As Robert Feder reported, Carla Leonardo died yesterday of acute myeloid leukemia.
When I started my internship at Q101, my 40-hour week was split between working in the Programming department and helping Carla with her local music show (then called “The Local Music Showcase”).
Carla was the best mentor I could’ve asked for; she let me take on as much responsibility as my very-green self could handle. She had no problem with letting me edit her interviews, screen music submissions, and “cart songs up” for air. I felt like I hit the jackpot when she let me help out with in-studio hospitality, and hang out with her as she recorded interviews with some of Chicago’s coolest artists (my mind was blown when I got to sit on the other side of the glass as Chris Connelly sang “What’s Left But Solid Gold”).
She was always supportive of me, and I’ve always felt that support helped me get my first paid job in radio when the Programming Assistant job went vacant in October, 1993. Less than two years after I got that job, she left Q101 to move to the East Coast. Before she left, she encouraged me to try out for her job of hosting the Local Music Showcase. I had no on-air experience, and was totally intimidated. She helped me to get over myself. I think she said something at the time like, “What? Like they’re going to give it to (Steve) Fisher?” (For the record, Steve’s a very talented jock and a friend. Carla’s point was that local music wasn’t Steve’s thing.)
Carla had a knack for cutting through bullshit with a white-hot knife. She also had an appealing cynical streak that was less mean-spirited than it was the result of being too smart for her chosen vocation. I’ll never forget, after a round of firings and jock shufflings at the station, she introduced me to the apocryphal Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Every time things around me go berserk, I think about her smiling as she said those words.
I fell out of touch over the years, but always enjoyed the brief encounters we had since our Q101 overlap. When I interviewed her in 2011 for my oral history book about Q101, it was like we’d never stopped communicating. She wanted to know everything that was going on with me, from what my kids were doing to where my career was going. We talked for a solid hour…and that was the last time we spoke.
I owe an immeasurable amount to Carla, and can’t begin to thank her enough. I miss her dearly, and offer my condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, and fans.
(James VanOsdol’s blog)
I was an invited guest at the annual Chicagoland Library Unconference on Friday. I sat on the keynote panel alongside Joe Born, an old high school friend and successful entrepreneur whose intelligence and skill continue to intimidate me, well into my forties.
The general theme of the panel was the future: the future of media, the future of community, the future of entrepreneurship. I cracked a few jokes while Joe said meaningful things that people scribbled into their notebooks. I even wrote one of his quotes down for future reference — it was a piece of advice about entrepreneurship: 1. You can do it. 2. It will be very hard.
Sure enough, that advice held true for the publication of We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm. Here are a handful of things I learned about self-publishing over the past 17 months:
- There are always unprepared-for hidden costs and expenses: surprises, needs, and changes that my budget could in no way have anticipated.
- When you stop working, the work stops. Each time I took a “sanity day” away from the book, everything came to a halt. The good news about D.I.Y. is that it’s all you! The bad news is that it’s all on you! There were plenty of nights where spending three hours to transcribe a 60-minute interview felt like a voluntary waterboarding. I forced myself to suck it up and power through, however, each and every time. I’m glad I did.
- People still buy paperbacks. Two weeks in, and We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm purchases are about 4:1, paperback to Nook, Kindle, and iBookstore versions combined.
- Formatting a book is a painstaking affair. One thing I learned from my last book is that the task of building the interior pages has to be done by a professional. I recruited a fabulous designer to work on the paperback version of the book, and felt guilty every time I sent a revision back to her. Of course, once the paperback formatting was finished, we had to start building out the e-book versions.
- The Apple iBookstore takes a comparative eternity to approve e-books. Nook and Kindle versions were up within 24 hours of submission; iTunes had their version up after seven long days.
- The post office would rather that you hand-deliver your packages. I got read the riot act for bringing in a round of Kickstarter backer mailings to an otherwise-empty post office. “Do you do this sort of thing a lot?” I was asked. “No, it’s my first time,” I said. “Next time, we’d appreciate a call so that we can prepare for this.” To repeat: the post office was empty.
- Not everyone in the media takes conducting interviews as seriously as I’d like to believe I do. My favorite comments from a recent interview: “I haven’t looked at the book yet,” and “were you ever on the air at Q101?” A visit to the book’s Amazon page would have been more helpful than just “winging” the entire interview.
Another thing I learned, which I already knew, was that working at Q101 was a great and meaningful opportunity. There were times when it was hard to put that into perspective; because, like anyone, I had bad days at the office. We all have those moments — Work sucks. The hours suck. The boss is a jerk. Working on the book reminded me of what a sweet gig I had. I got to work with some very smart, creative, and funny people, and had a stunning amount of freedom to do what I wanted to on the air. Beyond that, I was fortunate to have worked at Q101 during one of the last eras in history when music radio made a cultural impact.
I probably should have put that last paragraph in the book. Oh, well.
I watched a lot of wrestling when I was growing up in the early 1980s. The AWA had a major presence in Chicago, and I have vivid memories of going to wrestling cards at the UIC Pavilion to see stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Nick Bockwinkel (with Bobby Heenan in tow), and the Road Warriors mix it up on a monthly basis.
I never missed All-Star Wrestling (the AWA’s syndicated show), which ran locally on Sunday mornings. I pounded many a Capri Sun with my dumb buddies as we thrilled to the weekly matches, and appreciated the interviewing awkwardness of “Mean” Gene Okerlund.
Around the time my enthusiasm for the AWA was peaking, I became aware of the WWF. They ran a goofy, but not totally ridiculous to my young mind, show on the USA Network called Tuesday Night Titans. Through that show, I became aware of Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, Lou Albano, Adrian Adonis, and Brutus Beefcake. Yes, Brutus Beefcake. The WWF was more over-the-top than the AWA, if that’s even something you can measure in professional wrestling. I didn’t enjoy the WWF nearly as much as I enjoyed the AWA back then, although I did like watching a handful of its main-eventers (Piper, mostly).
Once high school got into full swing, I stopped watching wrestling altogether. In the same breath, I also walked away from comic books. Wrestling and comics are very similar: both feature larger-than-life heroes and villains, and both aggressively chase away girls.
I returned to reading comics a few years later. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen had come out, and even Swamp Thing was getting mainstream press. It was “okay” to dip my toe back into the four-colored water.
Wrestling, however, I continued to avoid. In fact, I started to flat-out hate the “sport” when I was working at Q101 in the late 90s. The “attitude era” of the WWE (formerly WWF) had found its way into the station’s culture, and a handful of colleagues would frequently use WWE catch phrases in meetings, conversations, and memos. JVO 3:16: that’s lame.
A few years back, my son started becoming interested in wrestling. I wouldn’t let him watch the shows, because I remembered hearing about the things that went on during the “attitude era.” That material wasn’t suitable for kids. At all.
Then I learned that the WWE had scaled back the attitude, and all of its broadcasts had been downgraded to “PG.” I let my son watch an episode of Raw with me. Then Smackdown. While it wasn’t necessarily wholesome entertainment, there wasn’t any profanity, or suggested rape or murder. It was safe enough to watch, I reasoned. I credit CM Punk for much of my enthusiasm—the Chicagoan has a smart, smartassy, style that advances everything I loved about Bockwinkel and Piper back in the day. I’ve since become immersed in the WWE storylines (some of which are much flimsier than others), and have accepted the fact that I’m back in the fold.
This brings me to a divergent point, one which I frequently drag out: I hate the notion that entertainment designed for kids has been commandeered by mouthbreathing adults who demand more “grittiness” in their entertainment. Comics have “evolved” to the point where my son can’t read Batman or X-Men, and for a while there, wrestling was off-limits, too.
The WWE is entertaining, but I feel like there’s a lot that needs fixing. With the clarity (and perhaps naiveté) of fresh eyes, here are some thoughts on how to improve the WWE:
Less is more. There are just way too many “superstars” bouncing around the system, making it difficult to focus on the ones who should really matter. This audience needs less R. Truth and Brodus Clay, and more Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes.
Pushing stars that will never happen. Continuing that train of thought, the WWE seems really vested in flimsy one-trick ponies. Remember in Mean Girls when Gretchen tried to force the catchphrase “That’s so fetch?” That’s the way I feel when I see Santino marching around with a title belt.
Tag teams. The tag team pool is completely shallow. Epico and Primo? The Usos? Tag team matches are almost as uninteresting as …
Diva matches. I “get” that young boys like pretty girls, but diva matches are pandering beyond what is necessary. I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoying them, let alone not fast forwarding through them when they’re watching a DVR’d episode.
General Managers. Since I started watching again, one of the big subplots has involved the General Managers of Raw and Smackdown. File under “who cares,” and move on.
Heel turns. I remember them coming more frequently when I was younger. One of the problems with the concept in the present day is that there are too many anti-heroes to make the concept totally work. The Big Show’s move to the dark side was a welcome one; his character was an absolute stiff up until that point.
Let the wrestlers wrestle. I remember the days of long submission holds and marathon matches. You believed that the grapplers in the ring were wrestling. Let’s see less ADD-motivated contests.
Pay-per-view. The PPV events are completely cost-prohibitive. Price the non-Wrestlemania events at less than $20, and then I’ll consider them.
Matches are too predictable. The back and forth seesaw give-and-take, resulting in a rapid turnaround/surprise comeback, then immediate pinfall, is by-the-numbers, no matter who’s wrestling. The only recent exception I can recall was the 18-second title match between Sheamus and Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania. Moments like that keep things interesting, and create a sense that you never know what to expect.
Commentators. Outside of Jerry Lawler, I don’t think much of any of the commentators. Booker T. sounds foolish, and the “broadcast voiced” Michael Cole and Josh Matthews are too distracting. I don’t know what the solution is, but the problem is sure annoying.
Finally, is Lord Tensai supposed to be Asian? Really?
Last July, “alternative” radio station Q101 disappeared from the airwaves after the station was sold to then-new media company Merlin Media.
Since then, an impossible-to-predict series of events has come together.
For one, I decided to write a freaking book about the station.
Around the same time the station was being handed to Merlin, Q101′s name and history were purchased by a pair of entrepreneurial partners, Matt DuBiel and Mike Noonan. The pair worked to position Q101 as a digital-only property, and have spent a considerable amount of cash and energy to reinvigorate the brand and re-engage the audience. Along those lines, they’re currently trying to crowdfund a next-gen “Jamboree” event via Kickstarter.
Fast forward to last week: news broke that alternative radio was being brought back to the Chicago dial by … Merlin Media.
The big question is whether or not Merlin will make a move to buy back Q101′s name and assets, or if it will launch a station without the nineteen years of history (baggage?) that come with Q101.
With that and other questions swirling about, I asked Matt DuBiel to be my guest on next week’s show. We recorded the interview on Thursday, so by the time it hits the Steve Dahl Network on Wednesday, there will likely be a flood of new information available. Regardless of timing, the interview’s plenty interesting– maybe a little too “inside baseball,” but interesting nonetheless.
JVO: “At the time you decided, ‘we want these digital assets, we want the name Q101,’ you were aware that the station was kind of damaged goods at that point. Musically, reputation-wise, image, the station had been f***** with, prodded, tweaked, and pulled in a million different directions. You were buying a … problematic heritage.”
Oy. Somehow this became a *thing*. It’s not. I pretaped a handful of song intro/outros for the Loop to run during a one-time-only, three hour, show that will air during their 90s weekend. Why? The station thought it would make sense to acknowledge Q101′s role in the 90s landscape in Chicago.
This isn’t an experiment or anything more than what it appears to be on the surface. It’s a way for the station to generate some interest during a listening period when ratings are owned by other stations playing holiday music. That’s it.
There’s nothing to see here. Move along.
I swear I’m done with radio, and have no plans to return in a part- or full-time capacity again. I am, however, open to the idea of popping on the air every now and then, just for fun.
This Saturday night, I’ll be doing just that. The Loop is focusing on the 90s all weekend, and wanted to address Q101′s demise in some way. They asked me to host three hours of “alty” hits, and share memories about the artists I’ll be playing. If nothing else, it’ll be a curious distraction from Led Zeppelin and Rush for the station.
Everything’s been prerecorded (taken care of on my lunchbreak today, in fact), but hopefully it will still have that awkward “live” feel you’ve come to love over the years.
When I launched my Q101 oral history book project on Kickstarter, I scrambled to come up with a working title. I settled on Smells Like Rock Radio, a title I never liked at all, knowing full well that I’d have to come up with something better down the road.
I’d always assumed that the right title would come to me and that I shouldn’t force it. That’s exactly what happened when Sludge recounted the following story from Jamboree ’99 for the book:
Offspring was the second-to-last band; the Chili Peppers were the headliners. In the Offspring’s last song, Dexter (Holland) told everybody to start throwing garbage–at them, even–up on the stage … whatever you have, start throwing garbage up here. (There were) 30,000 people throwing tons of everything around them, on to the stage.
I actually remember laying on a couch in the side green room. There were no other Q101 D.J.s around; I was alone in the room. Somebody ran in from the Tweeter Center and was like, “Somebody’s gotta get out there–you’ve gotta stop this, or the show’s going to end right now.” I was kind of dazed–it was one of those Jamboree days which were like 15-20 hour days–I was like, ”What are you talking about?” I look out the window to the stage, and all I see is garbage being thrown up–I didn’t know what was going on exactly. So I run down to the side of the stage with this guy, the Offspring gets done and walks off, and the garbage keeps coming. He goes, “You’ve gotta go out there and tell them to stop.”
I don’t know why I didn’t fear it at the time, so I walked right out to the mic into the garbage rain and said, “We appreciate your enthusiasm.” I should have stopped right there and walked off, looking back on it, because maybe the garbage would have stopped then. Instead, my next statement was, ”If you don’t stop throwing garbage, the Chili Peppers won’t be able to come on.” That’s when a new amount of tonnage of garbage came at me. That’s just like daring people to throw more, and that’s exactly what everybody did. It went on for another ten minutes, (and I) got hit with garbage, objects, and water bottles. Somebody even got a garbage can on to the stage, a full garbage can rolled up and made it up to the stage. I laughed about it, of course, to try and bond with (the fans), but that was the dumbest thing ever to say after “we appreciate your enthusiasm.”
In the days, months, and years that followed Jamboree ’99, it always made me laugh when I thought about “We appreciate your enthusiasm.” It was a perfectly dry response to the shitstorm of refuse that was raining down on the pavilion and stage.
I like books whose titles are provocative but not obvious, especially when the title refers to content within the book itself. With that in mind, I’ve officially and, yes, enthusiastically titled my book We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: The Oral History of Chicago’s Q101. Special thanks to Sludge for (unknowingly at the time) coming up with the perfect title for this project.
Work on my next book has kept me busy around the clock. Here’s what I sent to Kickstarter backers last week:
<<Hey, and good morning …
I listened to Midnight Oil for my first time in years on my way in to work this morning. A lot of their output sounds awkwardly dated at this point, but damn it all if “The Dead Heart” isn’t an incredible song.
That aside, I wanted to let you know how things are moving forward with the Q101 book you so generously backed.
As it stands, I’ll be deep in the interview process for the next four months or so. I have a total of over 100 people to talk to in order to properly write this book, and have been averaging about five interviews a week since the beginning of August. Surveying my spreadsheet this morning, I still have dozens of interviewees to contact, and dozens more
to slot into an interview time. This is not a quick process.
My current schedule has me trying to conduct interviews every weekday – one during my lunch break at work, and another after the kids go to bed at night. Simply put, whenever I have free time.
The interviews I’ve done thus far with former disc jockeys, talent, Program Directors, and General Managers have been eye-opening, candid, and hilarious. I think you’re going to really enjoy the finished product.
In case you missed it last week, Time Out Chicago ran a cover story feature of a “book preview” I wrote for them. You can read it online here:
On the “rewards” front, with the exception of two backers who’ve yet to respond, I’ve sent out all the rewards that I could mail prior the book’s publication. The remaining rewards are specific to the final release.
If you’re an essay-writing backer, I’ll likely reach out to you towards the new year with guidelines and deadlines.
Thanks again for your support and enthusiasm. Hope you have a great weekend!>>
As work continues, I’ll make a concentrated effort to continue plugging new thoughts and observations into this blog. For now, all I can offer is a Mekons song that got stuck in my head over lunch:
It’s official! My next book will be a massive one, and I have the generosity of strangers to thank.
The pledge window just closed, and Smells Like Rock Radio has been officially, successfully, funded. In this (choose one: terrifying/frightening/distressing) economy, I’m grateful for your generosity and willingness to be part of the
The process could take 12 months. It could take 24. All I can promise today is that I won’t rush things or cut corners. I want this book to be great, and I’m going to take the appropriate amount of time to ensure that it will be.
So that you don’t get bored along the way, I’ll post updates here and to my blog (jamesvanosdol.com). I’ll probably ask for feedback and advice throughout the process, too. Here’s my first feedback request: Smells Like Rock Radio was a working title I hastily created so that I could put a name on this project. If you have a better idea or recommendation, I’d love to hear it: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m headed off to bed. I’m going to need as much rest as I can get so that I can prepare for the work ahead!
I’m very excited to write this book for you. Thanks again for making it a reality.
July 22, 2011
I was in Minneapolis last week to attend Conclave, an annual radio convention. I can hear your snarky comments from here. Stop. It.
Because I was out of town, I missed the chance to hang out in the studio with old friends and colleagues as the final curtain was drawn on the station. I streamed the day’s broadcast in my hotel room, and found it well near impossible to tear myself away from it. Quick lesson from that particular experience: radio still has the ability to be compelling and exciting, even if many who run radio tend to squander that ability.
Taking nothing for granted, I felt very lucky and honored to have been part of the final day’s activity. I appeared on the air via phone with Tim Virgin in the 4 p.m. hour, and with Chris Payne in the 11 p.m. hour, just as the doomsday clock started to tick out the minutes at a deafening level.
There was an air of celebration when I called in. A range of employees past and present were hanging out in the studio to show their support as the station raced toward its foretold end. Their presence created a palpable sense of shared purpose and community that, admittedly, wasn’t always easy to find behind-the-scenes at Q101 — even in its most prosperous years. Another quick lesson: we all could benefit from more positive, community-building, efforts in our lives that aren’t the result of shared tragedy or bad experience.
There were many days when I loved everything about working at Q101. There were also plenty of times I was disgusted with the station or its management (that’s why they call it “going to work,” and not “going to fun”). The good always outweighed the bad, however, and the impact the station has had on my career cannot be measured.
Speaking of my career…
Quick stats about me and Q101
Hired as an intern: June, 1993
Hired as Programming Assistant: November, 1993
Producer, Sound Opinions: 1994
First part-time on-air gig: “The Local Music Showcase” (later “Local 101″), 1995
First full-time on-air gig: Morning show news anchor, 1996 (Brooke Hunter was the host)
Hired as first official station webmaster: 1996 (I had no actual webmaster skills)
First full-time DJ gig: Evening host, 1997
Hired as Assistant Music Director: 1999
Quit: December, 2000
Rehired: January, 2006 (to host overnights)
Hired to host the poorly-named “Summer of Shuffle” temporary morning show: July, 2006
Fired: April, 2007. I call bullshit on that.
Rehired: August, 2009
Quit: June, 2011
Q101 wiped from the dial: July, 2011
WGN was gracious enough to invite me into their studio today to talk about Q101 and my Kickstarter efforts to publish the station’s oral history.
Dean Richards is one of my favorite guys in local media, so it was a pleasure and thrill to hang out for him for five minutes of prime time.
(12/23/11): The video is no longer on the WGN website. This, however, is: