Archive | Q101 RSS for this section

Carla Leonardo

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.


“You can do it. It will be very hard.” Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

(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.

We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: the Cover

Details about its release coming soon!


How I’d fix the WWE

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.

Nick Bockwinkel

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.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper

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.

CM Punk

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?

Alternative Radio in Chicago

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.

In another fascinating twist, Merlin has reacquired Q101’s old WKQX call letters. Robert Feder’s first report on the story appeared here. The latest update came today, and can be read here.

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.”

MD: “Yeah. And we didn’t realize as much as you know that that is true. We didn’t realize how serious that was.”

Brian Sherman: Podcast interview 1/12/12

This week, I catch up with pal and former co-worker Sherman, who’s been off the air since Q101’s format change in July, 2011. We talk about the state of local media, Steve Tingle, podcasting, the Mars Cheese Castle, and more.


RSS info

Jerry Bryant of JBTV: podcast interview

The latest episode of my new podcast is up, featuring an interview with JBTV’s Jerry Bryant. We talked about the show’s beginnings, the show’s future, and an awful lot of topics in-between:


RSS info