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.”

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