WE CONTINUE TO SAMPLE EXCERPTS FROM MY BOOK “RAISED ON THE RADIO.”
After almost two years of me working at WCKG FM, I was seeing clear signs that the Miller and Howell show and myself were not long for staying employed there.
By the late spring of 1989 the Miller and Howell show not only peaked in listenership but started to slip in ratings numbers. It was tough because we were working like dogs and nothing was panning out. That’s one of the difficult parts of radio, you can work your ass off and still not score strong radio ratings. Other times you can barely do a thing for three months of ratings diaries and land great listenership. It’s a puzzling crapshoot.
The first casualty of the Miller and Howell show early that summer was Jim Volkman. He was doing his job fine but there were going to be changes and Jim was taken off the show’s roster. John Howell helped Jim put a good demo tape or ‘air-check’ of his work together that landed him as the sports guy and wild card for the Murphy in the Morning Show at WKQX, Q-101.
The surviving members of the morning show were told to no longer do any potty humor. This directive came from General Manager Marc Morgan. Days later after a show, Morgan came in to a production studio where John and I were talking. He glared at both of us and said “I thought we agreed; no more potty humor.” I asked what the problem was. Our boss answered, “John’s chili fart joke.” I immediately started snickering because John did refer to some chili making him gassy that morning. I pulled in my laughs and John and I nodded “Yes, that shouldn’t have been said.”
Morgan then left the studio, the door closed and both of us burst out laughing. We were hooting and howling so hard at this little potty humor pow-wow. So, as we collected ourselves, I noticed that in the studio window that looked out to the sales hallway our potty talk disapproving boss Marc Morgan was standing there staring in and seeing us crack up. With that, we figured we were through.
John, Stephanie and I had to take our vacations at the same time which is something I hoped to never be held to again. Everyone has to get things their way with the time off and it’s a pain in the ass. Still, the break we all took in late August worked out for me. My longtime friend and local sportscaster Mark Vasko and I went to see The Bangles and John Eddie do a concert at Poplar Creek. Between acts I ran into Dave Perlmutter, a promotions guy I knew from WLS. Dave was now the marketing director at WKQX or Q-101 and he told me morning star Robert Murphy was looking for a second producer. I expressed interest in the open job telling Dave we were probably on our way out at WCKG and daddy needed a new radio gig.
Thanks to Bangles I had a new job lead while still employed!
Perlmutter said he’d put in a good word and told me to call Q-101 later that week. I did so and had a positive interview with Robert although he was curious why I was open to make a lateral move like this. I spelled it out, The Miller and Howell show was flat in its growth and I wanted to keep my options open. Nothing was official with Murphy but at least some groundwork had been laid. Thanks to running into a former cohort at the Bangles and John Eddie I had a promising line on a new job.
Returning from vacation I knew our goose was cooked for sure when I came to my program director Tim Sabean with an exciting update. We stood a real good chance of landing The Who’s lead singer Roger Daltrey as an in studio guest when he came to town to film a movie in a few weeks. Tim barely reacted. He just half heartedly asked how I managed that. I told him, lots of phone calls and hustle. That was the last said of it.
The best indicator that you’re getting bounced from a radio job besides a quick “Get out you’re fired!” from the boss is indifference. The minute your superiors stop meeting with you and asking what’s new for the show, that’s your sign. As soon as they act like you’re not even around anymore, you KNOW the end is near. You’re being ghosted. This is when it’s time to update the resume and the air-check tapes and make some phone calls.
A little over two years to the day I started at WCKG it was time for an exit. John Howell got the inside word that it was going to happen. In fact during John’s last on air break the day we got broomed, he played a quick snippet of Roy Orbison singing “It’s Over.” Then he said “Is it really over?” Then he played it again and said “Yeah, it’s over.” After Stephanie and John were let go, it was my turn to be summoned to Tim’s office to be told “It’s been fun but it’s over.” It’s business and it happens. In radio, like managers in baseball and coaches in all other sports, you’re hired to be fired.
Just over 2 years at WCKG and I was out of a job.
When I left WLS, I wasn’t fired, my boss was retiring and there was not an open position for me to take. WCKG was my first official canning in radio and I took it the way you’re supposed to; no whining or ranting or raving; just be a pro. Give handshakes and best wishes to those you’re leaving, pack your stuff and go.
There were a couple of account executives who had tears in their eyes when saying goodbye to John and I. These co-workers liked both of us a lot and what we did on the air. I think they were indifferent to Stephanie. It’s tough to get shit-canned like this but to quote Hyman Roth in “Godfather 2”, “This is the business we’ve chosen.” The Miller & Howell show simply ran out of ratings gas and we were to be replaced by local monster movie TV host, the Son of Svengoolie better known as Rich Koz. Newsman Steve Scott stated on board and assistant producer Jan Shimek was promoted to producer.
Still, I had other irons in the fire and Chicago radio had not yet heard the last of me.
In my next installment, I start waking up with Murphy in the Morning.