Friday, April 13, 2012

The Sunday Munch

Fifteen years ago today, I walked into the WKDI studios in DeKalb, Il. I stood there next to my great friend, Stephen. He and I met the morning duo of Jesse The Body and The Idiot DJ. Two men who hosted from 9a.m. to 12p.m. In a few hours, we would meet the lovely and talented music director of WKDI, Iva-Marie palmer who also hosted Aural Gratification Show from 3p.m. to 6p.m. Stephen and I were there to host the 12p.m. to 3p.m. shift. It was our first ever radio program. Nerves were wild. Anxiety was in full bloom. For me, although I had never hosted a radio program, I had been a guest on a couple and I had been a regular caller on several. One thing is for sure, I had been dreaming of this moment for years. I had been wanting to host a radio show since I lost my eyesight and discovered AM talk radio. The first person who caught my attention was Spike O'Dell then of WGN Radio in Chicago. I soon learned about Mike North on WSCR The Score. Over the next several years, I listened to and befriended many radio personalities. Over the years, I was lucky enough to have the guts to reach out to them and receive some wonderful advice. Dan Bernstein, Julie Swieca, David Kaplan, Jay Marven, Les Grobstein, and so many others took me under their wings. As I developed an understanding and love for sports, I was driven by a desire to report on games and athletes. I studied stats, history, and facts. I also made it a point to learn about those radio personalities who came before me. There were many whose style or on air tactics were not to my liking, but I listened to them because I owed it to myself to understand who they were and what made them successful. I felt it was my responsibility to learn about the history of radio and the media especially if one day, I would criticize an athlete or coach for not knowing about their sport.

Stephen was my eyes helping me by reading song titles and pressing all the buttons. When it was time, I was so scared, I struggled to speak. He had to help me. I looked at this opportunity as my arrival to the big time and I could not blow it. He viewed it as fun party time and an excuse to hit on women. Eventually, I made it beyond my initial fear and fell into a comfort zone. I was lucky enough that as the year came to a close, I would have the summer months to go home and study up on my on air skills. By the next semester at the radio station, I was more prepared. It also helped that David Kaplan of WGN Radio insisted I reach out to his friends at the NIU Sports Information Department to get on the press list for all athletic events. I did. The second I started dropping Kaplan's name, per his suggestion, people in the athletic department started opening their doors to me. The SID office offered to help me since I came highly recommended by Kap. The football coach, Joe Novak, was the first coach who gave me time. He understood the benefits of allowing me within his circle as it would help bring some good press to his then struggling team. Joe appeared on my show weekly during my entire time at WKDI. Soon after, other coaches and athletes began to learn about me. I began to get to know volleyball players, women's basketball players, and so many others. In fact, one time, I was stunned when a couple individuals stopped me in a bar and offered to buy me drinks because they knew that I was always at their games and I spent plenty of time speaking highly of their sport while I was on the air. As time flew by, Stephen felt it was time for him to depart. At that point, Iva-Marie stepped in as my co-host. After a year of great fun, spectacular guests, and a wonderful ride with Iva-Marie, she went on to pursue other ventures. I then was introduced to Tiffany Frazer who readily became my new co-host. A year went by and it was time for Tiffany to focus on other interests so I was left to try the radio thing as a solo host. Thankfully, friends such as Jorge, Shannon, and Ayrianna happily stepped in whenever I need them. For the most part, I went at it alone. I continued to book local and national personalities. Of course, the all time best moments included having the amazing, Spike O'Dell on the show several times. The other highlight was having the opportunity to befriend then interview my boyhood hero, Chicago Bears hall of fame player, Dan Hampton. Although the show was a sports driven show, I enjoyed the balance Iva-Marie and Tiffany brought to the show. I only wish my interests expanded outside of sports more so I could have booked other guests from other arenas of entertainment. As it is, I eventually started having Alison Keilty on as my movie expert. I would also land musicians and record producers from time-to-time. However, thanks to a friend, I had an opportunity to book William H. Macy and Peter Krouser who at the time were on ABC's Sports Night by Aaron Sorkin, but I passed on the moment. I've always kicked myself for that decision especially considering where my life has taken me since those days. Still, the memories of being on the air, attending press conferences, traveling to various states to cover college teams and even some professional international players, coaches, and musicians are fond memories I carry with me always.

A friend frequently states that after one does the media job for a while, one kind of can not go back to being just another fan. I have to admit that he has a point. As I watch fans and even some friend continue to hero worship current and past coaches and athletes, I find myself shaking my head thinking, if you only knew who these people are away from the cameras, public image, or marketing campaign. I fully understand people feel a need to hold on to hope therefore they embrace the Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, and Tiger Woods of the world, but what happens when the house of cards comes crashing down? What happens when a situation similar to Joe Paterno is exposed? I do not ever feel disappointed or let down by these public figures because I have been around them. I understand that they are the best in the world at their craft, but it does not also mean they are the best human beings in the world. Then again, I do not need them to be. I only ask they entertain me and if I'm in a position to interview them, treat me with respect. Please understand that when I host and report, I am doing a job. I am not there to be an arm in your public relations factory. I did have some problem with that during my reporting years because some individuals thought I was going out of my way to belittle them in order to make a name for myself so they took me aside and scolded me. Other protectors also took me aside and tried to put me in my place. Thankfully, as mentioned before, my friends in radio, newspaper, and television supported me and said I was not out of line. In fact, one coach did say to me that he felt I was tough and would push the limits every so often, but he felt that I was fair. He did not like when I would question him or his players, but he learned to appreciate that I was not doing it to be a jerk. He also said it helped that he would hear me on the air praising him and his players at other times.

To this day, so many coaches, athletes, and media personalities remain my friends. I am so grateful to all of them. I can think of moments when each one gave me advice or took the time to be a guest on my program. There are cases when I listen to a presser and think of how much I want to be there asking follow-ups. A nationally respected columnist once singled me out in a press room to compliment me for asking some unusually tough questions. He appreciated that I did not allow the person to bully me and that I then followed up with even more poignant questions which resulted in honest raw remarks. The columnist said that the only aspect of the exchange he did not like was that he was not the one asking it nor was he courageous enough to stand his ground as I had done. It is one of those moments which stay with me and why I miss being a member of the press. Some days, I wish I was back, but then there are plenty of other days where I am glad I am not. Besides the lasting memories and experiences, I also remember the feeling of attempting to book guests. In fact, in 2006, when my very first theater piece was produced in Chicago, I was interviewed by people from the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and a local TV station. One of the individuals complimented me for what she considered bending over backwards to make her job easier. she said not too many interviewees do as I did. I explained to her that having interviewed people for a living previously, I understand what it is like chasing the interviewee and needing to meet deadlines so if there is ever a chance where I can make her life easier by altering my schedule to fit hers then I would gladly do so.

Reflecting on my years in radio, I would happily do them all over again! Mostly, I miss the times I spent with Stephen, Iva-Marie, and Tiffany entertaining each other and the listeners. I miss the back and forth with guests, coaches, and athletes. I miss the all access passes to said coaches, players, and cheerleaders. The places I was fortunate enough to visit and the opportunities to better understand coaches, players, and other talented people were well worth it. I think to some extent, I can no longer be the kind of fan I use to be. I still root for certain coaches and athletes, but I fully grasp who they are. While I may not be successful at all times, I do my best to compartmentalize the person in the public eye and the person I know him or her to be out of the public eye. In truth, so long as they are not breaking laws or endangering other lives then my concern is that they perform to their highest potential to afford me the experience of witnessing championship level play.

Thank you to every person who ever listened to my shows and to every person who ever took the time to answer my questions. If one day I am afforded the chance, I hope you will be there again. If not, I hope you will be present when I do my best to take you on a journey and in the process hopefully evoke an emotional response through my theater pieces and screenplays or even through my marathons and triathlons!! May the Sunday Munch live on forever!!

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