What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Part One: The Road To Radio
By Mike Tomano
© 2019 Fossil Entertainment Group
This September will mark my 27th year as a radio personality. Almost three decades of opening a mic and expressing myself, telling the stories of my life, writing and performing my original comedy material and serving up music with passion. Each day is a blessing, as I am afforded the opportunity to live out a dream. Albeit, there have been many ups-and-downs. Incredible ups and devastating downs, to be sure. So, here it is. My recollection of this wild career, thus far.
Our story begins in 1977...on the South Side of Chicago. Back in the U.S.A. Back in the bad old days. In heat of a summer niiiiiight...
A 10 year-old Italian/Scotch-Irish boy attending 6th grade at St. Jane de Chantal School's love of Rock & Roll and Comedy is growing from interest to obsession. My friends and I were part of The KISS Army. The anarchy of Saturday Night Live's Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players was speaking to our mischievous senses of humor. We stayed up late to catch AC/DC and Alice Cooper on The Midnight Special and Don Kirchner's Rock Concert. WTTW, Channel 11, in Chicago aired Monty Python's Flying Circus on Sunday nights, uncensored and replete with naked women. Catchin' George Carlin on The Tonight Show. Listening' to Richard Pryor and Cheech & Chong records with headphones on so Mom and Dad can't hear 'em.
Chicago radio in the 70s was a reflection of rebellious youth nature. The LOOP FM 98
and WMET 95 1/2 FM "The Mighty Met"
battled it out for rocker allegiance. WXRT, Chicago's Finest Rock, 93.1 FM, had a line-up of masterful musicologists such as Bobby Skafish and Johnny Mars carefully selecting a blend of rock, blues, folk and the burgeoning New Wave music to up their listeners cool-level daily.
In the winter of 1978, word around school spread about a new show on WDAI. "Steve Dahl's Rude Awakening" was hosted by a very strange young dude and his cast of wild characters. Walking to school, we'd imitate the characters we heard over breakfast or sing the weird song parodies that Dahl performed. He was unlike anything we'd heard before.
WDAI would change format and fire Dahl in less than a year and he would soon team up with Garry Meier on The Loop...the radio landscape would forever change, not only in Chicago, but nationwide. The duo would attack sacred cows, push the boundaries of good taste and embody a hard-rock approach to comedy that would pave the way for Howard Stern and countless other radio acts across the country. Their Disco Demolition promotion at Comiskey Park would go down as the most infamous "radio stunt" in history.
From grammar through high school, I would get-up early or rush home (after they'd moved to afternoon drive on WLS) and tape their show to cassette. When the show wasn't on the air, I would listen to the tapes and absorb the attitude and humor style of their programs.
Around the same time, Robert Murphy hosted mornings at WKQX 101.1. His suave delivery belied his naughty nature. His crew was polished; delivering news, weather and sports between Adult Contemporary songs and outrageous sketch humor, lifestyle chatter and funny phone bits.
I loved the fearlessness of Steve & Garry, the confidence of Murphy and the ultra-cool free-form music presentation of XRT's Bobby Skafish and Johnny Mars.
I was also inspired by the charming and goofy Fred Winston on WFYR, the classy Roy Leonard on WGN whose interviews with show-biz folk were captivating, and Herb Kent The Cool Gent on WXFM, who was as smooth as it gets, talkin' hip and spinnin' the finest of funk, punk, soul and R & B.
I was obsessed with radio jocks. I taped their shows, studied their personalities and delivery. Each nuance was placed under my mental microscope. I would buy Billboard magazine and check out the Vox Jox column, with updates on the top jocks of the nation.
I daydreamed of hosting my own radio show. I wanted to create a show that mixed irreverent humor, honesty and passion. Early on, I envisioned a blend of humor and music. I loved making people laugh and I loved music. I would record "shows" on my portable Panasonic in my bedroom, delivering jokes I wrote, introducing records and interviewing friends. I would listen back and make notes...did I mumble when I intro'd the Flock of Seagulls record? Did I pause for just the right amount of time between set-up and punch-line of my joke? How would Dahl do it? What would Murph sound like if he did it? What kind of questions would Roy Leonard ask my friend Marty about his job waxing floors at Midwest Department Store on Archer Avenue?
I decided being a radio personality would be my life's professional pursuit. After all, I was already qualified: The Class Clown with an awesome record collection.
At St. Rita High School in the early 80s, I hosted a lunch-time show on "The SBS" (Student Broadcast System), broadcasting killer tunes and delivering announcements to study hall and the lunchroom.
"Hey, okay...this is Tomanz on The St. Rita High School Student Broadcast System. That was Judas Priest and Hell Bent For Leather. Intramural boxing begins next Monday, sign up is in front of the office. Tickets for the Homecoming Concert starring Rick Derringer are on sale now at the library and they are going fast. A mass in Latin will be held tomorrow morning at 7:15 in East Chapel. Anyone who missed last Saturday's Justice Under God detention are required to attend. Tomorrow's lunch special is chili mac. Here's Bachman Turner Overdrive on The SBS!"
COMING SOON...PART TWO: PLEASED TO MEET ME