Tuesday, March 07, 2023

The Loop Files: Carla Leonardo


 I'm working on a special project this year about a certain radio station, so I've been going back into my files and pulling out some old interviews with former Loop colleagues and pals. I'll feature one a week here on the blog. This week, it's Carla Leonardo. Carla went on to be better known for stints at Q-101 and the Drive, but she was part of the original Loop lineup back in 1977.

When I interviewed Carla in 2012 she had already been diagnosed with cancer. She passed away less than a year later. I'm thankful I got a chance to speak with her.

Rick: I know you've been in Chicago off and on for years, but what is your home town?

Carla: Chicago is my home town. Grew up on the West Side, in what was called the Island.

Rick: You have to tell the story about how you got your first job in radio, because I think it's one of the most unusual radio stories I've ever heard.

Carla: I had moved to Puerto Rico in the early 70's, to live with a guy who used to be a jock on WGLD in Oak Park. They were the station that had jocks named Psyche and Scorpio...and the man I lived with, Charlie Brown. I had been a stenographer by profession, but my services weren't exactly in demand in San Juan. I worked as a bartender in a few places, and in what turned out to be the last bar I ever worked in, I met a guy named Georgie Jay. He was from New York, and became a regular in the bar. Georgie was totally in love with WNEW-FM, then the shining FM beacon of progressive radio, and wanted to start his own station--a brokered deal. He came into the bar one night and asked me my sign. I told him "Gemini", which turned out to be his sign as well, and he wanted Gemini's on the air. That, my friend, was the inauspicious start of a long career.

Rick: You've worked all over the country (and a few other countries for that matter), but this is your third stint here in Chicago. The first one was at the Loop in the late 70s. Talk about what the station was like when you arrived, and what your role was on the station.

Carla: The station was one of the coolest places to work at. Patti Haze (photo), Dave Logan, Bill Evans, Tommy O'Toole, and Garry "Mondo" Meier, who was working overnites at the time. All the big bands used to come thru, and those that were definitely on the way up: Van Halen visited on their way to Haymakers! I was morning news/traffic/sidekick to a couple of really great guys: Ken Noble and Les Tracy. I feel lucky to have had a chance to work them. I also met a young intern there, who later went on to become a brilliant programmer and power in radio, none other than Greg Solk, my current VP here at the Drive!

Rick: There must be a few good stories about some of the craziness that was going on at the Loop back in those days. Any you're willing to share? I'm sure the statute of limitations has expired.

Carla: Well, I think the statute of limitations has run out so I can tell you one story: There was a huge Loop show and the boys were keeping out the girls...specifically, the women who worked doing all the support stuff we needed to function. I wasn't really happy about that and made it clear. There was some disrespecting going on and it didn't get resolved well backstage. I'm Sicilian, which means I don't forget. So at a Loop staff party at some Division Street bar, I hired some guy to pie one of the biggest offenders, Tommy O'Toole! Tommy was always a most put-together guy, pressed jeans, etc., and I don't think I've ever seen anybody move so fast! He was in that bathroom, rinsing off and fixing his hair before the whipped cream had even settled.

I also remember one of my morning partners, Les Tracy--an absolutely wonderful guy--who was a little too candid in an interview with the Reader. He told the interviewer that he was "real good at being 'sincere'". XRT got some mileage out of that.

NEXT WEEK: Chet Coppock