Interview: The Cow Is Now
By Karl Klockars in Miscellaneous on Apr 17, 2007 6:00PM
When you call Mancow, even his voicemail message is intense. "You've reached the peaceful warrior, Mancow...." Yep, for real.
Chicagoist has been listening to the Cow off and on for years, going back to the days of chewing out "the suits" for everything and hour-long conversations about black helicopters and government conspiracy. Hell, for some of us, Mancow was what we were listening to when 9/11 happened.
Even going back to his days on The Blaze (remember when there was more Megadeth than Maroon 5 on 103.5?) we've followed his career — to the point of calling those poor Rock 103.5 producers when we found out he was moving to Q101. You traitor! Abandoning the true rock and roll for that alternative crap!
In any event, you may have heard that Mancow got the boot from Q101 last year, and despite what you may think about the "peaceful warrior," there's no doubt about the impact he's had on Chicago radio. More on the suits, satanists, responsible radio, a return to the Chicago airwaves, and on being Scarlett O'Hara — after the jump.
Hear, now, hear, now, here, now...
Chicagoist: It's been about nine months since your show went off the air in Chicago—
Mancow: Has it been that long? Wow.
C: What was it like that first day off the air knowing that no one was listening in your home city?
M: You know, it was quite freeing actually. Look, I have family in Chicago, a wife and kids, so to know that no one that I was going to run into was going to hear the show was kind of freeing. It's not like I'm going to walk into a restaurant and someone is there that I said something bad about ... there's a real freedom to not being ... there's a freedom to not worrying about going home that day and talking about an intimate detail in in my life....
It's a lot more fun to do a show where the in-laws can't hear me. You know, they're Italian, straight off the boat, still speak Italian — and we took them to "Tony and Tina's Wedding" and they didn't know it was fake. It was like "Erich, how do you know these people?" They have a hard time grasping ... they understand radio of course. I mean, there's a real freedom.
C: Is there a difference between the Mancow persona on the air, and Erich Muller off the air?
M: Mancow and Erich are always doing battle. It's like Superman III. It's like Spider-Man 3 that's coming out. It's like every third movie in a series has people fighting themselves. I'm the father and husband vs. the person that has to spend a great deal of time working on the radio show. Mancow is the real me, but the heightened version of me. I'm really not quite as brave in real life.
C: Tell me about the reaction of your fans when you went off the air in Chicago.
M: Listen, the fact is my final ratings book was up 40 percent. Now, the old station['s ratings are] down 97 percent. People in sales over there ... listen, someone from Budweiser sent me out some internal documents, which basically said that the morning show is what's called "added value." That's like, [advertising] on the internet, or a mention at a concert. Our ratings are huge.
With me, there's a 6th sense, a gut feeling that I get when a show is hitting. If you put me in any show in any station and within 5 minutes I can tell you if a show is working. You can feel it. We're at a real crossroads here in this country — I was talking about bigger issues and the audience was really responding. But I was getting lots of static from middle management — he [Mancow's old PD] just got fired by the way, the old program director was a station killer. They would always tell me, "talk about Pete Yorn" or some no-name alternative artist — which [as a format] is dead, by the way. You know, "why aren't you talking about this crappy artist?"
I really felt that for the first time, there was an overwhelming amount of love. When the corporation pulled the show there was a huge outpouring. When I walk around the city, it's not like it used to be. It is as though an old friend has gone missing. Whereas the show used to be divisive, it really has started to move towards the love, not to be too romantic. It's nothing but love. Early on in the show i didn't care if you loved me or hated me, as long as you listened. I still don't care, but love is a better emotion to feel coming at you. Also, I think it was one of heartbreak.
C: You popped up for a few days on WLS around Thanksgiving — how did that come about?
M: First of all, what ABC [Radio and WLS] did — it goes down to when I was doing urban radio. I created the "Wild" format and it was my baby — and i came up with the name "Wild," but it's been quite a successful formula. It's really hard for me to imagine. When things broke with Emmis [who owns Q101] — and they're trying to crash their company so they can buy it back, which is quite crazy. And actually really evil.
Well, out of courtesy, the people [at WLS] said, "Do you need a place to work until you find a place?" And I said, "Yeah, I really do." I was kicked out [of Q101] like a thief in the night. So they gave me a place. And they said, "We have a few fill-in positions, would you be interested?" I wasn't able to do all that they wanted me to do at WLS, but I did alter my vacation quite a bit to accommodate them. It really was exciting. I mean, just those call letters. I don't know how much you know about radio, but I'm a radio geek and it was really exciting. They continue to be very gracious to me.
C: People in management must know that you have a built-in fan base in Chicago. How often do you get asked to come back to Chicago radio?
M: Approached? Every week someone makes a run at me. What people don't understand is that I can be on [in Chicago] tomorrow. But it's gotta be right. The FM world in which I exist is a really an impossible landscape to be creative. FM middle-management types are failed radio people. And they're now owned by people who bought them as real estate. That's why 99% of radio you hear is awful. FM radio is managed by failures. It's an amazing thing. The guy that destroyed [my] old station will get a job somewhere, and he should never work again.
When people are put in charge of creatives, and it may be unbeknownst to them, non-creative people have a resentment and hatred that grows. As evil cannot understand innocent, a dullard cannot understand creative types.
They say to me, "We're gonna pay you a bunch of money and you're going to be a shock jock." No. "Hip-hop [radio] is the future." No, it isn't. I have one more shot in Chicago. I want to be on for another 5, 6, 10 years tops, and then I 'm done. I don't want to be a Steve Dahl type, who is really sad. He's just surrounded by himself. It's like singing opera — it's all "me me me me me me." He's lost it. It's like watching a dalmatian who's been retired, who hears the fire bell, runs to the fire and no one wants him there.
I won't be some pathetic old guy tossed on an oldies station. I've battled too many dogs. I mean, when you have to pull a whole station — every station I've been on not only was I the quarterback, I was the team. And it's an incredible amount of pressure. And it's bizarre.
When you're the only guy ... it's like being Scarlett O'Hara. Everyone hated her. [My show has the] big guests, big money, big everything! My world is large. Big time. Big big big! And here are these guys [other jocks] playing 8 crappy songs an hour afterwards and they hate me. They all want to be stars and do morning shows, and I hated driving to work. So I'm not going to do that again.
C: Does this mean you're not going to end up on WCKG any time soon?
M: I was called upon to replace Stern in every market but New York — and I did not want New York . They told me about David Lee Roth [doing talk radio] in New York, and I thought it was stupid. I could have saved 'CKG, but it's very frustrating. Instead [at WCKG] you have an hour of Jim Cramer, an hour of Penn Jillette, the satanist magician. Take satellite — that failed. It goes on and on. The breadth of their ignorance — CKG could have been a monster. But they couldn't get out of the way of their own ego.
C: I see a lot of kids taking radio classes and still want to be DJs and spin records. Is there any hope for that format in the future?
M: Listen, music radio is dead. These FM people still tell me music is a future. The AM people said that too. You can't name a company that I haven't met with. They all say, "We're going to pick the better music." Research is garbage, their stations are garbage, anyone could come on and play those 5 songs. Like when the Zone came on. The only thing that's going to save these [stations] is unique personalities. Wake up. Music is everywhere — iPods, cellphones.... Within a few years, every single one of these major players will have FM talk [stations].
It's like thinking you're going to be a successful disco singer in 1992. That corpse is a skeleton. So what if you can play some songs and get ratings — there's no money. News/talk stations, even if they're 23rd in the market ... a lousy dog of a station in last place is going to bill triple what the top alternative can bill.
C: After the incident with the station in Sacramento that killed a listener in a contest, you came out and said you wanted to create something called the Foundation for Responsible Radio. A lot of people kinda laughed and said, "Mancow? Responsible Radio?" Is that still something that's in the process of being created, or is it on the back burner, or what?
M: The foundation is — here's the deal. It's important to me that this not be about Mancow. We have a lawyer looking at it, it's going to be a not-for-profit, we're going to be speaking to heads of industry and respected people — we want the ten best-case scenarios, a kind of "ten commandments for morning radio hosts." You know, nobody tells us these things. The companies want us to do anything to get ratings then they disavow us when things go wrong. I want ten things, and different people will have different ideas. We want to put them on a website and have it be accessible.
C: Give me an example. Do you have any of these commandments set in stone as of yet?
M: Well, rule #1 will be "Thou shalt not kill the listener," as in "Don't have them drink water until they die" like the station in Sacramento. It's bad middle management. These "wacky deejays," man. They're so mismanaged. And they're in such a tough situation. Nobody realizes what a tough situation these people are in.
The FCC is another scam. A bunch of unelected officials that big companies take on vacations everywhere, and when they need a few bucks they take on controversial people. Everyone always says, "We're different, we're unique, we in America salute the individual." That's a lie.
C: Do you think that your show has changed any since you've had kids?
M: I think it's made it better. I think .... [pauses]
Sometimes, when I'm ripping the face off someone who's made me mad, just verbally ripping their face off — today we had a guy on who called up and he's a ... he's a druid. And he was completely serious. We're headed the towards most important election in history. The evil that's coming after America is the same that's in 300. The evil that's out there, free men have always had to beat it back.
We're in a very serious time in culture, and this guy's thing is we should all be druids. You know, he puts on the robe and the big hood ... what a moron. But God, I think to myself, where was his father? I think [the kids] bring a touch, a sprinkle of humanity to the program.
C: Is there ever a time that you listen back to an old aircheck and think to yourself, "What the hell was I doing?"
M: I can't listen to myself. I listen in real time. If we're running an old interview that was a classic, I turn down the headphones and people tell me when it's over. I don't worship at the altar of Mancow. Every day I say something I regret. Every day I regret something. I'm fine with that. Humanity and humility are OK. If you talk for 5 hours a day, 25 hrs. of original material, you go and record other things, you're going to say things that you don't like. These people that say "talent on loan from god," "king of all media," I'm none of that. God first, listener second, me third. I make mistakes, and I regret them.