Welcome to WCKG, Chicago’s Classic Rock!

TIME FOR ANOTHER SAMPLING OF FROM MY BOOK “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I WILL BE RELEASING THIS YEAR.

After Larry Lujack retired from WLS, I moved on and landed as the morning show producer at 105.9 FM WCKG, Chicago’s Classic Rock Station. My first six months on board were with John Fisher and Eleanor Mondale who co-hosted The Rock n Roll Morning Show. However Eleanor left on her own in late 1987 and four months later John was let go in favor of Stephanie Miller and John Howell.

The Miller and Howell Show was the name of the coming program to WCKG’s mornings. Program Director Tim Sabean held ‘get to know you meetings’ and talked strategy. General Manager Marc Morgan expected me to contribute ideas, book more guests and offer guidance for the show. I was to help the newcomers get to know the nuances of broadcasting in Chicago. Morgan also said he was fine with the show being a bit ‘dirty.’

Stephanie was to bring the funny with jokes and comments on what’s happening in the news and pop culture along with voices she did like Joan Rivers and Dear Abby. She had an endless supply of sexually oriented jokes which fit the plan to be more blue in the morning. Stephanie was tied to politics as her late father, William Miller ran for vice president with Barry Goldwater during his unsuccessful GOP 1964 bid for the White House.

1988 was when stand-up comedy was an officially huge presence throughout the country. Many semi-famous men and women were getting their own cable TV stand-up specials. Comedy clubs were opening with places like The Improv and Catch a Rising Star springing up in Chicago and other big cities. Some rock clubs were either switching to full on houses of Ha-Ha’s or having a night or two of open mike time for aspiring funny folks. Also, the Comedy Central TV channel was soon coming.

This comedy boom was not lost on morning radio programs. Across the country local yuksters were getting their shots to be part of a morning zoo, circus or whatever other moniker could be given to a show.   Some of these ‘quick, get a comedian on our morning team’ ideas worked out but most did not. The problem being radio, especially morning radio, is not just talking at people like a comedian standing in front of an exposed brick wall telling their latest Mc Donald’s jokes. There needs to be interaction, give and take and an exchange of ideas and banter. Stephanie had good radio experience so we had a leg up on other outlets that wanted to throw radio rookie funny people into their studios.

Tim Sabean said John Howell was excited I was part of his new morning show’s team. Turns out the native of Holland Michigan wasn’t only a Larry Lujack fan, we actually met in Larry’s last weeks when John and his friends came down to see him do a show at the WLS studio window. John brought Larry a going away present of a hairbrush with Elvis Presley’s face on the back of it and Larry loved it. Lar even put John and his buddies on the air talking to them on the intercom outside the Studio A. John Howell was a trumpet player who studied at Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music. He then bounced between radio jobs in Michigan and playing trumpet on tour as part of the Clyde Beatty Circus band. John shared funny stories about being on the road and playing poker with circus attraction stars like former heavyweight boxing champ Smokin’ Joe Frazier, “The Jeffersons” TV sitcom star Sherman Hemsley and Tiny Tim. Imagine that trio together! Joe, Sherman and Tim are all dead now, I wonder if they’re playing cards together in the great beyond.

Here’s a newspaper pic of Miller & Howell with 2 guests we had on at the same time, Miss America host Bert Parks and Porn Star Marilyn Chambers.  Just another day on WCKG FM.

Here’s the best way I can describe John Howell. When he and Stephanie Miller first came to Chicago, WCKG put them up at the Lenox House Hotel for a month while they found apartments and got settled in. One afternoon our sports guy Jim Volkman came to visit John in his hotel room. The door was half open and as Jim walked in he found Howell in his boxer shorts and t-shirt sitting in an easy chair watching TV smoking a cigar with a beer in his hand and a half eaten apple pie on his lap. John’s shoes and socks were off and he changed TV channels with his big toe. When told of this, I knew John Howell was “one of us.”

Next Blog-  Partying at WCKG, will my liver survive?

Behind the Radio Curtain Pt. 4: Sex at the Station

Here’s a new excerpt from my book “Raised on the Radio” which will be released later this year.

Most of you have heard stories about your own co-workers having intimate relationships with each other. Some of you may have even had inter-office dalliances. Radio was no different and there were plenty of shenanigans going on with some of the stories being a little unusual.

 BUSINESS AND PLEASURE

At one of my radio stops there was an inter-office sex scandal happening. The wife of a sales manager kept calling one of the station’s female account executives screaming “Stay away from my husband!” We thought this wife was a paranoid nut because the saleswoman in question was also married and the last person we thought would screw around on her husband. Later on we learned it was all true and the sales manager she was banging assigned her some clients that were part of another staffer’s sales list. When all this came out in the open, the salesperson who got hosed out of some of their clients worked out a good deal to leave the station. That A.E. got a year’s pay and benefits in exchange for not going public with this mess. Like in any other business, it is best to follow this directive: Don’t fish off the company pier. Or, if I may be so blunt, don’t fuck where you eat!

Of course that “keep it in your pants” axiom would be good advice for on air staff as well. Many personalities I knew were divorced with infidelity being the leading cause of break-ups. One D.J. got fired when the General Manager learned he was picking up female listeners on the request lines and having sex with them at the station during his shows. From what I was told, he had some serious screw-a-thons happening nightly on the station’s conference room table. The minute the GM learned of this, the guy was immediately sent packing. I wished we’d gotten a new conference room table too, but that didn’t happen.

One jock I knew was single but sneaky. He’d go to his girlfriend’s house at night to have sex. After the loving, he’d slink off to the bathroom with his cell-phone and quietly call a local pizza place to put in an order for delivery. This guy gave the house’s address and instructions for the delivery man to not ring the doorbell. Instead he was to leave the boxed pizza on the front seat of the guy’s unlocked car parked in the driveway. Upon arriving at his girlfriend’s place earlier in the night, this fellow would leave the pizza money and tip on the driver’s seat, anticipating this clandestine food drop-off. He did not want to share even one slice of pizza with his girlfriend. Once the pizza was delivered, he would give his woman a quick kiss and be on his way; driving home and eating a fresh pie. What a guy!

Pizza after sex, who doesn’t love that?

Speaking of the opposite sex, after my girlfriend Holly and I broke up for good, I dated here and there but nothing as close and vital as what we had. Still, like any red blooded American male I would go out with the occasional woman who was, in the words of the Eagles, “Someone to be kind to in between the dark and the light.” Going out Sunday through Thursday nights when I had to get up so early for work put a cramp on my ability to sustain relationships. I sometimes went out on what I called a “school night” but it was rare.   My biggest romantic issue was the minute I dated one woman I’d find ways to get interested in seeing someone else. I kind of had attention deficit disorder of the heart. Hey, that sounds like it could be a title for a county music song.

Working and Playing Well With Others

I didn’t clash with air personalities often despite some of them having overstated egos. I tried to avoid making a big deal out of that in the interest of harmony and getting the best product on the air. It’s a business. Like Jay Mohr, playing agent Bob Sugar said in “Jerry Maguire”, “It’s not show friends, its show business.” Radio people, like musicians, are a different breed of species. If you ever get show hosts, producers and sales folks together at a bar or restaurant, that gathering is guaranteed to be a marathon of laughs and tight camaraderie. It’s usually a combination of the opening scene in “Reservoir Dogs” where the meaning of the song “Like a Virgin” is discussed and the opening scene of “Broadway Danny Rose” with veteran comedians commiserating about their careers. Call it “Reservoir Broadway Dogs.”

John Howell and I used to sum up having a career in radio by saying, “There’s no heavy lifting.” True enough. To put it in perspective, (prepare to use the seven second delay button), WORKING IN BIG CITY RADIO WAS A FUCKING BLAST!   The best comparison I can give you is it was exactly like “The Larry Sanders Show” except we weren’t on TV. THAT is it in a nutshell. You get heat from bosses to boost ratings. Consultants tell you what things you do well and what sucks. You deal with sales people and their sometimes hair brained promotions. There’s also the battle with other station’s shows for guests. Plus we have the creation of bits that are hopefully entertaining and the fragile egos and insecurities of the talent.   So if you never work in radio but want to know what it’s really like, just think of the on camera and backstage happenings of “The Larry Sanders Show.” Hey now!

Working in radio was like living in “The Larry Sanders Show”

Behind the Radio Curtain Part 3: “Enjoying Life Like Goodfellas”

Here’s another excerpt from my book “Raised on the Radio” which I look to release later this year.

(The perks of  a Goodfella)

I produced Chicago radio shows from 1985 to 2003. One of the benefits of the job was being extended countless courtesies at no expense to me. Some call it S.W.A.G (stuff we all get) and it was comforting to know that we in the media had plenty of perks at our disposal.

EXTRAS, FREEBIES AND GUESTLISTS

Seeing movies, concerts and ballgames was how most of my free time away from radio was spent. The money I paid out for newspapers, books, magazines, cable TV and cell-phone bills all got written off as tax deductions. Carefully tracking expenditures throughout my time in radio, I used to joke that my whole life was one giant tax write-off.

Good seats at concerts were regularly available and rare was the time I had to pay for my tickets. I got friends of mine and ladies I dated into plenty of big shows. The “He’s So Cool” factor might be the kick for some but I just enjoyed the convenience. No standing in lines for tickets plus VIP parking made life much easier. For me, sitting in skyboxes or other preferred areas never got old. And if a freebie that I wanted wasn’t offered, a quick phone call would be made and usually it was, “Yes, we can put you on that guest list. No problem.” Looking back on all the extras that were there for the taking, I think of Ray Liotta talking about the gangster life in “GoodFellas” when he said, “For us, to live any other way was nuts.

(Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas”)

Concerts, Premieres and Special Shows

My favorite places to see concerts in Chicago were the smaller venues like the Riviera, The Vic , Park West and House of Blues. These theatres had the best sound and sightlines. I was often able to get what I called ‘The Lincoln Seats’ in these places. Those were the ones on the raised level to the side of the stage in a private box. I’m just glad I never encountered a bitter John Wilkes Booth at these shows. At a Wang Chung concert at the Riviera, I saw some attractive models sitting in a nearby balcony box. They were REALLY hot. In fact these women were so hot they tore off their bras from under their tops and slingshot them onto Wang Chung’s stage. Next, these ladies flashed their bare breasts to the band. I thought to tell them this was not Mardi Gras and there were no cheap plastic beads to earn, but why spoil their fun?

One of the coolest exclusive shows I ever went to was in the fall of 1992 when Neil Young was promoting his superb “Harvest Moon” album. I got to be in the small studio audience to see him tape a solo acoustic show at the WTTW TV Soundstage. Neil covered everything from music with Buffalo Springfield to his current release. Playing just his guitars and harmonica he did sit at a pipe organ to close the night with “Like a Hurricane.” The show went on for two hours and Neil told us he didn’t know how long he was supposed to play so he thought to just keep rolling. It was a really special night and to this day I still use the key ring I got from VH-1, the show’s sponsor.

(Neil Young playing in the acoustic or ‘unplugged’ way)

Another time I attended a TV taping of a duet concert starring Beach Boy Brian Wilson and country star Deana Carter. This was another small exclusive event and it was held at a suburban high school auditorium.

I’ve often been asked, “What’s the best concert you ever saw?” So many shows stand out for different reasons. The first time seeing Elton John, The Who or Springsteen before I worked in radio were very special but I can’t nail down THE best. I will tell you the second best show ever for me was the 1986 “Conspiracy of Hope” concert to benefit Amnesty International at the Rosemont Horizon. Joan Baez opened followed by the Neville Brothers, Lou Reed, Bryan Adams, Peter Gabriel, U2 and the Police who reunited for that event. Robin Williams was a surprise guest who did a stand-up act that was manic and had the sold-out crowd laughing so hard our sides hurt. It was a diverse show and U2 blew the roof off the joint. This was almost a year before their monster selling “Joshua Tree” album would be released. It didn’t matter because their earlier songs and a medley of covers like “Maggie’s Farm” and “Candle in the Wind” had the crowd spellbound. U2’s performance was so dynamic that the set done by The Police was actually anti-climactic. I loved U2’ music since 1981 and there now was no doubt Bono and company were on the precipice of worldwide mega-stardom.

(Bono leading U2 in concert)

Movie premieres and attending critics’ screenings were also part of my world. I would sit a couple of rows in front of movie review icons Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who did not sit together but near each other at these previews. It was fun to be part of that subsection of the media but the convenience of seeing movies I was interested in and having the jump on them before the general public was the juice.

Of course meeting and hanging around famous music, movie and TV stars was a great perk. It made for cool conversations at parties but it was simply part of our business. Most of the time it was just another day at the office when Penn Gillette was in studio to talk up the latest Penn & Teller Stage show or Dennis De Young of Styx came by to promote a new project. Most of the time I’d get to share a few minutes of private time chatting up with the stars. One time backstage I got to tell Vince Gill that his hit “When I Call Your Name” was the best country heartbreak song since “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and that was pretty neat.

(Radio listener parties were always a big blast of fun)

Listener parties were special too. Even when you don’t know many of these good folks personally, THEY know you. One time I talked on the air about burning my hand badly on a grill while at a family barbecue on Memorial Day. Weeks later, while talking about the coming Fourth of July weekend, a listener called to warn me not to burn my hand again. These fans take this stuff in. You’re among friends at listener parties and it was easy to and important to express our appreciation for their loyalty to our show. What some people forget is radio is so personal. For many listeners, we were the first voices they heard as their radio alarm clocks woke them up in the morning or as they drove into work. Depending on their daily life situations, we might be the only ones who talked to them until they got to their workplace.

At WCKG, we had some rowdy night time boat cruise parties with listeners on Lake Michigan. I recall one in particular when John Howell and his Apologizers band was blasting away on Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band” and co-workers and I were in the middle of the packed dance floor shaking it up with fans. As we were sailing along, the lighted outlines of the buildings on Chicago’s beautiful lakefront were in perfect view. I clearly remember thinking, “This is a great way to make a living.”

Like I said, “To live any other way was nuts!”

Behind The Radio Curtain Pt. 2

Here’s another excerpt from my book “Raised on the Radio” which I look to release later this year.  There’s lots of work that goes into putting on a personality based morning radio show and here’s a glimpse at some of that.

The morning hours I worked most of the time had me arriving downtown to pick up newspapers and start the show prep around one a.m. each weekday. I quickly acclimated to those hours and enjoyed working in solitude until the rest of the show members came through the station doors a few hours later. Plus, I rarely dealt with any traffic problems going to or coming home from work.

Working in the early a.m. hours meant no traffic.

STAYING ON TOP OF THINGS

I was always on the hunt for show material, reading three newspapers cover to cover seven days a week along with magazines like People, Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly. (This was pre-internet days)On weekends, I would often come to the station for a couple of hours to edit audio tape and set up other plans. Coming up with show ideas was a constant and the collaboration of these ideas with others was one of the best parts of being in the business.

Here’s an example of looking for things to cover on a show. During a Bears home game against the Packers on a Monday night, some guy jumped from an end zone aisle seat to catch a football that was kicked through the uprights. The problem was where he jumped from was way up in the stands and his drop to the ground was about fifteen to twenty feet! He leaped to his side and caught the ball in mid air then landed safely on the concrete below that led to the player’s tunnel. It was crazy to see! The Monday Night Football announcers were commenting on it and they interviewed the leaping fan. I wrote down his name and info then called the guy to get him on the air the following morning. People talked more about this ball catching jumper than the Bears game and we had him on the air before anyone else did.

Here’s a screen shot of the Bears fan who leaped from the stands to catch a ball kicked for field goal.

When Michael Jackson talked about having the rare skin lightening disease Vitaligo on a prime time network interview, guess who was leaving messages that night on the answering machines of local dermatologists? I had to set up an interview so our listeners could know more about this skin affliction Michael claimed to have. That’s what it takes to be on top of things.

Michael Jackson claimed to have the skin disease Vitiligo.

Remember when Pee Wee Herman’s alter ego Paul Reubens was charged with indecent behavior in a porno theatre? I quickly called and recorded the theatre’s phone message telling the plot of the movie shown there that week. Whatever your listeners are hearing and talking about, you need to be all over it ASAP. You need to OWN things and soon your show will have the reputation of being the place to turn when cool stuff is happening.

A radio producer also has to be a jump or two ahead on coming trends so that when those trends reach mainstream popularity, you’ve got your show already covering it. I was always pretty good at this but there’s one big craze from TV I missed the boat on.

It was during the late spring into the summer of 2000. I got network calls each week asking if we wanted to talk to stars of this brand new weekly TV series and I would pass. My CBS contact person was shocked. “Are you SURE you guys aren’t interested?” I calmly said “Yes, it’s nothing to us.” Every week, the same answer, the same “No thank you.” So what new big deal was I blind and deaf to? A little reality show called “Survivor.” It was off my radar and I wasn’t catching on to the buzz that grew red hot. Finally, when they got down to the last four contestants I woke up and we joined in on the “Survivor” craze, a little late and behind the curve.

The initial craze of “Survivor” was a trend I was late to catch.

Being behind the initial wave of “Survivor-mania” isn’t the worst of mistakes. It’s not like I passed on signing the Beatles or Taylor Swift to a record deal but it was a miss. I also never thought the Celebrity Reality TV show thing would become an American phenomenon. Watching shows like “The Osbournes” and Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie’s “The Simple Life” I figured these stars knew we were all laughing AT them. Guess what? They didn’t give a shit! The paychecks cleared and those imbeciles got richer. In more current times, the Kardashians craze is something I NEVER would have predicted. I couldn’t fathom that kind of narcissism, idiocy and shallowness becoming so popular. I was definitely guilty of giving the American public too much credit for having class and brains.

I never would have forecasted the popularity and success of the Kardashian goofs.

 

A Peek Behind the Radio Curtain Pt. 1

“Raised on the Radio” excerpt: Selling air time! Here’s a segment from my book on those who pump money into radio stations by selling commercials for big money. I knew some fine sales folks however some names have been changed to protect their identities and me from having drinks thrown in my face.

THE SALES STAFFERS

The Account Executives (A.E.s for short) or sales staff, have the responsibility of getting clients to buy air time so the company can make money off the commercials and we can all have jobs. In my day, selling radio airtime was a high pressure gig, constantly looking for new clients and more money from their current ones. With the advent of the internet, social media and other ways to advertise, a radio sales job is no doubt even harder today. Many AE’s I knew were heavy drinkers. Part of it is the pressure of the job and part of it is the schmoozing of their clients done at bars, clubs, lunches, ballgames, concerts and radio station events. One sales guy I knew died in a horrific one car highway crash after a long night of drinking. More than a few sales people I worked with were in A.A.

WKRP Sales Guy Herb Tarlek

I was usually the first person an A.E. approached about a client’s wishes to get their product extra coverage on the morning show. Whenever possible, I played ball to help the sales team but sometimes things just didn’t fit. Occasionally I had to tell a disappointed sales pitcher, “It’s just not right for our show.” Being the conduit between sales promotions and the air talent, I got good at doing a little dog and pony show for visiting clients. “Yes, we can do this and so and so loves this product and we’ll give you a good shine.” There were times we were prostitutes for sales buys but I always thought of us as being high class, high priced call girl prostitutes and not streetwalkers.

I had some favorite sales workers. One A.E. named Veronica nicknamed me Mickles Pickles and she understood the reasons why we could or could not put her clients into a morning show prize giveaway.

During my time at Q-101, I used to often talk music with a sales guy named Dave. Dave’s brother Jim was playing in a bar band at the University of South Carolina. He told me their group’s name was and I said with a name like that, I hope they get a hit song some day. It turns out Dave’s brother was Jim ‘Soni’ Sonefeld, drummer for a little group called Hootie and the Blowfish. A couple years later, these guys became mega-stars as they sold millions of copies of their “Cracked Rearview Mirror” album. Lead singer Darius Rucker went on to have a second big career in Country music.

Hootie & the Blowfish. (I worked with the drummer’s brother)

At WLS an A.E. named Paul had Poplar Creek Music Theatre as a client and he would go nuts when Larry Lujack asked me to do on air reviews of concerts I saw there. The shows were usually strong but getting out of the crowded Poplar Creek parking lots was a nightmare. Larry would ask about my post show exit and I told the truth. This sales guy would get pissed at me but Larry had my back on this and said Paul the A.E. was out of line. I told Paul to tell Poplar Creek to build more lanes in their roads so I can get out of the place before midnight. See? Problem solved.

Sales people are a hungry bunch. They were always on the look-out for free eats. Radio stations get lots of free food dropped off in hopes of getting some on air mentions. One time Subway sent a six foot sandwich to a show I worked on. When word got out that a long sub was in the morning show office, half a dozen sales folks filed in and devoured the sandwich in a matter of seconds. It was like those videos where you see a water buffalo wading into the Amazon River and being eaten alive by a school of piranhas. The sandwich was served on a long wood two by four wrapped in aluminum foil. When the sub was gone I told one A.E. who came late to the scene that the wrapped plank was a giant chocolate candy bar. Her eyes got as big as hockey pucks until I told her I was kidding.

There was an air personality who relayed to me a tale of riding an elevator with a chesty account executive. She told him about her recent breast lift. Then without provocation, she pulled up her blouse and exposed her newly improved bare boobs! So the sexual improprieties can swing both ways. After hearing this story, I could never again talk to this sales woman without having the thought of her flashing those cans running through my head. I hope my sly smiles didn’t give me away.

Hey lady, keep your boob lift between you & your plastic surgeon!

One Account Executive stood out as extra attractive and it was hard to figure out why she wasn’t married as she was in her early 30’s. I’ll call this A.E. ‘Wendy’. One Monday, a jubilant Wendy came to work showing us her beautiful new diamond engagement ring. Her boyfriend proposed the previous Friday night. A co-worker turned to Wendy and said “So now you have to plan a wedding date, book a church, the reception hall and…” Wendy interrupted this person in a matter of fact way, waved her hand and said “Oh, that’s been done already. I took care of everything on Saturday.” With this, my comment that made it around the station was “I don’t want to say Wendy was dying to get married but she DID have the caterer on speed dial.”

Another account executive, we’ll call ‘Maggie’, came to me looking for help in getting her a date with actor Esai Morales. A date! Sure Maggie. You see besides producing a morning radio show I had a side business pimping dates for women who want to hook up with Hollywood’s hot young actors. Esai Moraels played the brother of Richie Valens in the hit movie “La Bamba.” He also starred in other shows and Maggie wanted this dude bad. She asked me to get Esai’s contact information so I located an address for his manager. Next, Maggie decided to make a video of her explaining a little bit about her background and why she thought they would make a good couple. Folks, I am NOT making this shit up. How do I know about the homemade date seeking video? Because I was the schmuck who worked the camera as Maggie made her pitch! That’s how! Esai Morales’ people did receive the mailed video and said he was flattered by her interest, but he was already in a committed relationship.

Actor Esai Morales (Sorry Maggie, he’s taken!)

 

Frampton Comes Unwound! Plus the Nicest Pop Star I Ever Met.

I CONTINUE TO SAMPLE EXCERPTS FROM MY BOOK “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I WILL BE RELEASING THIS YEAR.

Larry Lujack’s most infamous guest during my tenure was Peter Frampton. He was coming in to promote a ‘comeback’ album titled “Premonition.” We had the new single ready to play and opened the visit with his classic hit “Show Me the Way”. Larry never got too deep into serious music talk with artists. He’d keep it light with the stars, “Hey I like this song and what got you to write that?” was what you we’re going to get, along with stuff like “What have you done while in town? How’re the kids?” So Larry is just a couple of minutes into the interview and Peter in a sickeningly sarcastic tone says, “Anyway, it’s been nice talking to you and I must be going, you’ve been wonderful, bye bye.”

And with that, the guy left. Just bolted from the studio with his record people! We were trying to figure out what happened while Frampton and his entourage were bee-lining out of the station and into the lobby elevators. Larry was dumbstruck, which didn’t happen often and was about to cue his engineer to play the new single. I was standing next to the engineer and pulled the cartridge tape out of its player, held it up while shaking my head “No.” Larry agreed and on the air he said, “Yeah, we’re not promoting this guy’s stuff!” With that we went to another song and laughed off the whole fiasco.

The funny part of the “Frampton Comes Unwound” episode was this was the first time I ever recorded our guest’s promo for the show BEFORE they went on the air for the interview. We learned then and there, ‘GET THE PROMOS FIRST JUST IN CASE THE STAR GETS OFFENDED AND BLOWS OUT ON US.’ The Peter Frampton visit became great fodder from then on too. Any time Larry could, he’d mock Frampton and we’d talk about what a has-been he was. Later on, the record company folks told us their star bolted because he didn’t think Larry was taking the interview seriously enough and he had high expectations to talk music. Wrong place, wrong guy, Peter.

The very nicest rock or pop star I ever met was Huey Lewis. I had a couple of encounters with him, the first being when I took listeners backstage for a meet and greet at the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena) in 1987. Huey sold out several shows there and was twenty minutes away from playing in front of 16,000 fans. He came out to see us fresh from a backstage game of basketball in his gym shorts, T-shirt and Nikes. Huey spotted my WLS AM 890 baseball cap and beat a direct path for me. He thanked me profusely for all the airplay we’d given him over the past five years. I had a pretty good bullshit detector and this wasn’t some bum rush, shuck and jive, the guy was sincere. Huey did the photos and autographs for the group I brought back which included Dawn, the daughter of a friend of my mentor Lee Swanson. Huey signed her autograph “Dawn, go away, I’m no good for you” and sang a little of that Four Seasons song to her.

Years later I brought some more listeners backstage to meet Huey at a show where he only sold about 8,000 tickets at the New World Music Theatre in south suburban Tinley Park. That venue had a capacity for three times that. This low ticket sale was weird because he was still playing sold out shows while on tour. Despite the low turn-out, Huey Lewis was in great spirits and treated our guests very well. There was no pissy attitude or moaning about the slow ticket sales at the gate.

My buddy Dave Ross went on to do music promotion for Chrysalis, Huey’s record label in the late 80’s. One night they were playing a 10,000 seat arena in a smallish town in the south and Dave asked Huey why they were bothering to do a show for a lower tier market. Not missing a beat he said, “Because thousands of fans are willing to pay to see us and one day we might not draw those kinds of crowds.” Dave also shared a story of how Huey talked of his early singing days when he was traveling through parts of Europe with barely a thousand dollars to his name. Huey told Dave, he was as happy back then as he was now with all his success. Huey Lewis was and I’m guessing still is, a pretty well grounded good guy.

 (Always a good sport with me, Huey Lewis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite a Show From Emo

WE CONTINUE TO SAMPLE EXCERPTS FROM MY BOOK “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I WILL BE RELEASING THIS YEAR.

 We had plenty of guests on the Larry Lujack Show at WLS. One of the more memorable being oddball comedian Emo Phillips.

Emo Phillips was a trip because most comedian guests would come in for a fifteen to twenty minute visit. The routine was usually a couple of segments of jokes, plug their show or project that needs publicity, thank-you and goodbye. Emo came in around four in the afternoon and stayed until the end of the show at seven! The guy had nowhere else to go before his concerts that night at the Park West club so Larry kept him on. He was hilarious and not just with his routine and mapped out jokes but the ad-libs. At one point in the conversation, Larry mentioned how romance author Barbara Cartland liked to have daily cold water enemas. Emo in his shaky voice quickly replied “I like cold water enemas too but straddling over drinking fountains makes it tough to finish.”

So the show ended and Emo, who arrived to the station alone, did his promo for us and left. Larry & I wrapped up our post show meeting a few minutes later. It was a Friday and we wanted to get out for the weekend. I was going to Emo’s early show at the Park West with my friend Dave Ross and headed downstairs to get picked up. So who did I find in the building lobby looking lost? Emo Phillips. He said he didn’t know what bus to take to get to his concert venue. Apparently the guy never noticed those yellow cars driving all over town that can give you a pre-Uber era ride, cabs for God’s sake! So I told Emo we were going to his show and we’d give him a lift. The quirky comic looked relieved that his transportation needs were being covered.

(The Park West)

Dave pulled up in his Chevy Suburban and was happy to be the car service for the comedian we were about to see. Emo Phillips was as normal and congenial as any non-famous person. He told us about a movie screenplay he was writing so Dave asked, “And what will that entail?” Emo answered “Probably major losses for the studio.”

After a ten minute ride north, we pulled up to the Park West as fans were lined up to get in to see the star we dropped off. Emo thanked us and hustled into the club. We parked, then checked in to the Will Call window for our tickets and enjoyed the night of comedy. I assumed someone from Emo’s management team would drive him home at the end of the night.

Emo’s movie project ended up being the first version of “Meet the Parents.” This was a low budget production that came out around 1992. Come the late 90’s, Emo Phillips’ screenplay was re-done with Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller starring in it. This second version of “Meet the Parents” became a huge comedy hit that would spawn two sequels. I’m sure Emo got money and credit for the first one but I think that’s where his connection to that franchise ended. I booked Emo Phillips on other shows I worked for but my first encounter with him was the most interesting.

(The first “Meet the Parents” movie was born from Emo Phillips)

On the Air With Lar

WELCOME BACK TO THE SAMPLING OF EXCERPTS FROM MY BOOK “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I WILL BE RELEASING LATER THIS YEAR.

We pick up on some of the days of me working as Larry Lujack’s producer at WLS. I was learning plenty every day. Our daily on air conversations and banter were part of my big city radio education.

 Knowing how to interact with Larry was a skill I kept honing. He was not an easy laugh so I had to be clever as possible with my comments. One time during the Cheap Trashy Show-biz Report Larry was talking about a TV movie that was being made about Frank Sinatra based on Kitty Kelley’s explosive tell-all book “His Way.” This is a book we had discussed on the air in the past. Now I remembered Larry’s favorite anecdote from the book. So he says “I hope they include that scene where..” and I start snickering, and he goes on “And Mick read my mind. I want to see the time where Frank Sinatra eats scrambled eggs off a hooker’s bare chest. (He laughs) I’m just picturing Frank with the hooker, scarfing down breakfast.”

Then I said “Yeah, I can see the credits at the end of the movie, ‘Hooker with eggs on chest played by…” Larry laughed hard and said “Played by Charlene Tilton who’s desperate for work!”

 

 (Kitty Kelley’s tell all book on Frank Sinatra)

 The 1986 Holiday season featured the annual Christmas tree lighting in downtown Chicago. Larry and Jeff Hendrix were on site, broadcasting live from the WLS mobile studio which was a large RV camper while I was in the air studio.

So they have the countdown, someone throws a switch and the tree’s lights go up. Larry says the tree looks great and then we hear a live orchestra starting to play the theme from “2001 A Space Odyssey.” (Most folks at that time knew that was the song Elvis Presley used as his entrance music during live concerts as he took the stage) As it becomes obvious what song is being played, Larry yells out, “When did THAT become a Christmas tune?” Waiting just a second or two, I opened my microphone and asked “Where’s Elvis?” Well that busted up Larry, Jeff and the rest of the remote crew. Jeff blurted out “He’s at the top of the tree!” Then Larry followed with typical sarcasm, “Yeah, they got a life sized statue of the king at the top of the tree.”

 

 (Larry Lujack on the air doing his thing)

One more bit of banter to share. At the end of a show, Larry and Jeff were wrapping things up all set to say good night and thanks for listening, while I’m on the phone.

Larry: “John Landecker is next, giving away… aerobic fitness packs.”

Me: “Those are nice.”

Larry: “What do they consist of?”

Me: (quick reply) “I have no idea.”

Larrry starts to chuckle and then I take it further.

Me: “I just thought I’d throw in a little false enthusiasm to end of the show.”

Well Larry is loving this honesty and says between laughs, “That’s what’s needed here. In fact, that’s a prerequisite for the job! Phony enthusiasm! (He continues to laugh) and sometimes it’s tough, but Mick being the pro that he is managed to come up with some at the end of the show.”

I have tapes of some of these on air chats but I don’t even have to listen back to them.  These laughs are ingrained in my head forever.

 

Remembering Glenn Frey

Today (1/18/18) marks the second anniversary of the passing of Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles. Glenn’s health problems in late 2015 delayed the band from being feted at that year’s Kennedy Center Honors. Still, news of his death was a big shock. Below is an excerpt from my coming book “Raised on the Radio” where I recall Frey’s in studio visit to the Murphy in the Morning show at Q-101 and a little more.  

Glenn Frey came to the station when in town to play in a charity golf outing and promote his “Strange Weather” album. I grew up on Eagles music and was cautiously eager to meet him. I knew of all the strife within the band before they stopped working together in 1980 and wasn’t sure how he’d be with us. In the past, the Eagles were very leery of and hesitant to talk to the media. It turns out Glenn was an excellent guest with us. Maybe no longer being in the Eagles put him in a good mood. One caller even asked about the intestinal health struggles Frey dealt with and he openly talked about those problems.

Me & Glenn Frey at Q-101 (Circa 1992)

One thing I noticed was the cadence in which Glenn Frey spoke during his interview with Murphy. He was precise and deliberate in his conversation but in an engaging way. I tend to talk in a similar manner so I identified with and liked the former Eagle from the start.

When it came time to record a couple of promos for the show, he carefully looked over my typed up lines in the production room. I asked if there were any problems and was told no, it was good copy. He was just measuring everything out to make sure he gave good reads.   So yes, I’ve recorded in a studio with an Eagle.

Months after visiting us at Q-101, I saw Glenn Frey play a concert at the Vic Theater. He did his solo hits and Eagles classics. Backstage after the show, again he was affable and a pleasure to spend a few minutes with. I also made points with my date as Glenn gladly took pictures and signed an autograph for her.

Backstage with Glenn at the Vic Theater

Those intestinal problems Glenn Frey was so open to discuss on the air ended up being part of what ended his life. Adding to that was rheumatoid arthritis and pneumonia and all that took him at the way too young age of sixty-seven. A number of celebrities I met over the years have since died but Glenn’s passing was a tough one to take in. He was great with me in 1992 and I was thrilled to have seen the Eagles in concert a few years later.

I also admired Glenn Frey’s solo music. From the Chuck Berry styled rock and roll of “Party Town” (a song that never got its proper due) to the sax and horns Memphis sound of “The One You Love” and “True Love.” The acting he did in “Wiseguy” and “Miami Vice” along with soundtrack work for those shows was aces too. I also enjoyed his role as the tough negotiating Arizona Cardinals general manager in “Jerry Maguire.”

Over the years the Eagles have had their share of detractors; many citing Frey and Don Henley for being difficult and greedy rock stars. Still, I choose to look past those stories and appreciate the music they brought us. Glenn’s hassles within the band be damned, he was first rate in my book and always will be. Rest in peace, Glenn Lewis Frey.

 

Larry Lujack’s Last Round-up

On December 18th, 2013 Chicago radio star Larry Lujack passed away. While it was a personal and professional thrill to work as Larry’s producer in the mid-80’s at WLS, I was also his friend up to the day he died. We used to check in with each other three or four times a year and I once stayed with Lar and his wife Jude for several days at their home in Santa Fe.

This is an excerpt from my book “Raised on the Radio” which will be released in 2018.

My last phone conversation with Larry Lujack happened in late September of 2013. Longtime WLS star Don Wade had just passed away from brain cancer and I was checking in to make sure Larry was “still with us.” We reflected on Wade’s passing and found time to joke about other matters. Larry couldn’t believe Lindsey Vonn dated Tiger Woods. He felt Lindsey was beautiful, well known and successful, so why did she want to mess with that guy and his history of cheating? I got a laugh out of him by saying I made money on bumper stickers that read “Honk If You Banged Tiger Woods.” We wrapped up our half hour call as Lar said he had some work to do on the roof of his house.

Larry Lujack enjoying retirement in his Santa Fe home

Three months later, it was the week before Christmas and I’d been thinking of blowing a call down to Santa Fe. We always talked at the holidays and I had a strong urge to buzz in on this particular day. I held back because Larry often visited family in Idaho around that time of year and I figured I’d call him a couple of days before New Year’s.

The next morning I woke up at five (my usual time), turned on the TV and laid back down while closing my eyes. Channel 9’s Morning News was being read by Erin McElroy. She was about to preview what was coming up next and I got a sudden feeling I was about to hear something horrible. I never had this kind of premonition before or since but this was a strong quick shot of worry that hit me in a split second. Ten seconds later, Erin said they would have the latest on the passing of Chicago radio legend Larry Lujack. I shot up from my bed and jumped out of it like it was on fire! I kept my hand over my mouth, totally stunned.

I first assumed it was heart trouble that took Larry’s life since he had bypass surgery years before. Instead it was esophageal cancer which was diagnosed near the start of 2013. Larry Lujack was seventy-three years old when he passed. He used to joke to me that seventy seemed to be a tough age because it was three syllables, Sev-en-ty.

Calls and e-mails poured in to my house the morning the news broke and I reached out to others as well. I was put on the air with Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft on their WLS morning show, sharing some fond memories. I talked with a couple of other media outlets as well. Larry’s former cohorts like Tommy Edwards, John Landecker and Bob Sirott got lots of TV and radio air time to reflect on their memories of the legacy of Larry Lujack.

Tommy was the closest to Larry and the only person outside of the Lujack family who knew of his cancer diagnosis that was given ten months before. He let Tommy in on this secret because they still had business together selling Animal Stories albums online for charity. The radio business was the background for their long and tight friendship.   Outside of his family and Lil Tommy, I was one of the few who could reflect most accurately on Larry. When Elvis died, it was natural for his rock n roll contemporaries like Little Richard and Carl Perkins to be asked about him. However, it was the King’s inner circle of assistants and security people known as the Memphis Mafia who knew him best. I was honored to be in Larry’s inner circle.

I called Jude that morning and her first words were “Mick, you were on my list of people to call.” I assured Jude this was a time for all who loved Larry to call and console her. Here’s how humble the guy was. Jude told me when Larry was nearing the end of his life he told her “You’re going to have to call a lot of people to let them know what happened to me.” He just didn’t get it that his passing would be huge news all over Chicago and in radio circles throughout the country! Larry figured he was just this former radio worker, now deceased and his wife would have to ‘get the word out.’ Please. No sir, we all knew and would know thanks to the immediacy of the internet and social media but more importantly, because of how we were all touched by the wit, humor and good memories brought to us by Larry Lujack.

One of Uncle Lar’s WLS publicity shots

My book will have much more on my time with Larry Lujack both on and off the air. I will always miss that I can’t call Larry and talk about the latest goings on in sports, media, politics & show-biz. Still, I have so many great memories of those times and for that, I count myself very grateful.