Let’s jump in the DeLorean and travel back in time for this week’s column. Specifically, we’re going to the summer of 2004 during my internship with 105.9 WCKG radio in Chicago.
I hustled my tail off to secure an internship with the “Kevin Matthews Show.” Growing up in Elm Wood Park and then Oak Park (both suburbs of Chicago) having the radio on in our house was a staple. I was also a long-time fan of Kevin Matthews, who by all accounts was a Chicago radio legend and icon.
Imagine my dismay when just before I returned home that summer (from college at St. Ambrose), I received an email notifying me that Kevin had abruptly left the radio station. I would later come to find out the company that owned the station was trying to give him a massive pay cut and attempted to get him to sign a bad deal (which would come full circle and be the main reason why I left B100 in July of 2012). I was told that a guy named Pete McMurray (who I am still good friends with today) would be taking over the timeslot and that is who I would be interning for.
17 years later, I can still recall my first day as an intern. I started the morning by catching a Blue Line train from Oak Park into downtown and walking a few blocks to the Prudential Plaza (where the radio station was located). My first day as an intern was spent sitting in an office typing the show log. Basically, anything of value or that got a laugh, and live sponsor commercials, were typed into a document and saved.
That day was also the last for the head intern. I cannot remember his name, but I’ll never forget what he told me. “There are some people in this office that you do not make eye contact with.” While that was good to know it also took me by complete surprise because Pete, the host of the show I was working with, was a super nice, warm guy.
On my second day as an intern, I became the head intern as the previous group cycled out. I was standing at the printer gathering materials for the show when then WCKG Program Director Jeff Schwartz yelled from his office, “Hey you, big kid, get in here!”
I hurried into his massive office overlooking downtown Chicago filled with memorabilia from a lifetime in radio. “Take a seat kid–what’s your story?”
I didn’t have much to say, and Jeff could tell, so he stood up, walked around the desk, and sat down on it, asking “Do you think I’m a jerk?”
“No sir. I was just told not to make eye contact with certain people in this office.”
Jeff let out a belly laugh, slapped his knee, and said “Son, in this business the worst thing that can happen is an unchecked ego. You have to stay humble regardless of how successful you are.”
I carried that lesson with me during my nearly 12-year career in radio. While I never ascended to the heights of Chicago or New York radio, I always did my best to make sure I never had an ego.
Oh, and for the record, that intern who gave me the warning about the eye contact, wasn’t totally wrong. There was one personality on that station that was completely rude to interns. But that’s for another column.