Posts Tagged ‘Jim Stone’

R.I.P. WNTA

February 26, 2014

Tuesday February 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I heard sad news from my friend Jimmy McHugh today that radio station WNTA in Rockford, IL has changed formats from news/talk to “classic hits” – and everyone who worked there got the boot from the entire on air staff to the producers. It’s yet another example of the cruelty of radio.

I’ve been through that scenario myself, and it’s sickening. It always comes out of the blue, but one day the boss asks to see the air staff one by one and the purge is on. Word spreads around the building, but it’s too late by then. Everyone gets their pink slips, and then it’s all an afterthought.

The people that get shown the door are out of the building within minutes, and the rest of those that kept their jobs feel sad – in a way – but also relieved that it wasn’t them. The radio guillotine can fall at any time, and few are fortunate enough to escape the blade at some point in a career.

This news really hit home, as I had done quite a bit of fill in work on WNTA the last couple of years and learned a lot. I was never a talk radio host before – at least not a news/talk station. I did my Sunday night paranormal show “The Mothership Connection”, but that was a different vibe.

WNTA had a current events format, and it forced me to grow by leaps and bounds from a radio standpoint like no other job I ever had. My first radio gig was a classic rock morning show, and I took to that immediately. I had music to play, and all I had to do was fill in the cracks. I was able to do that without thinking. It’s what I do. Talk radio is a different animal, and one that can bite.

The first hour I did it, I knew I was in for some growing pains. I’m fine with being the side guy and throwing in a smart ass comment when needed. That’s way too easy. I’m great at reacting to situations and adding a punch line, I’ve been doing it since grade school. Hosting is a lot harder.

Most people don’t appreciate just how frighteningly difficult it is to sit alone in a room in front of a microphone and just talk much less be interesting for eight to ten minutes. That can feel like eternity. I thought I was relatively witty and a quick thinker on my feet, but those first few feeble attempts to do talk radio were embarrassing. I flat out stunk, and I’m not too proud to admit that.

But without the chance to stink repeatedly, there can’t be growth. Everyone stinks at first in all creative and artistic endeavors, but those willing to press on and pay dues become masters of the craft. WNTA had a long standing staff of talented professionals, and I was fortunate to fill in for all of them during my tenure. I filled in on every shift, and it was an education. I respect them all.

Doug McDuff was the morning show host, and then there was Ken DeCoster, Mark Mayhew, Paul Youngblood and Dean Ervin. Every one of them treated me great, and made me feel like I was part of the station even though I was just filling in. Producers Howard Bailey-Murray and a guy I only knew as Tim were also easy to work with. My entire experience there was pleasant.

Jim Stone is the Operations Manager, and I feel sorry for him because he had to fire everybody as per company orders. He’s got a heart and is a great guy, and I’m sure it was no picnic for him to have to do that. It was sad news all around, but I wanted to pay respects to all those people for being so nice to me when I was there. WNTA will live on in my heart, and I wish them all well.

I'm, grateful for the air time I had on WNTA in Rockford, IL. I'm very sorry to hear the station is changing formats.

I’m, grateful for the air time I had on WNTA in Rockford, IL. I’m very sorry to hear the station is changing formats.

The Illinois Highway Massacre

September 5, 2013

Wednesday September 4th, 2013 – Rockford, IL/Chicago, IL

   My worst fears came true and then some today as I got sucked deep into a traffic black hole on my way to host the radio show at WNTA in Rockford, IL. I ended up taking I-90 which I hadn’t been on in quite a while, and that was a constipated convoluted construction clogged nightmare.

   I left a little later than I wanted to today, and that’s often my problem when I do the fill in work at the station. It’s not all that far physically, but there’s no fast way to get there. If I end up taking one of a few possible routes from where I live, it’s about 65 miles one way. If I take the Tollway on I-90 it’s about 80 miles one way but it’s technically faster because it’s a freeway. Technically.

   There was nothing free about it today, as it’s being hacked up like a serial killer’s victim. They should call this project The Illinois Highway Massacre, as there is literally forty miles of horrific conditions that made me wish I was dead just a few minutes after I got on. It was constant stress as I clutched the steering wheel in my hands and tap danced on my brake pedal the entire trip.

   There was a construction zone for forty miles, and that’s longer than I’ve ever seen. The speed limit the whole way was 45, and it was loaded with trucks hauling everything from wide loads to hay bales that made passing anyone next to impossible. I almost had a heart attack, aneurism and stroke all on the same day trying to twist my Toyota through the two lane trail of traffic torture.

   I’ve never been a fan of toll roads anyway, but this sent me over the edge. Who has any idea of where any of that money goes? I don’t trust anyone in government as it is, but the state of Illinois is in a class by themselves when it comes to corruption. It’s one of the only states that has a three headed monster of toll roads, casino gambling and a lottery yet they’re constantly out of money.

   I called Jim Stone from the radio station to tell him I’d be cutting it close, and I ended up doing exactly that. I made it with about fifteen seconds to spare as the last commercial was ending, and I thought I was going to explode the last five miles as I raced through city streets to arrive before I was to go on. This is not how life is supposed to be, but I’ve been in this situation many times.

   When I got on the air I teed off on the toll road system and all the corrupt idiots behind it, and I got a couple of calls agreeing with me wholeheartedly. People have often told me I’m at my very funniest when I’m at my angriest, but that’s when I fail to see humor as I am too busy venting.

   I really went off on several topics today, and I saw people from the station walk past the studio and look in at me through the glass to see if I was alright. Jim Stone walked past and had a smile on his face, and I could tell he was digging what I was doing. Or maybe I got the wrong message and he was just glad I showed up on time or he’d have to do the show. Either way, I did the job.

   After the show I needed to be in Chicago for a fantasy football draft that some comedians were having. That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I made the commitment so I showed up. I was still stressing from the ride in, and it got higher as their computer crapped out halfway through it. I politely bugged out, and drove home to hopefully get a little sleep. Tomorrow is even busier.

Fill In Fun

September 5, 2013

Tuesday September 3rd, 2013 – Rockford,IL/Chicago, IL

   The fill in fairy has been waving a wand in my direction the last few days, and I’m delighted to be included in the mix. I received calls from Jim Stone in Rockford, IL asking me to fill in on the radio at WNTA the rest of the week and from Bert Haas at Zanies in Chicago asking me to fill in tonight as their headliner. There was also a TV appearance included, and I said yes to everything.

   It feels great to be on somebody’s go to list, as I can use some work right about now. The radio gig is easy – only a two hour shift from 3 to 5pm today through Friday. I can do that in my sleep. The hardest part is getting to the station. There’s no easy route from where I live and it’s a hassle trying to guess when to leave. I don’t want to be too early, but I don’t want to cut it close either.

   Today I left at a reasonable hour and had no problems. There’s construction everywhere, but it wasn’t close to being as bad as I’ve seen it at times. I drove west on Illinois Highway 176 all the way to Marengo, and then it’s US Highway 20 all the way to Rockford. I arrived relaxed at 2:40.

   Everyone at the radio station is very laid back and easy to deal with. Howard Bailey Murray is the producer, and about as cool a customer as there is. He’s been there for a long time and knows what he’s doing and knows the town in case I have any questions. He makes my job really easy.

   I’m getting to be a much better talk show host also. I used to be petrified to have zero guests or callers to bounce off of, but today I went right into a solo rant about a couple of things that I was thinking about, and had no trouble whatsoever making it to the commercials with time to spare.

   After the radio show I drove right to Zanies on Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town. There was a TV show called “Urban Grind TV” that wanted to interview me and film part of my show. I try hard to be an interesting interview, as I’ve been on the other side and know what I’d like to hear.

   The guy in charge is named Wally, and he was extremely professional as he explained what the show was about on the phone. It airs on Chicago’s Comcast three times a week, and they’ve built a loyal following in more than four years on the air. Their website is www.urbangrindtv.com.

   There was a crew of four including Wally, and they went out of their way to make sure it was a pleasant experience. They were thanking me for being willing to do it, and I thanked them for the chance to be on. It all worked perfectly without a glitch, and I wish the rest of life was that easy.

   The crowd tonight wasn’t large, and they weren’t the ideal TV audience but I didn’t mind a bit. I was thankful for the work, and did my best to lean in to it and do what I do. They came around eventually, but they didn’t realize what a solid show they saw all the way through. The host was Vince Maranto who is one of Chicago’s best comedians. He works often as an emcee for Zanies.

   The feature act was another Chicago act named Kevin Williams. I’ve worked with him before, and found him to be both competent and friendly off stage. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him work, and he’s grown by leaps and bounds. He had me laughing out loud several times. That takes a lot from an old battle scarred war horse like me. Today was a fun day from start to finish.

Air Waves

December 11, 2012

Monday December 10th, 2012 – Rockford, IL

   Back in the radio groove. I received a text message from Jim Stone asking if I’d be available to fill in this week on the 3pm to 5pm shift on WNTA in Rockford, IL, and although I was still tired to the bone from my stress riddled epic drive through the elements yesterday I said yes anyway.

I really like and respect Jim, and whatever I can do to help I will. He’s the Operations Manager for all the stations at Maverick Media in Rockford, and that’s not an easy job. He has all kinds of annoying details to look after in addition to hosting his own morning show on WXRX ‘The X’.

Whatever Jim gets paid isn’t enough, but that’s radio for 99.999% of those who ever get in it as a career. Dreams of signing a bazillion dollar Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh type deal are just that – dreams. Howard and Rush do fine, but everyone else has to squeak out whatever they can.

So many insane cuts have been made in the radio business in the last several years that anyone who still has a job actually has about three as that’s how much work they’re doing. Every station I know of is a skeleton crew, and nobody knows when those next cuts will come – but they will.

I heard from some of my radio friends that the Clear Channel evil empire executed yet another round of nationwide cuts last week – just in time for Christmas. If there is indeed a hell and those heartless reptiles aren’t occupying ringside seats next to Satan along with Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and my father, then I don’t want to go to heaven. I don’t see how they can live with themselves.

It’s not just Clear Channel either, but they’re the big one. They’ve got stations in markets of all sizes from coast to coast, and I’ve felt their wrath myself. I was shown the door in Salt Lake City in 2001, and I still don’t see the reason for it other than they want to exist on the extreme cheap.

Pesky details like putting out a quality product have never been the issue. All they look for are ways to continually trim the budget and eliminate the presence of human beings. It’s beyond my comprehension how they can continue to be allowed to butcher what used to be a business filled with creative, intelligent and interesting people, but they totally do. Can someone please stop it?

I saw the list of some of the talent that got gassed in this latest purge, and it made my stomach turn to see how out of control it’s getting. Local icons that have been at the same station for years or even decades are being flushed like truck stop toilets all over the country and it disgusts me.

I’ve been on that chopping block myself, and it usually happens around the holidays to make it all the more excruciating. My heart goes out to all those people who gave of themselves for years only to be tossed away like chewed gum. Radio itself is the ultimate loser for it, but doesn’t care.

Good people with talent are getting screwed over, but I don’t see it stopping any time soon. I’d love to have a full time job with decent pay in a big market, but I don’t see it happening to me or very many others in the near future. I’ll continue to get my radio fix whenever Jim Stone decides to call, but it’s only a part time proposition. He’s lucky to have a job himself, and he knows that.