Saturday, December 6, 2008

Steve Dahl's Influence

I just read in the radio trades that Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl has been let go by CBS radio. He had been heard 5-9 a.m. weekdays on WJMK-FM 104.3 (Jack FM).

Steve Dahl was just starting out in Chicago radio when I was in finishing high school in 1978. Steve Dahl was one of the first "Shock Jocks" that I remember listening too.

Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal writes about Dahl's departure and the departure of other high profile / high paid media personalities in Chicago and around the country. A very interesting and insightful read. Read it here:

UPDATE:
Here is another post by Phil Rosenthal. Read it here:
Here is the link to Steve Dahl's website. www.dahl.com

Personally, I vividly remember driving with with my father somewhere listening to Dahl in the car (my choice not his) . Dahl was detailing a story about the tragic death of a young woman who had died during a love making session with her boyfriend. He went on to say that when the doctors performed the autopsy, they determined that she had choked to death and discovered a foreign substance in her throat (interesting). I remember the story, but don't remember how my father reacted. I was a bit embarrassed and am sure he was too. I was biting my tongue so I would not laugh hysterically. (Hey, what do you want? I was 18 and this was locker room humor at it's best)

Dahl was funny, topical, crude and he certainly new how to relate to a young male audience at the time.

Believe it or not, the car incident with my father in 1978 has helped me formulate some of the on-air philosophies that help guide me today. When targeting young males the content of the show is one thing. When targeting people that have young kids in the car with them, acceptable content is quite different. I suggest to our programmer and jocks on MEGA, an adult 25-54, family oriented station that we should not broadcast any content that would embarrass a parent while listening with their kids.

On the flip side, I also feel that parents have to take responsibility for what is acceptable to listen to as well. A case in point was just this week when I made the mistake of listening to POWER 98.3 in the morning while driving my eleven year old daughter to school. POWER is going through some imaging and programming changes and I wanted to hear what was going on.

The morning show was taking calls from listeners, asking them what happened to their first boy/girlfriend. A girl called in and said her old boyfriend had been in jail for a while and when he came out he was into tattoos and piercings. Today, he is a professional "Pecker Piercer". Funny bit, not appropriate for an eleven year old. Shame on me for listening to POWER with her in the car. Needless to say, I had to explain what a "Pecker Piercer" was. Embarrassing....

Back in my EDGE days, when we carried Howard Stern, I would listen to him in the morning while taking my oldest who at the time was four or five to daycare. One day, I heard a childs voice from the back seat say, "Daddy, that was a bad word"! Oops, that was the last time I listened to Howard with her in the car.

Both girls are probably scarred for life and will remember these incidents 30 years from now just like I remember Steve Dahl with my father...

Dahl could also be funny without being crude. After I moved to Arizona to attend ASU, Dahl gained notoriety for executing one of the best radio promotions I can ever remember. The Disco Demolition at Comisky Park, the former home of the Chicago White Sox. Dahl and the White Sox encouraged listeners to come to a Thursday night double header, bring a disco record and get in for ninety-eight cents. Dahl would blow the disco records up on the field in between the games. The promotion was a success, thousands of listeners turned out with their old disco records. When Dahl blew the records up, fans went crazy, they stormed the field and a small riot ensued. Game two of the double header was canceled. Not a great day for the White Sox organization, but an out of the park home run for Dahl and the radio station. This put Dahl and WLUP on the map.

The Chicago Tribune's Phere:

Also, there is a great entry in Wikipedia detailing what led up to the demolition, the promotion and the aftermath. Read the Wikipedia entry here:

Finally, Steve Dahl's wife Janet writes a blog titled Janet's Planet. In her most recent entry she writes about Steve and his departure from WCKG.

Here is an excerpt from her December 5th, 2008 entry...
It was a rough spot, but it had a happy ending. Many happy endings, really. The Loop, WLS am, WLS fm, The Loop again, AM 1000, WCKG, Jack. Every job had its personal challenges; Steve learned in every slot. He got crazy. He drank. He partied. He became a father. He grew up, grew wise, grew sober. With every year, his show evolved to reflect the man he was. He refused to be a fake personality. He couldn't do pranks. He grew tired of the old parody songs. His goal was to be a constant presence in the lives of his fans-a human being in a box, so to speak. It was his job to be an extended family member, a guy who gets to spin a story, comment on the vagaries of life, or laugh at its absurdity. He could give volume to Everyman's irritations. His financial goal was to get his boys through college- a goal refined by his own entry into radio at 16, armed with a GED and a dream. His determination to provide for his family guided him to CBS. It was acquiring Howard Stern, and Steve would be the afternoon Yang to his Ying. The rest is history. Done.
Janet gives you a rare insight into what it is like to be the wife of a radio personality. Read her entire December 5th post "The years spin by... " here: It is well worth the read.

1 comment:

Jeff Nianick said...

Michael...I read with interest your take on Steve Dahl. I might also remind you that while you were a senior in 1978, you were also station manager at WNTH with yours truly as Program Director, Sports Director, "Voice of the Cowboys" etc. Pretty much, you and I did what we wanted...which included me, having Steve Dahl as a guest on Nightalk. I'll never forget meeting him in the parking lot, and escorting him from his BMW 325...into thr NTH studios. He will tell you, it was his first real "talk show" (other than his own) that he did upon arriving in Chicago. I cant remember much about what he said, or how I did hosting...but I do know that Dahl was an enormous influence to me, as a budding radio guy back then. I listened to him for many many years. His hey day was certainly with Gary Meier...and those 2 broke a lot of new ground. It's kinda sad to see him go. Jeff Nianick