Radio Regret

Friday December 16th, 2011 – Fox Lake, IL

I’m at a crucial crossroads in my professional life, and I need to make some decisions in the next little while that will determine whether or not my years of agonizing struggle will have a payoff or not. Obviously, doing what I’ve been doing hasn’t worked how I wanted.

Bad breaks and stupid mistakes aren’t in the basic recipe for massive career success, but are an unfortunate reality for most of us. I’ve had more than my share of both, so now I’m ultra sensitive before making my next move. Mistakes can be fixed, but breaks are breaks.

The break that still stings to the bone is getting blown out of my radio job at ‘The Loop’ in Chicago on this date in 2004. It’s been seven years, and not only does it still boil in my stomach – it riles up both of my former partners Max Bumgardner and Spike Manton too.

All three of us gave it all up for that gig. We put in a brutal year of trying to settle into a routine of learning our roles, and just when we started to make it cook the station got sold and we were out on the street for no real reason other than those fine upstanding folks that bought the station decided to punt us after they’d promised the old owners they wouldn’t.

Apparently, we were part of a five year plan for morning radio in Chicago. We’d passed our one year audition, and were in a prime position to have a nice long run making decent money in a major market. There’s no reason we couldn’t have done it, but it wasn’t to be.

Those fine folks at Emmis Communications were THE coldest reptiles I’ve ever met in my radio life, and are right up there with anyone I’ve met in life in general. We were told until we were sick of hearing it how Emmis was ‘the Hebrew word for truth’. How nice.

I wonder what the Hebrew word for lying corporate pus bag is? That’s how they treated us, and the three of us will never forget how humiliating it was to have to be walked from the building by security after we were fired. Five minutes beforehand, we were a morning show in a major market. Then, we’re being treated like criminals being led to execution.

They took us off the station website immediately, and it was like we never existed at all. I don’t think the CIA could do a better job of vaporizing someone so thoroughly, and only the three of us know exactly how painful and humiliating it was. It‘s still a vivid memory.

We got a large number of calls and emails apparently, and I still have a few of them one of my friends at the station was kind enough to forward my way. I took the time to answer every one, but what else did I have to do? I didn’t have a job anymore, and it still doesn’t make sense they had to be that nasty and heartless. It‘s not like we embezzled from them.

Our timing was as bad as it gets, as we hadn’t established ourselves all the way just yet. None of us were big names, and we knew it. We risked everything to have a shot to create exactly that, and we all believed we were on a path to do it. After we were gassed, nobody offered us a job or even a bumper sticker. We were all hung out to dry. Merry Christmas.

That’s why it’s so frustrating. We got caught in no man’s land, and it was nothing more than a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had Bonneville kept the station, we’d have in all likelihood had our five year run, and still been employed today.

That company was great to work for. It’s actually the Mormon Church, but they do treat their employees very well I must say. They also owned ‘The Mix’ in Chicago, where Eric and Kathy have been the morning show forever. The company is all about stability, and it would have been the same with us. Our old boss Greg Solk told us that was in their plan.

The three of us were exactly the kind of people they were looking for. None of us were wild partiers or convicted felons, and if anything we were all pretty boring off the air. We were just regular guys, and that’s the angle the station wanted to highlight. We WERE the typical listeners they wanted, and it totally would have worked. We were being groomed.

That was a rare instance of true chemistry, and we all knew it. It was like The Beatles or a championship sports team. All the pieces fit together perfectly, and we were all ready to give it all we had. Greg Solk hand picked us, and his track record of success is legendary.

Why would anyone want to blow that up? We still can’t figure it out, but that won’t get us our jobs back. They ended up bringing in Jonathon Brandmeier eventually, but I don’t think he lit the world on fire like they thought he would. Plus, he cost them a LOT more.

We would have been a total bargain, and even if we were still there we’d have signed a long term contract for steady money rather than go for the throat like Brandmeier did. He could afford to do that, as he’d had his success and had a reputation that preceded him.

That’s what radio executives will pay for, as most of them are too incompetent to have any kind of forward vision themselves. They’d rather sign some old dog and overpay him than develop fresh talent that’s home grown. It happens over and over, and Brandmeier is getting yet another chance in Chicago at WGN. His reputation continues to pay his bills.

Good for Jonathon Brandmeier. I don’t begrudge a guy if he can keep getting gigs, but I don’t see why we couldn’t get one either. I think Emmis could have tossed us some kind of a bone, but they pissed on our heels as we walked out the door and it’s hard to forget it.

What’s done is done, and after seven years the only ones who still remember any of this and care even a little are Spike, Max and myself. I still talk to both of them, and it’s a sore spot with them too. We laugh and bust balls with each other, but deep down we know we got boned. We’re not the first and won’t be the last in radio to get it – but it really hurts.

We all agreed that we need to move past it, and we’re all trying. We’ve been trying hard since this date in 2004. We were poised for a nice run, and had it happened as planned the three of us would be in an entirely different world right now that would include insurance and a steady income and my ability to draw as a comedian. It’s all very disappointing, but also very real. Radio is an oozing cesspool. And people wonder why I don’t trust anyone.


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