, was killed by a heart attack at 52. To this roster of ironic demise we may soon add John McCain, the Senate's pre-eminent champion of high-definition TV. As Senate commerce committee chairman in 1998, and later as the committee's highest-ranking Republican in 2002, McCain excoriated broadcasters for transitioning too slowly to the digital spectrum after the government had given away billions of dollars in HDTV-ready frequencies. Then, this past weekend, I watched Saturday Night Live with my kids. McCain appeared in close-up in a mildly amusing skit whose purpose (at least from McCain's perspective) was to remove the age issue from voters' minds by turning it into a joke. It worked for Ronald Reagan in 1984; why shouldn't it work for McCain in 2008? With me, though, it had the exact opposite effect. As someone who'd pooh-poohed the age issue, I found myself gasping at McCain's mug as transmitted in glorious HDTV. Wrinkles, blotches, liver spots, scarry tissue—none of these were hidden by McCain's makeup."
Reality Show Judges
(Washington Post) Jennifer Frey writes: "Reality show judges sit imperiously on high, issuing criticism and encouragement and soul-crushing snark from their bronzer-and-buff-and-Botox faces, but rarely have to face the heat themselves. Judge not lest ye be judged, the Bible says, but to that reality television says: Feh! These professional judges' panels are preordained celebrity collections of wit, wisdom and, at times, simpering idiocy that rule so much of reality TV. These panels sometimes are chock-full of charisma and sometime are heavy on shtick, but their interpersonal dynamics are a huge part of what keeps the viewers tuning in."
Random House hires an engineer to be CEO
(New York Post) Keith Kelley writes: "Random House is owned by German media giant Bertelsmann, which yesterday said it was dispatching Markus Dohle, an industry outsider with a background in industrial engineering, to take over its American subsidiary. Dohle was most recently the CEO of Arvato Print, a Bertelsmann unit with 11,500 employees worldwide. In contrast, Random, the nation's largest trade book publisher, employs about 5,700, and most observers think that number is surely going to be cut. 'People are panicking and saying it couldn't be worse,' said one Random House author. 'On the face of it, it looks like the guy is a complete production bean counter. It doesn't look hopeful that he'll share the romantic idea of literature and publishing.'"
Karl Rove's sly deal with Fox
(Salon) Terkel and Corley write: "It has now been more than three months since Karl Rove first appeared on television as a Fox News political analyst on Feb 5. In no fewer than 57 appearances, he has increasingly been welcomed into the Fox News fraternity, even joking that the "Hannity & Colmes" show should be renamed the "Colmes & Rove" show. After departing from a Bush administration in political tatters last August, he has reemerged to hold forth at length on the 2008 presidential race. And he may have plenty of seasoned political wisdom to offer Fox's audience. Rove, however, is playing a strategic role that he and the network refuse to reveal to viewers. Fox News hosts routinely introduce Rove as a "former senior advisor to President Bush," "the architect," a "political wizard" and a "famed political consultant." But never has he been introduced as he should be -- as an informal advisor and maxed-out donor to John McCain's presidential campaign."
The end of the newsroom as we know it?
(Editor & Publisher) Joe Strup writes: "At the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., Editor Rex Smith is slowly replacing his newsroom's desktop computers with laptops to allow for quick getaways when reporters need to chase a story. 'We made a policy decision to do that in 2007,' he says. Some even predict the 'mojo' concept could lead to editors and some non-journalistic staffers working outside the office. With most editing, ad placement, layout, and design done on computers anyway, it's conceivable that the newsroom as it exists today could be eliminated, with folks working from home, their car, or even the local Starbucks. 'It is easy to imagine a day when that will happen,' says Keith Woods, dean of faculty at The Poynter Institute. 'We are technologically in a place where we can already do that.'"
WLS Rewind returns on Memorial Day
(WLShistory.com) Last year it was spectacular...an entire day of former WLS Rock Jocks back in the saddle, taking the 50,000 watt blowtorch for a ride. This year's it back with even more of your all-time favs, including Larry Lujack and Tommy Edwards, Fred Winston, John Records Landecker and more. I know I'll have it on all day long.
An interview with Tony Lossano
(Chicago Radio Spotlight) Last weekend I spoke with Nude Hippo co-host and Melissa Forman producer (WLIT) Tony Lossano about his television show and the radio show he's been a part of at three different radio stations. Coming this weekend, WLS Radio's Paul Brian.
(New Yorker) Nancy Franklin writes about Katie Couric: "I thought she had a decent chance of succeeding as the anchor at CBS. By some standards, she wasn’t qualified for the job (limited hard-news credentials), and, by some standards, she was (smart, mature, an old hand at being on TV). In any case, it turns out that no one knows exactly why anchors are or aren’t popular or why they do or don’t last. Why, for example, was Dan Rather in the anchor chair for so long, when, for years, his broadcast was consistently in last place in the ratings? And how puzzling must it have been for CBS when Bob Schieffer, a bona-fide old guy, with white hair and a gravelly voice, got ratings that were better than both Rather’s and Couric’s?"
Bob Schieffer changes his mind about retirement
(Washington Post) Howard Kurtz writes: "Bob Schieffer had announced that he planned to hang it up after the presidential inauguration. Then the CBS newsman said maybe he'd stick around a little while longer. Now the network plans to announce today that Schieffer, 71, has signed a 'long-term deal' to continue as chief Washington correspondent and 'Face the Nation' host. What happened? With Katie Couric's future uncertain, CBS News President Sean McManus talked one of his most durable stars -- who has already filled in once as interim anchor -- out of leaving. McManus doesn't have an immediate replacement for 'Face the Nation.' And the two men have become close friends. What does 'long-term' mean? 'That means I'll be at CBS for the rest of my life,' Schieffer says, adding that he plans to host 'Face' for several more years."
Is 50 Cent about to become one of News Corp's biggest investors?
(San Francisco Chronicle) Rap superstar 50 Cent is on the verge of signing a new branding deal with media mogul Rupert Murdoch's company that's worth a cool $300 million The "In Da Club" hitmaker is in final negotiations with Murdoch's News Corp firm, which owns social networking site MySpace, for a large stake in all aspects of the 50 Cent brand, including music, concerts, books and his label G-Unit Records. If the agreement goes ahead, G-Unit Records and its roster of artists will move under News Corp's MySpace Records umbrella. According to reports, half of the $300 million deal will be in stock, potentially making 50 Cent one of the biggest News Corp shareholders.
Why is Bill O'Reilly really going after GE?
(Washington Post) As usual, it's all about Bill. Howard Kurtz writes: "Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News star, is mounting an extraordinary televised assault on the chief executive of General Electric, calling him a "pinhead" and a "despicable human being" who bears responsibility for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. On the surface, O'Reilly's charges revolve around GE's history of doing business with Iran. But the attacks grow out of an increasingly bitter feud between O'Reilly and the company's high-profile subsidiary, NBC, one that has triggered back-channel discussions involving News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker and General Electric's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt. Ailes called Zucker on his cellphone last summer, clearly agitated over a slam against him by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. According to sources familiar with the conversation, Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn't stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O'Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well."
Why old media is running scared
(c/net) Charles Cooper writes: "Talk about missing the forest for the trees. With everyone and their mother-in-law predicting a coming wave of acquisitions of so-called new media companies by old media outfits, that future's already snuck up on us. In the last year:
• Cox bought Adify
• Hi-Media Group bought Fotolog
• Time Warner's AOL bought Bebo, Quigo, Third Screen Media
• Comcast bought Plaxo
• Disney bought Club Penguin
• CBS bought Last.fm, CNET Networks, Wallstrip, Dotspotter
• Microsoft bought 1.6 percent of Facebook
• Hearst bought Kaboodle and Answerology
• Jupiter Media bought MediaBistro
• News Corp. bought Photobucket, Beliefnet
• The New Times bought Freakonomics blog
• Forbes bought Clipmarks
• Discovery bought Treehugger
Senate votes to block cross-ownership change
(Broadcasting & Cable) The Senate Thursday night voted, without debate, to invalidate the Federal Communications Commission's Dec. 18 decision to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has been pushing hard for the resolution of disapproval, which passed the Senate Commerce Committee last month. He argued that media consolidation has already led to a lack of localism and diveristy, so any more loosening of rules is uncalled for. The measure passed on a voice vote, with Dorgan saying the vote sent the signal to the FCC to "get things right." He decried what he said were three of the five FCC commissioners becoming cheerleaders for more consolidation.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Suburban Man: Career Planning
By Rick Kaempfer
My five year old son Sean is about to “graduate” from pre-school and move on to the big bad world of kindergarten. We talked about that on the way home from school the other day.
Dad: Now that you’re going to start kindergarten in a few months, it won’t be long before you have to get a job. Have you thought about you want to be when you grow up?
Sean: Yeah. I’m going to be a policeman.
Dad: Really? Why?
Sean: Because I want to get rich.
Dad: Why do you think policemen get rich?
Sean: Every time somebody goes too fast in their cars, they make people pay money. And when they get the bad guys, they can take all of the bad guys money. Some bad guys have lots of money.
Dad: But the policemen don’t get to keep that money.
Sean: They don’t?
Dad: No. They have to turn it in to their bosses.
Dad: Still want to be a policeman?
Sean: No. I want to be the policeman’s boss.
Dad: But he doesn’t get to keep the money either. He has to turn it in to the government.
Dad: Still want to be a policeman’s boss?
Sean: No. I want to be a fireman.
Sean: Because they get the biggest trucks with the loudest sirens.
Dad: And they fight fires.
Sean: What do you mean?
Dad: They put on their fire suits and walk right into the fires, trying to put them out with their fire hoses.
Sean: Right into the fires?
Dad: Yup. Still want to be a fireman?
Dad: So what do you want to be?
Sean: A mom.
Sean: Because then I can do whatever I want.
Dad: But boys can’t be moms.
Sean: Yuh huh. There was a boy mom on TV. He had a baby in his tummy.
Dad: Does Oma (my mom) watch Oprah when you’re over there?
Sean: Uh huh.
Dad: Remind me to talk to her about that.
Sean: Don’t forget Dad, she’s your mom. She can do whatever she wants.
Monday, May 19, 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 "B"
A dog is truly man's best friend.
If you don't believe it, just try this experiment :
Put your dog and your wife in the trunk of the car for an hour.
When you open the trunk, see which one is really happy to see you!
Stories you might have missed
1. Rate Your Wife
(A funny glimpse into the past)
2. Black cat causes 72 hour blackout in Albania
(That cat over there better stop it, man. Like every other scene has been cool.)
3. Big hairy pig attracts gawkers in Wisconsin
(This story is not about Gene Simmons from Kiss)
4. Veggie Pride Parade
(All we are saying, is give Peas a chance.)
5. Why do attractive women choose unattractive men?
(You know what's funny about this study? They didn't factor money into the equation.)
Video of the week: Contributed by "R". An inspiring message for people who have failed.
Picture of the Week: Contributed by "B"
Regarding "Suburban Man: Mother's Day Recital"
"That is awesome! I bet Bridget loved it. Your boys are so creative!"
"Ok, this is awesome. I only hope my boys perform for me someday."
Regarding "Just One Bad Century"
"I listen to you and John every Saturday morning on WLS. I'm usually up and around because of the kids, and it's comforting to hear the both of you on the air together again. Plus, you talk about the Cubs which is a bonus."
"This Week in 1908 is such a great feature. I love it."
"That Jackie Robinson story this week was an eye opener. It's hard to believe that was going on in Chicago just sixty years ago."
246 days until we get a new president.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Chicago Radio Spotlight: Tony Lossano
Tony Lossano is the co-host of the television show "Nude Hippo: Your Chicago Show" and the producer of the Melissa Forman show on WLIT-FM.
Rick: Before we get to your radio career, your TV show "Nude Hippo" recently celebrated it's 10th anniversary. Talk about what inspired you to start that show.
Tony: Actually we just turned 11 on May 3rd, but that had no hoopla. The 10th anniversary was the big celebration. We even got our first Emmy nomination for that...though we really didn't submit any shows for consideration prior to that. -- Anyway, it all started back when I realized that there was very little local programming out there anymore. I grew up on Gigglesnort, Bozo, Family Classics, etc.
So when I started NUDE HIPPO, the only other local shows were Svengoolie (which I grew up on), Wild Chicago and the Illinois State Lottery Drawing. All great shows, but there was nothing like the amount of shows that I remembered. NUDE HIPPO started more like a sketch variety show and has transformed into an offbeat magazine style talk show. Now there are so many copycats out there doing almost exactly the same things that we have done. However, we still have the most creative team that keeps us in front.
Rick: Every time I interview someone for this blog I do a video search to see if there is anything out there. Inevitably, they have already been on Nude Hippo. Who are some of your favorite interview subjects from radio (and why), and is there anyone on the air that you still need to cross off the list?
Tony: I admire John Records Landecker (photo) He was always great to work with. He even became our movie critic for two years before taking it to WTTW-TV. Jonathon Brandmeier has been tops in my books since he started but I have only gotten to do one quick bit with him at a LOOP event. I would really like to do something fun with him. Steve Dahl was another one I have always enjoyed and the support he gave us was amazing. Everytime he talked to us or about us on the air was pure gold. I would love to do more with him but believe that we have gotten more than our fair share. I got to do 30 minutes in our studio with Eric & Kathy and I believe that was the most in-depth interview that they ever did.
Also, Ramblin' Ray was just plain nuts and fun and I would like to do more with him, Steve Cochran is hilarious, Jim Johnson is the only one I know who can make my sides split, DreX (photo) is so quick on his feet and should be doing more, Garry Meier was very dry in a funny way, Eddie & JoBo were so down-to-Earth, Mike North is a great guy and has been a longtime friend from the days before either of us were in radio...
But I met a couple of my best pals in the world by doing NUDE HIPPO, Melissa Forman & Jimmy Gronemann. Jimmy started on my TV crew and became a very good friend, he then later got a gig on Melissa's radio show and I brought her on my show as a guest co-host and we all have been together ever since.
Rick: Nude Hippo is now part of the NBC family. For people that don't know, talk about where and when they can see the show now.
Tony: It is always changing and we're always on. We were on cable for a decade and for the last 3 years we have been on NBC5.com as well. There are several things that we are working on. I along with my business partner, the great and wonderful Mariana Perin, have been working on some things that we feel have not been done yet...So there is more to come. For right now, just go to NudeHippo.tv and you'll get all that you need.
Rick: Your day job is producer of the Melissa Forman show on WLIT. I've interviewed Melissa a few times and she seems to be just about the nicest person in the biz. Tell us about Melissa's dark side.
Tony: Well you know there is no way that somebody can be that nice all of the time...but she really is! Melissa is an amazing Mom and a super talented radio personality...but when those mics go off, she is so unbelievable. After each show, she meets with the entire crew, not just from our show, but other shows too, and sales, promotion, engineering, etc. and she gives them a pep talk...it is like this motivational speaking event with 30 minutes of yoga...she then takes all of us out for brunch...everyday.
Not everyone appreciates all the good that Melissa does...which is why occasionally she will have one of the interns killed to help get her point across, but those are the sacrifices that are expected if you want to make a difference in this business.
Rick: You've been with her show now for many years. How has your role on the show evolved?
Tony: Nine years, three stations two tour of duties. I started with her at the suburban KISS-FM, then Energy-FM, both as her Webmaster and occasional on-air stooge. Soon thereafter, Melissa was offered a gig at The Lite. She took it, Jimmy Gronemann (one of her producers at the time) and I came with her. I remained the Webmaster for MelissaForman.com and became the Assistant Morning Show Producer, plus I worked with the WLIT Promotions team and become the Webmaster for WLIT.com.
Within a couple of years, I left the show for a couple years to focus on NUDE HIPPO, but always helped Melissa & Jimmy whenever I could. About four years ago, I came back, and took on my old role...It wasn't until 6 months later that all of us except newsman Rick Zurick (Photo: Melissa, Jimmy Gronemann, Rick Zurick and Tony) was let go to make room for a syndicated radio show with Whoopi Goldberg. A week into that, I was offered the Producer gig. I took it. 14 months later, they brought back Melissa to mornings and I remained as the Producer and Jimmy was brought back as an on-air foil to Melissa and became the second Producer. No matter who does what, we are all just happy to be together with Melissa doing a great show again!
Rick: The morning radio market in Chicago may be the most competitive in the country. Every time I see the top ten listed in Robert Feder's column, I think of the many great shows that aren't even mentioned. What do you do at the Melissa Forman show to set yourself apart from the rest of the shows out there?
Tony: The ability that Melissa has to connect with her listeners is amazing. She is so natural at making any topic interesting and funny. The way that Jimmy, Rick and myself all click with her is a perfect blend. How many radio shows can you name that are lead by such a talented woman surrounded by strong men?
I'm use to being the one in charge and in the spotlight with NUDE HIPPO, but my true love is producing and it is so refreshing to get out of the spotlight and have it focus on someone who is so good at what she does. There are very few individuals who I would ever want to work with and I've been lucky enough to be in the position to pick and choose...and I'm happy to be with Melissa on such a refreshing, real and fun show. (Photo: Tony with Maureen McCormick)
Rick: It's a weird time for the media these days. Support staff is being cut all over the country in both radio and television, and the remaining staff is being asked to do more and more for the same amount of money. As someone who has survived in both radio and television, what tips do you have for people getting into the industry today?
Tony: Know the evolving business. Be prepared to understand that this is a business and the more that you can do, the more value you have. Though it is a very tough business. I've been lucky. Even though I am with WLIT and NBC, I have the freedom with NUDE HIPPO to cover events and personalities from any of the other TV & radio stations. I have seen the inner workings of those places. 'They ain't no different over by there.' Be passionate, be well rounded, get educated beyond just from broadcasting classes...you have to know about the world and how it works to succeed. Finally, enjoy living...you will need to pull from your personal experiences to give yourself that something special that will connect you with listeners. This is for both potential on-air talent and producers.
Rick: Which direction do you see your career heading from here--do you see yourself in radio or television or both a few years down the road?
Tony: I know that I can do anything that I want and I am sure that I will still being doing both TV & radio and don't under estimate this interweb thing...it's not just a fad. I really enjoy doing this and the people I work with are amazing. They have helped me change my life.
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