Patrick Riley and Kimmy

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Patrick Riley's Misadventure as a teenager at a Chicago Radio Station


My friend Bob Tobin contacted me a week ago. The contact was a welcomed surprise. Bob and I have been friends for years and to give you an idea how long this friendship has been I will share an incident that almost caused me to be fired because of Bob...the day he and I ended up on WLS AM 890 on-air. When Bob reestablished contact last week we shared some stories from the past. Bob and I have worked at the same radio stations before and have actually moved to different cities where we were against each other competing on other stations in the Morning Drive host role. One of the stories I forgot to mention when Bob and I were recalling things last week...was the story of how he almost got me fired after we ended up on the air on WLS. Bob told me he had told his kids stories of he and I...I wonder if he shared this one. First of all, for those who are not familar with 890 AM WLS...it is a 50,0000 watt clear-channel (not the company) station in Chicago that blankets the middle part of the United States with it's powerful signal and at night covers even further. Because of the legendary personalities on WLS, it was one of the influences (there were a couple of local ones too) on me to go down the career path I chose. Legends like Larry Lujack, John Records Landecker, Tommy Edwards, Fred Winston, Jeff Davis, Yvonne Daniels. Because where I grew up as a child...rural USA...my nearest neighbor being miles away the radio was a friend...a window to the outside world. I was such the geek/nerd that I won a couple of times in on-air contest on WLS (not an easy thing to do considering I was living 130 miles from there at the time)...ie listen for the touch tone and be the 15th caller (these were my first times on the air on WLS...a few seconds...but it was like hitting the lottery to a kid craving attention...only thing coming close to topping it was being named Creep of The Week a couple of times on TV's Acri Creature Feature for art I submitted...but that is another story for another time LOL). The reason for my bringing up some of this history is to explain WLS was a major influence on me...something I regarded as special and on one date in time...my good friend Bob would cause all of that to spin around and almost bite me in the butt...get me fired from the career I had chosen because of WLS.



The year...1985. See, I told you Bob and I go way back. I remember the date...will never forget it...Monday, April 15, 1985. It started a week before that, when a former colleague of Robert's and mine had contacted us and asked if we wanted "media passes" to an upcoming Chicago Cubs game. The former colleague had worked with us at WJBC/WBNQ radio stations about two hours away from Chicago...this colleague had left a few months before to work at WGN as Producer for talk show host Eddie Schwartz. Bob told him we wanted the passes...there were three passes waiting for us. So on an early Monday morning just after I had finished working Midnight to Sunrise on-air...Bob, a college friend of his (referred here as BM...name changed to protect the innocent) all packed into Bob's Chevy Citation and headed to Chicago. It was a cold day where we left from and we knew it would be even colder in Chicago, hence the nickname, The Windy City...so Bob and I are wearing jackets. At this time...in the 80s...satin jackets...baseball style were not uncommon for radio nerds to be wearing and I was no exception to being the radio nerd/geek and was wearing my black satin radio DJ jacket (I was a geek...and can prove it...I photos of me in that thing that have survived many moves). Had I known what was in store for me later in the day...I would not have worn that jacket. Driving into Chicago we are listening to Larry Lujack on WLS...I tried to take a nap (for I had worked the overnight shift on-air) but couldn't with Bob being hyper and gabbing a mile a minute and with the radio playing....plus the Citation was a tad cramped in the back (another story for another time...the 36 hour round trip to and from Tennessee to Illinois...500 miles one way...I slept in that back seat on one of those trips). The game was the Phillies facing the Cubbies....and all I remember...we were sitting in a WGN section and no more than twenty feet a way was the play by play booth with Harry Caray calling the game. I must point out...I was not twenty-one years old yet and it was agreed upon upfront I would be the designated driver back home. Bob and BM had a good time...so much so...that Bob decided to buy Harry Caray a beer. Bob...is the leprechaun and has a charm about him that with a wink of the eye his Irish magic envelopes a person...and what most people would get in trouble with...he manages not to offend and cause those around him to laugh and have a good time. He oozes positive energy. Bob talked his way past security and Harry was in a commercial break. I stood behind Bob in disbelief as he shook hands with Harry and offered him a beer. Harry declined...showing him the chilled case of beer he had in reserve...LOL. Returning to our nearby seats we watched the Cubs defeat the Phillies 2-1. Leaving the park and entering the Citation is when the course to the iceberg begins and the band playing "Nearer My God to Thee".  Bob turns on the radio and WLS is where we left it and the highly popular Steve Dahl and Garry Meier show is on. Bob turns to me and asks if I know where WLS is located and I told him yes, "360 North Michigan Avenue...the Stone Container Building"...he asks if I can find it...and I said I can, which caused him to scream like a teen-age girl seeing The Beatles...he screams at the top of his longs "WE'RE GOING TO WLS!" and then howls like the Wolf Man from the old Lon Chaney Jr films. That should have been a warning sign to me...but it wasn't and off we went...it is getting close to peak drivetime in the City.



Our next stop is WLS. In the Stone Container building we go up the elevator to the fifth floor where some of my childhood idols had broadcast from and it causes me to realize they had ridden this same elevator...that was a cool mind trip. We arrive to the lobby, where about twenty people are standing in front of a large glass window. Bob is talking non stop and schmoozes his way to the front of the glass. It is the five o'clock hour and a newscast is started. Garry steps away from his microphone and leaves the studio for a moment...returning he sees the leprechaun next to me and then looks at my jacket. He points to the radio station logo and mouths "are you from there" I nod yes and Gary goes over to Steve while a commercial is airing (we can hear the on-air feed over a speaker in the lobby). Steve turns an intercom on and asks "Do you work there?" and Bob blurts out to a microphone that dangles from the ceiling a few feet above our heads "Yes...he works on the FM and I work on the AM" Steve smiles and I see Garry laugh. "Stay right there.,.,.don't go anywhere." After hearing Steve say that Bob is now bouncing up and down like a little kid in a candy shop. Dread is starting to come over me. I notice the people that had been around us...had backed themselves away...like they had a premonition the train wreck was going to happen, yet they wanted to see the carnage. Several more commercials play and I am wanting to leave...but Bob and BM (who is standing behind us) want to stay. If I had driven my car there...I would have made them go and if that failed left them...but it was Bob's car, so by default he was Captain Kirk and I was Sulu/Checkov. Immediately coming out of the commercial break Steve and Gary begin talking about the city Bob and I are from. Things seem nice at first...but the trap door opened and the noose was around "my" neck...as Steve asks if we work at WBNQ-FM radio station. Bob says I do and he works on the AM sister station across the hall (WJBC). Steve and Gary didn't care about Bob working on the AM station. Steve or Gary asks something about the station I work at and Bob pulls out of his wallet a plastic card that had WBNQ's logo on one side and serial number on the back (thing resembles a credit card and was given out to listeners as a promotional tool/marketing gimmick). Bob tells Steve and Gary he will give them his card and that way they can get all kinds of discounts the next time they are in our town. Steve then asks if Mike Justin is still the program director of WBNQ and I say yes, which causes Steve and Gary to ask if Mike is my boss and I respond yes causing them to laugh and Bob to burst out in laughter with them. Then, in horror I get to listen for close to a half hour as Steve and Gary blast the radio station I am at and my Program Director Mike Justin. This is not a good thing...especially when one of them asks if Mike has a glass eye (which he did) and what is it like working for the Cyclops...how can you look at him with that one eye floating around and then one or both start imitating my Program Director.  The bashing continues till they go into some more put downs of my Program Director and Bob jumps in and adds, "Patrick was saying the same things about Mike Justin this morning on the way to the Cubs game!" Without thinking about a "hot" microphone I blurt out a few colorful metaphors that hang over Lake Michigan for a spell. Bob and I didn't realize that the 5/7 second delay system was on...so my colorful response to Bob was not heard over the air which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time...for it sounded like I was in agreement with Bob...for the last thing heard was Bob stating on-air that I had been saying the same things about Mike that day (Bob was joking...but only he and I knew the truth). With the delay/dump being used...Steve and Gary went into a commercial break and with laughter said thank you to us over the intercom. We had been used and now like court jesters were being dismissed by the broadcast royalty. It was a long ride down that elevator and I felt like I was in a scene from the movie "A Face in the Crowd" with the dropping of the elevator. Boband BM were laughing and having a good time. They couldn't understand how I had lost my appetite and didn't want to go to White Castle for sliders. Leaving White Castle...the two hour drive home felt like twenty hours. Bob and BM try to reassure me no one we know heard the WLS broadcast...that Mike Justin wouldn't know. I told them they were nuts....that Mike Justin was going to fire me.  Bob dropped me off at home and I saw my phone machine was blinking rapidly...rewinding the tape in the machine took forever. First call came from a person in a nearby market (Peoria) who worked at KZ-93...I had known this person for years. He's laughing and says he caught the "show" on WLS and he bets I get canned. Another call from the morning team at my station laughing and saying to watch out for Mike Justin...he had heard it too. Another call from the midday person at my station telling me to stay away...to avoid Mike Justin. There were at least 25 calls from people...most friends in the industry that had heard it. The final beep sounding on the machine revealed the last message to be from Mike Justin. His message states he wants to see me first thing tomorrow morning in his office. I am surprised there was no profanity...no threats...just his usual cold tone on the machine. The passage of time was torturous for that evening...and feeling doomed I drove to the radio station that next morning. Getting out of my car I noticed in the parking lot some coworkers didn't seem to be too friendly and entering the lobby I watched some people turn away when they saw me. Walking down the steps to the lower level of the building to Mike Justin's office I felt like I was walking to a dungeon or better yet my execution. Mike Justin's office door was open and he was there waiting for me. Once I entered his office he closed the door, the room reeked of stale cigarette smoke causing my eyes to wince and me to fight back from coughing. I thought this would be fast...a quick lowering of the axe, but he tells me to have a seat...I was certain this was it. He shocked me by asking if I wanted to pick up extra hours. This seemed insane to me and yet, when I said, "Yes" he was civil and explained some projects he wanted to me to do. The insanity continues, he tells me he is giving me a pay raise too. At the end of this discussion he smiled and told me he heard the "show" on WLS yesterday and before I could respond he laughs and tells me if they want to waste precious airtime and talk about him for thirty minutes on a 50,000 watt blow-torch in market number three that was okay with him! He then told me why they hated him...what the issues were. So, to make a long story short...it all turned out well. I had a great day at Wrigley...was at WLS...and was on WLS....and didn't get fired...got a pay rise and added another chapter in the adventures with Bob (there were many). What is funny...I thought Mike Justin would fire me...and so did many others...he didn't...he was flattered Steve and Gary had talked about him.