Thursday, July 03, 2008

Media Notebook (July 3, 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

RIP: Sandy Stahl
Robert Feder wrote about her in his column on Tuesday: "Radio colleagues are mourning the passing of Sandy Stahl, who headed marketing and promotion at classic rock WLUP-FM (97.9) for more than a decade under Evergreen Media Corp. ownership. Ms. Stahl, who was 58, died Friday in Seattle, where she lived with her husband, former WCKG and WMET morning host John Fisher. She had been in a coma after a number of strokes related to endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valves cause by a bacterial infection."

Rob is correct when he says radio colleagues are mourning her loss. I started getting e-mails from my former Loop buddies as early as 4:00 AM on Tuesday. We are devastated by this news.

In a cutthroat business of huge egos and oversized personalities, Sandy Stahl was a kind and generous woman who genuinely cared about people. Without her, I never would have had a career in Chicago radio. I know that nearly everyone who met her has a story about something she did to help them. Here's my story.

In 1986 I was a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, and a four year radio veteran (in Champaign) trying to break into the big bad Chicago market. I tried every station on the dial, except one--The Loop. I figured it was just too big and popular at the time.

For those of you who are too young or just don't remember those days, the Loop was the pinacle of 1980s radio in Chicago. The morning show was hosted by Johnny B and he was at the height of his popularity. The afternoon show was hosted by Steve & Garry and they were at the height of their popularity. The rest of the dayparts were filled with radio icons like Bob Stroud, Bobby Skafish, and Patty Haze, and they had just hired an unknown guy from St. Louis named Kevin Matthews to do overnights.

I don't know what made me do it, but I finally called up the Loop switchboard and asked for the name of the promotion director. I figured maybe they were so big they could use a little help in that department. The name they gave me was Sandy Stahl. I wrote her a letter saying that it was my dream to work in Chicago radio, and I would be willing to do anything at all to help out. I didn't expect to hear back from anyone. After all, I had tried a similar approach at nearly every other station in town.

My heart almost stopped when I saw the Loop logo on an envelope in my mailbox. It was a personal letter from Sandy Stahl saying that my letter had touched her. In her letter she asked if I would be willing to come into the station for an interview. Are you kidding me?

When I met her I was immediately taken in by her warmth. There was something about her that made people feel comfortable. She told me she didn't have any jobs available, but I was welcome to come to station events and meet the other people on staff. Sandy said she would make sure that my name was known by all of them so that when something came up, they would think of me.

"Why are you doing this for me?" I asked.

"I can just tell that you would fit in here," she said.

For the next few months I came to every event. I even went to Poplar Creek for the big Johnny B/Steve & Garry show. That's where I met the people who worked for Steve & Garry--and they asked if I would help out with their fan club.

"Sure, I'd love to," I said. "But why me?"

"Sandy Stahl speaks very highly of you," they said.

Within a year I was producing Steve and Garry's show. Within a year after that, I had my own air shift on the biggest station in Chicago. She was right--I did fit right in.

I never forgot what she did for me and I was willing to do anything at all to help her. I even helped book hotel rooms for the guests coming to Chicago for her wedding to John Fisher. When I got an invitation to that wedding I told her it wasn't necessary to invite me.

"I want you to be there," she said.

A few years later when I bought an engagement ring for my wife Bridget, I showed the ring to Sandy before I even showed it to Bridget.

"You better invite me to the wedding," she said.

"Of course. I want you to be there."

She was there, dancing to the German polka band.

When the Steve and Garry show experience got to be a little too much for me a few years later, I talked to Sandy in the Loop hallways, trying to figure out what was next for me.

"You're a wonderful writer," she said. "You should pursue that."

"I don't have the slightest idea where to start."

"I'll make a phone call," she said.

The next week I had my own radio column in a publication called "Chicago Advertising & Media," and I've been writing ever since.

Sandy and John moved to Seattle shortly after that. I was heartbroken that she was leaving (as was everyone else on the staff), but we knew that the opportunity in Seattle was too good to pass up. I gave her a coffee table book with photos of Chicago so that she would always be able to see the city she loved so much.

The last time I saw her in person was about five years ago. She looked exactly the same as she did the day I met her in 1986. I gave her a big hug and told her I missed her.

"I think about you often," she said. "We still have that book you gave us and it reminds us of the good times we had here."

There are only a handful of people in my life that were as influential to me as Sandy Stahl. I will always appreciate everything she did for me, and I will never forget her warm smile and her huge loving heart.

Rest in peace, Sandy. We all loved you very much.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Suburban Man: Vacation Surprise

By Rick Kaempfer

We just got back from vacation, and I’m still in shock.

We rented a condo on the beach in Hilton Head, and invited my mother, my sister, and my brother’s family (including his two boys, ages 8 & 5) to join us.

Let me pinpoint the possible areas of conflict…

*We had five boys under the age of 13 sleeping in the same room.

*We had two daughter-in-laws, a daughter, and a German mother all “equally in charge” of making the food for the week.

*We only had two bathrooms.

*At least four family members have no business sitting in the sun because their skin is virtually translucent…and this was a beach vacation.

You’ll never guess what happened. Would you believe it went off without a hitch?

I’m still in shock. The boys played together so nicely I checked their temperatures to make sure they weren’t sick. They played in the ocean for hours at a time (with minimal fighting), ate what they were supposed to eat (with minimal complaining), and more or less went to bed when they were supposed to go to bed (with minimal hassles).

The women didn’t get into a single fight about what groceries to buy and what to make for dinner. They worked together so nicely I checked their temperatures to make sure they weren’t sick. The German mother was so relaxed and happy that no more than a half-dozen “I told you so’s” flopped out, and no one snapped when they did.

We only had one “incident” with the two bathrooms…and this was only because I allowed all five boys to play on their Nintendo DS games at the same time for a few hours. I know, I know. It was a moment of weakness on my part. They had been so good I thought they deserved a reward. I wasn’t considering that all of them would “hold it” the entire time they were playing, and then need to release the hold at the same time. (Although the hopping in the hallway while they waited their turns was pretty amusing)

We somehow even managed to avoid sunburn the entire week, despite spending untold hours at the beach. Even my oldest and youngest boys Tommy and Sean (who take after their Irish mother) didn’t burn. The 50 SPF suntan lotion worked. They even got a little color. I’ve upgraded them from “ivory” to “Navajo White”.

How well did this vacation go? Tommy (who is a pre-teen in every sense of the word now) actually said these three words in a row…. “This is fun.”

That’s the upside. It was our best vacation ever. The downside is that I don’t have any amusing stories of family conflict to share.

I hope you’ll forgive me this one time.