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!”